Louise Hamer, Actress to Design Lead at We Are Empire

A lot of our graduates have written about their experiences at Shillington, we’ve even compiled these stories in Unbiased Reviews of Shillington. Manchester graduate, Louise Hamer recently contributed with a reflective piece explaining her transition from acting to design.’My journey from education into the creative industry’ an honest, inspiring account of changing careers and embracing something new, along with sage advice for those looking to follow a similar path.

Now Design Lead at Manchester based digital agency We Are Empire, we were keen to delve deeper into Louise’s experience entering the design industry as well as what a role in digital involves. Read on to find out more about landing work after Shillington, the reaction from industry to Louise’s portfolio and the broad spectrum of working in digital. 

Coming from an acting background is obviously quite different to graphic design, but do you think there were any transferable skills you’ve noticed since entering the industry

Absolutely, training in Acting gave me great confidence and communication skills which has really helped when presenting work to clients. This plays a huge part of my role at We Are Empire and my acting background has helped in giving me the confidence and ability to do this. It can be a really daunting task presenting and speaking about your work in front of a group of people, but I think my acting experience has helped me to overcome a lot of fears in this area and communicate my ideas in a clear and confident way, which then helps to demonstrate the confidence in my own abilities and ideas.

You speak about having worries regarding employability as you were coming to a new industry in an area you previously had no experience in. We find a lot of our students sight employability as one of their main concerns. Do you think the course content and teaching at Shillington gave you a good shot at getting employment?

I was always a bit nervous about being able to find a design job after Shillington as I knew how competitive the industry was, however when I was on the course my nerves started to die down a lot as my confidence in my work and skills picked up.  The course content at Shillington covered such a variety of disciplines that after 3 months of training I graduated feeling much more confident with the experience I had gained and felt there were lots of different fields I could enter in the Graphic Design Industry, whether it be applying for a role in digital, branding, advertising, illustration or a varied role that covered lots of disciplines. The teachers on the course also taught me how to approach potential employers, how to present and speak about my work and even recommended design studios to apply to.

I couldn’t believe how much I’d learnt after just 3 months and how much my confidence had increased.

What was it like applying for work after your 3 months at Shillington, how did employers react to your portfolio?

I won’t sugar coat it—it was hard work! But, it was equally a really good experience and learning curve along the way. After graduating from Shillington I spent about a month applying to different studios before I was offered an internship at Uniform in Liverpool. For some studios, instead of sending my PDF portfolio in an email, I had copies of it printed and spent a couple of days walking around Manchester and handing over my work in person. This gave me the opportunity to quickly introduce myself to Creative Directors and let a little bit of my personality shine through. I also hoped that it would help them put a face to a name should they look over my work a couple of days later. I had some really good feedback from this, with some of the studios following up and offering to meet me and go through my full portfolio in more detail. From the studios I visited, I had some great feedback on my portfolio, particularly about the variety of work that featured in there showing different disciplines. Some studios also gave me advice about which projects they felt I could develop a bit further which was really helpful for me going forward.

You spent time Interning in Liverpool—would you say it’s normal to be an Intern before securing a junior designer role?

From my experience, I would say it’s quite normal to carry out an internship before being offered a Junior Designer role, however it can vary from person to person as to how long an internship can last or whether you land a Junior Design role straight away.​ ​I carried out an internship for a month before landing my role at We Are Empire which was a relatively short amount of time, but I know that some of the students from my course were interning for much longer at the studios they were at, and some went straight into Junior Design positions without doing internships, so it really can vary.  I think internships are a great way of gaining experience in a working studio, seeing how things run day to day and gaining experience working on live client briefs. These are all valuable for growing your skills and experience and could then lead onto a Junior Design role in the same agency so it can be a great foot in the door at the start of your career. The advice I would give is to make sure that you are gaining valuable experience and continuing to learn whilst interning, especially if you are being paid very little or not at all. If you find that you are not being included in any of the creative work and are not really learning anything and just making cups of tea for the team then it may be time to move on and approach other studios.

At Shillington we’re constantly revising our course content to match what’s relevant in industry and give our students the most up-to-speed knowledge as young designers. You mention how designers should ‘always be learning’ do you think this mentality was instilled in you at Shillington, or is it something you’ve built upon since?

This was definitely something that was instilled in me during my time at Shillington, but also a mentality that I have continued to build upon since working in the industry. The course tutors were always telling us to keep expanding our skill set when we graduated in order for us to continue to grow as designers, even when we had landed our first job. We were advised to work on our own self-initiated briefs, keep in touch with what was happening in the design world and attend as many design events as possible. As touched upon in my blog piece, the industry is ever changing and moves so quickly, with the rise of social media becoming more and more prominent and new ways of creating work through mediums such as VR to name a few. It’s therefore really important to me to stay alert to what’s happening in the industry, find new and better ways of communicating to audiences, solving problems and pushing my creative ideas.

As Design Lead at We Are Empire you must work on a variety of exciting projects. Can you tell us a bit about what a job as a digital designer entails? 

I get to work on a lot of exciting projects for clients within a variety of sectors. As Design Lead my job is to create visually stunning and user-friendly digital experiences for clients across a range of platforms, ranging from responsive websites, email newsletters and mobile apps. My work will include a range of tasks including user research, information architecture and sketching wireframes and then developing these into designs to create a user friendly experience that enables users to do what they need to do in the easiest way possible, whilst offering the best experience across different devices.

Even though the majority of the work I do at Empire is digital, my role can actually be quite varied. As well as UX and UI, I work across a variety of other disciplines including Print, Illustration, Art Direction and Branding. As a studio we work with a lot of exciting start up companies, but also more established brands that may be looking for a brand refresh or new digital presence after operating for a number of years. My role is also very client facing and I will speak with clients most days on the phones or meet with them in person to discuss a new brief or present work to them. I’ve been working on a really exciting project lately for a Residential Development company that has involved a complete rebrand and new website. I can’t say much about it yet, but I’m really looking forward to revealing all once the work is complete and launched to the world!

Finally, is there one core piece of advice you’d give to someone who is curious about making a career change but anxious about taking the leap?

I would say to just go for it! I was in exactly the same position before I decided to take the leap and retrain as a designer, but I don’t regret it for a second. If you have a lot of determination and are willing to work hard and create the best work you can then I am sure you will succeed.

Graphic Design is such an exciting industry to be part of—come and join us and see for yourself!

Massive thanks to Louise for taking the time to answer our questions in such depth. Be sure to visit her website to see more amazing work from her time at Shillington and as an established designer. Receive regular updates from Louise on her Twitter and Instagram feeds.

If you’re thinking of switching careers maybe Shillington can help? Head to our website for more details of what we teach and view a selection of student work. You can also attend one of our Info Sessions to speak with teachers and graduates. 

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