4 min read

Advice for design students before graduating

Student Graduate
Caution! This article is 8 years old, and our opinions may have changed.

As a University Lecturer of 8 years at The University of Salford I have come across an array of design students. Some are destined to be designers from Day One, some need to grit their teeth and work harder than others, and some have the talent - but aren't sure how to implement it. As a student myself back in the day, owning my own digital agency, and being a university lecturer - hopefully I can give some tips to future designers at this important period in your career ( just before graduation ).

1. Studio Placements

I found work placements invaluable when I was a young whipper snapper. I opted to go down the 'work for free and gain experience' approach, and I very much respected the agencies I worked with and the knowledge they passed down to me. I had several placements in which were all differently natured. A design placement can involve working on live briefs, communicating with clients, understanding project management, time management, studio environments, working hours, deadlines, design, development and an overall experience.

If you've not already had a work placement at this stage, I would very much recommend trying to get as many as possible before graduation. Some agencies offer free work placements, some offer paid, some offer expenses covered. It's your decision which you are willing to accept, and what your current situation is.

In terms of Shape, we have had around 10 students on placement over the years and have hired 6 of them.

2. Your portfolio

Don't include ALL of your projects if ANY of them are crap! I would advise that your portfolio consists of only projects you are proud of and are relevant to the industry you want to work in. If you go to an interview with 1 amazing project, from an agency point of view they can see the quality of your work and the potential.

When talking about how relevant your portfolio is, I mean, if you want to work at a web design agency in manchester, then research what the agency offers and tailor your portfolio to suit. Would your portfolio and skillset enhance their service or fit in?

At this stage, you may not know which particular sector you'd prefer to work in, which is OK, there are many people in the same boat. The more work you do, the more experience you get, you will find your niche and preferred subject, which leads me onto my next point....

3. Work, Work and Work

The more work you produce, the better you will get. The more research you do, the easier conceptual stages will become. The more client meetings you have, the easier communication becomes, and the easier it is to extract information from a client because you know exactly what to ask.

Universities are great for development of skills and theoretical studies. It's also a great environment for experimenting and having freedom to find your feet. So I would advise that you blend these skills with client briefs and live briefs to further enhance your knowledge of working on multiple projects at the same time. This not only helps your design standards, but it makes you listen to clients opinions, respond and manage various deadlines at the same time.

4. It's a numbers game

From my experience, there is a small pocket of students who know exactly who they want to work for when leaving university. Whether that be a specific agency and location, or a particular sector within the industry. For the rest of the students, they aren't sure who or where they want to work. My advice at this stage would be to get a strong portfolio together, and contact as many agencies as possible. If you email 1 agency and they do'nt reply, you're knackered. If you email 100 agencies and 1 successfully replies, that's all you need.

When emailing agencies, don't cc, bcc or copy and paste content. Make sure each email is indivdually tailored towards that agency and make it personal. From our point of view we receive a shed load of enquiries per week and as a student, yo need to stand out from the crowd. It might sound obvious, but make sure you spell check your emails, have an engaging subject title, and attach your portfolio as a pdf under 3mb.

5. Do you need a website?

YES! Absolutely. Even if you're not a web designer or web developer, make sure you have a portfolio online for agencies to view. Either get a friend to build one for you if you don't have the skill set, or use a template based website like Squarespace or Format or Cargo Collective. Having an online presence is the best way to expose your work and social share. Your business cards can be very simple and just include your brand, name, contact details and website URL. So if you bump into an agency fella or lady in the street or in a pub, you can give them a business card and you're done.

Make sure your website is nicely laid out and exposes the work you offer. Don't let the website over power your work, it's vital that the agency sees your work. Content is just as important as design so make sure you projects are given space and are big enough to be viewed ( on mobile, iPad and desktop ).

Co-Founder of MadeByShape. Most of my blogs are about business related aspects, not just web design.