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Shillington taught me how to think creatively and conceptually. It helped me get rid of years of bad habits, and instilled a belief in myself that I’d never had before.

Designer, Uncommon Creative Studio

Mason El Hage

You studied at Shillington back at the end of 2019. Why did you choose our course? What made it stand out from the rest?

I came across Shillington while looking through the Instagram profile of a designer who’s work I really admire—Sylvan Hillebrand. This was back in early 2019, while I was already working in-house as a designer for a startup accelerator in London’s Old Street. I noticed on Sylvan’s profile that he’d studied at Shillington, and from there I began researching to find out exactly what the course was.

At this point I’d been working professionally in the industry for around 3 years, but wasn’t yet at a place where I felt 100% confident in my process and way of doing things. I knew for my next step that I wanted to make the transition to a studio or agency, but didn’t feel like my portfolio was strong enough. Having done a lot of research on the course and having been to a grad show, I quickly realised the emphasis that Shillington put on both those aspects: process and coming away with a well crafted, industry standard portfolio.

That coupled with the fact that the course was only 3 months, essentially made Shillington the perfect fit for what I was looking for. I ended up applying for their summer scholarship program.

Before the course, you had already had a degree in digital advertising and design and a couple of years designing for fintechs. How come you wanted to head back into design education?

Throughout that time I spent working, it became very apparent to me that there were certain gaps in my knowledge that needed addressing. Things that I hadn’t been taught at university, and having worked as a freelancer or having been the only designer in a team, I’d never picked up off of others. I wanted to upskill in order to be fully confident in my ability before I made that transition into a studio environment.

I’m the type of person who benefits from being in the classroom in order to learn most efficiently. Of course you can follow online tutorials like everybody does, but to me nothing can beat physically being in the classroom in order to absorb information and apply it.

The environment that Shillington creates is designed to replicate the experience of working in a design studio, and to prepare you for that way—and intensity—of working.

How did the Shillington course build on your existing skills?

I think what was lacking for me, was a process and a way of working that I could apply to multiple problem solving scenarios. Before graduating, I would find myself fumbling through design briefs without much clear direction. Surfing off of current design trends/looks that I would have saved across multiple Pinterest boards without ever really trying to think of original solutions that addressed the brief. My ultimate goal was to try and design something that looked nice or ‘cool’. Undoubtedly, creating something that is beautiful is still an aim I have when entering any design task, but having a clear concept and rationale behind my design decisions is just as, if not more, important to me now. Shillington taught me how to think creatively and conceptually. It helped me get rid of years of bad habits, and instilled a belief in myself that I’d never had before.

Two years after graduating, are you still in contact with anyone from the course? Have you worked with anyone you studied with?

Yes! Lots of them. We have a good crew that meet up from time-to-time at the pub, and we’re all still in regular contact. I made plenty of new friends during the 3 months. I’d say this was one of the best takeaways from the course: Getting to meet all these other people who are in a similar situation to yourself, and building connections with them.

You all have to overcome the same obstacles, and having those other pairs of eyes to help you—whether it be advice on a piece of work or something else—was invaluable. It also meant that when we all graduated, we had a network of individuals in a similar position who could help each other out. In terms of working with any of them, sadly, that is yet to happen. Although it has come close on a few occasions via freelance opportunities, unfortunately the timings are yet to work out.

What would you say to someone who is sceptical about the Shillington course?

I understand that everyone’s situation is unique, but if you find yourself needing a change, following a passion or are even looking to upskill on existing knowledge, then I’d say go for it. It’s so much more than just a 3 month design course, it’s very much an immersive experience. It’s by no means easy, and it will almost certainly become your life for the time you’re there, but you’ll come away with all the tools necessary to succeed in what may very well be the start of a brand new career.

It’s also worth noting that you’ll meet some amazing people: students, teachers, and industry folk. It very much was a life-changing experience for me, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is considering enrolling.

Check out Mason’s website and read his full interview on the blog.

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