Top tips for design students.

Top tips for design students.

You’re in the final year at uni and you’re heading towards your major project. You’ll probably be totally focused on your design assignments but now is also the ideal time to be thinking about what else you can do to help you achieve your dream job.

So, here are ten top tips for getting it together while you’re still at university so you’ll be more likely to be successful when you graduate.

Keep sketches.
It helps demonstrate your thought process and sometimes they can be better than the final design. Providing sketches helps shows off your creativity and problem solving abilities. If possible, keep the originals, and put them together in an orderly fashion. At a face-to-face interview it is always good to be presented with tangible pieces as well as a digital portfolio.

Get involved in the design industry
Whether online or in real life it’s a good idea to take an active part in the world of design. Join organisations, attend events, follow industry leaders and continually keep your eye on what’s happening in design.

Do as many outside and award projects as possible. Take on competition briefs and give them your best. They often provide an opportunity for you to experience real design briefs first-hand, come into contact with the industry and test your skills.

It’s your chance to show the design world what you can do and winning an award can open a lot of doors. There’s often a useful cash prize as well.

Don’t polish turds - it’s the concept that matters.
It’s your job to come up with fantastic ideas that solve problems. If you’re going to spend time developing and crafting a concept make sure it’s worth it.

It’s also worth noting that, once you get into the workplace, there will often be a team of other people to help bring your ideas to life

Treat your portfolio as a proper project in its own right
Whether it’s a physical portfolio or a digital one think about your portfolio as a whole. Edit it carefully and consider the order in which the projects should go.

Generally you open and close with your best two projects – they tend to be the ones that are remembered. Don’t make it complicated for a potential employer to view your online portfolio. The top agencies get applications from numerous graduates all the time – so if it’s not simple to view your work they probably won’t bother. 

Also, follow any instructions carefully when applying for a job – it doesn’t look good if you’ve only just graduated but you fill out the application for the role of creative director.

Work out where you want to be and what you want to do.
It sounds simple but deciding what you want to do beyond earning some money is easier said than done.

Where do you want to be - do you want to work in a city, live in the countryside or do you want to travel? Do you want to work for a large agency or a small agency… or for yourself? What type of work do you love to do and who would you love to work with? Whose work do you admire and why? Where would you like to be in six months…in two years….in five?

Be aware that the industry is continually changing and that new agencies and ways of working are provide fresh opportunities all the time. Knowing what you want to do and where you want to be is the first step to getting there.

Research who you want to work for and tailor your work especially for them.
By researching companies and potential clients as much as possible, you’ll find out which ones would suit you and whether you’d be a good fit for them. Having identified your ”target market” you can hone your message especially for them. Tailor you portfolio to suit the job you want. Flag up anything relevant that might give you the edge over other candidates  - a competition win, a previous industry placement, the ability to speak three languages. The more research you do the better. The fact that you’ve gone the extra mile will also be appreciated. Lack of research can lead to potential embarrassment.

Do as many work placements as possible.
The more experience you get and the more contacts you make, the easier it will be to find the job that’s right for you. When on a placement, make yourself indispensable. Show enthusiasm and be a good way.

Now’s the time to learn how to make a good cup of tea. Even if you don’t drink hot drinks by offering to make a cuppa you get chance to chat to the other employees and find out about the projects they are doing.

Remember that the design industry is small. Network and use your contacts. And be aware that if you do well at one place word will get around…and vice versa!

Practice talking through your work.
Learning to clearly explain your ideas, sell your work (and yourself) is as important as doing the design. Selling is the difference between landing your dream-job/client and nothing at all. It is about showing your understanding of the issues and objectives, talking through your process and explaining how your design(s) solved the problem set out in the brief. When selling yourself, you need to show how you can be of value to the company/client.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, it demonstrates interest and enthusiasm. Sometimes even the simplest question can unlock a wealth of information.

Learn to take criticism
Learning to take criticism is a vital part of being a designer. You’re always going to get negative reactions but don’t take it personally. Set-backs should make you want to work harder.

If at first you don’t succeed try, try, try again.
An agency/client may not want/need you now but they may in the future. A design director specializing in branding  and packaging, I’ve been involved in interviewing graphic design graduates for internships and junior positions for over 25 years. I’ve also set projects and been involved in student advisory panels for 2nd and 3rd years design students at various universities and my younger daughter is currently studying at the Arts University Bournemouth.

I’m just about to launch myself on the freelance market so will now have to take some of my own advice.

 Written by Sue Bicknell, design director at Brown&co. Published in Voices.





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