I recently had the pleasure of visiting Creative Frenzy, a design company at the cutting edge of CGI for interior design and spoke with the director Stephen Bowden, about the technological leaps and bounds they are making, and their experience with taking on apprentices.
In the interests of full disclosure, Creative Frenzy had taken two apprentices with us at Total People; one of them left the company after a short time, but the other, Grace, hit the ground running and has fit into the company and her apprenticeship very well.
I’ve greatly enjoyed working with Creative Frenzy and with their apprentices; the work they do is quite specialist and very interesting to me. In theory, this is exactly the sort of company that the apprenticeship scheme is for, and I wanted to find out what they really thought.
Photography versus Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) interior design
CB: How do you think your industry is progressing?
Creative frenzy has got a strong market putting computer generated (CGI) flooring into room sets and were the only company I know of who specialise in it.
We've realised that we can’t just keep on doing the same thing. One, staff might get bored and two we could run out of avenues to get new business apart from exporting.
The American market is an opportunity for us and we are doing some test work that could potentially double the size of the business.
We are also looking at ‘Space’ which is a new brand within creative frenzy that will allow us to provide more services creating entire CGI room scenes to work with things like the interior design and film industry.
I think that photography is getting chipped away at; it'll never completely stop but there are instances where CGI is more economical and you can do things that are a little bit more unconventional; in the studio you have limitations whereas with CGI there are none, so at the moment things are buoyant for Creative Frenzy.
CB: Out of curiosity what is it like comparing photography to CGI? What is it like in terms of time, does it take the same time, is it faster to produce or slower?
It’s very similar; it has potential to take more time, but then if you've got to get a set built maybe not. Sometimes you can just walk in and plonk something down and take a photograph then it’s done, but you can’t revisit it and move the angle down or change the camera so CGI has more versatility.
Obviously, in photography, you can retouch things and do things in Photoshop, but you can’t redo the camera angle or make major changes, whereas with CGI you can, so there is a lot more flexibility.
Taking on an apprentice
CB: Why did you consider taking on an apprentice in this industry?
The work that we do is specialised work so no matter who we employ, we are going to have to retrain them. We took the opinion that it would be better to train someone from the ground up, that could learn to do things the way we think they should be done; but the skills they’re gaining are crossover skills that are always going to be useful to them, not just for creative frenzy.
It is quite a useful skill set and colour matching is in an area not that many people are doing. Where Grace works at the moment she’s focused on the colour side so she'll know a lot more about colour now than most people in design. She’s absorbing things like profiling and standards for different countries, things about colour people just don’t know about.
So yes, we think it’s easier to get an apprentice and just develop them.
CB: What were your preconceptions about having an apprentice before taking one on?
We worried that we might have to spend too much time with them at first and that it was going to be more time consuming, but we were surprised with Grace because she was able to contribute work fairly quickly. I think that is up to the individual, it’s not that they can’t contribute, it’s whether they're prepared to make the effort. Grace has been very much in that category, she wanted to contribute, so very quickly she started to produce work like we never dreamed of for the first 6 months or even for 12 months.
CB: Do you think that is a rare thing?
Rare, it’s all about the person, when Grace came for the interview originally it was early because she went back to college to finish her course, but straight away we could see there was a spark of enthusiasm and that enthusiasm is the key to someone’s success, not just going on an apprenticeship.
CB: Is that “spark” what you were looking for?
Yes. She’s very conscientious on everything. You could tell that with people; if they'd looked at the website before the interview, do they know a bit about creative frenzy, have they done a bit of research or have they just turned up at the interview hoping that it will be put on a plate for them.
Has having an apprentice worked?
CB: How has the apprenticeship programme helped?
It has helped because we’ve not got involved in all of the other things that Grace has to do. We do catch glimpses of what she’s doing and I heard you this morning talking about type and typography and legibility; they’re all things that we're not necessarily telling her about. It’s something that some of us will know about but we don’t work in that area; Grace is on the colour side.
It has definitely worked for us and I think it is partly the apprenticeship and the fact that she is learning a wide range of skills, but also going back to her having that spark and enthusiasm, she wants to actually do it.
CB: What has been the most difficult thing about taking on an apprentice?
There’s not really been anything difficult. There have been a few occasions where we thought we could do with her not doing her college work, but rather getting on with some work here, but it has got to a point now where she can sense what work is in, and she can juggle it well, so there’s not really been any sort of downside whatsoever.
CB: What about the recruitment process side of it?
It has been very good from a recruitment point of view, for your team it's finding those people who have that spark to do things and your own abilities "to tell that they can actually do it" and that is the key isn’t it?
We could have had someone else who is doing it as a process but you appear to have more of a passion for it, as opposed to just following a; "today you have to do this...", and that's a difficult one to quantify. That’s where creative frenzy tries to place ourselves too, that’s why we've got “energy, vision, focus, passion” as our core values and we try to differentiate ourselves by having a real passion for what we do.
CB: You have sort of answered this already but, what does your apprentice do as part of their role that you hadn’t originally planned for?
There’s nothing really, we were quite open and all-embracing, we just wanted to see how it unfolds, we didn’t have any real preconceptions. We hadn't done it before so we weren’t sure of what to mark it against.
CB: Have there been any unforeseen benefits or drawbacks to your apprentice?
The main benefits are that Grace is producing work much quicker than anticipated. It hasn’t been such a long a burn as we thought it was going to be, instead of being maybe 3 years it’s been 12 months and she is up and running like the others.
CB: Would you consider another apprentice?
Yes, definitely; and if our American business takes off, we'd like a clone of Grace.
To sum up; there are quite a few positive points; they did have a few issues with one apprentice but I think the overall message was that the good far outweighed the bad, and I really believe their company ethos to be open and all-embracing is reflected in this. Perhaps this is what keeps them adapting to change and adopting new technologies. I expect that in years to come, their apprentices today will have apprentices of their own, and Creative Frenzy will still be at the cutting edge of graphics and interior design.
I would love to hear from others who have experiences or thoughts on apprentices, not only that, if you are thinking about whether an apprentice could be the right move for your industry and you want an honest conversation about it, please leave a comment below or contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.