Jump Start 1: What do I want?
You can read on our About page that in addition to my work at Ludopoli, I teach Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins College in London. Every year, students ask questions about what it is like in the 'real world'. I love answering these questions because they force me to reflect on current business practices and often lead to really interesting discussions about the industry.
I believe that the best thing about asking a question is that there's probably someone else in the room who'll benefit from the answer. It really is a social activity. With this in mind, we decided to set up Jump Start, where I'll share some interesting questions and, hopefully, provide some helpful answers not only for my own students, but for young designers in general. The first question seems almost too obvious:
What do I want?
It came about through a discussion with our consultant Anne Bostanci, who worried about the employers' (and employees'!) focus on qualifications and 'linear' CVs. In other words: we're so busy obtaining diplomas and degrees, jumping through hoops and 'ticking off' internships or voluntary work, that there's no time to sit still and think about who we are and what we actually want to be doing. This in a hugely important question! In The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything Ken Robinson, a recognised leader in the development of creativity, shares stories of individuals who at some point in their lives not only asked this question but changed their lives following a sometimes uncomfortable answer.
I have reason to believe, however, that most (graphic) designers are probably already following their passion. Heck, apart from less than a handful of exceptions, graphic design is neither glamorous nor particularly well-paid! That's why I want to be a little more specific and re-emphasise what I often tell my students: you are what you do. I mean this quite literally, in the sense that whatever is in your portfolio is likely to be what people will hire you for, no matter what you say during an interview.
It may be difficult, of course, to push one's college work in a particular direction if the project criteria are very tight (at Central Saint Martins, we actually encourage students to answer briefs with a personal approach in order to bring to light individual differences and abilities). At the end of the day, however, it is your career and you should take conceptual ownership of your work – and I've never heard of a design graduate being hired based on their degree results alone! Of course there's always the (time-consuming) possibility of building an 'industry' folder in addition to your college work. Whatever you do, a portfolio full of screenprinting work will probably not land you a job as an interaction designer, unless you can demonstrate your ability convincingly in other ways.
Show the love
I'll conclude with a true story a friend (for the sake of this story, let's call him Dave) shared with me recently. It concerned a software developer (let's call him Tim), but it's equally valid for designers. When they met for the first time, Tim the developer was actually in another job, and not particularly happy. Over a beer, Dave asked Tim what he was actually interested in doing (which turned out to be learning another programming language) and suggested ways of following and sharing this passion (Dave, a programmer himself, suggested a popular social coding platform).
When Dave happened to visit Tim's profile on the coding platform a few weeks later, he realised that Tim had uploaded new content every single day, often late at night after finishing is day job. Dave continued to follow Tim's profile (without contacting him), and after three months of daily updates, he called and hired Tim on the spot. Why? Because there was absolutely no question about Tim's enthusiasm for the job.
I love this story because it encapsulates so well what I try to communicate to my students all the time: if you love what you're doing, most other things fall into place. An employer can ignore your polite emails, your lovingly designed CV, your 'safe' design work, but it's very difficult to ignore someone bubbling over with excitement when talking about their work and ideas. So find what you love, and show it!