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Graphic Design

Speed-dating for creatives: Cordell Burke on the Big Book Crit

Speed-dating for creatives: Cordell Burke on the Big Book Crit

By Jodie Cole

Speed-dating for creatives: Cordell Burke on the Big Book Crit

Naked have been involved with Norwich University of the Arts and the Big Book Crit for a number of years now and the team love being invited along, not only to give a little back but to also be inspired themselves by the raw talents poised to make their mark on the world (and hopefully our fine city). 

Here our Head of Design, Jodie Cole talks to esteemed Big Book Crit master, Cordell Burke on speed-dating for creatives...

What is the Big Book Crit?

The Big Book Crit is an event where students can show their portfolio of work (their ‘book’) to some of the industry’s finest Creative Heads and have that work critiqued so they’re better prepared to find or get their first job in the creative industries.


Why and when did you first get involved with the Big Book Crit?

I’ve been in the business for a long time and during my early years, I had some fantastic mentors who supported me through thick and thin.

I’ve been lucky enough to be a Creative Director at agencies such as Ogilvy, Saatchis and Tequila (TBWA group) so in this latter part of my career, I felt it was time to formally give back and help develop the next generation of talent coming into our industry.

I’ve been involved in book crits since the late ‘90’s through a previous role as trustee of the Graeme Robertson Trust (GRT), an organisation dedicated to attracting the not-so-obvious types of people into the industry.

The GRT was part of DMA Talent (Data and Marketing Association) and its remit was to help creative students get their first job in a creative and marketing agency.

However, while I was at Bigdog Agency (based in London and Norwich), with the support of DMA Talent, Norwich University of Arts and some creative heads, I instigated the Norwich Big Book Crit in 2016 as one of a number of national ‘Big Book Crits’, all with the desire to get students outside of London in front of creative heads, preferably based in the local area.


Can you share a particularly memorable moment from a past Big Book Crit that left a lasting impression?

At our first Norwich Book Crit, one of the Creative Heads had been struggling for weeks to find an affordable photographer for one of his projects. During the crit, he saw the photography portfolio of a particularly talented student who was perfect for the job. He was able to offer that student photographer their first properly paid job at a rate that suited all parties.

Since then, there have been many similar stories from every Big Book Crit that has resulted in a job or a placement which is heartwarming.  

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Could you give us a sneak peek into the creative process and planning that goes into making the event a success each year?

Since that first Norwich Big Book Crit in 2016, I’ve built a database of Norwich-based creative heads who kindly give up their time to critique students’ portfolios on a Thursday evening.

After various chats with Evie Ross and Luke Oxford at the Norwich University of Arts, we agree the Thursday night, date and time we’d like to run the event, usually in January and May. Then, I start by emailing the Creative Heads to see who’s available on the agreed date. Thankfully, most of them always agree to give up their valuable evenings.

Depending on take up, we organise the allocated University campus space carefully to manage the number of students and ensure a safe environment for all with nibbles and drinks for our Creative Heads. Also, we’ll have a small number of NUA staff popping in so we have help on hand to coordinate the movement of people and make sure everyone is as comfortable as possible whilst managing any safety requirements.

As usual, it’s all about giving creative students the opportunity to have their portfolios critiqued by experienced Creative Directors / Directors / Designers / Photographers etc in the area. In simple terms, think of it as 'speed-dating for creatives’.

We have a variety of students attending who range from designers, digital specialists to photographers. Hence, a mix of CDs, consultants, film makers, photographers, and illustrators to reflect that.


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The creative industry is constantly evolving. Based on your experiences with the Big Book Crit, how do you see the event adapting to the changing landscape of creativity and design education?

The 'speed-dating for creatives’ format has been very successful, and this unique approach enables everyone to see as many people as possible. 
Thankfully, the Creative Heads get as much out of the sessions as the students do, therefore, I don’t see that changing.

However, as the type of industry creative changes, I would always be on the lookout for the right Creative Heads to keep up with that change and inspire the next generation. So, whatever happens, our mix of CDs, digital specialists, designers, consultants, film makers, photographers and illustrators will always reflect the latest trends or evolution.

I would like to see more agencies and individuals offering the students a placement or job if there’s an opportunity in their companies. And I’d encourage even more companies to build stronger links by setting briefs and visiting or lecturing at NUA as some Creative Heads have kindly done in the past.

We must do something about design and creative education in schools for the 14-to-18-year old age group so it would be great to design a robust ‘learning and critiquing event’ for those youngsters to encourage them to join the creative industries or at least teach them to think and solve challenges creatively.


What piece of advice would you give yourself as a young designer now stepping out into the world?

Getting your first job can be challenging so put the feelers out as soon as possible and cast your net wide when looking for your first role, preferably many months before you leave Uni/college.

There are many ways to start your career in the creative and marketing industry. Don’t just look at the big and established agencies. Consider start-ups, two-person consultancies, in-house or client-side creative departments, just to name a few.

Wherever you start, just ensure that you’re constantly learning and always studying the best work to keep inspired and abreast of what’s happening in the industry so you’re always alert to any new opportunities that may arise.