When I was younger my dream was to live in a caravan in Weston-super-Mare and become an artist. I had it all planned out; I was going to live in the double bedroom and convert the twin room into a studio. I would look out of my window onto a beautiful sea view for inspiration and I would sell my masterpieces to the abundance of willing customers who would fill the promenade as they clambered over each other to get their hands on my latest works. Thankfully I soon realised that this was a terrible idea as art is notoriously hard to make money from, Weston-super-mare is 98% mud and most importantly, I’m not a retired bus driver. It was probably at around this point that I first looked towards graphic design.
Fast forward eight years and I am just coming to the end of my first year working for The Allotment, but how did I get here? Well, first there were two years of cutting, sticking and learning to draw the perfect ellipse for my GCSE, then there were a further two years at college where leaflets, posters and even the odd business card were thrown into the mix, and then finally there was university which is where it all started to make sense and I was hit with the revelation that ideas are king. I Graduated from The University of Gloucestershire in the summer of 2013 having loved my time there and feeling that I was ready to take on the world (of design). It is only when I look back now that I realise how drastically unprepared I was for what was coming my way. It is for this reason that I am sat here now eagerly typing away in the hope that I can impart some wisdom, help just a few people make the leap from student to studio and guide them away from some of the mistakes that I made.
Take full advantage of your time at uni
My first tip would be to make the most of your time at uni; be a dabbler, a jack-of-all-trades, use the facilities to the max and have a go at everything! Even if you fail miserably, at least you will have learnt something. This is a great way of gaining a basic understanding of skills that may just give you that competitive edge over other graduates. Also uni is the perfect time to do some personal projects. Once you leave and enter the real world this time becomes elusive and regrettably, whilst your weekends increasingly consist of the pub and Netflix, your little book of ideas sits mournfully on the shelf collecting dust. Cherish the abundance of time and facilities whilst you have them, as you will miss them sorely once they are gone.
Remember what you are working towards
My next tip (and here's where I start to contradict myself) is to remember that you are ultimately working towards a career within the creative industries. If all goes to plan then the next step after uni will be getting snapped up by your dream agency. This will not happen however, if your portfolio is not what they are looking for. My biggest mistake at uni was that I didn’t look at the bigger picture. I was just working towards a degree; working to please myself, my peers my tutor and the marking system. Whilst I was pretty successful in pleasing all of the above I had omitted one key target from my list: potential employers. Employers need to see how you are going to benefit their company. Good ideas and great crafting skills alone are not enough; they need to be presented in the right context. This is where my handmade books and artsy films fell short. The ideas and skills were there but they just weren’t presented in a way that potential employers could relate to. They were not solving problems – they were just ideas for ideas sakes. You are entering an industry where your main job is going to be solving problems in some shape or form so make sure your portfolio demonstrates your ability to do this in abundance.
Keep portfolios short and sweet
Speaking of portfolios (here goes my super smooth link to the next tip) keep them short and sweet! In the six months it took me to get my first placement my portfolio evolved dramatically. For a start I had to address the aforementioned flaws but after that I still reconsidered, redesigned, tweaked and fine-tuned it time and time again. What started off as a slightly overweight, chatty, blonde secretary was condensed down and transformed into a slick, no nonsense businessman sporting a nice jazzy tie. Remember you are addressing an audience who are strapped for time, they don’t want to be reading an essay on each project and in most cases, to put it bluntly, they wont. This can often result in them missing the idea and overlooking what may actually be a good piece of work. Try to restrict yourself to just one sentence per project. This will make you really think about what you want to say; it will force you to be clear and concise with your words and will ensure that people know and understand exactly what they are looking at.
So now that you've got your portfolio all ready to go there are a few things that you definitely don’t want to be doing. Firstly, definitely don't copy all of the people you are targeting into the same email, and if you are going to do this then at least have the common decency to blind copy us so we don't realise (although the ambiguous use of 'Hello...' is usually a dead giveaway). Secondly, definitely don’t call us by the wrong name. That is never going to go down particularly well. And thirdly, don’t send attachments over 5 or 6mb. Lumbering us with a 20mb whopper is just an annoyance. It's the equivalent of getting one of those presents that’s been smothered in Sellotape. If it's a nice shiny iPad then the 10 minute wrestle to open it may be worth it, but if it's another pair of socks then Aunt Ethel better watch her back. As a general rule for emails, just remember that it's going to be our first impression of you, so don’t screw it up!
Before I wrap this up (like Aunt Ethel) there is just one more thing to say: don’t lose faith. Don't get disheartened just because you didn't get a reply right away. Sometimes it can take a while. Without naming any names, one agency took over six months to get back to me, so never rule anything out. And if the reply never arrives, then you can always tweak your portfolio and try again. As long as you don't give up then you will make it eventually...and if you don't, there's always that caravan in Weston-super-Mare.