Moments of Discovery

Is there a correct route to becoming a designer? This is a question which is constantly asked at Shillington as we welcome students from all walks of life into the classroom. 

As part of Shillington Post 05—The Anniversary Issue, full-time London teacher Fiona Martin took the ongoing debate into her own hands as she surveyed the traditional path into graphic design while reflecting on her own journey.

“Eventually everything connects.” —Charles Eames

Studying and working in the design industry is rarely a linear process. Unlike other careers, it’s not something that can be easily planned or mapped out. No two designer’s journeys are exactly the same—they often meander through the realms of the unexpected which ultimately results in a more rounded designer.

The designer’s journey is a true exploration, comprised of different moments of discovery. These moments range from the very second you discover graphic design, to your favourite designer or which area to pursue professionally within the industry.

A good way of judging what the correct or normal journey into design is, is to read about the paths travelled by design heavy-weights Michael Beirut and David Carson. Carson discovered graphic design at the relatively late age of 26 by which time it was almost ‘a second career’ to him. Having completed a degree in Sociology and spending a brief stint teaching, Carson took a fortnight summer workshop at the University of Arizona, informally titled ‘about this thing called graphic design.’ Carson truly realised his passion for design when he travelled over to Switzerland to study with esteemed typographer Hans-Rudolf Lutz who introduced him to experimental typography.

Carson’s design journey was very much an experimental and highly intuitive one. With no formal design training, Carson used his intuition to determine what worked and what didn’t. His journey was essentially one big adventure allowing him to naturally discover what appealed to him along the way. He learned on the job, working as an art director for a number of different magazines, Transworld Skating, Beach Culture and Ray Gun.

This instinctual and spontaneous journey ultimately lead Carson to become the pioneer of ‘grunge typography’ and subsequently reinvent editorial design.

“Do what you love, trust your gut, your instincts, and intuition.” —David Carson

On the other hand, Michael Beirut’s journey was more conventional. Beirut was bitten by the design bug at the age of fifteen when he happened to stumble across a book about design in his high school library. He knew from that moment that design would be his chosen path, so he continued down the more ‘traditional’ route of studying graphic design at University.

Upon graduation, he landed his first job at Vignelli Associates working for the great Massimo Vignelli. After 10 years working at Vignelli Associates, he joined Pentagram and has been there for over 25 years, however he doesn’t claim to have travelled the only path possible to reach such success.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to have lots of jobs in your career or date lots of people before you get married, but having just one isn’t the only way to do it, either.” —Michael Beirut

So enough about the greats, what about me? Well, so far my design journey is very much a Carson/Beirut hybrid in a lot of ways.

I discovered graphic design like Beirut at fifteen, working a summer job at my father’s friend’s design studio in Dublin, Ireland. I followed the traditional educational route of studying Visual Communication at university. Like a lot of graduates fresh out of university, I was unclear as to what type of work I wanted to do. I cast my net wide and tried to get as much experience as possible in a number of different areas; ranging from environmental design to branding, to digital. By taking this approach, I hoped I would naturally discover what I truly loved to do.

Relocating from Dublin to London pushed me to look for new opportunities to grow, develop and challenge myself as a designer. My journey has lead me to my current role at Shillington. I’m learning in ways I may never have realised were possible if I hadn’t made the decision to branch out. Every day brings something new and I’m continually inspired by the wide spectrum of stories students bring with them through the door each term.

As designers we can’t afford to get comfortable, it’s imperative to take a risk from time to time. Each student is a daily reminder of how important it is to take the path less travelled as you never know what it may bring.

“Without deviation from the norm progress is not possible.” —Frank Zappa

If you haven’t yet got a copy of Shillington Post 05—The Anniversary Issue, don’t worry. The entire Shillington Post collection is available on Issuu

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