I’m a lazy bugger – what can I do to be a grade A designer?
Do your homework.
There is no question that when studying any design related course, what you put in is what you get out. It’s not rocket science, but it really does turn out that the students who work the hardest and commit themselves the most end up with the best stuff!
Uni is expensive.
Arrive on time. Stay late.
Universities now are really expensive, so make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Arrive on time and prepared. Stay after class and ask questions; find out about more than just what the class covered. WORK A LOT.
As lecturers, we work for you.
Teachers have an annoying habit of setting up to make you feel like they’re in charge. The reality is that lecturers, administrators, librarians etc are all there in the first place because you decided to attend. And they really do work for you. So be clear about what you want and need, and team up with other students to make sure that those desires are communicated to the people in power. Use the library; ask for help. Make us work for you.
Develop your presentation skills.
Talking a good game will only get you so far – you need to ensure you have the substance behind you to back up your mouth! No matter how good a designer you are, without a certain level of presentation skills, nobody will ever know. Practice public speaking, prepare, and take any opportunity you can whilst in uni to practice speaking to large (and small) groups! There is no underestimating the harm to your future career that bad presentation skills can cause – no one likes ‘ums’ and ‘erms…’ and ‘it’s nice’.
This is the single best way to be and stay connected with the outside world. A talented designer with nothing to say isn’t much use to anyone, and there’s nothing more dangerous than an ignorant mass producer. If you live in a country that has a good newspaper, read it. If you don’t, find a good magazine (not Nuts…), or read countless ones on the web for free. Read blogs – whatever you need to get ahead!!
Don’t work alone.
I know you know that design is a collaborative effort, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t practice getting along with others while you’re still in the studio. But that’s not the real benefit of doing design work with others: It’s more fun. If you don’t already know this, then you haven’t done design work with others.
Take almost any job.
There is absolutely no replacement for the real thing, and practical experience in any design related field is more than you already have. So don’t spend six months after you graduate looking for the perfect job. And, certainly, don’t wait until you graduate to look for your first design job. You should be doing everything in your power to get some practical training onto your résumé and into your brain and hands before you graduate. That means helping out somewhere once a week, or bagging that summer internship. Do anything design-related. You’ll be respected more by future employers, and have some skills by the time you get out.
Why should other people care about design if you the designer doesn’t?
Do you spend that extra half an hour in the studio or college, to maximise your potential, or do you skip off into the sunshine?
It is incredibly hard balancing lecturing, designing and life, but you know, I just manage to do it. I expect that any student wanting to pursue a career in design should treat the time they have in the upmost respect, using the studio, using my knowledge, using other students knowledge to help them develop as designers.
Design is a funny subject, the more insular you are the worse a designer you become. With no one to critique your work, to tell you how bad or how good a typeface is, or to tell you that red and blue spots are not the best idea for a corporate banking client - it makes you rely on your own judgement. Whilst we are all professional, we are also majorly modest in our own heads - most things we do are amazing, and it is just a blip that Pentagram haven’t been on the phone offering us a job! We need other creatives around us to drive our own imagination and designs forward.
I am just about to embark on a creative month working collaboratively with another graphic designer/lecturer to take up the 30 days of creativity challenge starting on 1st june.
This is a brilliant opportunity to work with someone that has very different, yet very similar design styles as I do myself. I am excited in the thought of learning new techniques and creating a dialogue between each others creative process.
We sat for a couple of hours last week talking about the design world and how we both find excellent creative opportunities in our jobs and how we can develop the learning our students partake in day to day. In fact she is going to come and talk to my students to discuss the trials and tribulations of freelance designing - i’m sure they will take a lot more notice of her stories than mine as sometimes it is very difficult for them to see me as a freelance designer too.
One thing I do know, is that today lots of students have really valued my opinion about their projects and have developed their concepts accordingly - the fact that students as young as 16 are willing to take constructive creative criticism and use it in a positive way shows me that I am doing something right!
Anon asked: I was warned after graduating that I would hate my first job entering the design industry. I was hoping it wouldn’t be true! but alas, it is. I don’t have the opportunity to design anything and even if I did we design strictly sportswear which isn’t my niche. Now, I realize I should obviously quit my job and find a new one but I am constantly applying for new jobs and getting nothing back. I know I’m not a shit designer. Any suggestions on applying for jobs?
This is unfortunately an all too common statement that lots of people undertaking their first design job end up making. You are already at the bottom of the ladder, and you don’t want to be looking up at the bottom rung!
Your first design job is primarily there for you to make mistakes and learn. Even though the original poster states that they aren’t designing anything, there could be other opportunities within the same firm that perhaps you aren’t noticing. For everytime you see design going on around you learn from it, ask questions, make other people aware and remind them that you too are a creative person with lots of ideas. Also, don’t ever look at a subject that you’re designing for as ‘not your niche’ - use it as a way of learning to add that to your repatoire! In my first design position I was going from designing something for a television company, to an information sheet for a sewage cleaning company, to a newsletter for a solicitors - guess which one I wish I solely worked on?
Starting work in the design industry is all about paying your dues unfortunately, and you generally have to wade through the crap to get to the pot of gold!
With regards to looking for a new job, put it on hold for a little while - use the opprtunities where you are (no matter how small) to help you get some enthusiasm back, also try to do some little ‘just-for-you’ projects that help you drive your creativity. Don’t ever quit your job without another waiting - it is much easier to find work, when you are in work!
Take stock of what you are sending to other companies. Is it a CV? Is it a portfolio? Is it just an ‘I want to work with you guys because I hate my current job’? (I have done that and it is surprising how easily you can communicate that in applications without realising!)
You have to give companies a really good reason as to why they should hire you - what do you bring to the table and how can you improve their company?
When you are applying to other creative agencies send them something to get excited about!
Things to be excited by:
Things that don’t get people excited:
(ok i’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but if you really want to grab the companies attention you may need to put a lot of work into what you are sending them, and speculate to accumulate! If you need to spend a bit of money on printing to make it look good - well do it! You are doing it for your future!)
Another thing is ascertain is whether you actually have the skills and experience they want or require. I have seen fresh graduates apply for senior designer posts, which inevitably (unless you have Ferris Bueller style charm) they get no response, or turned down from and then they get sulky because no one is giving them a job. Do your research about a firm, reference their work, and say what you are going to bring to their company! Also, get someone you know in the industry to look over your applications and portfolio - ask them for constructive criticism, this could be a friend, a colleague your mum - whoever! Sometimes you just don’t notice something glaringly obvious that perhaps isn’t the best idea to be in your portfolio (mine was the abundance of design relating to a sex shop rebrand……)
Unfortunately there are many more unemployed designers than design jobs out there at the moment, but there is hope - just keep plugging away and sooner rather than later you will get a break somewhere down the line.
Hope this was all of some help for everyone in this situation - it happens to us all so good luck in all your future endeavors!
I’m also going to do a post about portfolios and interviews etc soon - so keep your eyes peeled!