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Meet Caitlin Clancy, Shillington Graduate and Designer at The New York Times

Caitlin Clancy studied art and design at university but after 7 years made the decision to return to studying at Shillington to learn digital design, improve her technical skills and diversify her portfolio. Since graduating from Shillington London in 2017, Caitlin spent some time freelancing before getting herself a job at T Brand Studio, The New York Times’ in-house design studio—where she designs and art directs their interactive digital projects.

Keep reading to discover Caitlin’s journey from Shillington to working in the industry, her time spent living in the Flanders city of Antwerp, the inspiration she finds in East London and her thoughts on the current state of the industry.

You previously studied art and design but decided to upskill at Shillington 7 years later. What made you return and why did you choose Shillington?

After spending nearly two years living in Belgium, I wanted to upskill in digital design, brush up on the Adobe creative software and work on a new portfolio that would give me the confidence to get back into the graphic design industry. Shillington had been on my radar for some time so there was no question about where I would choose to study.

I had first heard about Shillington in my final year of art school and considered enrolling after graduation. Manchester School of Art was a great experience for teaching conceptual thinking, visual experimentation, traditional print techniques and historical, social and cultural contextualisation but at the time I experienced a lot of self doubt and felt like my limited technical skills and conceptual portfolio weren’t enough to get into industry.

Fortunately, I got a place on a three month paid diversity programme with education publisher Pearson in London. This led to internships at Penguin Books, Dorling Kindersley and the Financial Times who Pearson plc owned at the time. During my last internship, I was offered a role as a Graphic Artist on the design desk in the Financial Times newsroom, where I stayed for several years working to daily deadlines, picking up technical skills and learning from the experienced team.

You’re now working for T Brand Studio, The New York Times’ in-house design studio. How did you end up landing the role?

I was recommended to apply for the role by a mutual contact of the then Creative Director. After reading the job requirements, I was hesitant to apply since they were looking for someone with more digital experience. Although I had five years of design experience, my background was mainly in print.

I’m glad I went for it anyway as the UX/UI briefs were something I really enjoyed at Shillington.

Following a long interview process, including a digital design brief and several meetings with different members of the team, I was offered the job.

Tell us a bit more about what you do there? Can you tell us about one of your projects?

My role varies from the design and art direction of our projects to brainstorming ideas for pitches, designing mocks to enhance concepts, identifying and working closely with commissioned illustrators and photographers on live projects. Our projects are mostly interactive campaigns with an emphasis on digital storytelling in partnership with brands. This requires constant collaboration across T Brand’s creative teams which includes designers, developers, producers, editors, creative strategists and audience development specialists.

A project I worked on recently was a partnership with UBS which is a quiz on sustainable investing. I identified Tom McCarten who we commissioned to illustrate the quiz. His photo-collage style complemented the topical themes and pared-back final UI designs I created. We worked collaboratively as a design team setting the art direction approach, working with our creative developer during the build who experimented with some cool transitions and hover states while our senior designer along with Criss Cross motion studio animated the final illustrations which really brought the screens to life. I learnt a lot and am proud that we created a minimal, engaging design for quite a dry subject.

You spent some time living and working in Antwerp in Belgium. How did your time there influence your design work?

Antwerp is a small, calm city but there is so much going on in the fields of art, culture and fashion. I felt endlessly creatively stimulated during my time there. The city has a rich history, cultural heritage and reputation for craftsmanship. Painters, artists and craftsmen have been active in the city since 1500 and the reputable art academy is still attracting so many talented designers and artists to live, work and practise there.

Living in the beautiful old part of town within the city centre meant I was lucky to have independent cinemas, several galleries, museums, book shops, design boutiques, antique stores and culinary hotspots all within ten minutes walking distance of my apartment. This fed and expanded my passion for design as well as introduced me to the work of Belgium based artists, designers and studios—Base Design, Vrints-Kolsteren, nøcomputer, Muller van Severen and Specht Studio to name but a few!

I met several friendly and talented creatives who became good friends while volunteering at the photography museum in the city and working on the first two editions of unique, nocturnal design festival Us by Night with the founders. Seeing their passion and hard work to put the Antwerp creative scene on the map and getting to meet and speak with lots of inspiring international artists and studios I admired, was a mind-blowing experience that left me itching to get back into practising design.

Back at Shillington, what was your biggest challenge you faced during your studies? Why?

The early starts. I like to get up early but being on top form creatively from 8.ooam—5.oopm, day in and day out for three months was a challenge and required a lot of energy and focus.

Living in East London, I found my daily walks to and from Shillington helped to give me headspace and keep me inspired. Taking pictures of colours, shapes, patterns, architecture, graffiti, posters or shopfronts on the way in could all inspire a creative response to the daily briefs.

In hindsight, I am so grateful for this challenge as, in my current role, I am often required to come up with an idea, design inspiration or suggest an illustration, photography or animation approach in an instant.

Did you make any meaningful connections with teachers or fellow students during the course? Have you encountered any fellow Shillumni since graduation?

Yes, there was such a good vibe between the students and the teachers during the course (shout out Andy, Amy, Fiona and Hilary). We have a WhatsApp group where we keep in touch and meet for catch ups occasionally. It’s cool to exchange experiences and hear how everyone is getting on in industry as we have shared this intense experience and witnessed how hard we all worked and progressed during the course. A few of us went to a Sascha Lobe talk at Pentagram recently and I enjoy attending Nicer Tuesdays with a friend I met on the course.

What would you say to someone who is sceptical about the Shillington course?

If you want a course that teaches you up-to-date technical skills alongside ideation techniques, theory and key principles of graphic design in a deadline driven environment that feels like a design studio, Shillington is the place. You will leave with a polished portfolio and be ready for any industry briefs.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be?

Be industrious. Put all your energy and focus into it. Embrace not knowing everything.

Share your ideas with the teachers and fellow students no matter how silly, support each other and have fun. It’s also important to keep a mood board of art and design that inspires you and take full advantage of the Shillington library which is filled with plenty of informative and inspiring design reference books and independent magazine publications.

Anything else you would like to share?

I have read many times in the past few years that although 70% of graphic design students are women; only 11% of Creative Directors are women. I would love this to change and for there to be more inclusivity of multiple social categories such as race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual preference, disability and religion.

I hope to see more people of colour given opportunities and platforms within the graphic design industry.

Especially in large multicultural cities like London where 40% of the population are non-white. Stopping unpaid internships and diversifying those featured on design websites would be a big step in addressing these biases.

Organisations like The Other Box, Kerning the Gap, Ladies, Wine & Design and people like Anoushka Khandwala, Isabel Farchy and Nicole Crentsil are teaching the creative industry about bias, offering mentorship, organising creative meet-ups and bringing awareness to increase representation in the design industry.

Many thanks to Caitlin for sharing her journey with us! Keep up to date with what she’s working on on The Dots or Instagram

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