Adrian Riley, studied BA (Hons) Graphic Design at Leeds Arts University 1987-1990

In 2013 Adrian was the designer behind Leeds’ latest public art work the Leeds Song Tunnel, which was commended at the Leeds Architecture Awards.

We caught up with Adrian to ask him about his time at University and find out more about some of the current projects he is working on.

Can you tell us more about your memories of the Graphic Design course?

The course was very industry-focussed and had built its reputation locally on preparing students for going straight into a job. When I started taking my portfolio around design studios and advertising companies in West Yorkshire, more often than not I was interviewed by someone who had been on the course and asked if the tutors they remembered were still there.

Our drawing tutor Laimonis Mierins (aka 'Lem') particularly sticks in my mind. At the time we didn't appreciate what he was teaching us - we didn't understand why we were spending so much time life drawing when we were supposed to be training to be graphic designers. It was only later when I was on a work placement at an advertising agency visualising designs by hand and they asked "You just drew that out of your head?!" I realised the confidence Lem had instilled in us. He died recently and I wrote a short tribute to him on my blog and was overwhelmed with all the messages that were left by other Leeds Arts University alumni - he was much loved.

I also remember Andrew Wilson who dropped in now and then to teach typography, he inspired me with his enthusiasm for type - it was old school stuff, specifying type by hand to then be set on a computer typesetting machine (the graphics course hadn't yet acquired an Apple Mac) but he communicated that typography mattered and encouraged what he saw as my natural inclination towards letters.

What did you enjoy about your time at Leeds Arts University and how did the course help you in starting out professionally?

The best thing for me was the reassurance that you could make a career out of doing something creative. I was the first person in my family or peer group to even go to University, let alone do something 'arty' and it caused a bit of a stir - there were only two of us who went to art University from the hundreds of kids in our year at secondary school. All the time I was thinking "will somebody actually pay me to do this for a living?" so it was great to be in an environment where they were relating what you were doing to industry. As well as technical ability we learned the confidence to design.

Just being with the other students was also important for me in opening up my picture of what life could be like and offering new experiences. It caused me to challenge a lot of assumptions about life that I arrived with and actually I think it's the combination of those two things that ultimately led me to starting my own design studio about ten years later.

Do you have any memories of specific projects you worked on?

I remember a student competition where we had to turn a wellington boot into something that could be exhibited. It seemed such a daft brief that I remember just splurging every idea I could think of - no matter how surreal, inappropriate or unworkable - onto paper rather than stressing over something that would be impressive enough to win, or even just work. Needless to say none of my designs were selected but I remember something switched on in my head about how to approach design and just the sheer joy of generating ideas and getting carried away with it all.

Can you give us an insight into a typical working day for you at the moment?

43% design. 13% email. 23% social media. 1% glaring at the pile of books I intend to read but which have been there 3 months. 5% disaster limitation. 12% writing public art brief responses. 2% booking train tickets. 7% cursing technology. 32% staring at the sea. 1% questioning my maths.

What do you enjoy the most about your job as a designer?

The amount of creative freedom I have. It's tricky to balance following your creative impulses with making a living and it sometimes topples too far one way or the other but the reward is when you complete a project that still rings true to your original creative impulse and is loved by the people you're working for.

Finally, can you tell us more about what you might have coming up in the pipeline?

I'm collaborating with artist Rachel Welford on her commission for a new artwork on Bridlington seafront. Rachel works primarily in glass and we've collaborated several times on public art projects - I always learn something new both about materials and from the creative flux between us, she's great to work with. Also near Bridlington is RSPB Bempton Cliffs and I've been commissioned to design a floor-based artwork in their new courtyard which will be based on the migration patterns of seabirds.

You can see more work by Adrian and his colleagues at Electric Angel Design – public art projects and graphic design – at