I see a fair few students who are graduating soon or who have recently finished their courses. Partly due to my involvement with AGDA and Award School.
They’re coming looking to hopefully find a job, and unfortunately I can’t offer them all jobs just yet (or even any of them at this stage). What I can do however, is give you a bit of my particular brand of staggeringly persistent optimism and a warning.
Let’s start with optimism
It’s ridiculous that somebody as silly and unfashionable as me could be self employed doing design. The chances of that happening seem absurdly small. Some days I feel like a total fraud and that the fun police will come crashing through the door and take my business away and drag me back kicking and screaming to bashing out K-Mart catalogues (where I started).
I’m no better and certainly not more talented than my classmates from my course. I stay in touch with some of the folks from school and some of them have gone far in design, some of them not so much – that’s to be expected really. More on that later. Rest assured, if I can do it, so can you.
The truth is that there’s amazing opportunities for creative people to be creative and get paid for that. The field of opportunity for a designer (or any creative) seems to grow daily. The opportunities to access other businesses and like minded people all over the world is staggering. It amazes me how quickly I can share something with somebody on the other side of the planet and how easy it is to make new contacts and friends all over the globe.
The world is also in need of truly talented individuals to re-invent and re-invigorate design. That’s how design works, it moves as fast as culture moves which in some cases can be lightning fast. There are opportunities everywhere, right here wherever you’re reading this from, down to the milk bar down the street, to the dude who posts pictures of his cat climbing into boxes. If you’ve got a will, there is an outlet for your design talent.
I’m often confused with a fully functioning human being, and hilariously enough, I run a successful small design business that I’ve built myself. And I bloody love my work! You too, can have all this!
There’s a catch though.
Winter is coming.
With my sincere apologies to everyone involved with the excellent series Game of Thrones and especially to George R.R Martin.
Sorry – it’s not all sunshine and kittens. I know you’ve been enjoying drinking wine from a box, and ingesting scalding hot late night pies of questionable provenance and all the best that student life offers … but if you want this, then you’re going to have to work for it.
The truth is that yes, there’s amazing opportunities out there. Let’s go back to my classmates I mentioned before, especially the talented ones … as a student I was jealous watching other students just “get it” and nail their briefs at design school. They were miles above me in terms of design skill and I felt like I was way out of my depth.
But something changed for me – I want to tell you about my secret weapon. If you really want to get a job in design, and you really want to make it your career … you’re going to have to work hard. You’ll have to work harder than your class mates, and when you start working you’ll have to work harder than your peers. Especially if you’re like me and you look at your own work and know something’s missing. I worked like a mad man to get better, and I will continue to work hard to improve. That’s the secret of any creative endeavour. Work.
You will be entering an extremely competitive marketplace, and there are more people who want to work in the creative fields than there are jobs. That means you have to step up to the plate and make things happen – nobody else will do it for you.
Truth is, the only way to get better at anything is to produce. You must be producing heaps of work and you must step up to the plate and start smashing out heaps of work. Am I suggesting you become a slave to design and grind out endless meaningless work to get better?
Nope. Here’s the rub. You have to produce heaps of work which gets better every single time. The upside to this commitment to improvement is that it will keep the creative fire inside of you burning long after others burn out and get tired of design. The reason I still love my job is that I treat every job as an opportunity to get better. I also know I’ve got a long way to go, and as soon as I look at my work and think “yep that’s as good as it possibly can be” – I’ll start looking for another profession.
So here’s my message to you, [insert your name here]. If you want to find work and stand out from the crowd, you have to be different from the crowd. That means you have to roll up your sleeves and be willing to do the work which will set you apart.
Stuff you can do right now.
Here’s some specific advice for students, just so you know, get your money’s worth from this post.
- Re-Do at least one (if not all of them) of your school projects from scratch, in a day. You’ll surprise yourself with awesome if you put pressure on yourself to perform here. (Once you start working you’ll need to work 100x faster so why not start now?)
- Expand on everything. Take a logo design, and present stationery. Already done logo & stationery? Do signage and point of sale. Being able to do this kind of stuff quick can result in a huge up-sell with your clients. I do this all the time (whenever a job permits) and it’s an amazingly effective way to turn a small job into a bigger one.
- Design your folio properly. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but if you don’t have a fully designed portfolio ready to go at a minute’s notice you don’t deserve a design job.
- Get your work online and participate. There’s heaps of online folio sites you can upload your work online with. There’s heaps of design communities that will allow you to build connections and friendships.
- Make connections and do stuff. Most of your friends who are studying are doing awesome things (or they will one day). Get involved and do stuff with them. Become a member of AGDA (or your local equivalent if you’re not in Australia) and go along and meet people.
- When you find what your passion in design is, hammer away at that, and build that area. If you find yourself heading into an area of design you don’t want to be in, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
- Challenge yourself to improve everything you do, but also learn when it’s time to put the job down and move onto the next one.
- If you’re in Hobart and want to talk about your work and get a portfolio review, get in touch and I’d happy to have a chat and give you the best head-start I can.
That’s it really. I hope you have an easy transition from your course to employment and I want you to know it’s actually worth all the effort. Even on my worst days I feel lucky as all-get-out to be able to do what I do. I’d love to see you join me.