My Working Day: Nathan Cockburn

One of my jobs is creating packshots - digital mockups of releases before they physically exist so that they can go on sale for pre-order. I didn’t even know that sort of thing happened and always assumed what you see on websites were photographs.

Nathan Cockburn is one of the region’s success stories to come from the Government’s recent Kickstart programme.

In this issue’s My Working Day feature, we chat to our youngest interviewee, Nathan Cockburn, who works for AS Design North East – run by East Durham Business designer and co-founder, Alan Sawyers, who also co-runs three ecommerce and product businesses.

EDB: You work for AS Design North East. Tell us more about that. NC: I started a six-month placement on February 1 as part of the Kickstart scheme. I’d only been out of work for a couple of months but I was keen to get back into a job. I’d initially applied for the role of production and ecommerce assistant for the businesses that run alongside AS Design, but within the first three months I was offered a permanent role in design and web to start at the end of the placement. That role officially started in August.

EDB: It sounds like the role is very varied. What do you like most about it? NC: Just the fact it is so varied. No two days are the same as one day we can be designing websites or print materials, and the next day printing t-shirts, packing orders, taking product photos, running website maintenance or visiting clients’ offices.

You’ve also had the opportunity to design merchandise for a famous singer haven’t you? NC: Yes, Toyah Willcox and her husband Robert Fripp. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of them, being 20, but both my parents have and were very impressed. We run the merch websites for Toyah & Robert as well as designing several music releases for Cherry Red Records and Demon Records. One of my jobs is creating packshots – digital mockups of releases before they physically exist so that they can go on sale for pre-order. I didn’t even know that sort of thing happened and always assumed what you see on websites were photographs.

EDB: One of the projects you’re involved with is the design of East Durham Business magazine. Is that something you’re enjoying? NC: Definitely. It’s very different to the other things I do, so learning the software we use to design the magazine, Adobe InDesign, has helped me develop my skills beyond Photoshop, which is the tool I’ve used the most as I used it in my previous job too.

EDB: What is a typical day for you? NC: Other than starting at 9am, there isn’t one. The work we do is so varied and moves very fast so it’s not very often I don’t know what I’m working on until I get to work, except when we have large orders for products that need printing.

EDB: You’ve employed further help in that area haven’t you? NC: Yes, my little brother Josh, who’s 16. During April and May we had two large orders for t-shirts and my boss Alan and I quickly realised that we needed flexible help for when big orders come in. Josh was 15 at the time and about to start his final summer holiday before going into Sixth Form, so I suggested we give him a summer job. After two paid work experience weeks, he was given his first ever job with me training and looking after him. I didn’t get my first job until 18, so I was impressed that he wanted to work and have been pleasantly surprised by his attitude. He’s now doing the things I don’t have as much time for, although we still all pitch in when needed as Josh only works when he can, around his school commitments.

EDB: Is a career in design something you aspire to? NC: Definitely, design and development, yeah. I had been learning web development in my spare time even before I started this job, as my older brother is a software developer, so it was nice to discover I also enjoy design. I have been told a couple of times now that coding and design skills don’t usually come together so I feel lucky that I’m able to do both.

EDB: Finally, at the end of the working week, how do you relax? NC: I love to play American Football when I get the chance and I play pool with my older brother, Jamie. Josh and I stay with our dad every other weekend and we’re both gamers too.


Nathan was recruited into AS Design North East via the Government’s Kickstart programme, which provided funding to create new jobs for 16 to 24 year olds.

Owner Alan Sawyers said: “I worked with the gateway provider, MINT Business Club, who handled the whole process of applying for the programme and getting the job advert out there. I was sceptical at first and only invited one person to interview – Nathan – and offered him the role of production and ecommerce assistant.”

After discovering Nathan has an interest in web development, and also has design skills, Alan felt it was the right move to get him more involved in AS Design. Alan added: “He took to that side of the business within a matter of days and it was clear even within the first few weeks that any future Nathan had within any of my businesses would be with AS Design.

“I’m more than happy to have had my initial doubts proven wrong and to have taken Nathan on permanently. He is already proving to be an asset to the business and definitely has a bright future ahead of him. I’m glad to be playing a part in that.”
On August 1, Nathan’s brother Josh started working over the summer holidays for AS Design, the same day his older sibling was given his permanent contract.

Alan said: “Again, being sceptical about his age, I was unsure how it would go with Josh, but it’s been a joy to watch Nathan bring his little brother into his workplace and step up from a junior role into one where he’s training and mentoring Josh in what is hopefully a fun and enjoyable first experience of work.

“I had no plans to employ anyone in my own business but, sat here today with four people on payroll for AS Design, I find myself in – to namecheck a Toyah song – a Brave New World”.