Designers / Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Dan Ingham, Head of Creative at Sydney Opera House

Dan Ingham is the Head of Creative at Sydney Opera House, where he leads a team of 11 designers working on major brand, campaign and design projects.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m originally from Manchester, England where I spent the first four years of my career working for two small but respected graphic design studios. The local scene was great, but I always fancied working overseas at some point.

In 2011 I had an opportunity to move to Sydney joining a large branding agency. I spent another four and a half years there working on rebrands for Telstra, World Vision and Sydney Opera House to name a few.

In 2017 I swapped agency life for client side and joined Sydney Opera House. In my current role as Head of Creative I lead a talented team of 11 – delivering major brand, campaign and design projects.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Moving to Sydney has definitely made me more of a morning person. I recently swapped the Eastern Suburbs for the Northern Beaches and now get the ferry to work every day. As commutes go, it has to be up there with the best.

Once at work we have a daily WIP at 9.15am to check everyone’s workload for the day ahead. It’s pretty common for me to have meetings then, either catching up on current live projects or discussing upcoming ones. I try to leave between 6-7pm each night.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I feel most effective in the office so I can be around for the team. I definitely see more flexible / remote work client side than agency. I think that’s due to working with a broader range of roles and teams (e.g. not just designers). Design is very much a team game and collaboration drives great work. Whilst technology has improved over time, you still can’t beat being in the same room.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I’m an Evernote list addict – having everything written down makes me feel more organised. Whilst the list does get long and seems never ending, I break it down into Today, Tomorrow, Next Week sections and try to be honest about when things will get done. Over the past two years I’ve tried to say no to more meetings and block out thinking time.

5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I think designers always find this tricky. We love what we do (most of the time) and get paid to do it – great! But on the flip side it’s easy to get obsessed with it and before you know it, work is life.

We all want to do the best work and work we’re proud of, but it often comes at our own personal expense framed as passion. I’ve been there numerous times ending up burnt out. It’s obvious but making sure to have a life and interests outside of work is key.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

As simple as it sounds, it’s just experience that has helped me with balance. These days I work much more effectively and I put this down to understanding and having clarity on what needs to be done to get the right outcome.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I have to admit I’m not great with books – I enjoy buying them but rarely finish them. I find Twitter and Medium more relatable and helpful on a daily basis, plus obviously easier to consume. I’m also a big fan of The DO Lecture’s weekly email.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Get up early! I used to think the key to work/life balance was getting out of work on time, but there’s a whole chunk of time before 9am I now make the most of.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m not really sure there is a perfect solution to work life balance. For me it changes year by year. The most important thing is to remember what makes you happy and live towards it.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.