Like many others during the pandemic, Shillington Manchester graduate Matt McKay was unfortunately made redundant from his job in sales. Though after seeing the work produced by our graduates, Matt grabbed the metaphorical bull by the horns and enrolled in our full-time course. In one of the most topsy turvy terms we’ve known, Manchester went into lockdown just before the half way mark but Matt, his class and the teachers took the transition to online learning in their stride. Graduating with an amazing portfolio, Matt has since gone on to an internship with Luke Tonge of Birmingham Design Festival and now works at Kensa Creative in Telford. It’s also worth noting that over 60% of Matt’s class have found jobs in the design industry only a few months after graduating in a pandemic!
We caught up with Matt a few weeks after he started at Kensa to talk about his time at Shillington, learning online, internships and loads more.
Before Shillington, you were working in Sales. Why did you decide to make the switch over to a creative career? Did you have any design experience?
I was made redundant as a result of the pandemic and came to a bit of a cross-roads; do I continue down the same path or give myself permission to use my creative passions as a full-time vocation? I had a little bit of experience with Photoshop, designing gig flyers for local events but that was it. Let’s just say, since enrolling at Shillington and becoming a graphic designer full time, my mental health has never been better.
Why did you choose Shillington? What was it about our course that caught your attention?
With a mortgage and bills to pay, I wanted to retrain in a short-time frame so that I could get back in to work as quickly as possible. The fact that Shillington’s full-time course condenses essentially 3 years of university in to 3 months, it seemed almost too good to be true!
However, when I saw the quality of work from previous students and the scope of topics covered in the course, I was blown away and was convinced that Shillington was as good as people said it was.
What was your Shillington experience like? Your class started in person but transitioned online when the UK went into lockdown—what was that like?
My experience was fantastic. Our lecturers Nick Smith and Lovish Saini were super supportive, understanding and patient throughout the entire term.
They did their best to make sure that our experience was not diminished by having to switch to online learning. I was blessed to be part of an amazing group of people who were crazy keen to learn and succeed, so even though it wasn’t an ideal scenario we made sure that we banded together to keep banter levels high and helped one another when the pressure was on.
It was just as educational and rewarding online as it was on-campus.
Did you have a favourite brief on the course? Tell us about your process and outcomes.
There were so many enjoyable briefs to get our teeth stuck in to, it’s hard picking just one! I discovered that I really love creating strong branding, so I’d have to say the Start-Up Identity brief was a highlight. It was a real challenge coming up with an original name, tone of voice, appropriate logo and colour scheme, all within an extremely short timeframe! Initially, I found that I was overcomplicating things and thinking about it too much; the ideas just weren’t hitting the spot. By not being too precious over existing concepts, taking a few steps back to the drawing board and keeping things really simple, I ended up with a solid portfolio piece that eventually helped me land my first job as a Graphic Designer.
Did you make any meaningful connections with teachers or fellow students during the course?
Absolutely! Before starting the course, a wise friend told me that making genuine friendships in this industry is so important and that my classmates could be potential future-collaborators, so I had every intention of putting in the effort to make connections; little did I know that it wouldn’t take much effort at all! Our lecturers were always up for a laugh and together it felt like a little family (we certainly ended up spending more time together as a group than we did with our own families!). Everyone in the class got on really well.
We encouraged each other, supported each other and celebrated each other—and we continue to do so to this day, even after graduating.
It wasn’t the reason I enrolled at Shillington, but I’ve made friends for life and it’s so awesome to see your fellow graduates succeed, post-Shillington.
After you graduated, you landed an internship with Luke Tonge of Birmingham Design Festival. How did this come about?
Luke and I both attend Gallery Church in Birmingham, so we’ve been friends for a few years. He was the one who actually encouraged me to study at Shillington in the first place. After graduating, I asked him whether there was anything I could help him with whilst I was applying for jobs. He was gracious enough to take me under his wing for a couple of months. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
How was the internship? What kind of things did you work on?
One of the best things about the experience was being able to sit in on real-life client meetings. It felt like the next natural step after Shillington and eased me into the industry, instead of being thrown in at the deep end. Most of Luke’s work tends to be branding related, so being able to get inside his mind to see how he approaches briefs from early conception to presenting back to clients was invaluable. He’s a genius!
Following on from that you landed a job at Kensa Creative. Can you tell us about your new day-to-day?
I’m living the dream, baby! Kensa are a fun-loving bunch of crazy-talented people and their energy matches mine, so it’s the perfect environment for me. After working in Sales and Retail for years, being able to wear slippers in the workplace, be around like-minded creatives and clock-off at 5pm after being immersed in Adobe all day is just amazing to me.
Currently I’ve been working on a lot of group projects around website designs, so my time at Shillington really prepared me for that.
Brainstorming sessions are aplenty and we all give each other constructive feedback on-the-go, again, reminiscent of my time in Shillington.
Are you able to share any recent professional projects with us?
Kensa recently designed a loo-roll brand, of all things, called Tanki and the advert was featured on ITV briefly. If you enjoy cabaret-singing fish and eco-friendly products, go find it on YouTube and pick up a pack!
In my spare time, I recently created a brand identity for a friend’s Personal Training Fitness business, which was a fun project to take on. He’s originally from Albania so squeezing elements of his home country into the design made for an interesting concept.
What keeps you busy outside of designing? Have you got any personal projects on the go?
I sing in a hardcore-metal band called Meet Your Maker and we recently put out a single called ‘The Risen King’. I also run a faith-based community project in Birmingham called Revolution Reality Midlands, which caters to people in the alternative music subcultures. We give out free pizza, provide mental health resources and listen to some loud live music! It’s a safe space for people to come just as they are and ask questions about faith or simply just hang out. It’s a fun time and everyone is welcome!
What would you say to someone who is sceptical about the Shillington course?
It really is as good as you hope it is. Shillington turns graphic design ‘zeros’ into industry heroes. By no means is it an easy ride – the course is intense and so much content is packed in. You go through all the emotions of a 3-year University course but the final product speaks for itself.
I was stunned at the quality of the portfolio I had created as a result of my Shillington education. It makes you industry-ready without cutting corners and is 100% worth the time and financial investment.
On top of that, if you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be?
And all the #ShilloMCR 2020 graduates shout… “TRUST THE PROCESS!” Haha!
Aside from that, I would say that even if it’s just Day 1 of the course, know that you are already a ‘Graphic Designer’ now. It doesn’t matter if you are on the first step of your journey or the hundredth—no designer reaches a final destination of perfection and we’re all at different stages in our ability and development. Have confidence. Own that title!
Anything else you would like to add?
Anybody wanna collab on a wrestling themed design with me?!