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Hear straight from our graduates.

The real draw was learning to think creatively and come up with ideas… Shillington was a game-changer in that sense, it inspired me to go freelance.

Freelance Designer

Ellie Pinney

You made quite a transformation—from studying physiological sciences at Oxford to studying graphic design at Shillington. What made you make the change?

It was a pretty gradual change to be honest. I think I’ve always been creative deep down, but I wasn’t a particularly arty kid at school (in fact, my art teacher would probably be shocked to know that I’m a graphic designer now). I really enjoyed biology though, so I ended up studying Physiology at uni. I absolutely loved it as a degree, but I didn’t fancy any of the career paths it led to. My creative streak was starting to emerge by then too—at the time through photography—so I combined my love of science and the arts by doing a masters in Science Communication. It was a slippery slope towards the delights of graphic design from there!

I managed to carve out an opportunity to work as a junior designer while I was at the Wellcome Trust, and about a thousand online tutorials later, I was well on my way to becoming a designer. I always had a nagging doubt about not having studied design though, hence signing up for Shillington.

What have you been up to since you graduated? How has your life changed since Shillington?

Life since Shillington has been really exciting and a lot more creative. As I was already working in design when I started the course, the real draw for me was learning to think creatively and come up with ideas, rather than picking up technical skills. I think that part is hard to teach yourself if you’ve never studied design, as you don’t always get the chance to work on creative briefs as a young designer in a studio. Shillington was a game-changer in that sense, and it inspired me to go freelance. I’ve been working for a wide range of clients since, on brands, books and packaging. This week I’m doing a branding project for a science research group, so I’ve pretty much gone full-circle back to my biology roots! I’m also collaborating with one of my Shillington classmates on an awesome gin packaging brief.

What was your favourite project from your Shillington portfolio? Walk us through your process!

That’s a tricky one. I loved the craft-based projects like packaging and hand-made, but I think the most rewarding was a brief to brand a phone company. Unlike most Shillington projects, this one didn’t inspire me immediately… I sketched for hours and hours, and my initial ideas were all rubbish, but eventually I hit a direction that felt exciting and I ended up with a brand I was really proud of. It was a very thinking-heavy project and I spent most of my time trying to come up with interesting rollout ideas. It also gave me a good excuse to start playing around with After Effects.

You studied part-time at our London campus. Why did you make the decision to study across nine months?

For me, the part-time course was the obvious choice financially. Plus, I’d just been offered the job at the Science Museum, which felt like too exciting an opportunity to turn down. I actually started that job on the first day of Shillington, so it was a pretty intense first few weeks! It was tough juggling full-time work and the course, but incredibly rewarding, and I think the two really complemented each other in terms of the skills I was picking up.

Who were your teachers and what were the biggest lessons they taught you?

I had George Simkin for most of my projects, and he was awesome. He has an amazing way of getting ideas out of you (often ones that you didn’t know were there) without ever actually telling you what to do. The biggest lesson I learned from George was that design should be smart—everything you create should have a strong idea behind it, and it’s not enough just to make something pretty.

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