We talk to GIF creator and art director Freddie Smithson about his most significant projects to date, and how social media has impacted his career.

What did you really want to do when you were younger? Did you have a particular career path in mind? 

I didn’t have a career path in mind, but I knew I wanted to be creative — I was painting and drawing all through my childhood and teenage years. I was totally obsessed with art, I basically lived in the art department at school. 

This continued when I started an Art Foundation at Leeds College of Art, where I discovered collage and the idea of conceptual art, two areas I explored extensively in that year. 

I then chose to attend Bath School of Art and Design, where I studied Graphic Communication. This coincided with the eruption of Instagram and, once I'd finished the course, I applied all I had learned with the digital world.  

Working as a freelance creative and conceptual art director at Cult LDN, we can imagine you have quite a busy schedule. What is a typical working day like for you?

Pretty busy yes! I try to utilise all my spare time to get the most out of my day. I’ll usually spend a couple of hours in the morning before I start at Cult LDN going through any emails, and doing any amends to work that have come through overnight. 

I then work full time at Cult LDN during the week, on everything from new business pitches to art directing shoots and concepting campaigns. In the evenings and weekends, I do the bulk of my freelance work as well as content for my own channel, which can be a lot to manage at times, but it’s made me a much more organised person! And organisation was never something with which I was naturally gifted.

"I love to collaborate with brands that want to create fun content and not take themselves too seriously"

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Freddie Smithson for Bally: AW17 Social Campaign

Was there a particular step that helped you at the start of your career? 

I was fortunate enough to be taken on as an intern on the digital and social media team at House of Holland. This internship eventually became my first full-time job, where I was the assistant to the digital manager. 

House of Holland influenced a lot of how I think today. It’s a brand that’s not afraid to be true to itself, have fun and be creative, regardless of anything else. That, in a world saturated with corporate, vanilla social media was something that really resonated with me.

My next venture at Cult LDN was the second stepping stone. A creative agency that just wants to make cool work for clients that want to have fun! ‘Grab our hands and let’s jump off a cliff together’ is Cat Turner the CCO’s favourite phrase when describing Cult, and that’s what I love about it. As a company, we’re not afraid to push our clients into creating amazing work together.

What do you specialise in as a freelance creative? 

I see my work as a freelance creative as an opportunity to completely explore my own creative style. I love to collaborate with brands that want to create fun content and not take themselves too seriously. For me, the most important thing about content is that it’s fun and engaging with a simple message, and not trying too hard.

The work I have been creating freelance came about before ‘memes’. In fact, I was creating GIFs for many years before. I mostly create conceptual GIFs and still content for fashion, music and lifestyle brands, but the work I do varies a lot, which is why I usually refer to myself simply as ‘creative’. 

I would say GIF animations are what I specialise in. More recently, the meme side of my work has attracted a few freelance projects, so it really is based on what an individual brand is looking for. I’m always happy to work together to find the best solution creatively to answer their needs and the brief most effectively. My most recent collaborations include Hunter, Coach and Lane Crawford.  

"I was approached to create a GIF to announce the launch of Drake’s ‘More Life’ album for social media. That was an absolute dream come true"

Freddie Smithson for Drake: More Life social campaign

How did you make a name for yourself in the freelance world?

I suppose my Instagram account @freddiemade is what made a name for me. Whilst a lot of what I post on there is fashion meme content and not directly related, I have found it is shared a lot more (which is to be expected, when you look a ‘meme culture’ as a whole). This means I reach a large amount of people with my @freddiemade content, and as a result can direct some of that traffic to my website, meaning people see my more refined design and conceptual work. The memes by nature are ‘conceptual’ I guess, which demonstrates part of my skill.

My approach used to be to reach out to brands that I wanted to collaborate with, with a potential idea. But at the moment, I’m fortunate enough that any freelance work I get through is from brands that have approached me. I’m potentially signing up to an agency soon, which is an exciting prospect, so it will be interesting to see how that impacts the way I work.

Collectively, are there any projects over the years that have been particularly significant for you? Why, and what did you learn from them? 

I art directed Bally’s AW17 social campaign at their Milan Fashion week show last year. It involved filming at their presentation space the night before the show, with six international influencers. Then editing the content in our hotel room overnight to deliver it the next day. There were several films, GIFs and still images to select, edit and retouch in about 24 hours. It was such an intense and exhausting experience, but so rewarding to create such amazing work with an amazing team in such a short amount of time! 

Another that was particularly significant but for other reasons was a personal freelance project of mine. I was approached to create a GIF to announce the launch of Drake’s ‘More Life’ album for social media. That was an absolute dream come true, as I've been a fan of Drake for years.

Finally, a more recent personal ‘win’. I’ve been working with Highsnobiety, creating content for their Instagram and one particular piece is being made reality: I created a meme, combining New Balance trainers with Balenciaga trainers (‘New Balenciaga's’ I named them). I was then approached by someone telling me they were going to make me a pair! So I’m currently waiting for these to arrive. It feels like my first taster of the sculptural world of art, rather than digital. If nothing more, it’s just seriously fun that I will be able to wear one of my memes soon!

"I love understanding how other artists minds work and how they see the world"

Freddie Smithson for Highsnobiety: New Balanciaga

What are your main sources of inspiration for your work? 

I don't really have a main source of inspiration, I think everything has the potential to be a source of inspiration, it’s just a case of tuning in! But I guess if I had to pick one, I’d say I’m mostly inspired by art.

I go to a lot of exhibitions, I set myself the challenge of going to one a week last year, and definitely beat it. I love understanding how other artists' minds work and how they see the world. 

What would you like to do next? 

I have never had a plan! As I mentioned earlier, I’m not naturally an organised person so creativity often feels like a chaotic process. I would like to continue having fun creating amazing work for, and collaborating with, amazing people. In whatever shape or form that takes! 


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'The Devil Wears Balanciaga'
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Freddie Smithson for Barbour: Barbour International Sessions
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Freddie Smithson for House of Holland: Flat lay product content


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