Words for Young Designers

Each year, Sam and I go back to our old high school, and meet up with our former graphic arts teacher, Ken Coulson. We usually talk to his class about what we do, and how we got to be doing it. In this post I thought I’d echo a few of the points that we usually speak to Coulson’s class about, as I think they could be helpful to anyone thinking about pursuing design.

Some of the greatest advice I was ever given, was to start working from day one. In 6th form at school, I had just started graphic design class, and was still getting to know Corel Draw, when I decided that design was something I wanted to pursue.

A friend of my parents, who was a designer, told me that the best way to progress as a graphic designer is to create a huge portfolio of work, even if the work isn’t real. Obviously no one would want to pay a 15 year old novice graphic designer to actually do work for them, but you don’t need the client to be real. I would just make up businesses, like cafes, sportswear stores, and music labels, and then I’d design them logos, and posters, and letterheads, and whatever else. It didn’t matter that the clients weren’t real, because by the end of 6th Form, I already had a pretty dense portfolio of real work.

In 7th Form, I started working as a junior graphic designer at a print shop, and got the job pretty easily, just because I had work to show for myself (the job itself actually kinda sucked, but it was a step in the right direction).

By the time I had finished school, and done my gap year, I was at Uni, ready to study design, having already been a designer for a few years. So it was no where near as daunting as it could’ve been.

To this day, my actual design process hasn’t changed too much (besides the fact that I use Illustrator instead of Corel Draw).

Coulson always taught us to sketch our designs out by hand first, before moving on to the computer. I still think that that’s really important. When you’re drawing by hand, you’re relying on imagination, oppose to relying on the tools that Adobe offers, which is pretty vital when you’re trying to create unique, original ideas.

I also like to give myself guidelines and parameters to work within. I feel like if I have rules of what I am and am not allowed to do, it forces me to be more creative. For me, I’ve gotta put myself in ‘a box’ before I can ‘think outside’ of it (clever, huh?).

The last thing I would say to young designers, is that you should never under-sell your work, but at the same time, don’t feel bad to work for free.
Before we started Motion Sickness, I’d designed plenty of things over the years that I wasn’t necessarily passionate about, but they’d pay the bills, and afford me the ability to work for free on things that I really wanted to work on.

For example, I’d always wanted to design album art. When I grew up and became a designer, I found out that unless the musician is at Taylor Swift level, they’re probably not going to be able to pay you much for your work. So I would take gigs like designing the logo for a construction auditing company, or an accounting firm, because they paid well, and gave me space to do the music stuff for free. I’m not saying that ‘passion justifies working for free’, or to ‘do it for the exposure’, because that’s all bullshit. But if you want to do it, and they can’t pay, then just find another way to get the money you need, and do the work you want to do, as well.
It’ll probably work out okay.