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Meet Dominika Stanczyk, Shillington Graduate and Designer at Open Water

With a background in photography, Dominika Stanczyk gradually found herself becoming more and more fascinated watching what the designers were up to on set—so much so that she decided to make the switch to graphic design and enrolled on the part-time course at Shillington London. Since graduating she’s fulfilled a personal dream with an internship at Here Design and since snapped up a full-time designer role at Open Water Agency in Kent, England.

Read on to hear how Dominika juggled the intensity of the course with her CrossFit training, why she opted for a print portfolio and her advice to future Shillington students.

What were you doing before enrolling at Shillington and what attracted you to the course—did you have a specific outcome in mind when you signed up?

In 2011 I graduated with a degree in photography and have since worked on and off as a photography assistant with various food, travel and lifestyle photographers. I have met and worked on cookbooks by some great chefs such as Michel Roux Senior, Peter Gordon, Giorgio Locatelli, William Curley and John Torode. The photographer I’ve worked with the longest is Lisa Linder and she’s really become a mentor and a friend to me over the years. Her creativity, joy of life and passion for good design have had a huge impact on me.

All the while I was working I was always more fascinated and interested with the jobs of designers and creative directors that I met on the shoots.

I was envious watching them drop images into layouts in InDesign, pushing the type around on the screen and effectively, having a say in how the final product will look. That’s when I began realising that perhaps, that’s the job I should do.

Can you tell us a bit about your Shillington experience, how did you find studying on the part-time course and do you have any tips for juggling other responsibilities alongside the intensity of the programme?

I won’t lie, my 9 months studying at Shillington were probably some of the toughest months of my life! But also, the most fulfilling, life changing and exciting ones. The two tips I have are discipline and down time. Despite many warnings that things will get busy, especially around the portfolio time, the intensity of the course was more than I expected. There basically is no time to say ‘I’ll do this later” because there are always at least 5 things that you need to do later, or better, now. Equally, I think I would have gone mad if it wasn’t for my CrossFit training which I’ve kept up throughout the course. There was often not a lot of time to squeeze it in but it’s so important to have some way to unwind, take your mind off your projects and get those endorphins flowing!

What were your favourite aspects of the course and which do you think was your most successful project in your final portfolio?

Tough question! I think the teaching approach at Shillington is fantastic. The tutors get really involved, they put a lot of emotion and personality into the teaching. I think I was expecting to be taught in a very dry and ‘distanced’ way; to be ‘talked at’ and left to my own devices to come up with ideas and projects- it certainly wasn’t the case. The tutors’ help and support is very personal and throughout the course you really get that feeling that they basically… care.

Also, there’s this whole culture of teachers and students staying in touch after the course is finished, which again, is so natural and human and yet so absent from many educational institutions.

Another aspect of the course, which I think is fantastic, is the very effective way of teaching all the new software. I think the shortcut quizzes are GENIUS (sorry Shillington students-to-be!) and give you that little extra edge for when you start in your first job after the course.

My favourite project in my portfolio (I’m not sure how successful it was, but it was definitely my favourite!) was an event campaign aiming to raise awareness on the subject of Anxiety and Panic Syndrome. As is often the case with the campaign projects in Shillington, I chose a subject matter close to my heart, and the process seemed really natural and intuitive. I was very happy with the outcome too.

Your portfolio is such an inventive format, it looks fantastic. What inspired you to  design it in such a way and what attracted you to a print outcome rather than a digital one?

Having assisted on shoots for so many books and magazines, the printed format was close to my heart. I wanted to go through the process of choosing the size, the paper, having to think about the bleed and gutters, do my own trips to the printers. It’s that bit I’ve always envied the designers I’ve met on shoots for isn’t it?! It just had to be print. As for the format… I always find myself going for the weird solution. And I’m not sure that it’s always a good thing! I am also very drawn to simple, utilitarian design and having considered a few different options, I really wanted to try this basic folder with metal clip idea. It has its limitations and there are things I would have done differently now but I am glad I gave it a try because people seem to appreciate it.

You interned at the incredible Here Design, which is a dream studio for many design students. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

Coming across Here Design in 2015 (I assisted on a shoot for a book the studio were designing) was one of the events, which inspired me to study graphic design in the first place. Finding myself doing an internship in the very studio that inspired me to make such a big life changing decision was… pretty special!

Arranging this work placement was a bit tricky since Here Design works with many freelancers and they had to make sure they’d have a free desk for me to work at when I come. The dates were pushed a couple of times but I kept thinking “be persistent, don’t take it personally, don’t give up!”. Finally we managed to agree on some dates and here I was! In my short time of being at Here I helped to create some (physical) mock-ups of menus and business cards for a new, high-end restaurant (think: hours with scalpel and cutting matt, gold foil, spray painted wax seals, torn paper) and assisted with creating mood boards for a re-brand of a well known, British hand cream make, aiming to make it more appealing to a millennial market. I also helped with research for a special edition packaging for a well known vodka brand. It was a fantastic experience and I am really grateful for this opportunity.

You’re based in Kent which is a short commuting journey outside of London and where you now work, how did you find looking for jobs in a slightly smaller area?

To be completely honest, I wasn’t looking for jobs in Kent! I was totally set on looking for work in London, because that’s where I’ve always worked and that’s where a lot more opportunities are. But then my job found me… Sort of. I’ve never heard of Open Water before, when one day I got one of these LinkedIn job opportunity emails. It said ‘We’re a branding agency based in Medway and we’re looking for freelancers’. This was still during our portfolio time so I made a mental note but had other things to focus on at the time. Once the course was over and I was fully in the job hunting mode I decided to give Open Water a call and see if they’d see me and my portfolio. The creative director was more than happy to do that so one day we had a nice chat and I was given lots of valuable feedback on my portfolio. I was so grateful to have had this meeting but thought that was it. Little did I know, 3 days later I was offered a paid, 3 months internship. 3 weeks into my internship I was offered a full time job.

Do you think Shillington prepared you for looking for design jobs and working in the design industry once you secured a position?

Yes and yes. Looking for jobs is hard and can be quite soul destroying full stop, but students are given plenty of practical, real-life tips and advice. I found the visits of guest lecturers and designers especially helpful as they often shared their personal stories of how they first started out in the industry. The recurring theme in their journeys was the importance of being persistent, not taking things personally and not giving up. That really stuck with me.

As for preparing its students for working in the design industry, Shillington probably beats many 3-year university courses.

One of the reasons I was offered a full time position 3 weeks into my supposedly 3 months internship, was that my boss felt I had a good enough grip on things to start work without further ‘induction’ usually offered to their interns. Shillington strikes a good balance between teaching creative techniques and solid craft like design principles as well as typesetting or effective use of software.

Now that you’re part of our Shillumni network do you have any words of wisdom for current students?

Learn those shortcuts, read your hand-outs, believe in yourself and every now and then, give yourself a pat on the back for having the courage to take yourself on this journey. It’s worth it!

Massive thanks to Dominika for speaking with us. Make sure to visit Dominika’s website for more of her lovely work.

Do you want to retrain like Dominika? Well maybe a career in Graphic Design is what you’ve been looking for. Head down to one of our Info Sessions to learn more about studying at Shillington. Or read more interviews with our Shillumni in the Interview section. 

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