10 Tips for Graduate Designers
Since setting up Edmundson Design, I’ve had a few emails from students and graduates asking if I had any advice for them re working in the design industry. I’m always happy to help where I can but I thought I would take this opportunity to write a blog post about my experiences and my career, and the tips I’ve picked up along the way since starting out as a graduate myself way back in 1998.
Being a student is great. But once it’s over comes the daunting reality of finding employment – which as we all know can be easier said than done unfortunately.
Getting any job these days is tough, not least in the design industry. I know this first hand and having spent a lot of my career in the North East I can say from personal experience it seems harder to get on the job ladder here than in cities like London, largely because there aren’t as many jobs. Don’t let that put you off though, it didn’t with me. I would say that you have to believe in yourself and your abilitiy – and be prepared to persevere.
Art College and Uni can often be the best times of your life and they teach you a lot, although unfortunately not quite everything. Both during your job-search and when you’ve landed your first job there can be a few surprises along the way. Here are a few things I’ve picked up on which with any luck might help you get that all-important first design job – and may hopefully help smooth the way as you embark on your early career.
1. Experience is invaluable
Offer your services to a client for free so you can use the work in your portfolio. Do charity work. Best of all though is to call or email an agency and ask if you can work for free for a day, a week or even a month to gain experience. All this will be invaluable on your CV and will prove to an employer that you are keen to learn more and to gain some valuable experience which is crucial to progress in your career.
Unless you’re extremely talented and fortunate, it’s highly unlikely you will walk into a dream design job straight from uni. Most designers have to start somewhere and progress from being an intern or apprentice to junior designer. By starting out as an intern, you could learn an enormous amount as well as making the kind of contacts you need to. With any luck you could be offered a project, a contract or even a job. Internships are more common than ever before and particularly in London. Some may not favour it but most would agree that it’s part and parcel of the industry now. Agencies would rather not pay a finder’s fee to a recruiter for their employees, so look at it from their perspective – they’re going to be saving money this way, which is why it’s an increasingly common trend across other industries too.
2. Sell yourself
You have to sell You and your qualities the best you can. Buy your own URL, put your work up on it, be creative with how you present it. Use Social Media as much as possible to get your work out there and your skills visible. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Behance and Twitter are all so useful these days. LinkedIn in particular is one of the best in my opinion for getting yourself noticed by the people who matter. Dribble and Creativepool is also another useful way of enhancing your visibility and showcasing your talent.
3. It’s all in the detail
Make sure your work looks the part and has no mistakes in it. Have an up-to-date CV. Ensure it’s spellchecked and get it proofread by someone who knows their stuff.
4. Get Feedback
Ask for plenty of opinions about your work from friends and family, or show it on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Don’t design for yourself – a good designer will listen to others likes and dislikes and take some of them on board.
5. It’s not about you
One of the biggest issues when coming into the industry from art college or uni, is that the briefs you were set probably weren’t real or for an actual client. Try to put yourself in the clients shoes. Respond to the brief and not your own agenda. Don’t risk it with just one idea – if possible create a number of options for the client to consider.
6. Time Management
Time becomes an all-important factor now, as most projects are on tight deadlines and budgets. The time you spend on a project is accountable from pricing point of view. You probably had days or weeks to complete a project at uni, whereas now you may only have a matter of hours.
Make sure you put plenty of variety into your portfolio. Everyone has different tastes and you never know what people will like – just because you think something looks great doesn’t mean that others will. If you take a look at my project gallery for instance, you’ll see I’ve tried to incorporate a large number of different styles and types of work.
When you do end up working in a design agency you’re probably going to be working on lots of different project for lots of different clients. And you’re less likely to be employed if your work always looks the same.
8. Don’t take it too personally
Us creative types are a sensitive bunch for sure, but unfortunately rejection is an unavoidable part of the process. It’s character-building and the best will learn from it. Stick at it. Ask for feedback if you didn’t get the job and try not to take it personally. Another point to add is to avoid letting yourself become too precious with your work. We must all be mindful that the client pays our wages – it’s all about understanding and compromise, and not about what looks best in your folio. A quote within advertising which has always stuck with me: ‘Today’s newspaper ads are tomorrow’s Fish ‘n’ Chip wrappers’. This meaning that it’s not that we don’t care and shouldn’t strive for perfection, just there is a time to care and a time to let go.
9. Keep up to date with technology
While drawing skills are an essential part of a design job, it’s increasingly important to be fluent in as many I.T. programmes as you can. This is not something you’re likely to be taught, it’s something you will have to learn, and keeping fully up-to-speed is a necessity. Adobe CS is a must, as is a good knowledge of Microsoft applications such as PowerPoint, Word and even Excel. An online course from Lynda.com or similar might help you brush up on your skills so you can hit the ground running when you start.
10. Manners and Etiquette
No-one is entitled to a job, it’s up to you to earn it by impressing. Employers will not look purely at your ability to do the job, but also at you as a person, how you react to others in a team situation and how well you can collaborate. And being polite, courteous and punctual won’t do you any harm at all in your career. Mistakes will also happen from time to time, no-one is perfect. If you have made a mistake, own up, admit it and learn from it.
I really hope that some of these tips can be of help as you venture forward, and wish you every success in your new career. Be the best you can be.
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