What I Wish I Knew When I Graduated

Written by
Salve Salvana

Each month we ask creative professionals to dive into a different theme about the creative working world.

Graduation Season is in full swing! Class of 2021 have faced many challenges graduating in the midst of the pandemic. We asked last year's graduates to share their advice from navigating the working world to maintaining relationships. We hope you find some actionable steps and tips from their experiences below.

Hannah Croft, Junior Designer
BA (Hons) in Graphic Design at University of Brighton

How lonely it might be
Graduating in 2021 and moving back home to live with my parents came as a total shock after spending three years away at university, especially after numerous lockdowns in our student house, spending 24/7 together in the living room, laptops glued to our knees. Even whilst we didn’t have access to our studio, we still had each other, and this was something I absolutely took for granted. Moving back home meant losing my support system from my coursemates, and trying to put a portfolio together with no one but your parents to critique it isn’t ideal! A great tip is to begin your portfolio during your final year, even if it’s setting up a simple page structure or the bare bones of a website, so it can be easily updated once you’re a fresh graduate. FaceTime calls with my friends from the course and my old tutors were invaluable, and made me realise a little more work was needed to keep up that network, but it was so worth it.

How valuable a degree show is
Looking back on our degree show, (@misc.exhibition on instagram), it was incredibly important for every graduate that participated. There were so many challenges that arose from coordinating a physical exhibition during a time of social distancing, that at any one of those moments we could have given up and packed it in. However, the benefits massively outweighed the difficulties. Not only did it help us to bond by marking the end of our degrees with a sense of achievement, but it was where many of us made connections with potential employers. It was also where I received my first job opportunity, from a friend of my tutor. Without that event to bring tutors, industry professionals and graduates together, we would have had to start from scratch with building our own networks.

How crucial meeting your coworkers is
I’m so grateful that once I began my first job, the social distancing rules had changed and we could go into the studio again. It allowed me to meet my manager and creative director face to face, and have some really important conversations like setting out my intentions for my career and what I wanted to bring to the agency. Designers of all levels could walk past and ask me what I was up to, which often resulted in a fascinating or inspiring conversation. This meant I was absorbing so much knowledge by just casually chatting to my team, which wouldn’t happen if I was working from home. It also meant I got involved in the studio culture straight away, and have made some great friends who continue to enrich my design practice, and me as a person.

Annika Rabone, Junior Creative
BA (Hons) in Graphic Design at University of Lincoln

Being a new graduate, the best piece of advice would be to grab every opportunity with both hands! From networking and attending events to portfolio reviews and drinks at the pub, this kind of stuff will help you build confidence and create lasting friendships with people with the same interests as you.

Alongside this, be passionate about what you do. Having a real drive and a spark in your eye when discussing design really helps push your creative juices and you'll find inspiration in the weirdest places!

Lastly, be kind. People don't want to be around others who have a bad reputation. Word gets around very quick if you're rude or disrespectful!

Jude Grover, Junior Designer
BA (Hons) in Graphic Design at University of Brighton

Keep in contact with your peers. It’s so useful hearing what everyone’s up to as it gives you an idea of what’s possible for someone in your position to achieve. For me, an extended period of job searching made the idea of working feel far out of reach and chatting to those also attempting to find their place in the industry kept me motivated to maintain pace until something came along. It can feel lonely and frustrating, but hearing others are doing the same things really helps. Later when interviews and emails started happening, sharing tips and good practice did wonders for my confidence as I felt so much more prepared than at the beginning.

Contact people in industry! I wish I’d done it more even before I’d graduated. Everyone I did speak to was super friendly and very willing to help in any way they could. Just getting to know small elements of other people’s practices and processes gave me so much insight into the kind of work I might be headed into.

I think the biggest thing I wish I knew when I graduated was just how valuable free time was. After I graduated it did feel daunting having a stretch of time ahead that wasn’t allotted to the next semesters-worth of deadlines, but I think it would have been helpful to know how valuable this opportunity to pause would feel later. It felt like there was a lot of pressure to immediately move on and find work, when (if you have the luxury to) a month or two to explore personal projects, or simply to rest and take stock, would be a healthier way to round off a university experience to then figure out what the next step could be.

