A Note to My Former Self, Aged 21


I am currently taking part in the West of England Design Forum (WEDF) Design Buddy scheme which is a unique mentoring opportunity set up to help third year graphic design students studying at Bath Spa University. It is a brilliant way to not only inspire the next generation of designers, but to also share with them some hard earned insights into the big bad world of commercial design.

Working closely with my student over the last six months, as ‘Buddies’ we are on board to advise and help towards their final year modules, but more importantly, their transition from full time education to a career in the creative industries. Advice and help which is invaluable to budding designers in that stage of their personal development. This then got me thinking:  If I could give my former self, leaving university at the age of 21 just 10 important tips, what would they be? Well, after careful consideration, here they are:


1. Give care to the quality of your work and don’t give a shit about what grade you get!  Since becoming a designer, I have never been asked if I have a degree, only where I studied. No one really cares about what grade you got, if your work is solid and shows promise then that’s all that matters. Spend less time worrying about what grade you’re going to get and more time dedicated to your actual work.


2. Don’t take a break between finishing university and finding a design job, get stuck in straight away. You will end up partying too hard and you’ll find yourself further and further away from that dream design job.


3. Throughout your last few months of university you should be actively putting yourself in front of the right people. To be able to do this, you first need to understand what type of designer you are. There’s no point approaching hundreds of digital agencies, if you want to become a print designer. At the end of a three year design course you should by now have discovered what area of the creative industries you’d like to work in. Be true to yourself. Forget the money, you will make this later in your career.


4. Don’t be scared to work several jobs. It takes time to land a good design job, so don’t be afraid to put the hours in and don’t forget to always look at the bigger picture.


5. When contacting agencies or applying for jobs, be personal, do your homework and don’t be cocky or arrogant. It helps to try and engage with whomever you are contacting and remember you need to make an impact. Try and do this with your work and not an email subject line that reads “Best designer in the world, seeking a job with your cool company!”.  Trust me, it doesn’t work.


6. Be realistic, if you’ve spent three years at university perfecting your minimal layout skills, you will need to upgrade your portfolio. Employers want to see both self-initiated and collaborative projects in there. Without a doubt it’s one of the most important things we look for. We want to see that you have the ability to work hard and generate great ideas.


7. There’s no need to grow a beard, it might help you look more like a designer but it won’t land you that dream job at Pentagram.


8. Try and find a way to stand out from the pack. Many designers leave university with a very similar style to a lot of their class mates. This isn’t your fault, it’s your tutors. Three years of all being taught in the exact same way will do this. Don’t be afraid to break the mould and try something different. You tutor’s might not like it, but potential employers will.


9. The L word. Do I go to London or don’t I? It’s question a lot of designers face when looking for jobs. There’s no straight answer for this. Yes, move to London if you are offered a great opportunity to start/further your design career, but don’t change your life and distance yourself from friends and family on a wing and a prayer. London has lots to offer young creatives but there are thriving design communities right across the country. Make sure you end up somewhere you’re going to be happy.


10. And finally, maybe you don’t want to work for anyone else, well that’s absolutely fine. Get yourself out there and try being a freelance designer or even start your own studio, just remember your career has only just become, so it’s okay to make mistakes or try something new at this stage. Whatever you do decide to do and whatever direction you choose to go in, just remember that passion and desire go a long way.


Right or wrong, I’m glad I made the decisions I did when leaving university, as they’ve got me where I am today. And that’s in a very happy creative environment, doing what I love every day of the week. It took me seven years since leaving university  and there’s still a long way to go.

If you have any priceless tips for a new young professional, please share them below.

Good luck to the class of 2014!


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