Patronising advice for students

Because we all love talking down to students…

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The Design Museum Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s Design Museum offers a rich and varied guide around Danish design. From furniture, products, fashion and graphic design, the classic Scandinavian influences and the icons of Danish Design like Arne Jacobsen, Børge Mortensen and Verner Panton feature.

While the world renowned furniture, products and fashion design quite rightly feature strongly, the rich tradition of Danish poster design and logo design is also well represented. Web design is also featured which is great to see the world of the web entering into design history and gaining recognition.

The collection is stunning, with new exhibitions changing regularly. Highly recommended.

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Finding the Design Museum in Copenhagen

Bredgade is just off Kongens Nytorv, the square that contains Magasin and Nyhavn harbour. About ten minutes walk, just past Amalienborg, the Royal Family’s winter residence and the very beautiful Marmor Kirk. If you carry on past the design museum you will eventually come to the Little Mermaid. So no excuse for not visiting.

 

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Why designers should never work for free

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Listen to The Joker

Working for free is a discussion subject that comes up way too often in the design world sadly. As the late Heath Ledger’s Joker character says in the film The Dark Knight above, “If you are good at something, never do it for free.”

There are a number of reasons for this, and a quick Google will find many other reasons not to work for free from other designers. But from my experience, it’s all about respect.

If you work for free, or offer to work for free, you may be liked by that person for doing it, but you will never be respected. And when you are not respected, your work and ideas are not respected. So that piece of work that you do for free, partly for experience, partly for your portfolio, will almost certainly be ruined by the client. Effectively becoming useless as an example of your work, and can’t be shown to future clients or employers.

Avoid business sharks

The other reason I strongly recommend not working for free, is the type of people who accept free work. They are generally awful. They are not a client for the future, and will never pay you for work at a later date, as they will just look for another ‘sucker’ to work for them for free. I saw a young designer post on a freelancers’ Facebook group offering to work for free. The people responding were like sharks circling wounded prey. Avoid these types at all costs.

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Re-launching my side project The Dandy Dons

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Some people think football is a matter of life and death…

My side project the Dandy Dons got it’s website re-designed over the last couple of weeks.

Although living in Copenhagen I am from Aberdeen, and support the football team Aberdeen F.C who play in the Scottish Premiership in Scotland. The side project allows me the freedom to experiment and develop my design and illustration skills. The freedom of total control of the design process and the chance to learn about social media communication (the Facebook page has around 4000 likes) as well as an opportunity to bask in the love of my football club and home city.

A Facebook community to connect with

The immediacy of reaction from social media is stimulating, revealing, occasionally humbling. There is also the immediacy of being able to react to events, and a removal of the preciousness or over thinking or over working that can come about if developing or experimenting with work with a view to a portfolio piece.

The sense of total control of the website design for The Dandy Dons is important for me as with my other side projects www.iain.dk and the forthcoming thenew.one. A weakness I have when dealing with clients is sometimes caring a little too much about the design of my client’s sites, and not allowing the client enough creative control. I can be a bit of a control freak, and I do not wish this to be the case. So the side projects, amongst other things, is a chance for me to play ‘design dictator’, without upsetting anyone….

 

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Advice for new students at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen

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This image is copyright Grays School of Art , Aberdeen

If you are about to attend Gray’s School of Art for the first time, you probably ought to know, Gray’s School of Art is the best art college in the world – if you want it to be.  Look at the building, look at the surroundings, look at the library, really what else do you need? On top of that, the most important reason it is the best art college in the world, is YOU are there.

Having been a student at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen in the late eighties, here is my advice for new students. I am well aware there will have been significant changes, but some elements will be similar to my time.

Enjoy the city of Aberdeen

The city of Aberdeen is a magnificent place. The granite buildings are beautiful, the people are nice, there’s mock chop suppers, and a wonderful football team. At Gray’s School of Art the building is a fantastic piece of architecture. The area of Garthdee is close to the centre of the city, and you are a couple of minutes from the beautiful Deeside countryside.

What to watch out for

Avoid at all costs any students with a whiny Central Belt accent constantly whinging about how much better everything in Glasgow is – in particular Glasgow School of Art. They are almost certainly just homesick, missing their Mum, and using a front of superiority to cover this up. Ideally there should be a toll at the Tay Bridge that stops these people getting that far North.

Ignore your tutors

Or listen to them, it’s up to you. Being a tutor at an art college is really not that hard a job. You take talent, you point them in the right direction, off they fly. The idea that at Edinburgh, St Martins, or anywhere else there are better art tutors with better qualifications, or better people skills is just academic elitism. Your perfect tutor maybe doesn’t exist. Your art comes from within. Listen, evaluate, go with your instincts.

