Oli Garnett graduated in 2013 with a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design, and has since established his own creative design agency in Bristol, Something Familiar. In light of the current situation Oli recently launched Something Positive, a platform for good news around the COVID-19 outbreak that has already had global impact, and found itself listed on GQs ‘10 coolest things of the week’.

Oli’s journey since leaving Portsmouth has seen him take chances as opportunities have arisen, pushing him to adapt and improvise, and ultimately guiding him towards his career today. We spoke to him about his successes, his setbacks, and what inspired him to launch his latest project:

"I didn't have a plan in place at all after graduation, so I flew out to Canada with very little money and bought a Buick Regal (grandads car) for $900, which I drove 25,000 miles across the country and back through the states for 6 months. I worked where I could until I finally ran out of money and came back. After returning I started an instagram account around a niche custom motorcycle subculture, which now has well over half a million followers. I did this because building classic motorcycles is my hobby and my passion, but didn't expect it to take off like it did. This paved the way for a lot of opportunities and opened doors with big automotive brands that I have been fortunate enough to work with. It gave me a good insight into the world of influencer marketing and elevated my profile, something that combined quite well with my skill sets in graphic design.

I then started my own lifestyle brand making motorcycle accessories called BlackGoldMoto. This allowed me to freelance and make money whilst marketing on instagram, and build my bikes for free. However, I felt like I needed to improve my skills and learn more about the other aspects of marketing. So I moved to Bristol and got a job at an integrated marketing agency called AUK, where I met the most fantastic creative team and worked for 2 years on various campaigns, TV ads, websites, branding and product design briefs, until we lost a client and they made me and the creative director redundant.

After this, me and the creative director decided to start our own agency, this time more design focused, called Something Familiar. The rest of the creative team decided to leave AUK as well, some to start new ventures, others to join us. Something Familiar has been running for a little under a year now but has been absolutely fantastic in terms of what we have been able to achieve. Most recently, we've been working with Crowdfunder on their new charity raising platform, and we were fortunate enough to get commissioned to redesign the website for one of the largest corporate travel brands in the world. We're finding though that a lot of our work is starting to move closer to more ethically driven, charity focused and sustainably minded companies, which is very cool as it very much aligns with our values as people, as well as business. We did the branding for the UK's first ever Vegan hotel too.

Graphic design is a difficult industry to get into, let alone succeed (as you can read above) and keep a job in, for longer than a couple of years. I think to succeed in this day and age you just need to keep pushing, keep trying new things and don't be afraid to 'bang on doors'. I got my agency jobs by ringing doorbells and talking to people, not by creating a PDF mailer and sending off a generic portfolio site. You must go above and beyond. But then again, I didn't go down a very standard route compared to a lot of my peers who went to do internships and sandwich years in big London agencies."

Last month, Oli’s agency launched Something Positive, a platform that delivers COVID-19 news stories that ‘spreads positive vibes only’ by focusing on all of the good that is happening at the moment, both on the micro and the macro level; the acts of human kindness, the community efforts and the selfless donations that help to keep spirits high:

"I, like many other people, have my anxieties and have struggled with my mental health over the years. An important part of learning to deal with that is finding the catalysts, and putting an action plan in place to combat them when you're feeling things start to take a toll – fight or flight I guess. At the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak I was starting to see companies trying to capitalise on the crisis through various marketing strategies across social media, which I felt was morally wrong, bad timing and quite honestly just pissed me off. I noticed that I was checking the headlines a lot and that was beginning to have a detrimental effect. So instead I decided to try and find the good news. Sometimes, it's not about making money, it's about making a meaningful difference. And that's what I wanted to do.

I put the idea forward to my team and we very sharply started to implement designs, developments and research. It took 4 days to get it up and running and in less than a week has had over 20,000 users and been shared worldwide (150 countries). It's most recently been featured in GQ for the top 10 coolest things of the week."

Oli’s journey has seen him overcome a number of challenges, both personal and professional. At a time when many third year students may be worried about their futures, Oli offers some advice for graphic design graduates hoping to enter this competitive industry:

  • Be brave.
  • Don't do what everyone else does, if it's not what you want to do.
  • Create and focus on things that you love.
  • Fight for what you want, but be prepared to adapt.
  • Find your own voice, not someone else's.