Way Out West

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‘When I moved here first I worked with a 56kb dial-up modem. I used to burn my work to CDs and give them to the CIE bus driver who would give it to a courier in Dublin. But it worked!’ Cillian Ó Mongáin moved to Blacksod in Co. Mayo trusting that if he could bring some freelance work with him from his native Dublin he could make a life for himself with close-by beaches, time for family and fuel for his wellbeing. 15 years later and it’s still working…

Having studied visual communication in IADT, Cillian’s moved through a range of disciplines — branding, motion design, photography and print design — but now primarily works as a digital product designer. He works internationally, with work for Panasonic inventing their future smart home interfaces both paying the bills and getting the creative juices flowing. 'Motion design and innovative interfaces get my heart racing. Thankfully at the moment that is also my bread and butter. If you can, why not have your cake and eat it?!’

Loca app UI and UX designed by Cillian Ó Mongáin

While on the face of it, it might seem like a challenge to run a design business from such a remote place, Cillian has found a lot of advantages: ‘It's very affordable, the cost of doing business is a lot less than in a city so breaking even happens early in the week. As a business owner the sense of freedom and relief from this alone is enormous. Office space is generous and has an ocean view and it's in the centre of the community which is important to counter isolation. From a family perspective, my office is only two minutes from home so I don't lose any time to commuting. I get to see my family (wife and three young kids) a lot but also have space to work when I need to. There are quite a few beaches nearby so I can drop tools and surf at a moment's notice.’

Cormac Begley's Debut Solo Concertina Album designed by Cillian Ó Mongáin

There are challenges, but they have lessened as time has gone on. No more 56kb dial-up modem, for example… ‘With improved connectivity the challenges are evaporating. If I was a larger company I have no doubt staffing would be difficult, but being a solo freelancer makes you more resilient. Isolation from a design community is a factor, but weighed against everything else I don't see it as an issue.’ And while they may not be right on his doorstep, Cillian cites the many designers in the West as a source of inspiration. ‘Another surfer from close-by became part of Piquant in Limerick. I always like to keep an eye on their raw creativity and their grá for Limerick and the West. I admire all the small creative businesses that have set up in the West, there are a ton of photographers, illustrators and web designers plugging away out here.’ Blacksod might not be home to a creative scene itself, but it has a culture that is as rich as it is unexposed. ‘There is a depth and authenticity to the history, the people and the landscape that is unmatched. I draw on that regularly for inspiration and fulfilment. It's amazing how much an environment can fuel your mental and physical wellbeing.’

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