This 14-year-old could be the future of graphic design

Ted Bettridge started designing when he was just 10 years old. Now 14, he’s garnered thousands of Instagram followers appreciating his lettering and calligraphy, and maintains an impressive online presence with regular YouTube how-to videos and Behance posts.

Ted is a modern aspiring designer led by gathering social media followers alongside his talent. He's what our future designers will look like.

From sketching out his own version of The Simpsons logo in restaurants as a child, to creating prints for his mum’s friends as clients – Ted has built a brand and image as a 14-year-old designer, creator and entrepreneur in the UK. At 10 he set up a design account under which he would create designs for his “fellow 10-year-old gamers”. He taught himself the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator, and began filmmaking as a hobby. Now he inspires (and baffles) almost 7,000 Instagram followers and almost 1,000 YouTube followers from his bedroom in Hertfordshire.

I interviewed Ted via email to find out what drives him to pursue design – when he could be gaming like most 14-year-olds – why it’s important for any aspiring designer to have an online following, and what his plans are for moving forward.

Miriam Harris: You’ve managed to do a load of graphic design and filmmaking already. Can you tell me how you began designing?

Ted Bettridge: "Originally for me, designing wasn’t “designing”. It was writing my name in graffiti-style with those little crayons you get as a child in restaurants or trying to create my own version of The Simpsons in a notebook.

"I’ve been designing for as long as I can remember. It started to turn into a full-time hobby around the age of 10. I used to be a proud owner of a gaming YouTube channel (because who wasn’t at 10 years old in 2013?) – though I’m pretty sure my biggest fan was my Grandma (and still is).

"But as I continued producing content to my loving 32 subscribers, I started to realise I was focussing more on things like my brand and logo more than the actual videos I was making. And so it just went from there.

"I set up a little design account, under the name of RedSpider Designs making pixelated, stock-filled designs for fellow 10-year-old gamers like myself. I remember the very first ever design I made for someone, I still have it and look back at it often (below).

"Fast-forward a few years and I started to expand my audience and skills within design, no longer just drawing people with square faces for £2. I taught myself the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator and would just make up fake companies to create logos for. Looking at them now, it’s cringe-worthy to say the least.

One of Ted's original logo designs for "fake companies"

"That’s really how it all began. From there I just worked hard on developing the skills I had.

MH: Why was it important for you to pursue design at a young age?

TB: "It wasn’t really important to me; I guess it just came naturally. Like I said earlier, it’s a passion. Some kids in my class would go home and learn piano or learn to dance – I would learn to design. In this generation it’s so easy to access content on anything you can dream of. All it took was for me to type up “Graphic Design” and I had hours of videos at my fingertips. It’s become a part of my brand really. In a few years or so, I’ll be competing with thousands of other 16, 17, 18-year-old designers all realising that design is what they want to do for the first time. By that time it’s not so unique to be a designer. But hopefully having a seven-year head start on those guys will give me a bit of an advantage."

MH: Do you still stand by your decision to let clients and others know about your age?

TB: "I still stand by that decision. If a client finds out my age and then gives me the boot – it’s probably not the sort of client I’d want to work with in the first place. To a client I wouldn’t bring it up unless they did or it would have an effect on the relationship with them. For instance, I can imagine seeing a 14-year-old in some jeans and a t-shirt turn up to a meeting would be a bit of a shock. I don’t really see it as a barrier anymore, since I often still like to let the work talk for itself. I’ve had a lot of feedback from other creators; they all seem pretty supportive when they find out. Also I’ve had a lot of young aspiring creators saying I’ve inspired them to start designing and those are my favourite kind of comments – it helps reassure me that what I’m doing is worth it."

MH: How do you build and maintain your online audience?

TB: "The biggest thing I’ve learnt is to be consistent. Even if it means you can’t post as much, when there’s that initial few key seconds that people scroll through your profile, you want to give them an idea of what they’ll be seeing in the future. My Instagram account consists mostly of my lettering practise pieces or branding I’ve done involving hand-lettering.

Ted's calligraphy found on his Instagram account

My YouTube channel was made basically for myself as I document my journey, but I wanted to share that journey with anyone who wants to come along.

MH: Why is important for you to document your journey on YouTube?

TB: "The real answer is that I’m just being selfish. I wanted to create something that in 20 years when I’ve settled down with a family, I could say to my kids, ‘This is what I was doing at your age’. In short term, it’s nice to see myself improve over-time and know I’m heading in the right direction. All of the most successful entrepreneurs I follow have all said that they wish they’d documented their journey from the start and watch themselves progress – so I thought why not do that myself."

Check out Ted's latest YouTube video.

MH: Is building a significant online following essential for modern aspiring designers?

