Meet Anna Duffy, Manchester Graduate

Anna Duffy heard about Shillington through friends who’d previously studied on the graphic design course. After doing a bit more of her own research she decided to up sticks from her job in London and relocate to Manchester to enrol on the full-time course at #ShilloMAN. Since graduating Anna now works as a designer at Studio Jo and Co in Liverpool where she spends everyday in an industry she’s passionate about. 

We wanted to catch up with Anna to find out more about her Shillington journey and what studio life in her new job entails. Read on to hear Anna’s advice for those thinking about enrolling at Shillington, as well as some for those just about to graduate and lots of exciting details about her current work!

You studied at our Manchester campus on the full-time course. What attracted you to the course at Shillington and do you think it lived up to your expectations?

I’d known about Shillington for several years before I enrolled—I had some Shillumni friends in London who had recommended it. Isabelle had done the full-time course several years ago, and Jo had done the part-time. I had also been to a few grad shows, so I felt like I knew what I was getting myself into. I was desperate to do the course, but for a while couldn’t quite work out what the best plan was. At one point I was considering trying to do the part-time course around my job in London, but that was so all-consuming at times that I worried I wouldn’t be able to devote enough time to something else equally as intense. I’d also been considering moving back up North for a few years, so in the end I quit my job, sold my flat, relocated to Manchester and enrolled on the full-time course here.

I have absolutely no regrets—Shillington was everything I had hoped for and then some.

Can you describe the atmosphere and environment of campus life at Shillington?

For the previous 5 years in London I’d been teaching on a range of design courses in a FE college (16-19 year olds), so to come from that classroom environment to Shillington was like a dream for me! Not only were the teachers friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, they also made you justify your ideas and held you to account. They also had an incredibly captive audience—everyone in the classroom was focused and enthusiastic. A lot of people had made big life changes or sacrifices to get there, so I think that made a real difference. I was in a great class—we all got on well and had lots of fun, and tried to support each other through the ups and downs.

You graduated with a really comprehensive portfolio full of varied and confident design work. What aspects of your portfolio are you most proud of and why?

Thanks, that’s very kind of you to say. It’s difficult to choose a favourite project as there are elements of all of them that I like. I really liked the community report brief—it was about Hackney (which is where I lived in London) so it was satisfying to come up with event ideas in places that I was familiar with. The packaging project was fun too, I knew I wanted to do something for kids which involved a hand-drawn element, and I enjoyed experimenting and developing the characters. The packaging itself is pretty simple, but people seem to identify with the concept, and it makes them smile.

Since graduating you now work at Studio Jo & Co in Liverpool, do you feel Shillington prepared you for studio life and how has it been working as a full-time designer?

Now that I’m working I can see specific reasons why certain briefs/techniques/processes are included in the Shillington curriculum—none of the projects are there just to produce something that looks nice, they have all been strategically planned for a good reason. On numerous occasions I’ve definitely found myself thinking ‘oh so THAT’S why we learned how to do that.’ It might have seemed like a small detail at the time, but you actually need to know that stuff for the real world.

Can you share with us some examples of projects you’ve worked on since leaving Shillington?

It’s a real variety. At Studio Jo and Co we do a lot of work for the legal sector, and also have a range of property and luxury clients. I’ve worked on websites, branding, stationery, property brochures, invitations, and I’ve got to do some illustration and pattern work too. We also do quite a bit of layout work for Wall Street Journal Custom Studios. I think my favourite project so far was an invitation for a Barristers’ Chambers Spring Reception. As a studio we sent over about 5 concepts and I was (very pleasantly) surprised that they chose mine. The design featured an foil-stamped repeat pattern that I’d created using elements of the Chambers’ logo, inspired by the neo-classical interior features of the venue for the reception—an eighteenth century mansion in London. It was a bit scary waiting for the proofs to come back from the printers because of all the foil, but the client was really happy. So that was a real confidence boost.

How would you describe the design scene in the North of England, what are the positives to training as a graphic designer and working in the industry there?

I absolutely loved living in London, but I knew I didn’t want to settle there permanently, so for me it was the right decision to move to Manchester. I was already aware of several agencies and studios here, but since relocating I’m aware of even more popping up all over the place—in Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle to name a few.

I don’t think it’s as important now where a studio is, it’s the work that’s produced and the clients that attracts, and they can be local, national or global.

What would you say to someone thinking of enrolling at Shillington?

Funnily enough, a month or so ago a friend of a friend got in touch to ask me about the course at Shillington. She was considering signing up but had some questions, and a few reservations. It is a considerable investment in more ways than one, so of course it’s important to be sure that it’s right for you. Anyway, after an hour long telephone conversation I had alleviated all her fears (and she was actually suspicious that I was on commission) as I really couldn’t be any more positive about my experience. A few years back I was having a similar chat to Jo, and she said to me; “If you’re really seriously thinking about doing it, do it.” That was good advice.

Any advice for Shillington students about to graduate?

Really try and enjoy the last bit! Although portfolio time is the most intense part of the course, just think about what you’re doing—spending ALL DAY (and sometimes night) working on really exciting projects that you have total creative control over, that’s a real luxury. When you graduate, give yourself a well deserved break, but stay focused and try and keep up momentum while you are job hunting, whether that is applying for internships or work experience, or doing personal projects and practising using software.

Don’t worry about what people around you are doing—just because someone gets a job before you doesn’t mean yours isn’t round the corner.

Massive thanks to Anna for taking the time to answer our questions in such detail. Head over to Anna’s website to see more of her work from her time at Shillington. Keen to find out more about what it’s like to study at Shillington? Meet graduates like Anna at one of our info sessions, upcoming dates on

Also, if like Anna you heard about Shillington through a friend and have gone on to tell others about your experience then be sure to check out our #Shillumni Referral Competition, to be in the running to win an iPad! Find out more over here!