June 15, 2024

Fashion Design

Fashion Designs that Enlighten the Soul.

My Career: Brand designer Niamh O’Neill

6 min read

Did you always want to be a brand designer?
In short, no! My dream was to be a fashion designer and I was lucky enough to have my own fashion brand for 12 years. Everything evolves though, and recently I took the decision to make a change in my career – moving from fashion to brand identity and graphic design.

In college, I studied… fashion design in NCAD – a course I absolutely loved. I have just begun my second degree, this time in graphic design, 15 years after graduating from NCAD.

My most formative work experience was… working at Diane Von Furstenberg in New York. It was about the experience of living in New York as much as it was the work itself. An incredibly eye-opening experience. The work was highly creative and the studios were stunning. I was thrown into the deep end of fashion and it formed my view of the industry.

Niamh O’Neill summer ’20 collection

My first real job was… I had a couple of junior jobs in fashion before starting my own brand. I feel that my business start-up was my first real job as I had to make it work for myself. Every aspect of running a creative business was up to me and I became a manager, accountant and designer in one go.

The most invaluable thing I learned early on in my career was… that you can be very talented, but without hard work, talent isn’t that valuable.

A common misconception about what I do is… that I sit drawing pretty pictures all day! As a designer, the most important job I have is to help my clients reach their business goals. I spend my days strategising for my clients. Some of those days include sketching on the computer!

My main responsibility in work is to… help my client get their business from where it currently is, to where they want to bring it, through design and brand strategy.

Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from?
When I had my fashion brand, I asked the designer, David Lawlor, to design my logo. It was a beautiful design that really stood the test of time. Since making the move into brand design myself, David has been very generous with his time and advice, for which I’m very appreciative. I have also been lucky enough to have Eddie Shanahan as a mentor throughout my fashion business and Marissa Carter through the women’s mentoring programme, Going for Growth.

The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far is… to leave a successful fashion business, to pursue a new career in another area of design. It has turned out to be a good decision for many reasons, but it was definitely risky!

I wake at… 7am. I often work late in the evening as it’s difficult to put a project down when you feel you’re on a roll with it! So, to get enough sleep, I don’t set my alarm before 7am.

The first thing I do every morning is… Wordle with my 6-year-old. He is so quick, it’s a challenge to beat him to it!

My morning routine is… getting my two kids ready for school and choosing my outfit for the day, which I enjoy! I never pick an outfit the night before, as it always depends on how you want to feel on the day. My husband makes breakfast for everyone in our house each morning which is helpful. Then it’s drop-offs and either a day at university or a day at work.

I can’t go to work without… my laptop. It carries all the ideas and sketches for every project. It’s my second brain!

I travel to work by… car.

On an average workday I… work on my design projects, whatever stage they are at. Whether it’s research, development, strategy or refinement and delivery. I liaise with clients regularly as I feel that communication is key to delivering outstanding results. I also update my website and social media to connect with followers and prospective clients.

I start my working day at… 9am.

The first thing I do at work is… check my workflow calendar. Having had 10+ years in business myself, I appreciate the need for projects to be completed on time.

I usually spend the first portion of the day… checking workflows and working through a project.

I break for lunch at… it depends what stage the project is at – if I’m in the middle of working through the nitty gritty of an idea, I break for lunch when I’ve teased it out and usually have a vegetarian wrap or veggie salad.

The most useful business tool I use every day is… iCal, it’s the simplest way to keep on top of deadlines and meetings.

I save time by… at this stage in my career, I can take on fewer but larger branding projects. This saves time as I can then focus my energy on one large project rather than on several small ones.

The best part of my day is… the morning at work when I usually have a few hours to delve into a design project. This uninterrupted time is golden for a designer!

The most challenging part of my day is… making sure the logistics of my family are all working out! With two young kids, I have to make sure that pick-ups, drop-offs and childcare are all looked after so that I can work. I think every parent has the same challenge!

I know it’s been a good day if… I’ve checked in with clients and they are excited about the direction of our project. You can have a good feeling about how a project is going and when the client feels it too, that’s when the magic happens.

I usually end my day at… home with a cup of tea, chatting about the day with my husband.

I switch off from work by… exercising in the evening. I either do yoga, jog or train with my local social GAA team.

Before I go to bed, I’ll… have a quick look through some design and news sites to see what’s new. There’s a link between all types of design disciplines and current affairs. It’s important to stay abreast of each of them.

I often prepare for tomorrow by… checking my iCal as it’s where I keep a detailed diary of my days. It helps to have everything in one place and nothing is left to chance.

After a long work week, I destress by… spending time with my family on the weekend. It usually involves going to various sports matches/events in the morning and having a nice lunch out or at home together.

The accomplishment I’m most proud of is… my beautiful family. It sounds cliché, but having happy kids and seeing them blossom is my greatest accomplishment. I’m proud of all I achieved in my fashion career and I’m looking forward to achieving even more in brand design.

If you want to get into my line of work, my advice is to… immerse yourself in the design world. If you want to be a brand designer, it’s important to have a well-rounded view of art, design and business. You can start by following design sites, and sites relating to art, interior, architecture and fashion. Then it’s about learning the technical aspects of design, whether that’s at university or self-taught.

I’ve just finished working on… the rebrand and identity design for Holly White, a plant-based nutritionist, author and wellness advocate. At the moment I’m working on the rebrand for a large design organisation in Ireland. It’s a very exciting project and I love seeing these branding projects come to life.

Imagery provided by Niamh O’Neill


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