One of, if not THE main thing that will make or break your first industry job is studio culture. Agencies don’t hire solely on technical ability and portfolio work, they also consider how well they think you will fit into the day to day of the studio: because of this it is important to know what you what size of team would be best for you, what clients you would do your best work on, what type of manager you need etc. People can spend a month or longer in a job before realising it just isn’t the right fit, or they weren’t ready for that kind of studio. Luckily there are some practices that you can do in university to prepare yourself for a full-time creative role. Being a graphic design student at university presents you with a good opportunity to find out what kind of job you want.
One of the first things I would recommend doing as a student is to work a set number of hours through the week (or whatever is most suitable for you). In university I would mostly work 9AM to 5PM, 4 days a week – the reasons for this were: It allowed me to do work when the studios were quiet, I became accustomed to doing creative work in the morning, it allowed me to have my evenings free to have a social life, it played a role in preventing burnout and lastly these hours are very typical for industry.
You do not have to work 9-5 but I would recommend committing to set working hours to help get you into a schedule, and, more importantly, to make sure you have time when you can relax and do other things.
Lunch breaks follow on from the previous point about mimicking hours of a working day. Take your lunch away from a computer, go and sit outside or in a cafe (or pub, most likely) with friends or alone. Dedicate some time in the middle of the day between your working hours to relax and avoid looking at a screen. This is a small thing that will stop you getting fatigued so you can work more effectively and efficiently when you are back at your desk.
Set internal deadlines
Just like many others, I suffered from last minute cramming in university and looking back, I regret it so much. Setting intermediate deadlines is a good technique you can use to avoid that. If you have a final deadline for April 21st on a three month project, set checkpoints every two weeks from when you receive the brief. Break down your work to make it more snackable and easy to manage. For example, in the first two weeks do concepting, the next two weeks do wireframes etc.
Not only will this help you avoid late nights, it will also help you to become more efficient and streamline your processes. Your sleep pattern will thank you when the last week rush of project deadlines occur, and you’re relaxed when everyone else frantically tries to get things done.
Build a good relationship with tutors and mentors
Hopefully, you are as lucky as I was in university and have a number of approachable and helpful tutors. In my second year, I really started to use them to my benefit, and my work shot up in quality because of it. I know it seems obvious, but they are there to help you. If you build good relationships with them you will be able to go to them for advice, motivation and guidance. Not only will they be able to help you with your work, but they are also the people who can help you most when you are looking for jobs. Your tutors will likely write your references,mark your work and also provide industry insights, contacts and experience. They are able to put you in contact with the right people and make sure you’re putting yourself in the best position possible to get an interview!
Obviously this ability of building relationships with your tutors will be a directly translatable skill into your job, this practice will allow you to learn how to build and maintain good relationships with managers, coworkers, freelancers and of course clients – something that will help make you stand out from other graduates.
Feedback & Crit sessions
Presenting your work to others can be daunting and as a graphic design student, it may seem one of the toughest challenges. However, presenting work to clients is one of the most important parts of being a designer. The sooner you nail this practice, the sooner you’ll find the natural confidence that any great public speaker has. A good designer is one that is confident in talking about what they have produced and can easily explain why they have made the design decisions they have. If you don’t sound confident in what you have designed, no one else will.
The only way to get better and more confident with presenting is practice. When I was at university, a small group of us would have little crit sessions, separate to when we did them with tutors. The main reasons for this were: most of the time students are working on similar projects, so it is good to see how people have chosen to approach a brief. Secondly, it is a lot easier to be honest with friends, you can talk a bit more freely about your work. This is something you will have to do in a job, so learning how to concisely present ideas and also how to take criticism or feedback that you might not agree with is great.
Collaboration is the biggest opportunity for learning at this point in your development and something I wish I had done more of at uni. I regret not doing more than one project with other designers, I feel it was a missed opportunity.
There were many great graphic design students in my year, that I interacted with on Twitter and online in groups and forums. The skills you can pick up from other designers are invaluable, since university I have worked with other designers, creators, developers and project managers on briefs and have been able to develop my design skills, management capabilities and improved confidence in communicating.
Even if it is just a small or personal fun project, I would advise anyone to work with another student. You will have to work in a team at some point and handover work to someone else, so getting this practice in as early as possible will help make you stand out from the crowd.
University is a time for you to learn and be a graphic design STUDENT. It is better for you to experiment and fail as a student – that is part of the learning process after all. Sure, university can be stressful and challenging (it is meant to be). Make sure to have fun, don’t do too much pressure on yourself and to do the work you love.