This week I (Becky) met up with a lovely girl who is part of The Girls Network, whose mission is to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional role models who are women. It's an incredible charity, and I was glad I was able to help.
This young lady (we'll call her 'H' to protect her identity) is interested in becoming a designer. However, she is still figuring out what is involved in a design career, so her mentor and I all got together to discuss and see if it was something she might want to do in future and, if so, how should she go about it.
I've worked professionally as a designer for over 15 years, so I like to think I can be of some help. It was also quite fun to think back to where it all began and how much has changed in the relatively short time I have been doing this as a career.
We met at the shared co-working space I use in Brighton. I wanted her to get a feel of how companies are working these days. Since COVID-19, many of us either work entirely remotely or have adapted to a hybrid work lifestyle. By the time 'H' is ready to battle the working world, who knows how we'll all be working? My particular workspace is chilled and calm, and I wanted her to know that despite remote working, this gives us all an opportunity to be around people, not feel lonely and get a sense of 'being at work'.
It was a nice casual meeting with some Q&As I wanted to share here in case anyone else is in the same position. Perhaps you are choosing subjects to study for GCSEs or considering applying for college, or maybe you are thinking of applying for a job, but where do you even start?
'H' - What inspired you to become a designer?
'B' - I was never particularly brilliant at the more academic subjects at school. I just wasn't inspired by them. However, I loved the more creative sessions like drama, food tech, art and woodwork. I don't think I realised you could have a career being creative until I watched some terrible movie where the lead played the head of a marketing company (I have no idea what this movie is now, and I am slightly mortified it has the emphasis to my career but here we are). I thought - that's what I want. So I chose as many 'creative' exams as possible and tried my best with the others. I came out of school with pretty average grades, nothing stellar, but enough for me to have options. From there, I secured a position at a local college doing design and illustration. After that, I got offered a place at Brighton University to do a degree in Communication Design. This was huge. I never thought I'd go to college, let alone university. Why is this important? Well, you never know what doors will open for you, I didn't think I'd get fantastic grades from school, but they were OK, which got me a college space, and from there, I could be freely creative and start creating artwork, I might never have done, which then gained me my uni position, and from there, I had a portfolio to take on and ask people for a job!
'H' - What do you think sets your work apart from other designers?
'B' - Excellent question! I am a pretty eclectic designer. I am never afraid to dip my toes into unknown territory, and I'm always willing to take on new challenges and skills to create something that will work better. So many times, I have sat in front of another application I have no idea how to use, or I've been asked to create something I've never done before, but I always take it on.
’H’ - What techniques do you use to stay creative and motivated?
'B' - I love this question. Sometimes working in the creative world can feel overwhelming. It might sound odd, but I like to stay motivated by taking breaks from it, believe it or not! I think it’s essential to recharge the creative part of my brain by doing mundane things like walking my dog, going to the gym, watching some awful TV programme or reading a good book to escape. Then, when I am ready to head back into that world, I use sites like Behance, Dribble and awwwards to find inspiring work. Instagram and tik tok are also excellent, and twitter has some really inspiring designers on there. Also, sign up for some newsletters and read them each week (I’ve added links below, along with some designers I enjoy following). In reality, I can be inspired by anything; it doesn’t have to be digital art; it could be graffiti, fashion, a film, or something someone says. So if it alights a spark, jot it down (my notes are filled with thoughts) and see how that comes out through design.
‘H’ - what do you think are the most important elements of successful design?
'B' - It needs to be functional. While looking nice is important, thinking about why we create a layout the way we do is just as important! What is it we want people to do when they see our design? Are we trying to lead them somewhere? Can we make them click a link? If so, we need to ensure that our design leads them to make that decision. I saw the below on Twitter and thought it was a good example. A design should be evident and the direction apparent to a user.
'H' - what challenges have you faced in your work and how do you overcome them?
'B' - I think the best way to answer this is to say that I have learnt more from my failures than my achievements. I've had a handful of times that designs just haven't worked. For whatever reason, it can be something small like not agreeing on a colour palette or hating a font, but sometimes we designers miss the mark entirely. I've created totally wrong designs, and that's OK if you move on from it. Figure out why it went wrong. How can I fix it? What do I need to sort this out? Usually, it's going back to the start, re-addressing the brief and having honest conversations with your clients. And Sometimes, people just aren't feeling it, and that's OK. Remember, design is very subjective when it comes to look and feel. We can't win em all, so don't feel disheartened but remember to ask the right questions when trying again!
'H’ - What has your career path looked like? How have you progressed?
'B' - When I left Uni, there was a recession, so finding a job was a little tricky. I actually ended up getting a bar job and told everyone and anyone that would listen that I had a design degree. I managed to design some posters for event nights and perhaps the odd job for customers for a very, very small fee (whilst I don't condone working for free, it's not an awful idea to build your portfolio up, offer to do bits for friends or family which will help you both out but don't let people take the mick!) Eventually, that paid off. A lady who popped in for a drink caught wind of this and asked me to come in for a chat as she ran her own web agency, so I did. With my massive portfolio (that's what we did back then, digital portfolios, thankfully, are a thing now), I lugged on the train and met with her and the rest of the company. I was offered 1 day a week, which soon became 2.
I worked under the creative director (another awesome woman) and was mentored and taught how the actual design world operates. I eventually got offered a full-time placement and worked there until I was midweight (promoted from junior) and ran the department 2 days a week. Here I was designing websites, creating brands and producing many print work designs like brochures and marketing materials.
I then moved to Brighton and got a job in a marketing agency. Again a lot of the work here was print-based. It was here the world started changing to a more digital marketing one. I was designing emails and helping convert our giant print-based brochures into websites.
