When I was asked to write about my career journey I looked back at the directions I have taken so far and realised that there is no correct way to become a Graphic Designer. So, I decided to write some tips and advice for any budding designers and creatives out there trying to get their big break.
I was lucky enough to know that I wanted to be a Graphic Designer from school age, only then I was more focused on working in the advertising sector. At university, my course consisted of different pathways to focus your degree. Advertising became my pathway, having over looked Illustration, Motion Design, Graphic Design and Packaging Design. Despite this I frequently worked with and was surrounded by other creatives from other areas, lending our skills and ideas to each other’s projects.
You may have read or been told that in the design/creative world it’s not the grades or qualifications that count, that instead it’s more important to have a good portfolio. To some extent this is true, depending on what kind of job you apply for they may just ask for a qualification with a design background. So, you’re probably thinking is it really worth going to university at all?
This bring me to the first tip;
- If you do go to university, absorb everything around you.
- Try new techniques, methods and learn new skills because you never know when they may come-in-handy.
- The friends and contacts you could make at university as a creative are also some of the best ones you can make and ones that you can rely and refer back to when you need their talents.
- Don’t wait until you graduate, get out there now!
- Before you leave, start to make contacts in the industry you want to enter.
- Arrange portfolio sessions with professional creatives to review your work, they are approached all the time and don’t bite. Ask them for old/live briefs to try and then show them the results. They may even be able to show you the portfolio that got them their career
- It’s all about maintaining communication and doing it in a unique way.
Your portfolio is your best weapon when it comes to getting noticed and there are endless ways of putting it together. It goes without saying you should only have your best work in it and that it needs to be kept up-to-date, but it can be easier said than done. If you suddenly get an interview but your portfolio isn’t quite up-to-date then you will need to rush to finish it in time.
- Tailoring your portfolio to each interview and meeting to suit their requirements is always a great well to make sure you tick all the boxes. It also shows you match or compliment their style, making you much more employable.
When I got my first job after university I asked my manager why they chose me over everyone else that applied, they said; “It was very close between you and one other person. The reason we chose you was because you had done your own website”.
- Having your own website for your work is a great way to showcase your work. If you are think of venturing into Motion Design then I would say this is essential.
All the tips so far should help towards you making some impact and getting started soon after graduating. If, however you find yourself in a rut or struggling to get anywhere here is some further advice.
One of the biggest barriers that you are probably going to come across is a requirement for a certain amount of experience, 2 or 5 year for example. Just seeing this on job adverts when your starting out can be very demotivating, but there are things you can do.
- Take on freelance work
- Freelance experience can still count toward those scary totals. It also allows you to work on a variety of briefs and potentially use your entire skill set.
- Set your own projects and briefs
- Personal projects can be some of your best work
- Don’t stop shouting
- Keep your contacts up-to-date with what you are doing and ask them about what they are doing. Taking an interest in them and their work is better than just talking about yourself.
- Always get feedback
- Whether it’s from an interview, application or just sending your portfolio always get advice on how you can make it better
Despite graduating with a degree in advertising I found myself producing illustration projects. I was expanding on the skills I had neglected at university and it felt good to produce something just for me.
- Don’t be afraid if it doesn’t quite go to plan
- Starting out producing personal work will keep your mind and skills going until something comes along
This bring me to probably the best piece of advice I can give:
- Starting out somewhere unplanned can still get you to where you want to be
- If you start working in a sector or environment you hadn’t initially pictured yourself in then don’t worry. Building up your skills, portfolio and experience can all help you when it comes to making bigger steps up the ladder.
When you are settled in a job that you enjoy and is going well but you still feel you have more to give;
- Take on freelance work on the side
- Only if you think you can cope physically and mentally, without compromising on your full-time job, then taking on freelance briefs in your spare time can give you a sense of fulfilment.
- Don’t work for a competitor
- It’s not worth risking your current employer finding out
- Keep doing what you were doing
- Keep communicating with your contacts and putting your name out there to apply for big and small briefs
- Middle-men sites
- There are plenty of websites that business can post briefs, large and small for creatives. This allows you to pick and choose how to build your portfolio and use skills that your employer might not be able to satisfy
- Don’t sell yourself short, this applies whether you just working freelance or doing it on the side
- It can be quite overwhelming having to set your own prices, too high and no-one will take you on, too low and you could be selling yourself short and not earning enough. Find the balance that you feel represent the amount of time and skills you put into something. Charging either per hour or per day is often a good way to regulate your rates.
Tom Levesley, Marketing Graphic Designer