A few months ago, I wrote this blog on where to find a job as a graphic designer. And while the feedback has been fantastic (seriously guys, thanks heaps!), the question as been raised – ok, that’s all well and good, but I don’t know where to start before getting a good job. What about the fact that every application asks for a portfolio of work or experience? What do I do then?
Every designer has been there. I personally found when I was at Uni studying graphic design, the tutors and lecturers didn’t cover portfolios or internships as a topic, let alone how to get one or work with one. I also found that so much of the work that I had done at design school, when it was finished, really didn’t look like much – sometimes they were great pictures on a page, but what actually is that? How do I make it look amazing, how do I give it real world potential?
The first thing you have to do, is get your portfolio together. A lot of design schools use this process as a rite of passage out of school, but i would seriously recommend you getting an early start, maybe in about the second year of your course. Not only will this help you get internships or freelance gigs (which I think you should do while you are studying) but it will give you a head up when the portfolio is your major assessment for the term. In terms of the content of your folio, I’m not just talking about print outs of the work you have done (guilty of this). Design the document. Spend some time looking at the way you want to represent everything that you have learnt, and put it into a form that represents your style of design. This is an important note – as you get further along in your career, your personal style of design will become just as important as your ability to do the work at all, as companies want to hire someone that will be able to design in their style, or the style they want to achieve.
But I didn’t say the folio was printed. I’m finding it more and more that design portfolios are digital – mine is on an iPad for instance – and then you bring along the actual pieces you have designed to an interview. Whether its a student magazine you have worked on, or someone’s website that you can show on the iPad, bring real world pieces to the interview. This helps you in a lot of ways, as it means the document you create can be more agile – save it in a Dropbox, and make sure that you are constantly updating that document, and showing the most recent version of your work.
The next step is to get some experience. I don’t care if its redesigning the logo for your mum and dads corner store, or doing some free work for a protest rally at uni, or working on the student publication (I’ve done all of these, by the way) – make some real world work. Get some nice photos of the final work, whether that’s trading skills with a mate who does great photography, but has no logo for their business; or being a bit creative yourself. These photos are all you have in so many instances to show off your work.
This will then feed into your portfolio, hopefully sprinkling through the design class work (that employers have seen a thousand times) to show some real dedication and love of design. And that’s really the point – by going the extra mile to have work in your portfolio that has a real world application, you show your interviewer that you understand those limitations. Employers want to see that you can design for the real world, not the class room.
Now – network your ass off and get into a design department. I don’t care if you have to get in touch with your long lost uncle who works in a marketing department to be an intern with his construction company, or by knocking doors at every agency in your local town, or pulling a favour from your mum’s friend. I personally got my first internship by attending a Semi-Permanent conference and seeing a guy from my gym there, whom I promptly hit up for some internship work (big thanks to Mark Broadhurst, who didn’t laugh at my first portfolio). I was then also able to get two of my friends internships with the same company – so ask your friends if, when they have finished their time as an intern, if the company wouldn’t mind taking you on next. You can even find internship positions listed on TheLoop and PedestrianTV most notably. It doesn’t matter how you get there, do at least a week, or up to a month, designing in a real world environment. Take the opportunity to get some work on the wall, get some photos taken, and even get some mentoring with the lead designer – you would be surprised how many designers are more than happy to share their experience or give advice, because we have all been there.
And then it comes down to getting that first elusive job. I’ve got a whole post on that, so I won’t repeat myself. Just remember that at the start of your career, any job is a good job. Don’t be a snob and say no to a job because its not the “glamorous design life” you envisioned. You can get to that later. Right now, get a year or two under your belt, learn everything you can, and put your feet on the path to being the best damn designer that you can be.If you have gotten this far through the post, I have to assume you are interested in what I’m saying! So I’m putting this offer out there – if you’re a young designer, just starting out, and you need help, let me know. I’m happy to review portfolios and let you know what I think. I’m happy to talk to you about my experience, and maybe help you get some experience yourself. I’m doing this because I want to provide the support that I couldn’t find when I was your age, so get in touch here.