After this, I dipped my toe in the freelance world, which was hard work but satisfying. I worked with various companies on various work, including branding, packaging design, websites and Apps. I loved it but was a bit lonely, so I got a contracting job for a construction company. Contracting is usually a more significant period that a company will agree to hire you for, rather than the odd job here and there. So it's more secure in terms of your income. Here I created massive marketing materials for large constructions they wanted to sell. This was fun, but the truth is, it was a lot of in-house design. I wanted something more varied, so I went to a digital meet-up in Brighton (I highly recommend doing these. Always great to talk to people and get a sense of a company), where I met the Senior team of a digital agency. We chatted, and I interviewed for their senior designer role and got the job.
I worked with them for 5 years, and this is where I dug into the digital design world. Here I helped design Apps, digital competitions and websites for huge corporate brands with hundreds of thousands of visitors. I was learning to code (I'll admit, not my strong point). I was liaising with clients regularly and working amongst a team of designers and developers. The world had really changed by this point, and the design career I perhaps once thought I would have seemed entirely different due to technology rapidly developing. Whilst that was a little daunting, it was fantastic to learn new techniques and master new applications.
I then hopped to Pixelhop as their Senior Designer. I have continued to master my UI and UX skills and worked on some fantastic projects, taking on a project manager role alongside design and adapting to a fully remote work life.
So it starts by getting a toe in the door and growing and developing, learning from others and adapting to the changing landscape of the design world.
'H' - Whats the difference between 'in-house' and 'agency'?
'B' - 'In-house' is more likely that you will work with just one brand and regularly create materials using the same logo, colours and fonts. This is great if you like consistency, as you'll get to know a brand and how it should be used across many platforms. On the other hand, agency work is a lot more varied. You could be working on various projects simultaneously, with different brands and guidelines to follow, so you need to be more adaptable to these roles. In my experience, they're much faster-paced, but if you like variation, this is for you.
'H' - what do you think are the biggest trends in design right now?
'B' - I am glad you asked. I will be releasing a series of blog posts focussing in this years trends, so keep an eye out! In short - right now, we are seeing a lot of kitsch designs and repeating movements from the 90s, making me feel old 😞 3D design is also big right now, as well as animation. These would be excellent areas to look into.
‘H’ - what do you think are the most important skills for a designer to have?
'B' - Patience, a good eye for the latest trends but not be dictated by them and thought behind the finished product - what do I want this design to do?
‘H’ - what advice would you give to someone just starting out in design?
'B' - Follow everyone who inspires you, create your Behance, Dribble or Instagram account and start getting your name out there. Me and ‘H’ discussed that when leaving school or college, your portfolio will be a bit lacking of actual work, but that’s OK. When starting out and looking for junior roles, I think most companies would be looking to see your passion for design rather than your professional skills. You are starting out, so this is part of what your new colleagues will teach you. ‘H’ likes using Procreate, so my advice was to create and post any designs online and start building up a portfolio showcasing what she does. If you want to start building a more professional portfolio, these are good places to help you start!
Wix portfoilio website
‘H’ - what do you think are the biggest challenges facing designers today?
'B' - I think it’s always been the same. You have to move with the times, and the times move fast. Especially now, we are seeing a massive surge in AI. This could be a considerable threat to us, and I think there’s a feeling of unease, but perhaps we can consider it an ally. Maybe AI can help us tackle design problems. We need to learn to use AI to help us. Finding ways to use these ‘threats’ to our advantage is part of the challenge.
‘H’ - what do you think is the most important thing to consider when designing for a client?
'B' - Listen to them. Ask them questions. Find out what the final result is that they want. As I said earlier, what is the goal of this design? And sometimes, remember the customer is not always correct. Eventually, you will be in the position where you are being hired for your expert opinion, which means pushing back because you know what is best for them.
At the end of our chat, I asked ‘H’ if this is what she thought a design career would look like, she told me it looked more challenging and complicated than she thought, and perhaps all these applications seemed a little daunting. I completely hear you, girl! I was terrified when I started out, and I still am. I always have to learn new programmes and working methods, but that’s the nature of this industry and probably many others. I was so scared when I started out, it’s a big scary design world out there, and it can be overwhelming, but you have to take one step at a time.
So here’s what we discussed that ‘H’ could do next:
• start posting on Instagram/socials - this doesn’t even have to be her work. Post what she likes, take pictures of designs or whatever you want. I like to think of Instagram as a visual post-it note!
• consider doing some work for friends and family. Ask them if they want a logo, poster, or some photos or videos edited, anything really. This is good practice because you can start learning to ask people what they want and practice getting feedback, hopefully creating some pieces you can add to your portfolio.
• consider going to a design meetup, perhaps with her mentor, to get a feel and chat with companies. Ask them what they would expect to see from a junior applying for a job. Would they expect them to have a portfolio? Are they concerned about what qualifications you have etc…
• Don’t be afraid to start getting your name out there. Tell people you are interested in design. You never know who is earwigging!
• focus on now but consider what might be next! Do your best with your school work which will hopefully lead you on to college if that is what you choose to do
• Don’t worry! There’s so much pressure to know what to do and how to get there but you’ll be A-OK! How do I know this? Coz I met ‘H’, and she’s super awesome!
Lastly, I am here to help with any advice or help ‘H’ (or anyone reading this) might need when heading out into the world, and so are my colleagues. Pixelhop wants to use our expertise in the best way possible, so don’t be afraid to get in touch!
If you have any questions or want any advice, feel free to post them below or email us, and we’ll be sure to get back to you with the best advice! Please give us a cheeky follow as we try and post as much help, advice and mini tutorials to help those in the industry or perhaps starting out. Let us know what you’d like to see more of to help!