I sometimes wonder what it would be like to go back and start again as a junior designer, knowing what I know now. Making more of every opportunity, instead of letting them pass by. Taking more risks. Pushing my ideas and imagination. Probably a little more reading about design, instead of just looking at the pictures.
Who knows? Maybe I’d have just got to the same place, only sooner. Or elsewhere. Or not. Either way, I still look forward to every day in the studio, and it certainly doesn’t feel like good old-fashioned work. It’s not a job, it’s a calling.
It’s sometimes hard to believe that as designers we can make a living doing something we love. Not only do we have the enviable day-to-day working atmosphere of a creative studio, we also have the continual opportunity to play, think, discuss and challenge ourselves and others. It’s a life of inspiration and fulfilment with endless variety.
Of course, before you have a job, you must begin to look for a job. At this stage, it’s rather vital you understand what you’re looking for. Know yourself, and things will be easier. What are your skills and where are your strengths or preferences? What would you like to do in the future? It’s always good to know where or for whom you aspire to work: small design studios, large global agencies, internal design teams in organisations or corporations, or a particular individual.
Did you know that studios and agencies are only as good as the talent they employ? True story. With this in mind, finding the right fit is as much a challenge for the studio as it is the designer. Everyone is on the lookout for great potential. Who doesn’t want a studio full of talented creative geniuses, pushing the envelope and creating outstanding work? Everyone wins – the designer, the studio and especially the client. Sounds obvious. It also plays the other way. Every designer should have a creative director who is able to inspire greatness in others.
Finding your first job means matching your skills and creativity with the needs of a studio. Although every studio and agency differs, there are some basics that most studios are looking for. For the most part, it’s strong ideas, beautifully executed and presented in a way that does the work justice. A great portfolio will always get you through the door, but it’s the spark that accompanies the work that takes things forward. I’m always on the lookout for curious minds – the ones who never stop searching, have a thirst for knowledge, an ability to express opinions and an appetite for more. A good personal attitude will also help tip the scales.
For the majority of graduates, internships are the entry point into the studio. That said, however, the same rule applies in that test period as it does in the first 12 months. Every moment is an opportunity to be extraordinary (doing that little bit extra) and showing your potential. Adapting to the real world of employment means understanding that you are in charge of your career and destiny, not the studio. If you don’t push yourself, don’t expect it from others.
How can anyone not possibly be happy and positive in a design studio? We’ve got the music playing, people to talk to, books and magazines to flick through, maybe play a little ping pong or table football, no dress code and, of course, creating stuff day in day out. It’s not always cakes and balloons though. What about the pressure of coming up with new ideas? The long hours and late nights? The stress? The uncertainty of being any good? The negative feedback from a crit? Or even working on that not-so-exciting project or task? It all leads to that can-do positivity waning if you’re not careful. New blood has a habit of bringing copious amounts of energy and enthusiasm into a studio, influencing the overall mood and culture. It’s one of those unwritten rules that must be adhered to. So chin up, and remember to press the mental reset button every now and then.
Are you listening?
“I like to listen. I have always learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” Like Ernest Hemingway, pay attention to those around you, because they tend to have a great deal more experience. Absorb like a sponge all that your colleagues tell you: the typographic advice, the Photoshop tricks and shortcuts, even the correct way to mount work. Time is short, people are busy and you’ll be expected to take things seriously. Asking plenty of questions early on, even if they feel stupid or obvious, will clear up any uncertainty. Nobody ever looked bad for clarifying things, especially when there’s a looming deadline.
Use your loaf
Taking control of your destiny early on in the studio means one thing – initiative. In fact, creating opportunities for yourself couldn’t be simpler. By observing the studio, the workload and the interactions that go on within, chances are that you’ll notice people are pretty busy. Your typical studio has multiple projects and tasks happening simultaneously and, if someone is willing to put a hand up and help, it won’t be forgotten. On a day-to-day basis, keep your eyes open, get involved and understand the needs of others. And for those juicy projects in the studio, don’t wait for tasks to be assigned to you; volunteer your services on interesting projects.
The extra mile
Design isn’t rocket science – taking that extra step may not be a giant leap for mankind, but it will certainly keep you moving forward. Tackle every task with passion and vigour. Make sure your ideas are selected for presenting to the client by doing your research, finding different avenues for inspiration, and coming up with more original and better ideas than expected. Success in one project will likely lead to another exciting one coming your way.
Joining a new studio as junior designer is a no holds barred opportunity, full of discovery, learning and play. It’s a chance to figure out who you are, how you work with others, and what you’re capable of. Of course, to really be counted, it takes a little bit more effort than you may expect. And, for the majority of people, that’s a little too much like hard work. Which isn’t so good for them. But it’s definitely good for you.
Illustration: Eirian Chapman.