The competitive creative industries can prove tricky to get into especially for graphic designers. Quite often the route for a designer results in freelancing but this isn’t always sustainable. We caught up with Robert who told us about his route to becoming a senior designer at ID&C. ID&C designs and creates custom wrist bands for events around the world, working with everything from student parties to huge music festivals.
Briefly introduce yourself.
I’m Robert West, 26, from Kent. I am a Senior Designer at ID&C and a major part of my role involves designing the security wristbands for many of the UK’s major music festivals. In addition to this I design other security products, promotional products and am involved in the general artistic output for the company. I have worked here for just over 3 years.
What did you study and where?
I gained a BA (Hons) in Digital Media, Arts and Culture, with a minor in Marketing, at Canterbury Christchurch University.
How was your experience on your course?
My course was very broad and gave me a good overview of the design opportunities I could follow. I had the chance to try lots of different things to allow me to decide what to focus on in the future. The ‘arts and culture’ aspect of the course really influenced me in terms of drawing inspiration from different places and giving more context and depth to my designs.
Do you feel your studies helped you gain the necessary skills and experience to aid you in your journey as a designer?
The course was broad and covered a lot of areas (eg. digital imaging, web design, animation and photography). This gave me a good grounding in all of these skills that I could build and learn from. It has given me a diverse range of abilities, more so than many other young designers who can fall in to the trap of focusing on just one discipline.
Did you do much work experience or internships while a student? If so, what did you do and where?
I didn’t do any official work experience or intern programmes, but I did freelance work such as flyers and posters for local events and businesses.
It’s important to be self-motivated in finding work experience rather than waiting for others to give you work. I found this gave me valuable experience in dealing with customers and working to real-life specifications. It also meant that I had more depth to my portfolio than just personal projects and university work.
Doing design work for free is also a viable way of expanding your portfolio; you’ll get valuable experience and contacts, and it can lead into paid work or a job.
What did you intend on doing or aspire to do with your degree?
I originally planned to follow a business and marketing route when I chose my degree options. After a week I knew my future path was not in marketing but in design, as I found a huge passion that I never knew I had.
I didn’t have a particular idea of what area of design I wanted to work in after graduation. When I found the job at ID&C designing festival wristbands, it was something that I had never thought about or considered doing, but I found that it was exactly where I wanted to be.
I think it’s important to keep an open mind about where you want to end up; as there are opportunities out there that you don’t even know exist until you find them.
How long did it take you to get a job relating to your degree after graduating?
It took about a year of hard work, continuing to build a portfolio by doing freelance paid and unpaid work, while applying for jobs. I then got my first proper design job at a canvas printing company.
How did you find yourself at ID&C? Map out your path after graduating.
After graduating I did freelance work for a year until getting a job at a canvas printing company. This involved retouching customer photos or designing original artwork for printing, as well as carrying out the printing and construction of the canvases. I worked here for about a year until unfortunately the company had to wind up due to the difficult economy.
I went back to freelance work, and was fortunate that I had built up good contacts during my first freelancing period and my time at the canvas printers, and was able to gain a good amount of regular work for local businesses. I also continued to apply for other jobs.
I found the ID&C job online and was successful in getting an interview. It was fairly informal, there was a really friendly atmosphere and I knew I would be a good fit at the company. There were a few practical tests of my skills as well as looking at my portfolio, and the broad range of skills in different media that I gained at university played a key role in me getting the job.
Do you have any tips for aspiring designers on how they can go about making a living from their passion?
Make sure you are proactive in getting practical and commercial experience, whether that’s paid or not. Whether through a work experience programme or freelance.
Remember that you’re a designer rather than an artist, and that your work must be commercial. Working with real customers will help you refine this.
Get inspiration from different places; although digital work is the norm, don’t forget to look at traditional design and different types of media.
And finally, never stop learning and developing your skills, as this will give you an edge in the job market and allow you to keep progressing your career.