10 Tips For A Soon To Be Graduate Designer

There’s light at the end of the tunnel

Words by: Alex Tomlinson


One and a half years ago I graduated from Kingston University completing a course in Graphic Design. After 3 years in incubation squirrelling away I was let loose on the real world. Looking back on my experience, these are the 10 takeaway tips from my transition from day-drinker to responsible adult.


1. Be Passionate About Your Work

If you can’t be excited and talk about your work, nobody else will be excited when you talk about it either. Talking people through your work is a really important skill. Whether you nailed the brief or it went pear shaped, you should always be excited about the work you’ve done. If you can’t talk about it, don’t put it in your portfolio.

2. Push Yourself to Breaking Point

The hardest thing I did in final year was to take on organising the digital side of our end of year show while trying to scrabble my own work together for the end of year assessment. The result was that I produced some of the strongest work in my portfolio because I wasn’t worrying about the constraints of academia.

Do a project using a technique you’ve never tried before. Push yourself to learn and don’t play anything safe. Safe design leads to boring visuals. Remember that people want to be wowed by you. If the overall impression of your work is “consistently average” you’ll have to do more work later. University is the time to be anarchic and experimental. Embrace it.

3. Put Yourself Forward for Everything

Life is full of twists of fate. You don’t know where you’re going to meet your first employer or which companies you’re going to be interning at. I met Vicki the day after our end-of-year show opened at the Hoxton Arches. I was there because I offered to deal with the collective hangover of our year group by staying the whole day invigilating the gallery with a couple of other people. During the day I met all sorts of wonderful people and although far fewer people than the opening night, plenty of industry professionals came in the next day to chat to.

Being in the right place at the right time can make the difference between landing a dream job and struggling to find a placement. Put yourself in as many places as possible.

4. Be Friendly

Don’t be that intern.

This sounds obvious, but every studio has a story about that one person. Half of the employment puzzle is personality. It won’t matter how many awards you have or how good your work is if nobody wants to work with you. Equally don’t be afraid of the people you are working around. They’ve all been where you are right now.

5. Know What Makes You Different

In marketing a company has to know it’s Unique Selling Position (USP). In other words, what is it that the company does better than any of its competitors, or what makes it different.

Looking for a job is the same process. Tailor yourself and your portfolio to your strengths. Don’t worry about getting pigeon holed. If you’re a great left-field thinker, show your maddest ideas. Have you done something nobody has ever even attempted before? Show it off.

Universities aren’t factories that churn out carbon copies of students. You might have noticed that you went to certain people more for certain things in your final year, thats because you’re recognising their strength in a particular area. Where did you fit in with your peers? Can you push that through your work to add value to your portfolio?

6. Know What You Aren’t Good At

There’s no harm in not being strong in an area of design. That’s why you start as an intern and not a creative director. The creative process outside of university is completely different, projects that could take you months before may now be a weekly occurrence. Being involved with the process for more than 8 hours a day will sharpen you up pretty quickly.

Remember design is a career

Remember design is a career and like any career the key to success is to keep learning new things. Don’t be scared of applying to a studio because they have lots of great work that you couldn’t even begin to think how to produce. Think of it as a challenge to get your ability up to that level.

7. Your Opinions Matter

You’re just finishing university, this means you have youth and a fresh approach on your side. You may know more about current technology and communication platforms than older incumbents at a studio. You aren’t tainted by the commercial world and you’ll be happier to dream bigger.

If you believe something is possible you can find a way.

All of these things mean that you have just as much to say as anybody else. People with opinions are a valuable resource in design. Naïvety can lead to interesting outcomes, if you believe something is possible you can find a way.

8. Leave your ego at home

Different studios have different styles and different ways of doing things. Always be open to feedback and criticism. If the phrase “you learn from your mistakes” is to be true, it is worth noting that you won’t always spot your own mistakes. Being open to critique means you can learn much faster.

In practice this is easier said than done. Design is a passionate subject and it is also very subjective. The London 2012 logo by Wolff Olins is a perfect example of the opinion splitting nature design can have. If you struggle to be objective on a project, treat those that are senior to you as a client to remove your personal feelings. If it’s not right for them move on.

9. Enjoy it

Design is supposed to be fun. You have to work incredibly hard at it and there will never be a time when you can’t learn something new. This can make it stressful, scary and painful at times. Pushing through those barriers to really nail a brief is part and parcel of being a designer.

You’re luckier than most.

You get to see the output of days, weeks, months, maybe even years of work out in the real world at the end. Having a positive effect on the people that see it. People will remark on things you have worked on and congratulate the insights you’ve made. Creative industries are lucky to have this outward facing impact so embrace it and enjoy it. You’re luckier than most.

10. Say Yes to Everything.

This isn’t actually my tip. This is every designers tip to everyone for every list of top-10 tips. That doesn’t make it any less important.

You are a designer, that means it’s going to be your job to solve problems. You won’t have many problems to solve if you say no to the challenges that come your way.


About Nalla
We’re an obsessively curious team who create incredible brands of all shapes and sizes, across the globe. For more information about us, or our work follow us @nalla_design or go to our website nalla.co.uk

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