written by Ben Mottershead
Graduating university can be an amazing, but also terrifying time. I remember after my last ever hand in while studying Graphic Design at the University of the West of England. I essentially ran down a country lane cheering while having dreams of it being the last time I ever pulled an all-nighter for a deadline, the last time I ever filled my body with enough coffee to give me a resting heart rate of a sprinting cheetah and the last time I felt I would ever be that stressed. How wrong I was.
It goes to say that while I am a huge believer in education, both self-initiated and institutional there are things about the industry which university does not teach you about, nor prepare you for. This is understandable as there are usually a handful of lecturers and around 2-400 students per course. That being said it meant that the transition from education to work after graduating was daunting, stressful and even when I did finally get a job there was still so many things I needed to learn or be aware of. Basic things. Things I wished I’d had a guide of when I first left university five years ago.
Well, you’re in luck! Over at Glug HQ, we’ve decided to do just that and put together an honest list of advice for you to get your head around and hopefully make things easier over the next couple of years.
How you act and what you do at the start of your career will often define you for many years to come. Don’t be afraid to turn down a job offer if you don’t think it’s right for you, don’t be afraid to say no to a piece of freelance work. Most leads and offers you get won’t be a good fit and while it is important to get your foot in the door when starting out, getting your foot in the right door at the right time and in the right job could save you years of hard work and stress.
This may seem like something you hear everywhere, but it’s still something many graduates either don’t understand, or they forget about very quickly when a job, or internship offer gets put on the table. Unpaid roles are much less frequent now than they were half a decade ago, but they still widely exist. In my opinion, it says a lot about any employer if they’re looking to take advantage of vulnerable graduates by offering studio exposure and experience, instead of a fair wage. Say it with me, ‘You can’t pay bills with exposure’.
Taking unpaid work doesn’t just affect you, it creates a race to the bottom which turns the whole industry upside down, meaning students in less financially stable environments can’t compete and therefore find it much harder to progress into the start of their career.
You have the power and the sooner you realise that the sooner things will change for the better.
Those are the infamous words of renowned designer, Anthony Burrill. A big thing I never realised when graduating was that the industry is much smaller than you think. All the top directors know and speak to each other and so do a lot of teams and creatives. Instead of six degrees of separation it's often much like three, and on top of that nobody has ever said these words, 'you know that horrible person, let's work with them!' it seems like an obvious statement but you will be amazed by how many creatives you meet who are on an ego, or power trip and how quickly the word can spread.
Of course there isn't a huge amount you can do about this when you're first starting off. You will encounter difficult people and you just have to grin and bare it a lot of the time. However being a genuinely nice person, being there to help others, showing commitment and loyalty goes a long way.
For instance when I first went freelance the majority of my jobs came about because people either recommended me, or they were studios I'd worked at. One of which was where I first interned five years previously. People want to work with creatives they get along with, so when you set off to try and find your first job and even throughout your career just remember the above phrase. You never know when a small act of kindness could come back in a big way a few years down the line.
The world has changed radically since I graduated and it will continue to do so. Automation is real and jobs will eventually be replaced by software, or machines which can do it faster and more cost-effectively. However, ideas are much harder for a machine to replicate. Submerge yourself in ideas, strategy and question how things work and why they work that way.
Never lose the curiosity you acquired when studying because while creative software can always be learnt by anybody with access to Youtube, or Lynda, the way you think is the one thing which gives you a unique view on the world and can set you apart.
Learn from everyone and anyone, and bring your personality into the studio. You’re not expected to know everything, so don’t hide if there are gaps in your knowledge. Ask questions, listen to the answers and put it all into practice.
Respect everyone’s opinions – you don’t know the internal politics of the agency, and you certainly don’t know your client’s businesses. Ultimately, you’re learning how other people do things – whether good or bad. So, when you see something you’d do differently, you’re learning a bit more about who you are, what you enjoy and the kind of creative you may become.
Don’t underestimate the power of continuing to graft on your own work. I’ve acquired jobs, awards and decent paid freelance opportunities because of work I did from my bedroom around an area I was passionate about.
Industry work will always expose you to new challenges, new ways of working and new types of people but working on something you truly care about will teach you about who you are, what you enjoy and more importantly why you became a creative professional in the first place.
The sweet spot is when the two areas come together, but from experience, it doesn’t happen frequently and it’s best not to wait around for the chance to come about.
At some point, someone you know will go viral. They’ll get some crazy clients, be able to quit their job, open their own studio, get featured on every design platform there is etc It might even be you, but either way it will happen. The important thing to remember in this situation is to not get pulled into someone else’s life to the point you stop living your own.
As creatives, we are taught for years to be hyper-analytical of ourselves, and with that brings an immense amount of anxiety. The last thing you need is to add to that and make it worse. We’re all on our own path and the most important thing is to find out what it is you enjoy doing. Once you’ve found that it won’t matter how many Instagram followers you have, or how many blogs you appear in. You won't need to escape into a digital world because the life you're living will be too much fun.