TB: "Of course. With no presence – how are you meant to be found? Tell your story, post your work and build a community. The majority of your audience will be fellow aspiring designers, so you can learn a thing or two from them, but also once in awhile you’ll find a client. You’d be surprised at how many clients have actually contacted me through sites like Behance and Instagram because of my age. If I’m the same age as their target audience, they trust me to know what appeals to my generation."

Ted's Instagram account is based on his calligraphy and lettering

MH: What advice do you have for them?

TB: "I would say just take every opportunity you have – you’ve got nothing to lose. Always say yes. Sell yourself and your story, but make sure the focus is the work. Something that’s definitely helped me is reaching out to fellow creators to collaborate. Also, features, blogs like these and any publicity – good or bad – will boost your following.

"Interact with anyone who is anyone. If someone comments on your post, reply, let them know you’ve seen it. It gives a good impression of a community and increases your chances for people to come back and interact later on. I’ve also learnt that people love to see the process, don’t just show the end result, but show the things that didn’t work, the sketches and how you came about creating a final piece. I’m no social media guru, this is just what’s worked for me. Aside from being consistent – patience is key. There’s no such thing as an overnight success, these things take time. If you’ve got the talent, show it, eventually the followers will come."

MH: How do you fit this work in around school and study?

TB: "I’m lucky enough to not struggle with school work too much. Something my Mum could definitely tell you is that time management is something I’ve definitely had to improve. If I had to do homework and she walked into the room, I’d switch the screen to ‘Uses of Nanoparticles’. However as soon as she walked out, it was back to a tutorial on ‘How To Create Proposals For Clients’.

"You can guess that every once in awhile I get caught, but I did get full marks on that Nanoparticles essay.

"Both my parents are as supportive as you can get, they’ve definitely helped me realise that school is the priority. There’s 24 hours in a day, school only takes up eight. I know a lot of people that have a day job and then design is more of their side-project; I see it like that for me."

MH: What equipment and software are you using regularly?

TB: "For video, I use my Canon EOS M3 with the kit lens, I’ve had it for about a year now and I love it – a camera I would recommend to anyone starting out. My technical tripod is mostly a stack of school books. I know my way around the Adobe Suites pretty well, so I use mostly Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere Pro. VSCO is a great little photo-editing app I have on my phone and use that for most of my Instagram posts. As far as the pens I use, I stick to Crayola Broad Markers and Lyra Brush Pens."

MH: What and who are you looking at for inspiration?

TB: "I’m always finding out about new people for inspiration, but people I always go to for inspiration are Aaron Draplin, Chris Do (The Futur) and Gary Vaynerchuk. Often when I’m working on client work I’ll have a keynote or an interview from one of them in the background. Blogs are great to find inspiration as well as just using hashtags on Instagram to find new content. I can’t forget my parents either. Between the business savvy side of my Dad and the creative side of my Mum – as cheesy as it is, they’re the real inspiration."

MH: You say you’ve built your own freelance business. Can you tell us a little about that?

TB: "So I’ve built this freelance over the last couple of years, it started off just creating prints for my Mum’s friends to hang up on their wall. Now I specialise in custom hand-lettering, brand identity and logo design. I’m actually mid-process through a personal project called Childish right now, (seen below) so I’m excited to see how that progresses.

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"I’ve also recently finished off a project with a clothing brand called Tee Break and I’d worked with the client before so it was fun to work with them again."

Ted's design

"I’m also working on stepping up my game on Behance as well since I don’t think my profile represents the standard of work I’ve been doing recently so you’ll see that change over the next month or so."

MH: What’s your plan to becoming a full-time designer?

TB: "I think study wise I’d like to learn more about the business aspect of things. I’ve enjoyed developing my skills as a designer but an artist that also has skills in business is really what I’ve seen has an extra edge. I’ve actually had a day’s work experience in GBH and I learnt a bunch from that, not just design-wise, but also to get a glimpse of the process on a larger scale. If I do take a career in design I’d love to work in a studio in a team, bouncing off each other’s ideas."

MH: What are some skills you’re looking to learn over the next year?

TB: "Filmmaking is something that I’m enjoying playing around with at the moment. Also just building my general skills in design, I’m focussing on improving my presentation and proposals. Instead of just sending off a logo to a client, also explaining my process and what it took to get that logo on their screen. Lettering I want to expand into different styles as well, since it’s definitely becoming more popular."

MH: When will be the time to move away from the image you’ve created as a young designer?

TB: "I think over the next year or so, once I hit 15 I’m in the same boat as every other junior designer trying to make it in the big leagues. I don’t really want to go “all-in” on design in case I find something else along the way. But right now I’m just enjoying building my personal brand, getting experience interacting with clients and telling my story. Like I said earlier I think study-wise I’ll focus on the business side of things. Design is a great skill to have regardless of whether I go into the industry or not."

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