My Shillington Story by Sam Walter

I’m Sam Walter, a Shillington Manchester graduate and graphic designer based in London. I run a (currently) one-man studio Festoon Studio specialising in charities, social enterprises and research projects. I’m not great at sitting still. I seek distraction at any opportunity. I repeat the sound of digital devices in my office by singing them out loud and sing along to—not so productive, but strangely satisfying. Improv classes, folk singing, choirs, hiking and social co-working are somewhat of a necessity to my London lifestyle. All great ways to put the stresses of work in perspective and broadens networks through good old fashioned fun.

So why did I do Shillington? In my early 20s, I was obsessed with coming up with ideas and selling them on. At that point this was the only criteria I had for where my career would go. I tried on a number of hats from folk singing to advertising and decided that I would pitch TV ideas for a living. With my limited photoshop abilities and untrained design eye, I put together a book of television ideas that ranged from panel shows where panelists had to refrain from laughing to challenge shows where the objective was to put out the fire that your competitor started. Pitching off the wall ideas was all a lot of fun, but it didn’t feel very sustainable career wise.

I eventually landed a creative-administrative role within a university project that pitched ideas based on research to television producers. It was there I started to use my (at the time) rudimentary graphic design skills to put together branding for events, podcast series, and websites.

Always considering what I would do next, I remember coming across the Shillington website and knowing within a minute of browsing that this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. To jump into a career where I could be creative all day, continue learning and have something to show for the work I was doing.

Shillington was great. It suited my ADD attention span and work ethic down to a T. Simple learning—every lesson: intensive theory, design applying that theory and then crit. Hard lessons, rewarding results, and instant feedback. There was no waiting for a week for a pile of comments to come back to you in a wordy document as you may have done in traditional education.

It was instant, and everyone in the room has a say—much like in the real world.

Speedy design meant it was never perfect on the first draft. No matter what level you were, there was always something to improve on – I soon realised, that’s the way the world works.

Once the course came to a close (and it’s scary how quickly three months can pass) this is where the new race begins. What do I do now? How do I navigate this new world of work that my design skills have given me access to? I took a few placements to get some experience under my belt and bits and bobs of freelance work. I was doing all sorts, designing book covers for sugar-free diet plans, and branding for large corporate events in industries I had never heard of and doing social media for television programs I would never watch. I was everywhere – with no real preference, awareness or control of where I would end up.

Where has Shillington taken me today? When applying to all those jobs with a crazy, shotgun approach—I picked up a few freelance gigs. They got more regular and soon was earning enough to pay the bills to a relatively consistent level. I networked, emailed, hit up old contacts as well as socialising at business meet-ups as much as possible.

I soon developed developing a taste for the types of projects and clients that appealed to me: public sector, research-based, design for good projects that put the power of graphic design to good use.

I built up my brand Festoon Studio with the ethos of ‘graphic design that delivers impact’.

One thing you learn very quickly when you are freelance is that everyone needs a graphic designer and that your job (as a freelancer) is to work out who you want to work for, and why.

I’ve always been interested in design for social good, powerful research projects and inspiring people. Today I work from a beautiful co working space, Impact Hub, Islington in London. My friends and coworkers include anyone from web developers to charity sector workers to business coaches – all working and socialising from the same space. In this environment, the networks I have reached into have been fantastic – I’ve worked on projects for national charities, universities and social enterprises such as Oxfam, Greenpeace and UCL. The lesson I learned from this is very simple – find the communities and places where the work you want to do happens, and embed yourself in it.

Three years later, I’m still learning, still improving, still making mistakes. I still use the same design systems I learned years ago.

Shillington very quickly teaches you determination, process, and confidence, as well as a clear system that you can follow with any project.

If the project goes wrong, you can usually go back to the process and identify why. My challenge has now become to keep improving my design work, expand and improve my business to make sure I keep doing work that is valuable to me.

After three years of self employment I realised there’s so much to learn about the business of design and business in general that there’s just not time to cover in design education. In May 2019, a university friend & graphic design studio owner Paul Price founded Design X Business—a monthly London-based event, bringing together designers who run (or want to run) design businesses. Our talks and networking events cover all manner of topics from pitching to proposals, hiring to firing and much more. That’s why we wanted to build a community of designers with varying experiences to share knowledge, compare notes and help each other out.

Huge thanks to Sam for sharing his Shillington story! Be sure to check out Festoon’s website and follow them on Twitter. Keep an eye on Design x Business for their upcoming events.

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