I was fortunate enough to volunteer my talents as a judge at the AIGA Portfolio Review held recently at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. Part of this annual event encourages students to share their work with professionals working in the design industry.
For many students, it’s their first time out of the classroom where they are showing their work to potential employers and folks responsible for hiring creatives. Students came from universities and colleges all over the region including University of Texas, Texas State University, Schreiner University, Austin Community of College, and Art Institute of Austin.
All-in-all, 50 student candidates participated in this day-long event. Each was given 20-30 minutes to share thier portfolio. Presentation skills and craftsmanship were on full display as the students walked through their work. Suggestions were made by the judges on how best to present concepts and advice given on how to get into the industry.
The event was punctuated with panels and other great opportunities for students to pick up information. Most feedback was positive although a few students lamented the content of their classes.
While I agree that design programs can vary in quality, I strongly believe that it is up to the individual to set themselves on the right path to success. With that in mind, I decided to devise five simple tips to help students get acclimated to design life outside the classroom. I’m relying on my background as a designer in agency environments as well as in my experience as Art Director and Design Director.
My advice for aspiring designers is as follows:
- Be ready to put in the time/pay your dues. Unfortunately, many designers believe that upon graduation they’ll land a big agency job, win several prestigious awards, and blaze a trail in the industry from the onset. While some designers are able to succeed immediately upon graduation, it doesn’t always work out that way. Good things come to the designers who do their homework, put the hours and hours needed to become proficient, and really love what they do. Be persistent, stay hungry, and work for everything.
- Know what you want and what companies want. Decide what aspect of design you excel at, and make that your focus. Make sure there is a need for that particular service in the industry and target employers who are used to hiring designers. Not everyone in your area is looking for someone who specializes in packaging design. If you’ve determined that is your niche, make sure you go to where the work is by contacting companies you’ve researched that work with packaging designers.
- Showcase your uniqueness. Although there are exceptions, not everyone is a rock star programmer/designer/illustrator. Unless you’re looking to strike it out on your own, make yourself appealing to employers by doing your homework and tailor your portfolio accordingly. Everyone nowadays claims they are a graphic designer. In reality, many haven’t dedicated a four year degree or even had a formal education learning the basics as you have. To stand out, make sure you’re providing a different take on your niche by being the best, first, fastest, only, person doing what you are doing. Differentiation is key
- See projects through to completion. If all you have is student work, convince your potential employer that your project could actually be a real product. Show your entrepreneurial side by mocking up packaging, taking pictures of it on store shelves, and creating a website to support your effort. Try pitching your idea to an investor and share your experience during the interview.
- Get real-world experience. Whenever you can show and prove results, do so. People want to see how you’ve solved specific client challenges. Moreover, it gives them a direct sense of how you can help them. Crafting stories based on the challenge, how you solved it, and the result will convey to your potential employer that you are interested in creating value for the company.
For further information on any of these topics, feel free to contact me. I’d be happy to share resources and discuss ways in which you can hone your message and improve your chances of landing the perfect position.