Hi! We’re Talk shop!
We are a team of 4 Illustration and Graphic Design students trying to open up space for conversation around professional manifestations of our practices, specifically within Visual Communication. On Friday 29th January, during the RCA’s WIP Show, we hosted our first event: a conversation with two guests about the current design work landscape and the tools and skills that we should hone to graduate with confidence. We wanted to address our doubts about working through a pandemic and changing UK rights to work for International and European graduates.
Our guests were Shima Maher and Nicki Field. Shima is the founder of Peas, a London based recruitment consultancy specialising in Graphic Design and moving image. She studied business, and was drawn to strategy and marketing. She started Peas in 2009, despite a challenging economic landscape, driven by a will to improve the experience of both job seekers and hiring parties. At Peas, she focused on growing meaningful relationships, building trust and discovering the best talent for her clients, from creative to more strategic roles, working with clients across the UK, EU and US.
Nicki Field is Head of Illustration at Jelly London, a representation and production company specialising in Illustration, Animation and Lettering. She studied Illustration in Brighton before finding her way to representation, motivated to help illustrators find their path. At Jelly for 8 years, she looks after and curates a roster of illustrators and guides them through project production both in London and the newer New York branch of Jelly. She helps and supports artists in their growth, directing their careers and building relationships.
We led the event as a collective, each questioning the guests on a topic and then passing the metaphorical mic on to a teammate. We all took away different insights, and took notes in our own particular voices. Here are our collective impressions, we hope they can act as a resource, a toolkit, or just as a way to preserve this moment (especially since we forgot to record the event).
Inès – The Student and Graduate Toolkit
I opened the interview by asking our guests about the skills and tools they thought were essential to recent graduates stepping into the creative industry. It can seem like a very broad question, but I was curious about their own experiences, the things that caught their eye in a profile, the things they found themselves wishing for their young designers and the tips they wished they’d learned in school. They provided some welcome tips and advice on visibility, networking, and putting our work out there.
The first thing that was brought up was the importance of the portfolio, a key tool in applying for jobs and getting your work out there. It should be clear and concise, and show a project’s development, from ideation to final outcome, giving the viewer a good idea of how you work. It should show graft, practice and really demonstrate your skills. Whether it’s a PDF file or a website, it is currently only visible in digital format, so we should consider how to best display our work through a screen.
Underpinning this is the importance of a good understanding of your work, your practice, what you bring to the table. Knowing how to communicate your practice and finding your niche is essential. Practice explaining your work to others. As Shima put it – “How would you present your work to your grandma?” On a very practical, maybe obvious note – Shima did mention that in most design roles you’ll likely to need to be proficient with the Adobe suite.
Our guests emphasised being curious and proactive. Take part in self-initiated projects and work with others – this kind of practice will help you understand where you fit in a team and what roles you work best in. Collaborating with peers and reaching out to work with a group builds community and will help you create a network, which is essential in the creative industry. As much as work relationships can start by searching on LinkedIn, Instagram or other platforms, often connections happen organically through community, hence why growing said community is essential.
Keeping an eye out on competitions and project pitches can provide work opportunities, but also give you some insight on which kinds of work and which studios win the briefs, and which kinds of projects and companies are on the market.
On the subject of online presence, Nicki advised us to take some pressure off social media. It can provide a false expectancy for you to be a perfect, sleek, “finished product”. It’s a good place to gain visibility – people may expect you to be on Instagram, and you might find clients from it, but don’t forget to keep a distance, use it with care. This is especially true for freelancers – you are a business. Think about how you spend your time, working, but also promoting yourself. Your time is valuable, treat it as such. Promote yourself like a business, observe how different platforms serve you. Learn how to price your work and time correctly.
Social networks, and in particular LinkedIn, are a good place to look for work, keep track of job platforms and resources, and build a professional network. Keep your profile updated and make sure it mirrors your CV. Nicki remarked that being featured on It’s Nice That is a good platform for visibility, and has provided some of her designers with new work opportunities.
Both of our guests agreed that right now everyone in the industry is really open to genuine connections. It’s a good time to reach out and create human connections. Be yourself, be genuine, be concise, and you can start to build great relationships. They both encouraged us to reach out and show our personality, especially in a time of need for social, human connection.
Finally, both our guests reassured us that no one will expect us to graduate knowing everything. Employers and mentors will want to teach us the ropes for how they and their teams work. These first three years post-graduation are a time to learn and absorb as much as we can, so we should try to look forward, focus on what we want to achieve, and be open to what this time can teach us.