Career pathways: Head of Design

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Q. Who are you?
I’m Jude Simmons, I’m head of design at the National Portrait Gallery. I run a small team, there’s four of us altogether, and we’re mainly responsible for the designer of exhibitions, and changing displays within the gallery. We also look after the permanent collections, maintenance and upkeep of those, and signage systems and other elements of design that the gallery needs.
Q. What was your career path?
I studied graphic design at what was then the London College of Printing which is now the London College of Communications, part of the London Institute, I think. I was part of the general graphics design course, studied all aspect of design, printmaking and photography, I was very lucky, after my degree show, to be given a job working for a multi-discipline consultancy, very much in the commercial sector, and I worked in the retail department. So I was doing graphic design, but within a 3-D environment, and I did that for five years and worked on a variety of projects, some very prestigious clients that we had. After five years I was looking for a new challenge and an opportunity cam up at the British Museum. It was only a short contract initially but I thought that would be an exciting challenge and somewhere really good to work, so I was lucky enough to get the job there, and ended up staying there for twelve years. I worked on a range of projects there: exhibitions, permanent galleries, really, such a fantastic opportunity and experience. After twelve years, I wanted a new challenge and to move on, and an opportunity came up here. This is a very specialised field and I was lucky to have had that opportunity at the British Museum. It’s not easy to get into the museum and heritage sector, it’s very a very specialised field of design and the job that we do is very unique. There’s not many of us in London or in the country that work in Institutes like this and have such a unique job and a unique experience.
Q. What’s good about your job?
Every job has its ups and downs, I can’t deny that, but working in such a unique environment as this and having that first hand contact with works of art, that is very special. Also, in the mornings, you come in and you might think, gotta go to work today, but then to go past your place of work to see members of the public queueing up outside waiting to get in, and think, I work here, that’s kind of cool.
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