The Guardian careers blog
This happened some time ago but I thought it was worth posting… In October I did a live Q&A on The Guardian careers blog entitled ‘what to do with a degree in design studies’.
I’m not sure how useful my contribution was. I couched all of my responses in personal experience and my experience has been pretty eccentric – I haven’t followed a conventional trajectory.
You can find the Guardian blog here. I’ll paste a transcript of my comments below:
It would be really interesting to hear what route you took into your current careers? Did you study design?
I studied architecture but have have found myself working in a number of unrelated creative areas – graphic design, advertising and now education. Portfolio, experience and confidence are important. You don’t have to have a background or formal education in design – for example Carlos Segura (a great typographer) started out as a drummer, he is an exception though.
i dont have a degree but I did study art and design at college I got a BTEC National Diploma with a high grade of DDD and I have key stills etc. I wanted to know which creative career I could go into as I dont want to work in a shop for the rest of my life and I dont want to waste 3 years of hard work at college so I want a creative career and just really want to know what’s out there.
My advice would be to go for a creative career that 1) you have a genuine interest in and 2) you have a good relevant portfolio suited to.
It would be really interesting to hear from the academics on the panel about where students have gone on to work – both in design and outside of it.
I’ve had students go onto a range of careers… from my experience as a graphic design course leader the vast majority of graduates go onto work in design related careers – from small boutique companies to large commercial companies. Some go onto postgraduate study, often in a related area but not always, one of my graduates is now doing electrical engineering (and is interested in interaction design). Some of my graduates now work in unrelated fields such as teaching, wine importing and the military?!
I’ve recently had some interesting students joining my postgraduate programmes a surgeon and engineer doing MA Photography, a psychology graduate doing MA Book Arts. They have produced some really great work.
Can anyone help me answer my earlier question please? I should add I’m a graphic designer, have a degree and looking for work in London.
Should I quit my poorly-paid-but-gets-me-by thoroughly depressing admin job to spend my time searching for a job and going into agencies in the hope of getting an unpaid placement with no guarantee of a permanent job at the end of it? I already have 2 years of experience, am highly confident in my skills and have had many (junior designer) interviews, yet can’t secure a job. What would you do in my situation?
What would I do in your situation? I don’t know… this was my experience if it helps: when I graduated I worked in a series of dead end retail jobs and a short stint doing building work. It took me a couple of years to figure out what I wanted to do and to build a portfolio I was happy with. I continued to work in retail while speaking to and showing my portfolio to anyone who would give me the opportunity. I got some great feedback and through this continued to develop my portfolio and contacts (I found some very generous people who couldn’t offer employment but could offer advice and their experience). Eventually, and with perseverance I found work. It wasn’t easy, the job required long hours for pretty poor pay but after a year I moved on. In retrospect the experience and confidence this first creative job gave me was fantastic.
I’m a recent graduate of architecture (PG Dip Arch), the construction industry is proving difficult to penetrate. At the moment all I’m getting are letters of rejection (albeit well-wishing letters). I just can’t seem to get to the interview stage so any advice there would be helpful. I have very little experience in the office environment compared to many job requirements.
In fact, I have more graphic and visualiser experience!…should I investigate this career instead? (I am fully aware that this industry is as volatile as architecture?).
My background is architecture, I made the move to graphic design. Maybe you can combine graphic design and architecture – most big architectural practices have a graphic design/production person or department. I did this for a while before doing an MA and moving again.
Did you find that you had to do the MA to get taken seriously in Graphic design?
I’m currently too far in debt to add another £3K, with no financial support I feel this is an unlikely career move for me, for quite a while.
Is the CV clinic open any more? I tried a careers advisor back in Edinburgh Uni but they said they werent very qualified to comment on layout and structuring for architecture or graphics.
Finally, I am quite naive about what to include in a graphics portfolio when most of the work I have accomplished to date involves building design!
Thank you JD, Paul and HMC for your comments.
No, coming from architecture I didn’t have to do an MA to get taken seriously in graphic design. In some ways the disciplines are very similar, they both require logic, order and discipline. Both rely on a good knowledge of materials, detail and process. Both are interested in technology (both new and old).
I’m all for jumping fences between disciplines – some of the most interesting designers I’ve met have unrelated first degrees.
I did an MA in Communication Design to develop my own practice, I wanted to move away from the commercial world for a while.
Although the jobs market is tough generally, creative people with a specialism are still in demand. My advice to student’s is paradoxical: develop good general, transferrable skills, but also specialise – that way you’ll have a distinctive profile – you’ll stand out – and in recent experience employers have said to me that they want more detailed knowledge of their particular field in the graduates they are employing.
And I suppose that people like Jamie Dobson and I would particularly say this – if your 3 year general design degree has left you as a generalist, do consider doing the extra one year of a focused MA to separate you from the rest. Postgraduates also get to network rather more than undergrads in my experience.
I agree – the networking opportunities that come from a good MA experience can’t be underestimated. I still collaborate with a few of my peers years later…
I’d like to just put my 2 cents in if I may.
I really believe that the only people who don’t get jobs in design, or any other industry are the people who give up.
I know this isn’t the most practical tip and is easy to say/not so easy to apply but it is what is helping me stay positive and keep on going!
There are jobs out there, they’re just hiding.
You’re right you need to be determined – you need to be bloody minded to get the career you want in design. You also require a great portfolio and some luck.
Once you’re through the door and you’ve got an interview it’s down to personality. I remember being interviewed in drab offices with static carpets and getting rejected – I couldn’t understand it. I eventually got a job in an eccentric studio where the director was as interested at interview in my opinions of cinema and literature as my portfolio – it makes sense now, he was making sure I’d fit into the team.
You don’t **need** an MA – it’s if you **want** and MA. I don’t think I have ever been asked what my qualifications are – unless I get asked to work within a teaching position!
Absolutely – you don’t need an MA. You will find commercial work on the strength of your portfolio rather than your qualifications.
An MA can help you to focus your practice, it can give you time to develop your thinking and approach to your discipline, it can enable you to move to a different creative area, it can help you define who you are as a creative.
An MA isn’t easy, the experience should be academic and challenging, it should make you question who you are and your context within design.
If you are interested in teaching design (including occasional sessional or associate lecture roles) an MA is a desirable qualification.