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Back to the future.

It’s not that long ago that I graduated from De Montfort University with a degree in graphic design in my back pocket, preparing myself for that next step in my career. Turns out my career started pretty quickly, gaining a position as a designer soon after finishing university. With a fresh start to this year, I joined the team of Nottingham based brand experts – Tribe, as a graphic designer, to continue my journey within the industry.

So when myself and a few others from the studio visited the Nottingham Trent University Degree Show, a flood of memories hit me as I remembered what it felt like to be a student. I remember feeling excited to be showing my portfolio to friends and family but at the back of my mind I was worried. I didn’t know what to expect from members of the industry.

With thoughts of “What if my work isn’t good enough?” to “What if I don’t leave a lasting impression?” made me realise how intense the pressure can be entering the industry. Endless questions flooded my mind but the fear to approach working designers took over, unfortunately leaving a lot of my questions unanswered.

Walking around this year’s showcased design work, with the hunger for fresh talent, (brilliantly themed to each individual being a specific/unique dish from a menu), I spoke to some students regarding their feelings about the transition of being a student to becoming an employee in the industry. To find out if they too felt the same as I once did or if design courses had progressed enough to help students understand what it’s like to work as a graphic designer in the commercial world.

For me, on the night of my degree show, understanding my work gave me the confidence I needed and the approachability that came with it. I asked the students how they found the experience of meeting people from the industry and how they found having to sell themselves and their work at the show?

“I suddenly forgot my words and wasn’t sure how to talk about my work. I felt like I was making a lot up on the spot which made my feel a bit silly.”

Katerina Kerouli

“I never knew whether it was the right time to say “hello” or even how to approach [those in the] industry.”

Christopher Edwards

“The thought of meeting people in the real world of industry daunted me. I wasn’t sure how long to spend explaining things but slowly got to grips with it.”

Jess Syer

Although critique and direction can sometimes hurt – after all, a designer invests a lot of themselves in their work – provided the feedback is constructive, it’s vital that a designer is able to detach a little and consider the advice objectively. Leading me into my next question: What best pieces of advice or criticism did they receive from industry specialists? One really good response came from Amy Stephens who said:

“A good piece of advice was to not just send emails to companies, but to send a written letter with some freebies inside such as stickers or badges. It will help a company remember you and they will have something to keep.”

Amy Stephens

My time at university was filled with new experiences and exciting challenges. All these experiences were put in place, to some extent, help me feel prepared for the future. Although working through live briefs, feedback sessions and workshops, there never seemed to be enough engagement with design professionals to make me feel the comfort I needed to prepare myself for working in the industry.

I asked the students if they had experienced anything that would prepare them for what to expect when working in the design industry?

“Presenting to a design agency, that experience showed me the pressure of trying to sell an idea to a room full of people.”

Christopher Edwards

“Live briefs are always a good way in with plenty of helpful feedback and contacts.”

Katerina Kerouli

“Working in studios on placements because you see how a real working environment runs. Having to meet tight deadlines while being used to having a good four weeks to do a project was an eye opener.”

Amy Stephens

I’d like to believe that our time with the students helped to allay some fears and concerns. And representing our studio hopefully showed them that while the industry can appear cutthroat and heavily pressurised, its people who are a part of it, and we’re all human. 

Looking back at how l felt then and how I feel today, having worked as a designer for two very different agencies, the experiences and knowledge gained have made my past fears of moving forward seem pretty insignificant, something they too will figure out for themselves. They’ll find out that all design studios will in one way or another, answer all of their worries and questions. Both agencies I have worked for have helped me to grow as a designer and as an individual, pushing me to fulfil any aspirations I have had or may have for the future, which I’m sure will happen for them as they start this new chapter in their lives.

The future can mean many things for many people. For these students the responses were the kind one can expect from students:

“I’d love to stay in Nottingham but I think I will have to go to London for a year or so to get contacts and then make my way back or move country.”

Katerina Kerouli

“My first plan is to get my final portfolio out to a few studios that I’ve had my eye on for the last year or so and see if I can gain some studio experience as an in-house illustrator.”

Dan Whitehouse

As an industry professional, after walking around the show I was quite impressed with the calibre of work that was presented. So much that I believe the industry is about to get a massive injection of fresh creative people ready to show what they’re more than capable of doing, provided they’re open to good advice and brave enough to put themselves and their ideas out there – just like they did at the show.

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