The start of my career was quite a weird journey and is one of those “if I knew then, what I know now” things. I’m from the UK and finished in 2012 and will be honest, I was not very good. I had a blast at university but let’s just say I spent a lot of time working hard but not working on the right things. My skill set just wasn’t up to scratch as I wasn’t taught what you need to cut it as a junior designer. To add to that I lived in the bubble of my school that I was doing well so I must be good, the tools that people use to post their work just weren’t as widespread as they are now. I also had 0 internships under my belt because my school didn’t push to do them during the summer, working was for after graduation, not whilst completing your course.
I also made the decision to move to New York because I’d met a girl in my final year from there and decided to continue the relationship upon graduating. So now I was competing with all of the US grads who didn’t need a visa for jobs. These were kids that had been taught all the skills, hours upon hours of sketching with weekly critiques. Those first 6 months were brick wall upon brick wall and I even ended up “working” for some shady people that advertised design jobs on craigslist…one of those basically just used me as his personal assistant whilst throwing the odd graphics job my way. I knew no better and initially was happy to be doing something.
BUT, I networked in my free time and went to ALL the design mixers happening in the city and forced myself out there…the shy introverted British kid. Eventually, I landed a paid internship with a short term visa at a pretty big start-up in the city for 6 months. Those months were like having another couple of years at school and I learned so much, adding a few new projects to my portfolio.
When that came to an end they couldn’t sponsor me for a visa so I can back to the UK in 2014 and moved in with my parents. It was like starting all over again because I’d built a network in the US and knew almost no one on home turf. So I put together my book, did some personal projects and managed to get some remote freelance work to put a bit of money in my bank account. It still took a good six months to land a job…I was getting responses and going on interviews, even with some pretty good companies but always seemed to fall flat at the interview stage. Until one small consultancy offered me an on-site freelance position to come help on a big project they had. I charged a ridiculously low rate, rented the spare room from a buddies parents and worked hard for a couple of months whilst still applying. Eventually, a job I’d applied for 9 months before got back in touch and said they had a hiring freeze before and asked would I still be interested. They offered me my first full-time salaried position almost 3 years after graduating. Long story short, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Keep working and working hard.
In the last 5 years working as a professional designer, I’ve had 5 projects I’ve directly worked on come to market, 4 that I was part of the team on and let’s say 10 or more mothballed for various reasons. Plus I’m still learning…I’ve been sprucing up my rendering capabilities during lockdown and starting to learn Blender.
- The internet is your best friend and worst enemy:-
There has never been a point where so many people are online and sharing work or being able to offer feedback. This is a wonderful tool to benchmark where you are at and be able to know where to improve. You can also be recognised by those in a position to hire if you post regularly or show your journey, turn it into a series. There are also hours and hours of useful tutorials on YouTube that designers from around the world have put together…I for sure wish I’d had these in those early years.
Be cautious though, you don’t know how long that sketch someone posted took or what trickery they used to enhance it (talking superimposed on an iPad)…or the fact that they may be a seasoned professional that has been at this for years.
- Be flexible:-
We all dream of working at “Hot Design” in “worlds greatest city” but you may have to cut it somewhere for a few years to gain experience. Don’t get taken advantage of or be miserable, just lower your expectations.
But do try to be open to moving, sometimes with little notice (if you can). In ID, opportunities aren’t on your doorstep unfortunately and unless you are in a design hub, most new positions come with a move. This is ALOT easier to manage when you’re young but just make sure to visit your family when you can!
- Reiterating what Michael said:-
You’re still a designer even if someone isn’t paying you to be one. If you need to work somewhere as to not rely on your parents, you can still design. Never before have your tools been so good. You may not be having your work produced but things like Keyshot has improved so much recently that you can create such compelling visuals. Learning does not stop once you graduate.