Advice for graduate designers


(This post was first issued over on the Tonik journal.)

It’s that time of year again! Students and graduates have had the green light from Uni to get out there and mingle amongst agencies and designer types, to get as much feedback and advice as possible ready for the big wide world!  

I personally know how hard it can to get your foot in the door, I completed 10, maybe 12 placements when I graduated from the Sheffield Institute of Arts. I booked back to back interviews in London, dragging my heavy portfolio down on the Megabus there and back in a day, sometimes twice a week. I was happy with some feedback and knowledge to take away and improve on – ECSTATIC if they offered me a placement.

I had stints at some of London’s biggie brand and packaging agencies; including Williams Murray HammColey Porter BellDragon RougeDew Gibbons… and others. I booked these in back to back and it was RELENTLESS.  I lived in spare rooms for two weeks at a time, and spent every penny I was paid (if any) on noodles and the underground. KIDS, it’s not easy!

But before embarking on this, I had a a portfolio review at D&AD’s New Blood. This was the most useful things I did. My portfolio at this time was just a series of badly taken photos and chunk of copy at the bottom. (I don’t read the copy on digital portfolios now, wish I’d known this then.)

With this in mind I would like to offer some advice to new graduates who are looking for placements or extended internships.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to give you some nuggets that you’ll remember when you’re 27 too.



Really think about the type of agency you wish to work for, and create some projects that are aligned with their output.  If the agency works on packaging, and you want to work in packaging, (as an example) then you need to create some self directed projects that show this in type of work in context. This means the agency can then picture how you would fit into the team and it means you would be getting the most out of the placement because it would suit the direction you wish to take!

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have many ‘real’ client projects. Self directed projects are good practice to improve decision making and hone your style/offering. Tonik often work on extra projects as well as client work, examples of which you can see here and here.

Remember, you reap what you sow!

If the agency produces posters, leaflets or collateral: show them that. If they don’t work on that kind of project, think really hard about how relevant it is to them. Will they be interested in it? Although variety is cool, it’s got to be right.

Don’t show loads of copy on your folio – the images should tell the story and you can always explain your decisions in person! We get a few minutes to look over them, so good quality images are SO important.

“Be more commercial!” – You may hear this a lot. Basically we’re saying a project doesn’t seem real enough or is too conceptual. Try to think about how your projects could have a further commercial edge, by integrating roll out across different applications to make them appear as legit as possible. Show us how that logo can flex!

Tell a story through your portfolio – each turn of the page should tell us part of the story and paint the picture.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You should be able to speak freely about your work, even when you’re asleep.

Be interesting in your application. Designers love receiving trinkets in the mail. PDFs can get a bit samey, what else can you do?

Finally, be tenacious, determined, listen hard and be open to improve and adapt with each thing you learn