How I got where I am today: Creative director

Published: 26 Sep 2014

What did you want to be when you were young?

Anything that involved drawing. I didn't think you could make a living from anything art-related until I found out at 13 that there was a thing called graphic design and I knew instantly that's what I wanted to be. It married perfectly my love of drawing and sketching and my tendency to want things perfect.

Mairi Macleod Gray
 
What are the main career stepping stones you have taken?
I left the Outer Hebrides when I was 18 and went to Aberdeen College to study graphic design and production.
After three years I graduated and secured a job at Max&Co as a junior designer, which was incredibly lucky as only three people in my year got a job in a very tough economic climate.
I worked there for 10 great years; Max&Co were a very young dynamic company and we had a fantastic team working there.

I learnt the vast majority of what I know today from my years there. I worked up from a junior to senior designer before leaving to join Silverdot, a small agency set up by two of the managers from Max&Co.
I worked there for two years as art director, and was then presented with the opportunity to travel the world, so I grabbed it with both hands and spent one-and-a-half fantastic years travelling the world.

When I got back I decided that I didn't want to work for anyone else so started my own company, Gray+Whyte with Kelly Whyte who I worked with at Max&Co.
It took a while to build a solid client base after being away for nearly two years, but after about six months of doing small jobs we secured a large contract with a small up-and-coming service company.
From there the business grew through word of mouth and referrals and went from strength to strength.

Alongside Gray+Whyte I also regularly freelance throughout the city's design agencies, with Mearns & Gill being my most regular employer.

As well as running Gray+Whyte and freelancing, I'm also the founding member of Dee n' Do – a free magazine for Royal Deeside which comes out three times a year.
Kelly Whyte, Kirsten Horne, and I began producing it last year and we've just published our third issue. To date we've distributed 30,000 magazine all over Aberdeen, Royal Deeside, Grampian, Speyside and Perthshire and we've had very positive feedback about it.
At times it's been difficult to juggle the huge workload, but the lovely and positive response we've received certainly helps get through the long working nights.
 
Anything you would do differently?
Yes, to have stayed on for a final year to get my degree. It doesn't mean anything now, as experience is definitely better than a qualification, but it still bothers me that I didn't take one more year to get my degree.
 
Are you scared of making mistakes?
Oh yes – as a designer everything you do has your name attached to it, so that really motivates you to make sure what you produce is as good as it can possibly be.
 
Pet hate?
Negative people that always see a problem rather than a solution. Also clients who dictate the final outcome of a project.
I love it when a client has lots of ideas and is really passionate and enthusiastic about a project and working together, but there's a fine line between inspiring an end product, and dictating it.
I've had a few in my time, but luckily we have lovely set of clients who entrust us with their brand.
 
Who's been your greatest influence?
That's easy, my parents. Although my father worked as a fisherman and estate manager, he was an incredibly creative man.
He was forever drawing, painting, drawing up plans, and reading in his spare time, and always loved to share his knowledge – but never in a boring way, somehow he always made even the most dull subjects interesting and entertaining.

I hope when I have kids that I manage to makes things as creative as he did. My mother has always been incredibly hard-working, headstrong, and a doer.
If there's anything that needs organised you can be sure that she'll be at the helm making sure everyone knows what their job is and what needs to be done.
Growing up in a tiny community (250 people live on the island I grew up on) everyone had to help out when events were being held at the community hall – which was regularly – and my mother was always in the thick of it, and therefore my sisters and I were in the thick of it.
I think she instilled a great work ethic in me from a very early age, and I'm still like that today.

What have you actively tried to avoid in your career?
Becoming predictable.
 
What would your autobiography be called?
The Hebridean Gaze. I often get lost in my own thoughts and whenever my father would catch me he'd call it the Hebridean gaze, I loved that.

What has motivated you?
First of all my desire to leave Lewis, I knew from a very young age that I didn't want to stay at home so I worked really hard in school to make that happen.
After that, my love of art and design and getting to the top of my profession. But mostly I'd say it's my competitive nature, I've always striven to be the best at whatever I'm doing, and I work hard to try and make that happen.
 
What's the best way to motivate others?
Be positive (in all situations), be honest, work hard, and lead by example.
 
Your favourite stress-buster?
Definitely sport. I play five-aside football at Goals twice a week with a great bunch of guys (I played 11 aside in the Scottish leaguers for 10 years).
I also love badminton, tennis and my husband is teaching me golf at the moment – he's the most patient man on the planet.
 
What's your best career advice?
Work hard, stay focused, be nice, and if you can, always go that extra mile to make something exceptional.

 

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