Whether you’re a recent graduate or an experienced designer, getting insights from fellow creatives can always be helpful and encouraging. We asked the Shillumni network for their advice and reflections on the design industry, finding clients, networking, the importance of side projects, and more.
If you’re a Shillington Graduate remember to join our #Shillumni Facebook Group to start your own discussions and gain advice from Shillington’s global graduate network.
There is no definite or perfect journey. Unlike other careers, design (like learning) is a lifestyle. You can see design, smell, feel, speak, touch it. Design—it’s everywhere. That is why being curious and observant is key. I would recommend that before jumping all the way, take a couple of internships in different design disciplines, listen to podcasts and definitely watch “Abstract” on Netflix. Do not hesitate too much, we are always in need of more talented designers!
Be forward and make work you are proud of.
Do not feel you must have a portfolio that looks a certain way or follows a certain design expectation. Make work you believe in, be curious about new things and apply for your dream job. At the end of the day, being hard-working and curious are the best skills any creative can have.
Network your socks off. My current job came about because I met a designer who worked at Mapway at a design event, and he told me about a vacancy they were looking to fill. It can be both scary and tiring to attend a lot of events but it really helps to find others who you can share with.
My Instagram landed me my current job! My creative director saw my illustrations and asked if I wanted to intern a few months later. That being said, social media can add a lot of unnecessary pressure on students so only have a social media presence if you want to have one. For me, it’s a creative outlet that I enjoy doing after work and I love interacting with other designers through different hashtags. If you want to start a social media for your design I’d say get involved with something like #36daysoftype or #inktober, it’s a great way to get started.
After graduating from Shillington I picked 5 studios/agencies that I really wanted to work for and spent time curating my portfolio towards what they would want to see, as far as I could tell from the work they had been putting out. Once I secured an interview (trickier than it sounds, but it can happen!) I then did as much research into who would be in the room as I could. I felt my strongest skills leaving Shillington were my ideation and creative process so I made sure to show that in my portfolio and to highlight the ideas that were behind the work.
The one piece of advice I do have is one that regularly gets handed out time after time to fresh graduates and it’s so true. Put yourself out there and start engaging with the design community. Every opportunity that has come my way has been the result of a relationship that I have made and maintained. I’d highly recommend getting along to the following meet-ups which happen on a regular basis, TDK Tuesdays, AGDA. Attending workshops, talks and exhibition openings are a great way to meet like-minded people. It can be hard putting yourself out there and meeting new people but do what I did and get a buddy and go to events together.
My advice to other designers that are considering to work abroad—go for it! You can always move back if it doesn’t work for you. But still it’s definitely worth trying—you’ll get priceless experience (both life and work) and an opportunity to build your international network. Building a career in a new country can be a bit tricky. However, it can be used to your advantage. It’s easy to learn about a new culture just by asking lots of questions. Most people are very open to exchange experience.
Different cultural backgrounds can also be used as a unique selling point when looking for opportunities—it gives you a different perspective on solving problems that can add great value to the team.
It’s also useful to research local design events where you can learn about recent industry trends, meet like-minded people and practice your networking skills. Do your research on the studios/agencies you would like to work at but at the same time be open to different career opportunities.
I think it’s important to value the people you meet along the way. You never know where things will lead; you could end up working with or for each other! Sharing any side passion projects is a great way to showcase additional skills and personal interests. It’s also a great way to stay inspired. Try and document some of the process and you never know who you might inspire in return!
Go out into the world and meet people. Surround yourself with people who are better than you, who are doing things that you want to be a part of, even if it’s not exactly what you think you want to be doing. If you don’t have your own project going on, get involved in someone else’s project to stay busy and inspired. Work really hard but be nice, be humble and be able to take criticism and embrace rejection.
I’d say just put yourself out there—give things a go, and once you’ve graduated keep up that momentum. Try lots of different ways of getting your work out there. Since graduating I’ve emailed lots of employers, been to lots of events and posted a lot of my work on Instagram, and I’ve seen results from all three.
