Double Life – Markell Hughes

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In between a successful career in graphic design and raising two boys, Markell Hughes finds time for another creative outlet in the form of food! The Platter Effect has recently grown from helping out at family events to an exciting business venture where Markell uses her skill with colour and balance to create platters almost too good to eat.

What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?

As a kid, my family had property at Upper Orara and I would spend holidays swimming in the river and cooking with my nan. When it was time to have a family of my own, my husband and I made the decision for a more relaxed lifestyle and headed to Coffs Harbour.

Can you tell us a little about your double life? What do you do?

My career is as a graphic designer; it is what I studied and is what I do full-time. However, I am always creating things and making food platters is something that I have always done for family and friends.

What or who inspired you to become a graphic designer?

It was actually my art teacher at high school. I LOVED art, it was by far my favourite subject. I especially loved lino printing and screen printing. There was a fleeting moment of wanting to be a hairdresser in Year 10, but other than that I had no idea what I wanted my career to be. My teacher suggested graphic design to me; he knew my strengths and weaknesses and thought it would be a perfect fit … Turned out he was right.

What do you enjoy most about this work?

I love pushing the boundaries and creating something that exceeds clients’ expectations. I especially like it when I get creative freedom to design what I think will work; while it’s great to get a brief, sometimes the best designs come out of exploring something a little left of centre. Print design is my favourite thing – holding that magazine, book or brochure as a finished product is pretty cool.

What have been some of the highlights of your graphic design career?

Coming out of uni, I went straight to work at Girlfriend Magazine and then NW, which was an absolute career dream. Not only was I designing awesome layouts, we were also going to parties with celebs and famous sports people.

A definite highlight was being the Art Director of TV WEEK Magazine. I had creative freedom to make that magazine how I wanted it to look and I also got to create a Logies campaign, which was a lot of work but was awesome fun … Think hanging out with Liam Hemsworth and Isabel Lucas.

Probably my ultimate career highlight was being nominated as Designer of the Year a few years ago. I didn’t win, but I was shortlisted in the top five magazine designers with the work I created in Catalogue magazine and Sneaky, which were produced here on the Coffs Coast.

When and why did you start creating platters, and how did this lead to The Platter Effect? 

It didn’t start as a business idea at all; it was just something I always did. I think the turning point was the grazing table I did at my sister’s 30th. People responded to that table a lot more than I had ever expected and the next day, lying around hung over, I remember joking about possible business names. Maybe 10 months later I saw some similar businesses in Sydney and Brisbane and thought, “You know what; I’m going to give it a go”.

How does your background and training in graphic design help in creating beautiful platters? 

I think having an eye for colour and balance  a definitely helps. Some platters are trickier than others, and I usually sketch them out to help make sure all the food that is requested fits on the boards in the most creative and beautiful way and that all my platters are different.

What are your favourite ingredients to use?

Cheese! I also love using fruit, as it adds a lot of colour – especially passionfruit for its smell. I like coconuts, because they look great when they are filled with things like berries. I think a trademark is my choc pretzels; I love using them, because they are the perfect mix of salty and sweet.

Can you describe your favourite platter creation so far?

Definitely a baby shower I did recently at Sapphire Luxury Beach House. It was a table filled with many colourful platters, an antipasto, sushi and dessert platter. The brief was bright and colourful, so I had a ton of fun creating these platters and also styling the table. The setting was absolute beachfront, so that definitely helped make it a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds.

What types of parties or events do you cater for?

Any, really. I have done birthdays, hens’ parties, pre-wedding platters for brides and bridesmaids, as well as corporate functions and training days, baby showers, gift platters and platters for couples to take away on retreats. Recently Precision Helicopters took one of my platters to Solitary Island for a morning tea.

Can you share any advice for people trying to make more time for their various work and passions?

I think the main thing is to really love what you do and do it because you enjoy it, not because it is going to make you money. It’s much easier to find time to do something that you enjoy, and you just really have to back yourself. I love that The Platter Effect grew organically, not because I just wanted to start “a business”. I am passionate about what is right in front of me, so when I am designing, that gets my full attention – same for when I am doing my platters and spending time with my family.

Where can people find out more about your graphic design work and The Platter Effect?

I am currently a graphic designer at CornerPost Creative, so check out our portfolio online at and also on our instagram and Facebook.

For more info on The Platter Effect, visit and for more platter pics, check out my instagram and Facebook @theplattereffect.

Thanks Markell.

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