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The stuff they don’t teach you at art school

OK, so it’s been a little while since my first time as a design grad. Those days where I had a little less stress, a little less knowledge… but how does my experience compare with that of todays graduates? Do we face the same problems and the same worries?

I’d guess that very little has changed, despite the huge advancement in the technology we use, because the way that we are taught is fundamentally the same. Like with everything, I suppose, the education system moves much more slowly than the real world does.

I’m bringing this up because of a conversation with one of my tutors, Alec Dudson, who has a real issue with the fact that even modern design courses fail to teach the basics of business education. When students leave education and begin searching for work or internships, they often have no idea what to expect, or what is expected of them. That can be really tough – and in some cases put a dampener on a new designer’s self-confidence.

This is written from a graphic design perspective, although I suppose it could equally apply to other creative industries too. Perhaps by sharing my own insights, I can give you some idea of what the transition from education to working for a design agency can be like, from my own experiences and some other creatives I’ve spoken to.

Getting the right internship

Internships, to me, seem relatively new – they were practically unheard of in the UK when I first graduated, and didn’t become the norm until much more recently. It’s pretty rare to find a good internship with smaller agencies, especially outside major cities, and this has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the direction you want to take as a designer.

On the plus side, if you can get in with a design agency which is well-known, then it gives your CV a bit of clout, and can get you noticed further down the line if you choose to look for localised agency work, or even if you go the freelance route.

But working with a larger agency often means being reined in when it comes to your creativity – you’ll likely be working with corporate clients who have a very clear idea of what they want, and will expect you to stick to a specific corporate style.

I remember thinking ‘do you really want it to look like that?!’ when I got my first design brief – but being in a junior role, I learned quickly that people didn’t really care about what I was capable of as a designer, what they did expect of me was to understand their vision, and use my knowledge to bring it to life.

Internships can be invaluable, though, in that you get to see how the design industry works from the inside. Having spent all of your education time learning about yourself as a designer, you get to learn about the business aspect.

Learning how a business is run

Leading on from that point, I found it surprising how little I knew about the actual inner workings of a design agency. Often, there is little scope or time to spend perfecting your designs. You’re working for a client, and they have deadlines to meet. You might find that you’re expected to ‘rush things through’ and make last minute changes, even if that means going against your instincts. I’ve had plenty of projects, even as an agency owner, where I’ve been really chuffed with a design, only to have the client come back and tell me it’s not what he wants.

Remember; most of the time, you’re working to realise the client’s vision, not your own – and that can be a tough lesson.

I suppose what I’m trying to get across here is that learning doesn’t end when you leave the classroom. Moving into an agency job can be exciting, exhilarating, and sometimes exhausting – but it’s an equally important step in the journey. In fact, it might just change your perspective on which path you decide to take. It can serve to get you ‘in the door’ of an agency you really aspire to work for, or it can give you the tools to make your own way.

There are plenty of different paths you can choose to get where you want to be – internship is just one of them. Don’t be afraid to evolve. Creativity can take so many forms, and ideas can change – that’s a good thing.

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