As new designers, right now can be tough. Lots of questions I get asked here are focusing on what students or new designers can do to try to get ahead in the industry.
First of all is having a good portfolio of work.
There are two essential things to have as a new designer looking for work:
- An online portfolio
- A physical portfolio
Many designers are using Behance.net these days, and it is a really good way to show off their work. I would really reccommend setting up your Behance account with some of your work on - it gets a whole load of traffic, and you never know when a firm may come accross your work. However, there are thousands upon thousands of designers on there and it can be better to showcase your work by having your own unique website.
If you aren’t good with web development tools, don’t go for something too flashy and all singing and dancing - most designers can get to grips with basic HTML (and if you don’t i’m sure you will have at least one friend who maybe able to help!) just let your work stand out and be the highlight!
One thing these days some designers completely forget about is having a physical portfolio. The majority of the time having an online portfolio will be sufficient, but having a physical one to does no harm - and a lot of interviews for creative positions will expect you to bring along a physical portfolio.
When making a physical portfolio, make sure it is a good format, diverse content and presented well. If you can see that an image is pixellated then chances are a creative director will too! Spend a little time and money to put together a clean and easy to understand portfolio - and remember, you are probably going to be judged on your weakest piece!
Self promotion is key to your eventual success!
You are a creative person, you have spent a lot of time widening your experience and design style, and most likely in the last year of your degree you will spend a bit of time looking at self promotion.
Creating yourself a brand or an identity (like my Jamesy brand) it will enable you to guide your self promotion effectively. What you do for self promotion is really upto your creative avenue - if you are a typographer, utilising this skill in either your portfolio or promotional material you can send a creative firm will really help you stand out. Like all designers, creative firms really like nice things they can keep! I have stacks of packaging, postcards, zines, cut-out and keeps, toys, 3D glasses the list goes on - we are all creative magpies looking for the next shiny thing to catch our eye - in this case use it to your advantage and get yourself noticed!
Use social media to your advantage!
We all know the tales of how Facebook has ruined people’s careers with one set of drunken photos being added, and many people are scared to utilised social media sometimes when promoting themselves. I see social media as THE outstanding method to get positive attention, to both yourself and your work.
Twitter is one of the most fantastic social platforms a designer can have. Things can go viral fast, you can direct your tweets towards people, you can follow design firms and designers you both admire and have aspirations to work with. Mention them in tweets, but DO NOT twitter stalk them, ever. Directing one or two tweets here and there is great, but if you constantly direct tweets to them you run the risk of seeming really desperate. Tweet fellow student designers and build up a network of people, the last three major freelance projects I have undertaken have came from the result of people following my twitter account and seeing my work through that. (just remember if you are using twitter in this way, try to remember not to post things derogatory about companies etc - it’s a world of pain and can see you frozen out of a community quickly!)
Making friends with design companies
Be proactive; find local companies that you think you would like to work with and that you think you can offer something positive to. If it is a larger company, it is probably best to phone them up first, and most likely you will speak to either a junior designer, or the receptionist. At this point is where I recall something my grandparents always taught me - treat EVERYONE in a business like you would the most important person you could talk to. I have seen people lose job opportunities just by being rude to the receptionist - they remember these things, they are the ones who will report back to the creative director, AND they have better memories than elephants - they will remember you being rude and on the flipside, very polite.
If you fail to talk to anyone higher up in the company hierarchy, then politely ask for their personal email and send your details through that means instead.
When you do have that email address, and you go to send an email out, make sure that you have researched the company and you know what projects they have worked on - be complimentary but not over the top! Explain in the email why you would be such an asset to their company, make the email personal to each company, and attach a small example of your work, whether it be a consise portfolio, or just something fun that shows how creative you are.
Visit some design companies
Whilst completing your degree, chances are there will be lots of design companies coming to speak to you, or giving you advice, or even helping out with interview practice. This is always an opportunity to find out more and to present yourself as someone who is enthusiastic and interested in what they do, and how you can learn off them. Ask them about the possibility of doing some unpaid work experience, it is all about getting your foot in the door! Most design companies will look for people to come in and experience what they do this way, just keep trying, but don’t ever hound a poor design company and beat them down into giving you a days placement!
Most designers when they get their foot in the door like this it possibly will lead them further, if not with this company another - once companies can see you are being proactive in getting experience of real world design, then they are usually more interested in talking to you!
There are many more avenues that you can take to help get you ahead in the industry, but I think that one of the best things that you can learn quite quickly is that just because your tutor tell you that you are an amazing designer and you keep getting firsts in all of your work, it does not make you the best candidate for a design job. Creative companies thrive on a good, positive and most importantly creative and hard working atmosphere, and if you come into their world as the ‘big-I-am’ most likely you will be leaving before you’ve even made your first round of coffees for everyone!
Be humble, be pro-active, don’t try and be something you aren’t - design companies want designers that will help raise their profile and earn them money, not persistent headaches!
Be actively persuing all of these things throughout your design course, get work experience whenever you can, and build up these networks over a good amount of time - do not expect to try and do all this networking at your final show! Chances are you will have had too many sleepless nights and glasses of wine to make any coherent sense! Utilise all of your time throughout your course to gain the best and most rounded experience and never ever give up, because it is usually when all looks lost that the best thing will come along!