Back To College – My Advice For Design Students


It’s that time of year – the leaves start to change colour and there is a slight crisp in the air. I love this time of year – it brings back happy memories of starting college. It made me think back to my own college experience, and how I sometimes wish I’d known a few things before I graduated. This article is going to be about those things I wish lecturers taught design students before releasing them into the world of work.

Advice for Design Students

Here are a few points of advice that I wish someone had told me before I graduated.

1. Engage With Blogs and Digital Publications

This might come as a bit of a no-brainer, but even as late as my MA, I relied heavily on the text books and materials given to me by lecturers and teachers. What I’ve learned is that this stuff is vastly out of date.

I say ‘vastly’ – but even 18 months or 2 years is a long time in ‘tech-years’.

Even during my MA in 2013, PHP and Actionscript were part of the curriculum. The harsh truth is that most of the time, the coursework covered universities and colleges is out of date. Their syllabus just can’t keep up with the rate of change of the internet technology.

My advice to college students is to start engaging with blogs and online publications. Subscribe to email newsletters from the major blogs, twitter feeds of well known designers, and start creating your own inspiration routine.

Another great way to engage with the design world is to check out how the top designers are presenting their work. Looking at the portfolios of well-known and respected designers will give you an idea of the standard you will need to aim for. Which brings me neatly on to step 2.

2. Create A Portfolio

This one is more for the designers out there. Start gathering the projects you did for your coursework (provided they are good enough to show) and display them. You don’t need to already be in the working world to have a portfolio. Start by looking at portfolios of other successful designers, and go from there. If you don’t want to create a self-hosted portfolio, start with a Behance or even just a PDF that you can attach.

In order to know what sort of work to feature on your portfolio, you’ll need to have a clear idea of the sort of role would suit you.

3. Take On Extra Projects

If you find that you don’t have enough great work to show off, think about taking up a few side-projects to get things moving.

When I was in college, and particularly during my final year, I started to create websites for local bands, small businesses and even my mum’s company. This was really useful when it came time to looking for a role after graduation. It makes such a big difference when you have links to real projects to share, instead of concepts or mock-ups.

4. Think About the Job You Want

I did Multimedia Programming as my Bachelors Degree which covered a lot of areas. Graduates from my class went on to a wide variety of roles – different kinds of developers, designers, and people who started their own company.

Think about what kind of role it is you will want when you graduate. Start by asking yourself – what are your favourite classes? Which projects excited you the most? What projects made you the most happy to work on? Is there anything that you are just naturally able to ‘get’?

If you have a clear idea of the kind of role you want to be, then it will be easier to find people doing that sort of job.

5. Learn Presentation and Communication Skills

It’s unlikely that you will have learned presentation, communication, interpersonal and negotiation skills in art school, and it’s up to you if you want to learn them.

A big part of working with clients, teams and managers is to know how to deal with them. Being able to talk confidently about your work is the sign of someone who will be able to confidently talk to project managers or clients about design work.

6. Get Good At Interviewing

I waited until after I had graduated to start interviewing for design roles – big mistake. By the time I was entering the job market – during the worst recession in decades, I was a complete novice. Google the most common interview questions and practice answering them. Watch youtube videos on how to behave in an interview.

Interviewing is a skill – and not something you are likely to have learned in your course. Get good at interviewing by getting in some practice. You will need to confidently discuss the design decisions you made, talk about yourself and why you are interested in design. Have a slide deck ready with a few nice pieces to show. This is always a great thing to have in your back pocket. You will be able to take control of the situation by bringing something that you can discuss, rather than subject yourself to a question/answer scenario.

There is nothing worse than the awkward silence between questions and answers. Having something prepared will save both you and the interviewer from the potential embarrassment of not knowing what to say next.

Some people would advise applying to jobs you don’t even want just to get comfortable with interviews. While I can’t say I 100% agree with that, I would never turn down a chance to interview. Get in as much practice as you can.

That is my advice for students. If you have any advice you would also like to share, please don’t hesitate to contact me over on twitter. I would love to hear from you, and best of luck with the rest of your course.



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