While finding it difficult to translate a degree in Illustration into commercial work, Halah El Kholy turned to Shillington to up-skill as a graphic designer—enrolling on the 3 month full-time course at Shillington Manchester.
Since graduating she snapped up a role as Brew Tea Co’s first in-house designer, a role which she’s thriving in, seeing it as a chance to ‘work on everything from swanky new packaging, to seasonal campaigns’ all whilst juggling the amazing illustrations she makes for her Instagram feed.
We caught up with Halah to hear all about life as a Shillington Graduate. Read on to learn about Halah’s time on the course, how Shillington prepared her for the design industry and where to get the best grilled cheese in Manchester!
You studied on the full-time time course at our Manchester Campus. What was your experience of the course, any key takeaways you’d like to share?
The course was intense but in a really good way. It’s fast-paced but because everyone else is in the same boat, there’s a nice support system from your fellow students. The tutors (hi John & Ed!) are great and put you at ease straight away. They have a real love for design and their enthusiasm was infectious. The briefs are all well-chosen and cover a range of projects, but the difficulty ramps up pretty quick. Program shortcuts are your friend!
What was your favourite project at Shillington and why?
I loved the handmade project! I spent a couple of relaxing evenings painting some wooden blocks, so it was a nice fun break from the corporate briefs. Plus, it really helped me contextualise my work. There needed to be a reason for the pretty paintings and it was so satisfying to come up with that little campaign.
What was your background before studying at Shillington and would you recommend the course to others in a similar situation?
I’ve got a degree in Illustration, but had absolutely no idea how to translate that into commercial work. I had a bar job and told myself that I’d do creative work on the side, which of course only happened in drips. I’d definitely recommend Shillington to other people in my position.
The course connects you with the wider design world and gives a lot of confidence when it comes to working in an actual studio.
You currently work as a designer for Manchester based company Brew Tea Co. What an exciting brand to work for! Can you tell us a bit about your role there?
Basically, I get paid to draw dinosaurs AND I never run out of amazing tea. I’m Brew’s first in-house designer, so I get to do all sorts of work that I normally wouldn’t.
I work on everything from swanky new packaging, to our seasonal campaigns.
There’s a lot of on-the-job learning, which I find very rewarding, and because it’s such a small company I feel like I’m making a difference there. It’s nice.
Do you think your time at Shillington prepared you for the expectations of industry?
Absolutely, if you can make it through portfolio week, you can make it through ‘need-this-yesterday’ deadlines. The course teaches you a lot about working in groups on creative projects, which I found invaluable because I was very much used to working solo. There’s also the technical side of the course, with insanely helpful software-focused days.
For other students hoping to land a job within the packaging world do you have any advice?
It’s incredibly daunting out there, even with that great post-Shillington portfolio.
Getting a foot in the door is part perseverance and hard work, part dumb luck—you just have to keep going.
Apply to jobs you’re not qualified for, go to portfolio sessions, just anything to get yourself out there is helpful. Personally, I’m always a fan of a well-designed postcard and follow-up phone call as a way of politely pestering people.
Alongside your full time design job you have an active presence on Instagram, posting a series of impressive illustrations. How important do you think social media is for designers and do you have any tips for success?
Regular(ish) posting helps! I love doing bursts of daily drawing challenges because they’re so easy, and get you to do something creative but not work-related. It’s important to be relaxed about this kind of thing though. I used to go back and do something for days I missed, but that quickly made it feel like a second job.
I see social media as a low-pressure creative outlet now.
Lastly, as a graduate and now part of our global #Shillumni network—do you have any words of wisdom for our current students?
Participate as much as you can, and really immerse yourself in the course. Have fun! Support your fellow students, because they’ll make everything better. Also, if you’re in Manchester and like cheese, go to Northern Soul at lunch and get an amazing grilled cheese.
Are you a creative looking to contextualise your work in a commercial field like Halah? Maybe graphic design is the answer. Read about more graduates in our interview series or come along to an Info Session to speak to some in person.