Put your work out there before you’re ready to and say yes to opportunities even if you’re scared you’re not good enough, because I’m coming to realise more and more that everyone feels that way anyway.
Try not to compare yourself to others too much. Everyone is forging their own path and we each come into our own at different stages. Sometimes I look at other people’s work and wonder why I even bother as there are so many talented people around! But you have to find a way to push through that and stay focused on doing your own thing.
Definitely start a ‘100 Days of UI’ challenge or a similar personal project. This may seem obvious, but the more you really practice, the more confident you will feel at your first job. I would also suggest taking a User Experience course too, because knowing how to anticipate people’s reactions to your design, and use your design, is really important.
I would totally encourage Shillington graduates to enter competitions, the more you enter the more chance you get for people to know your work, I believe it’s just not about winning, it’s about spreading out your work to the world and, of course, a bit of celebration as well. I think competitions were one of the principal reasons that I became a freelancer.
Keep learning and adding new skills to your tool belt. Go to workshops, use Skillshare, try new things, and make sure that you’re always growing as a designer. I learnt a new style of illustration and got hired to use it on a big project literally a month later. You never know when your new skills will come in handy!
Don’t take the first job that comes your way. If you don’t think it’s a great fit, don’t force it. You’ll definitely feel pressure to get a job right away, but you (most likely) enrolled at Shillington because you weren’t feeling passionate about your previous job. Don’t get stuck again!
Don’t let the roller coaster of starting a new career scare you or make you doubt your worth.
You’re going to constantly question yourself, your design aesthetic, how much you should charge clients, who you work with, why you didn’t get that project, and so on. Try to think of each challenge as the first time you get to experience something new. You’ll learn from each success and each misstep, and you might actually kick ass.
Believing in your work is my most important tip. As designers, we have a habit of overthinking and overworking things. If it feels right, it probably is. Also, I always get in touch with fellow designers and get them to look at my progress. The amount of times these conversations have sparked new ideas are numerous.
Talent is 1%. No one is born as an outstanding designer and it is not easier for anyone. I learned that if I don’t study, take leaps, practice, constantly, put myself out there and say yes to opportunities, I will inevitably take longer to get better.
Remember that showing up every single day is what makes a good designer, not talent alone.
My advice would be to stay focused yet open-minded. It’s way too easy to start slacking, especially after the intense experience at Shillington. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting until your portfolio is perfect or the timing is just right. As far as being open-minded I would say don’t underestimate the impact that one small act can have. Reaching out to a random person or applying for that job that you think you have no shot at can often produce unexpected results. I would also add that though Shillington is a great education in design you should continue to further your design knowledge either on your own or through continued schooling. It’s a never-ending process that will only result in helping you become a better designer and eventually land that dream job.
Every day I get more impressed on how graphic design has a wide spectrum of job opportunities. If you decide to break into freelancing, start working for close relatives that own a business or are thinking about launching one. If they start talking about their business idea, tell them how you can contribute to their success by giving a good impression and positive impact to their current or potential clients. Always continue learning new things and developing skills to get better and more competitive.
From my freelance perspective, my advice is: don’t get down if you don’t know how to do something, how to deal with a difficult client or if you’re struggling with invoices and taxes. Your first job won’t be the last, neither the second. If in doubt, ask other freelancers for advice, ask on Facebook groups or forums, and ask your friends for feedback. Learn through your mistakes because the next time will be better. Remember that you’re not alone and that there are many other designers who went down the same path and made the same mistakes!
I’ve had the most success finding work through word of mouth. I quickly learned that as long as you are accommodating, friendly and easy to work with, you’ll be fine.
You can be an amazing designer but if you have a bad attitude you’ll find it harder to secure work.
I love meeting people so I attend loads of events and workshops. I never hand out my resume or ask for work, instead, I volunteer, meet the event organisers and learn everything I can. I’m a strong believer that the more you put yourself out there the more work will come your way.
Learn more by discovering other resources to help you on your path to becoming a graphic designer. We have 8 Tips for Your Graphic Design Portfolio and 31 Amazing Graphic Design examples that are sure to inspire!