Semi-Solicited Advice for Students
Last week I visited the new Billy Blue College of Design campus in Sydney, to speak to a group of final semester students. I was asked to talk about life after uni and what I had been up to since graduating. I’ll skip over the details of my career timeline (you can find that over on my portfolio site) and skip straight to some of the advice I gave them.
Never get so caught up in what you’re doing that you don’t stop and think if it actually makes you happy. Is what you’re doing fulfilling? Does it contribute to your cause? How is today working towards longer term goals? Where do you think you want to be in a years time? If money was no object, would you still want to go to work today?
Constantly questioning your decisions creates a great sense of self-awareness and allows you to recognise when you might be doing something out of habit or for the sake of it.
Ask for it
It blows my mind how many people want something and yet never ask for it! The universe isn’t a mind reader and you must constantly ask it for what you want. Want that internship? To win that competition? Need a favour from a friend? Dying to meet that designer you admire to gain some insight into how they got to where they are?
Whatever it is, just ask! The absolute worst case scenario is the answer is no—and even then you haven’t lost anything. You miss every shot you don’t take, so pick up the ball and give it a bloody throw.
Are you the hottest student going in graphic design right now? Good for you! Here’s the problem though, if your work is not online and you aren’t involved in the design community, no one cares! You need to put yourself out there for people to know who you are. It is your responsibility, not the studio or agency you want to work for.
The sooner you put your work out the better. It’s not going to be great at first but you’re learning and so that’s more than okay. To make it better you have to show people, get feedback and continually improve it. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and just keep making.
Finally, go to events and meet people! Show the face for your name so when you send them an email they already know who you are. I didn’t grow up in Sydney and had no safety net of high school friends to fall back on when I first moved. I had no choice but to put myself out there and meet people which was honestly the best thing for me.
When I was at uni I said yes to literally everything. Volunteering at events, selling tickets, student council, talks, workshops, conferences, extra classes—you name it and I was there. Saying yes opens up a world of opportunities and connections that you don’t even realise are helping you build a network and gain experience.
I know it sounds like I’m contradicting myself but saying yes will eventually lead to saying no. You’ll get to a point where people will start to come to you and you’ll have to be selective about what you choose. This is a great position to be in, but is also really tough when you want to do a million things at once. Saying no allows you the time to say yes to the opportunities that really matter.
Give it time
It takes 15 years to have 15 years experience. Sounds so obvious when I type it but I have to constantly remind myself of this one. Good things take time, and if you’ve only been designing for 2-3 years you probably aren’t going to be a creative mastermind just yet. Cut yourself some slack and recognise that this is an endurance sport and not a race. You’ll get there.
A few other things I mentioned, for those who were there and want the links:
A free monthly lecture series where you listen to creative talks over coffee and breakfast.
AIGA is America’s version of AGDA, and they run a pretty sweet blog. It’s a shame AGDA doesn’t do anything like this really.
Standard form of agreement for design services. Good place to start when writing your own contracts—make sure to double check the terms apply within Australia as the AIGA is an American organisation.
Another site offering free contracts only digitally with e-signing. Again, be sure to check the terms and conditions are relevant to you.
Easy as time tracking web and mobile app.
The queen of type and side-projects. Her Daily Drop Cap series was a non-commercial venture that kick-started her career as an independent hand-lettering artist and typographer.
I have a long list of links relating to all things design on my resources page. I’m overdue for an big update but there are still SO many links there to get you started!