I got one of those emails last week. This particular graduate was looking for someone to mentor her; an internship – which as a small agency, isn’t something I can offer, but I can remember those early days when all you needed was someone to give you that one small chance to get you on the right path. It can be tough. You don’t yet know what it’s like to work as a designer in the real world. You haven’t got the experience to know which direction you should, or want to take.
This young aspiring graphic designer was looking for her path. She didn’t have a lot of experience out of the classroom. She had a modest portfolio online, with which she was beginning to market her skills to gain an internship, where she was hoping to continue her learning and get a foot in the door. The work she’d done was well executed. She’d developed her own style which shone through in the pieces she presented. She obviously had a real passion and flair for design – she just needed an opportunity to use what she’d learned in the real world.
I responded to her email, although I wasn’t sure I could help her – I let her know that although I wasn’t in a position to offer her an internship, I liked her portfolio, and I urged her not to give up. I sent her a few links which I thought might help her in her search. It was a short message. But what surprised me was her reaction to it.
You see, despite sending emails to several design agencies, I was the only one who replied. She was elated that I’d taken the time, not only to let her know I couldn’t help with her request but had also offered her even a few little nuggets of encouragement and advice.
Our short email correspondence made me realise that my response was rare. But why should this be? Have we forgotten what it’s like to be there? Are we really so busy that we can’t take a moment out of our day to help those at the start of their design career? Or is it that we feel that because we had to work through it and find our own way, unsupported, that all graduates should do the same?
Whatever the reason, I strongly disagree. We need exceptional designers. We need a diverse pool of talent to feed the ever-evolving landscape and changes in technology. Design changes so rapidly, and we need to keep standards high, and that means we need a constant supply of fresh blood in our industry.
And that starts with giving what we can by way of help and advice to those who are beginning the journey. How can we do that?
Next time you get an email or a call from a young designer, respond. Even if it’s a ‘Sorry, I can’t help, but good luck in your journey’. Encourage them to look at your portfolio, and other admired designers’ websites for inspiration. Send them a couple of links to places they could go for information.
It takes less than 5 minutes to put together a quick message – and you’ll feel better for it.
Use your contacts
I’ve said before that the creative circle tends to be a pretty closed one – particularly the smaller, localised agencies. But that said, we all have a list of resources and other designers that we follow as a source of inspiration.
Perhaps you are signed up to their newsletters or are part of an online community together. If you can’t help out when a grad student approaches you, I bet you know of someone else who might. Be generous with your contacts, and don’t be afraid to share names and details of people you trust who might be able to offer guidance.
Tell them your story
Give them some insight into what you did when you were in their position. Where did you go for information? Who helped you along the way? Who inspired you? How did you decide which path you wanted to take? All of these little personal insights could help in their decision making.
A sense of community
I think that we all have a certain responsibility in shaping the way design evolves in the future. And maybe it starts with this – offering that little bit of encouragement and inspiration to those who follow. Let’s not be remembered for ‘that agency who didn’t respond’, but instead, ‘the agency who helped me see that I could make it.’ We all need a bit of that sometimes, don’t we?