Luiz Undritz, Designer
MA in Biodesign at Central Saint Martins

One particular area that was new to me after my industrial design and biodesign studies is scaling. In university, you often work on "small" projects, with a lot of effort put into a good-looking or functional prototype. You try to communicate an idea or process as well as you can and get others excited about it. This is essential and is what makes a good designer.

But when it comes to scaling up a process or a product, you are suddenly confronted with completely new challenges about which you have heard nothing or only very briefly at university. This can be related to time, if processes simply take too long to be economical, or it can be related to manufacturing processes that are too costly or resource-intensive. In this way, you quickly see projects from a new perspective. But I believe as a designer you are best prepared for a multidisciplinary role and can quickly grow from the challenges you face.

Aflie Wheatley, Junior Creative
BA (Hons) in Graphic Design at University of Brighton

I wish there was more help and advice about next steps after graduating, every talk we had from industry professionals seemed to skim over this section a lot. There have been struggles for me after graduating and I wish I kind of knew about what I could expect from people who have been through it themselves. I also wish that I started doing work experience during my studies, granted this was difficult because of COVID but even at the end of 1st year I could've done it. I think universities need to offer more support in helping to get internships and placements, and have an actual work placement scheme, as every job opening I applied for after graduating got back to me saying I needed more experience.

In terms of advice, I don't think a style is important, I would say if you're making work for yourself or if you want to be freelance then it would be good to have a style but it isn't essential. I definitely had a style at university which I now don't use anymore. I would say strong ideas are the most important, followed by creating original work, experimenting loads and not just stopping at one idea, and see it through instead of using mock-ups. Even with COVID I still tried to either make sure all my work was digital or try and at least print my work out or make books.

I think networking is super important, follow your favourite design studios/companies, get to know who works for them and keep up to date with what they are doing regularly, as if you ever do get an interview for a job or placement you will feel comfortable talking about them and they will know you're interested and passionate about them and their work. In a nutshell just always been super keen and curious to explore and learn, don't expect people to find you, go out and find people instead!

Matty Hall, Co-Founder & COO of Sairo.uk
MA (Hons) Graphic Design from Notting Trent University

I am Matty Hall a graduate of Nottingham Trent University, a designer at heart and an entrepreneur on paper. Straight out of University I decided that the typical route into the design industry wasn’t for me so started freelancing as a brand designer. Very soon after that, I Co-Founded ‘Sairo’, a Creative agency specialising in the Metaverse. I’ve been very lucky to start working with brands such as Coach NYC, MVFW, and Monnier Paris with many more brands in the Pipeline.

On the side, I have also helped to build a Northern Based Film production collective called ‘Dirty Faces’ and I’m the bass player in a recently signed rock band called ‘The Ruby Tuesdays’.

Along my journey so far, I’ve been fortunate to have so many different influential, and inspirational mentors and these are some of the points I’ve taken away from them all.

It is not all about design

A year out of Nottingham Trent I’m doing less and less design as I realised what I enjoy more operations and production. It’s your time to experiment and learn with real context what you’re calling and how you will fit within the design system.

Talk to everyone

Just be friendly to people! A new contract or job could be a conversation away. Don’t be shy to share what you do because at that moment in time someone might just be looking for exactly what you do.

Smell the Roses

As designers, we tend to be blindsided by wanting more Just take a second to look over what you have achieved. What I do is every 6 - 8 months I do a LinkedIn post telling everyone what you’ve done and what you’re going to do next.

I hope this can help a few of you along this long and winding roller coaster we call the creative industries!

Some further reading on the themes explored in this article:

“Long hours don’t make you a better creative”: top tips for design graduates: Henry Wong talks with LA-based designer Paul Woods to drop some much needed knowledge for creative graduates for Design Week.

Our 10 all-time favourite portfolios to come out of the Wix Playground Academy: In this Creative Boom Insight piece, Tom May shares some amazing portfolios to draw inspiration from.

How to deal with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression after graduation: Anoushka Khandwala shares advice for those going through graduation blues for Creative Lives In Progress.

The If You Could Jobs Journal is a space the creative community have the opportunity to share their unique vision and insight into the creative working world. We're always on the look out for contributors interested in writing opinion pieces our Journal. 

Want to add to the conversation? Get in touch with our account manager at salve@ifyoucouldjobs.com

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