This could almost act as an add on to the previous point but I felt like it deserved its own title. Listen, I get it. Social media can be rough. As creatives we’re expected to be on every platform known to mankind, and not just on them, actually using them as a marketing tool. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Ello… remember Ello!, Vero, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Vimeo etc There isn’t enough time to be using every one of them successfully, and the ones you do use fill you with a never-ending sense of anxiety due to constantly be barraged by countless pieces of amazing work, by creatives you revere as being far more superior than yourself.
The idea of judging your own self worth against carefully edited and finalised pieces of work, all laid out on a social channel is not only damaging, it’s also illogical. It's one of the least productive things you could do. Instead, focus all your effort on being the best version of you and creating work you enjoy and you're proud of.
Yes, you should use social media to market yourself and get your voice out there, but you shouldn’t be worried if someone else you may never meet is creating ‘nicer’ looking stuff. You’ll get there eventually but it’s the journey which is supposed to be the best bit, not the worst. Spend a little less time worrying and a little more time doing.
Regardless of what stage of your career you’re at it’s always worth remembering that you aren't creating for the client, you’re creating for their audience, while attempting to solve the clients problems. Always strive to be a problem solver and not just resort to standard aesthetically driven principles of making work which looks nice but at its core is hollow. If the work isn’t solving a problem what’s it doing?
The same goes for working in studios with teams. You could be a junior creative, but if you get briefed in to work on something that day and you have a better idea of a direction it could be taken make your voice heard, and make it count. The worst you will get is a 'no', but from experience you can never be too passionate, or too eager to join in. Only ignorant creatives make the assumption that they know more because they're older, or have more years behind them. A career builds an understanding of situations and client needs, it doesn't necessarily make you a more creative individual.
The number of times you’ll be expected to proofread as a creative is insane. Yes, the bigger Ad agencies and studios will have copywriters but in the majority of agencies everybody will have a multifaceted skill base, and with that comes a constant responsibility for spell checking.
I’ll admit this is something I was never very good at. It’s boring and slow and not very creative. However what I have always liked is creative writing, why? Well, it has creative in the name and it was another way to strengthen design skills. While I hated proof-reading I instead decided to practise writing and with that, I strengthened my ability to spot mistakes.
It’s still my belief that creative courses should start introducing copywriting modules to their syllabus. I never truly saw the value copywriting has on the creative industries until after a few years of working. It's an integral part of the creative process, and being able to do both is a huge selling point to potential employers and clients.
There’s always been a misconception that life after graduation is a sprint. Well, it isn’t. It’s a marathon and you haven’t crossed the start line yet. In fact, you’re currently against a wall doing stretches and breathing heavily. Get your portfolio in check, get your website up and running, tidy up your social channels and then get yourself out there. You may get your first job tomorrow, or in 12 months. The important thing is that you’re persistent, driven and you spend the next year networking and absorbing every piece of feedback and advice you’re given.
Don’t worry about what might happen in three months. Just focus on where you want to be in five years time and make decisions and moves that will help get you there. The one thing I wished I’d done after graduating was not to be so hard on myself. It wasn’t until I hit 25-26 that I really started to set more long term goals and with that came a healthier level expectation and mental health.
Regardless of what happens while you’re in this next stage of your journey remember that everything will work out. You just have to take it one day at a time and above all else have fun, otherwise, what’s the point in the first place?
If you found the above useful and you're now breathing more calmly, and you're feeling reassured then make sure to keep an eye on our social channels and upcoming events.
At Glug we're always want to help people whenever possible, whether it's by creating spaces where people can meet and talk, or simply learn something new and have a drink. Either way we'd love to meet you and if you have an idea of other areas we could become involved in then just get in touch!
Also if you know someone who may find the above points useful please spread the love and share it with them.
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Words from the industry
“Put Value on yourself, you’re better than any exposure someone is offering you”
Danile Ting Chong, Designer
“Understand the role and studio/clients you want to work for, show interest, do your research and don’t expect things to happen overnight,”
Co-founder and director of The HudsonBec Group Will Hudson
“Build relationships, not client lists. A client is someone who pays you for a service. A friend is someone who pays you for a service, invites you around for dinner and recommends you to all of their friends… it may just take you a little longer to get paid.”
Ben Mottershead, Freelance Designer & Brand Strategist
“All creative work is good, even if it’s not exactly what you want to do at a given point in time, you’ll still be exercising the creative muscle.”
Alex Kazem Malaki, Designer, Glug Events
“Vectors are free, always duplicate your designs when developing ideas. You never know when you’ll need to go back to an earlier version”
Aaron Draplin, Founder and Director, DDC
“Try and put getting a job over going freelance, to begin with. A career will give you experience, which you can then use to be an effective freelancer. People freelance in the beginning often because of no options, but people freelance later because of experience and choice. Get a job, learn your craft, then go solo.”
Jack-Edwards Oliver, Creative Director, JVLA
"Be patient. Success never comes over night, so just focus on getting better, enjoying your craft and taking al the opportunities you can."
Tom Ross, CEO, Design Cuts
"You give a little love and it all comes back to you, You know your gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do"