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NEWS > Careers and Mentoring > INTO: Graphic Design

INTO: Graphic Design

Inspired by floral shirts and Pixar classics, Joe McQuillan (New Hallian, 2009-16) writes about the importance of work experience, asking questions and learning new skills in graphic design.

I first realised that I wanted to work in a creative industry when I saw the 'behind-the-scenes' documentary of Pixar's 'Toy Story'. As a young boy, I loved the idea that adults could be paid to create computer graphics and wear floral shirts! This was my first glimpse into an alternative working world.

My desire to work in a design role informed my GCSE options at New Hall, being one of only a handful of boys to take Fine Art. I'd always enjoyed the subject, and by this point, I'd started using Photoshop - a programme I would recommend to anyone starting in Graphic Design. At home, I regularly followed online Photoshop tutorials, constantly learning new digital design tricks. Mr Hughes (Head of Art) always encouraged me to practice using these tools, which really allowed my skills to develop.

From thirteen to seventeen, I secured three sets of work experience at a branding agency in London. A family friend worked there, and I was able to shadow him closely and take on small tasks each visit. Gaining some form of work experience during your time at school is a very worthwhile endeavour. It gave me a great insight into the inner workings of a design agency and solidified my belief that it was the career for me.

I enrolled at Coventry University, having never studied Graphic Design before, so the first two years of the course were a steep learning curve in both advertising and branding. My advice to anyone thinking of studying a new subject after school would be that if you have a genuine desire and passion for it, don't be put off. The first year especially is a time to be as expressive as possible, and through inevitable trial and error, you'll find your niche within that space.

I decided to take a year out between my second and third year at university, aiming to gain professional working experience as part of my degree. I began sending my CV and portfolio out to agencies and companies across London, hoping for any kind of opportunity. The reality is that I sent many out to almost radio silence. However, my opportunity eventually came in the form of a three-month internship at a start-up company in South London. In a team of four, and as the only Graphic Designer, this was the perfect opportunity for me to start applying all that I'd learnt at University. I ended up working there for seven months, only leaving to start a role as a Designer and Artworker within an Essex-based promotional printing company. Here I gained valuable insight into print design and had my first taste of client liaising. I finished that period with 15 months' professional experience and a portfolio bursting with new designs. I would highly recommend a year in industry; the opportunities it has given me have been invaluable and crucial to my progression.

Fast forward to April 2020, and, having graduated from Coventry, I landed the role of Junior Brand Designer at a fast-growing tech company called Yoti. As a Junior, I aimed to soak up as much information as I could, constantly looking to grow my skills. I was responsible for producing adverts across all digital channels and creating assets for the website and internal documents. So if you ever find yourself as a Junior in a creative role, be inquisitive and ask as many questions as you can. Of course, there is still a lot to learn when you graduate, but I found that colleagues were more than willing to impart advice when needed.

Only a month ago, I started a new job as the sole Graphic Designer within a Fintech company, where I am responsible for all branding output. The role feels like the culmination of all the creative experiences I've had, from tinkering around on Photoshop at school through to University and my subsequent time as an intern and Junior. My advice to anyone looking to become a Graphic Designer or similar creative role, would be to always seek to grow your technical skills, gain as much working experience as possible (nothing is too small) and knock on as many doors as necessary. If you have a natural flair for Art and wish to apply it professionally, it could be the perfect career for you.

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