Inside Wolff Olins: Iossie Ng Lei

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Senior Designer Iossie Ng Lei, to talk all things diversity in design, internship programs and her advice for creatives just starting out in the careers in the industry.

Hey Iossie! Can you tell us about your role for Wolff Olins - and how you got here?

When I left uni and moved back in with my mum in London, I spent a whole year interning at some great (and a few not so great) agencies. I was lucky and had the privilege of being financially and emotionally supported by my mum to take on unpaid experience. It wasn’t easy, I still remember feeling very directionless, but kept pushing to get myself out there. Interning was the best way for me to see how different agencies worked and find out which felt right for me.

My internship at Moving Brands was my lucky break. And, after three years learning from some very talented designers, animators, creative technologists and working with amazing clients such as Channel 4, MTV, Apple and the BBC, I decided I needed a new challenge and eventually moved on and landed a job at Wolff Olins. 

I’m now a Senior Designer at Wolff Olins — I’d like to think of my role as both a problem solver and storyteller — flexing from driving the creative, to looking after the craft and execution of the work, while mentoring the more junior designers. 

My approach to projects is to bring an optimistic energy, ensuring we’re tackling our clients’ challenges but also enjoying what we do. All with complex challenges, but extremely rewarding once it was all out in the wild. 

You’ve been super involved in our design internship programme - tell us more…

Two things stayed with me all these years after doing all those internships at the start of my career:

  • The lack of diversity in the creative industry 
  • The lack of women in more senior roles
  • Unpaid internships = awful (but that’s for another time)

While in recent years there has definitely been a positive shift to acknowledge and address the under-representation of female, ethnic and working class talent, there's still a way to go, and this is something I am extremely passionate about.

For a bit of context, I’m a Chinese, 2nd-generation immigrant from Venezuela and moved to the UK when I was 12. I guess I look back and am thankful to my family and the people I met along the way for creating opportunities for me but also how important it is to recognise and represent diverse journeys and talent — vital to our creative landscape. So, in turn I am determined to do the same and carve out space for everyone when possible, especially for those in not so privileged backgrounds.

At Wolff Olins, we ensure our interns work on paid client work, and we mentor and treat them like any other designers in the team. We offer portfolio reviews, university talks and Q&A sessions and I also make myself available to give advice and support young creatives across LinkedIn and Instagram. This outreach naturally developed after doing a few talks and people getting in touch for advice - I’m 1 out of 2 Iossies in the whole world, so I’m pretty easy to find online!

What other initiatives are you involved in through WO, and why is this important to you?

Going to university and doing internships is not for everyone, and nor is it the only pathway to break into the creative industry. At Wolff Olins, we are involved with Creative Lives in Progress and Brixton Finishing School, which open up alternative pathways to the industry separate from higher education. But we want to do much more; as a company, we are constantly on the lookout for new initiatives, programs and any platforms that shine a light on under-represented voices. To apply for a role with us, please check out our careers page on the website. 

In your opinion, what can businesses do to improve diversity in design and across creative leadership positions especially?

There are no shortcuts to making the industry and companies diverse and inclusive. Change needs to come from top-down as well as bottom-up. To me, it’s important that everyone is included in the conversation.

I do my best to share my experiences and pass on advice to open up the industry, but the industry also has to commit to making change.

As an industry we should: 

  • Keep engaging with all the different communities that are unrepresented
  • For those in leadership positions of power, revise policies and instil values in the company so inclusivity and accessibility are the standard and part of the culture

Awareness and accessibility are the biggest challenges. 

What's your advice to designers just starting out in their career?

The design industry is small, so being nice will get you far. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a job straight away either, make the most out of meeting different people, different ways of working and build your confidence. Keep optimistic and show enthusiasm in what you do! It will all work out.