What I wish I was told

Published:  February 16, 2012
What I wish I was told

It’s coming up to that time again when the next batch of eager high school students will soon be starting their design education.

To give them a head-start, we invited the AGDA Student Council to give us their tips and what they wish they had been told.

Below are 15 great starting-out tips:



Alex McAlpine
Be original
Here’s a (fairly) comprehensive list of things your lecturers have seen before: Triangles. So many triangles. Triangles with horizontal slashes through them. Triangles with those illuminati eyes in them. Triangles with universes in them. Universes in general. ‘Mystic’ collage landscapes made by rearranging some Googled pictures in Photoshop. Wolves. Deer. Whimsical owls. Drawings of people in animal outfits. Drawings of animals in other animal outfits. Illustrations of wistful looking girls. So many wistful looking girls. Posters that are just words set in 200-point DIN Black. Lazy design posing as ‘minimalism’. Be yourself. That’s the most important advice I can offer.


Clinton Byrne
Explore what has come before you, do your research, look outside of your vision. Don’t just look at design and designers for inspiration. Look at art, food, nature, listen and read, ideas aren’t confined to the realms of your medium, be it print, digital or strategy. They’re everywhere, they all inform and communicate. That great new idea you’ve got bubbling around in your head has more than likely been explored before, but don’t let that deter you. Inform your decisions, your choices, where can you take them? Learn from your decisions and take them to a new level, make them your own. Understand different mediums, practise your craft, know your tools – understand their application, limits and strengths. Learn new skills, learn old skills. Pick up a pencil and paper, use it – it will serve you well.


Yan Yan Candy Ng
Take everything as an opportunity
University is like high school for grown-ups. You will still have things you do or don’t like, be it a subject or a project brief – the only difference is how you deal with it now. Complaining about a lecturer’s teaching style or a brief doesn’t help you to get your work done, nor does it motivate your peers to get theirs done. Use your energy to solve every design problem that comes your way to your best ability. Spend your valuable time working hard, developing good ideas and looking after yourself. Be responsible and think before you speak. Be considerate and start treating others the way you would like others to treat you. Everything is an adventure at university, but whether your adventure is a nightmare or a dream come true, comes down to you.


Tess Braden
Don’t sell yourself short
Throughout your education and design career, you are going to need to sell your ideas to make others believe that you are brilliant and worth investing in, whether it be with their time or money. To do this successfully, you need to believe in yourself. Others can smell fear and can immediately pick up on whether you are confident about your idea. Don’t apologise for your weaknesses – by doing this, you are only highlighting what others may have not even noticed. Be confident and believe in yourself; positivity is contagious.


Ellen Conti
Attend your classes
Sounds obvious, right? Well, you’d be surprised how many people don’t show up, using classic lines like: ‘I don’t like that class’, ‘I haven’t done my homework’ or ‘I can’t be bothered’. If you miss class, lo and behold, you fall behind. Solution: don’t miss class. You competed against hundreds of other students for your place, many of whom would give their right arm to be where you are, and you came out in front. So, use your newfound freedom wisely and rock up to class.


Lucy Wells
Be inspired every day
Carry a sketchbook everywhere you go and build a reference library of everything that inspires you. Whether it’s a sketch of an interesting character in the street or free flyer for a band, it will become important when creating new ideas. Don’t just be inspired by design and designers, look at what is really going on in the world – it will open your eyes to things you never realised. Criticism can be heart wrenching, but it will help you learn to become a better designer and person. Be passionate, love what you do and don’t forget to eat breakfast.


Laura Morina
TAFE is the new black
The dream and the obvious choice is university, since most future employers look highly on a bachelor degree rather than a certificate or diploma, because it is the ‘higher qualification’; however, TAFE can give you valuable technical skills in a range of programs that are not always taught at university. At TAFE, you find your distinctive style, work closely with peers and get more one-on-one time with teachers. It’s a smoother transition from high school to tertiary education. There’s nothing wrong with TAFE – and besides, you can always go to university later.


Sarah Farrugia
Get outside
It is always important to work on personal projects outside of the usual structure of university or TAFE briefs. Without any boundaries, you are able able to explore techniques, ideas and avenues you may not have discovered with structured projects. Without deadlines and pressure, it also gives your mind the chance to relax, yet still be creative at your own pace. Everything is an opportunity to learn new skills, so paint a canvas, sketch a landscape, screen print a t-shirt, develop a video game concept, be free and let your imagination do what it does best.


Jacinta Mustica
A dream not a drag
Actually enjoying what you study may seem like an obvious thing, but many people get this wrong. Having a passion for what you’re studying creates a whole different experience. It has opened so many doors for me, like making great friends and the opportunity to create amazing contacts who inspire me and allow my ideas to grow. Passion drives you to learn more, do more and be more. Don’t let your uni experience become a drag… let it be your dream.


Bec Hulme
A diet of mee goreng and Red Bull will not sustain you
As obvious as it sounds, eating well and getting enough sleep allow your brain room to be creative and you are less likely to make stupid mistakes. Even when you’re chasing a deadline, stepping back and taking some time out (even just to sleep) will not only do wonders for your work, but you’ll also see a spike in your productivity and you’ll end up getting it done twice as fast. I promise.


Venessa Olivia
It’s about us
Working in isolation, being a know-it-all and not being keen to learn from others can limit your capacity. You will learn stuff you would not have learned by yourself by doing projects in collaboration with other designers or even people from other disciplines. It’s not always easy, but the result in the long-term is rewarding. Personality plays a big role too. I really like a quote by Anthony Burrill, which I think rings true: “Work hard and be nice to people.”


Timothy Chew
Say hello to your printer
Having a good relationship with your favourite printer can bring you tremendous benefit as a designer (even as a student). Not only just in terms of pricing, but also their advice in setting up your files for print, advice on the best printing method to achieve the best results, the right paper stock to use etc. And, because you are mates, they often keep an extra lookout for your print job to ensure it comes out the way you expected it to be.



Caitlin Mills
Get some experience
While studying, take and/or create the opportunity to do work experience within a design related company or studio. It is a great way of getting into the industry, making contacts and improving your confidence within the professional world. Be presentable, punctual, confident and work hard, so other opportunities may arise in the future.



Holly Canham
Always share your ideas and listen to those around you. Your peers can be your greatest resource, and will most likely be the ones you are working with or for in a few years’ time.




Abby Kerr
Bad ideas
There is no such thing as a bad idea, just an idea that needs work. Think of the impossible and make it possible, and have fun while you do it. As Albert Einstein said, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is not hope for it.”


From desktop magazine.

Photography: Jamie Calero.

4 Responses

  1. Alanah Vera

    This was really helpful. My GD TAFE course seems a little bit of a drag right now, but this definitely put a positive spin on it. Thanks :)

  2. tricia

    “Say hello to your printer” – Could not agree more! Getting it to print the way it looks in Photoshop requires more skill than you would think.

  3. Steve

    You know what I would’ve like to be told?

    That graphic design mostly just sells. Sometimes it informs and rarely it may delight. Over 90% is the first. The biggest lie we were told is that just because something communicates better or brings more delights, it makes the world somehow better? Graphic design doesn’t matter. It’s just about money.

  4. Easy, what I would love to have been told is don’t get precious about your work, a client is going to make changes to the design and could change the brief totally. Regardless of how good the design is, you have to be willing to accept that the client wants that change. Or at least have someone point me at the Clients From Hell website. ;-)

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