Making The Jump: From Student to Working Designer (Part Two)
In part one of this series, Trupti Shigwan (a product stylist,) Sanjana Mehta (a graphic designer,) and Surya Rai (a game designer) spoke about the craft of design and insights on how to get better at it.
[Working designers spill trade secrets. From L-R: Trupti Shigwan, Surya Rai and Sanjana Mehta. Image credit: @truptishigwan, @suryarai and @sanjanamehtaa]
In this article, they’ll talk about the career aspect of being a working designer. Here’s what they have to say about designer jobs, networking and building portfolios.
What’s the biggest difference between studying design and working in it? What are skills that you’ve learnt on your own while working? And what do you wish you were taught in design school?
All three of them agree that clients’ needs and specifications make working in design very different from studying design. “We’re usually taught a very idealistic method of approaching projects in school,” Sanjana says, “and while working, those methods are not always used. This is often because of absence of time or the resources.”
Surya puts it a lot more directly. He says, “When I was studying – I had to impress my professors. When I’m working, I have to impress my consumers.”
Meanwhile, Trupti stresses the importance of client and audience research and adapting your personal design learnings to match the brief. She says ‘swatches’ and ‘smears’ were trending in the beauty world, and since she didn’t study the skill first-hand, she improvised on the job.
[ A behind-the-scenes look at Trupti creating ‘smears’ for the product before it’s shot. Image credit: @truptishigwan
“I started swatching by melting the buds of the lipsticks and eye-shadows. Slowly I started creating small installations using them.”
When asked about what they wish they had been taught, Surya and Sanjana both talk about good communication and intra-personal skills. Working in a team of designers means being reliable, organised and an effective communicator.
“You have to take meticulous notes and be on top of your responsibilities,” Surya says, “Have you written the document for the feature that needs to be coded? Have you provided the artist with the reference images and explained your vision to the team? Have you communicated the vision correctly across all parties?”
Sanjana also says that having a great idea or good design isn’t enough. At the end of the day, your bosses and teammates need to have confidence in your work, and you need to see things from the commercial perspective. “I wish I was taught how to deal with people and present my ideas better from a business perspective.”
[ Presenting your ideas so that your team and your boss understand is crucial part of working in design.] Image credit: You X Ventures, [https://unsplash.com/@youxventures]
Finally, Surya reminds us, that at the end of the day, a job is a job even if it’s in the field of design.
“No matter how much you like doing something, it takes discipline, rather than motivation to keep at it.”
What about creativity? How do working designers convert creative sensibilities into business requirements every single time?
The time factor is always the biggest obstacle to good ideas, and panic can set in. But Trupti says it’s important you use the deadline as inspiration instead of a creative block. “Try to focus on the positives of it,” she says, “The fact that something is challenging you is only going to make you better. Writing your short term goals every morning does wonders!”
Sanjana also highlights the importance of shopping for ideas when hitting a creative block. “The worst is when none of my ideas work and newer ideas don’t come.” In those situations, Sanjana says, “listen to what the rest of the team thinks and try to build on it and look for references in similar spaces.”
Surya meanwhile preaches ‘practice makes perfect.’ Make a prototype. Make a proof of concept. Strip away visuals, sounds and tertiary details. Go back to the drawing board. Do it again and again and again until you get it right.“It isn’t a case of waiting for inspiration to strike,” he says, “Design is iteration, iteration, and yes, more iteration.”
Staying abreast with what the client wants and what the market is doing helps loosen the creative cogs, according to Trupti, “Everyday research helps immensely. Keeping up to date with brands helps ideate faster.”
No one method works. It’s best to use a variety of ways to keep the creativity fresh. But once the creative juices are flowing, how do you make the pitch or get the job?
How does one pitch with success? What advice would you give to design students about building portfolios, writing CVs, finding internships and jobs?
Showing your work and presenting it correctly are the two pieces of advice from the designers. “Make sure people around you know that you’re putting in the effort,” Trupti says, during internships, “study it, practice it and always do more than what is asked of you.” Your work also need to be unique and having a personal voice matters immensely, Trupti adds.
Sanjana agrees, “I believe most recruiters want to know how you think more than how you execute – because execution is always something that can be worked on and improved.”
She also says a portfolio is far more important than a CV when it comes to landing a job. Work speaks more than words. “Recruiters for design interns and employees are more interested in your work itself rather than who you worked with in the past.”
[Looking at celebrated visual designer Adam Ho’s portfolio, three things stand out: his mission statement, his big-name clients, and a navigation tool to look at his work. Different but complementary fonts produce an eye-catching result fit for his design aesthetic. Credit: adamho.com
Surya has straightforward advice for a portfolio, “Portfolios should have your best work in the front. All other work should be accessible, but only the most polished should be on your home page! (If it’s a website).”
For jobs, Sanjana says it’s important to do your research on the company before applying. “Notice how the agency has designed their portfolio while you design yours,” she says, “not the layout specifically—but the flow of information or the way the projects are explained.”
Surya is more blunt with his advice. “Apply everywhere you can,” he says, “but don’t apply for multiple positions at the same company.” As for rejection, take it as a chance to improve. “You’ll crack it as long as you don’t give up!”
How about networking? How important is it and how does one go about it?
The designers are unanimous: networking is possibly the most important part of getting a job. Because the design field is heavily dependent on recommendations, making a good impression and getting to know people is non-negotiable.
Start small, Trupti says, “You’ll always have one person you know (friend, family, professor or acquaintance) that is somewhat related to—or knows someone—in the field you’re interested in.” Make that conversation happen, no matter how awkward it feels.
Social media is also an extremely useful starting point, because of how well connected and helpful people in the design world are. But be careful with the approach and don’t be over-familiar.
Surya says, “Be courteous and professional when contacting people on social media. And always ask for a more formal way of communication—over e-mail—once you’ve done your introduction.”
Sanjana says it’s all about genuine curiosity when meeting people in the industry.
“Take interest in what people do and build conversations based on that,” she says. The trick is to make sure you don’t come off as opportunistic and that you have real, professional interest in their work.
“You need to know enough about their work before you start talking about your own,” she points out, “Enthusiasm is good but what’s more important is that you come across as well-read and aware.”
And finally, do they have any advice for student designers to help them make the transition to the working world?
More skills, Surya and Trupti agree. Especially because it gets hard to find time to learn new things once you begin working. Surya says hard skills (art/sound/programming) will help communicating with those fields when working on a team and Trupti says learning new software will enhance your work.
Trupti and Surya also agree on learning to fail. “Games are about failing upwards until you succeed. Nothing will work the first time,” he says.
Trupti says that a fear of failing can hold you back. “When I started out I was this silent girl who was too shy to put her opinions and ideas out there,” she says, “only to later realise that they would’ve really worked. So, don’t be afraid to try out new things.”
Sanjana cautions against too much feedback. “Know which opinions to take,” she says, because not all of them will be credible or useful with what you’re trying to achieve.
Trupti also talks about maintaining a work-life-balance and to make sure to prioritise it so that your mental health doesn’t take a beating.
There you have it future designers, making it in the real world isn’t as mysterious and agonising as it seems. Preparedness, common sense and the right intentions will always get you where you want to go.