And finally

Try not get chucked out at the end of second year. Like I did. It’s a long hard struggle without a degree to make it in design, but it’s not impossible. And if ever you come across former Gray’s School of Art head of Graphic Design Ian Cargill, say hi from me. You can read more about the supremely talented and gifted trio of Ian Cargill, Malcolm Brown and Professor Eric Spiller here.

P.S

You are welcome. I suppose an honorary degree is out of the question?

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Fake it until you make it as a designer

Fake it until you make it is a great piece of advice for designers. Or a slightly more accurate piece of advice that doesn’t scan quite as well, is Fake it until you become it. Act like you believe in yourself, act like you are a serious professional, act like this meeting or whatever is an every day occurrence, and eventually it will be. It also gives you something to concentrate on (the acting) rather than dealing with nerves or stress.

 

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And once you have made it, sit back and watch everyone else faking it…

Here is a fascinating Ted Talk on the same subject. www.blog.ted.com/2013/12/13/fake-it-til-you-become-it-amy-cuddys-power-poses-visualized/

Patronising advice for students – The art of selling for designers and illustrators

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In another in my series “patronising advice for students” I explain what I know about selling. For some the art of selling is natural and easy, and for others the concept is a complete mystery. Here is what I know and how I came to learn it.

Avoid wannabe childrens’ book authors

A few years ago I met someone who was an aspiring childrens’ book author. Would I be interested in illustrating his book with a view to sending it to a publisher to try and get a deal.

I read the book, it seemed alright, so I went for it. After quite a few weeks of work he sent the book off, with my illustrations. Then I got on with other work, knowing well how hard the children’s book market is to get into.

Around a year later I met the aspiring author again. He told me what happened. He got a reply from the publishing house rejecting the book.

I was furious. As I told him, JK Rowling was turned down at least half a dozen times for Harry Potter. I asked him if he was sure anyone from the publishers had even read his manuscript. Was there anything specific in the reply that showed it was read. This was a concept beyond this person’s realm of thought.

Selling myself door to door – the cold sell

I was working in bars and hotels in London. Living-in gave a nice disposable income, and it was fun for a bit. Until I just couldn’t fill the ice bucket up any more or empty the glass machine. I had been doing the artwork on the blackboards for the various places I’d worked, and was aware a few others did it for a living. So to save me from ever having to pour another pint, I started up as a full time blackboard artist.

This would involve me going into pubs, asking if they were interested in having their blackboards painted… I had an A4 portfolio with examples of boards I’d done, and a business card to leave behind. As a shy person that was a living hell. The first day I did this, I was almost physically sick. It was a horrific experience. I probably did it two days in a row, and didn’t get any work. Two weeks went by then my ‘mobile phone like a house brick’ rang. First customer. Ten minutes later I got my second customer. I was off and running.

I did this job for about two years. What I came to learn was for every twenty pubs I went into, I always got a minimum of one new customer. On being ‘rejected’ by a pub I then saw this as positive. I was one closer to twenty, which would always get me a customer, and therefor I was positively motivated to keep trying more pubs or restaurants.

The big lesson – don’t sell

What I also learned was I wasn’t selling, or persuading people to use my skills. They needed their blackboards painting or they didn’t, end of. As the business became more successful, the pubs, restaurants and hotels came to me.

When I first arrived at a pub, the manager  would  ask where I wanted to work in the pub. This shy awkward young man wanted to be as far away as possible from the public. Even working in a refrigerated cellar on occasion, rather than be in the public gaze. One day I had to work on a large outside board that was fixed to a wall. Had to do it there on the street. While working I picked up about three new customers. From then on I worked in public, always! It became like a street art performance, and I would amuse myself counting the number of times people said ‘you spelt that wrong mate…’.

Don’t meet your heroes – or work for children or animals

I am from Aberdeen. I support Aberdeen Football Club. When I lived in the city I was a season ticket holder. I’d contributed cartoons to the AFC fanzine The Northern Light and the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper. But what I really wanted to do was work for the club.

So I got together some illustrations of the stadium, and the players. This is pre-digital. I worked for months on it. Sent it away. And waited.

I don’t think they even replied. Between other work, a couple of years later I tried again. Nothing. I think I tried one more time, and gave up.

A good few years later, my work now digital, a friend asked for one of the illustrations of a player to be turned into a birthday card for his 11 year old nephew. A career high! Reluctantly I did it. I also decided to print off another copy of the illustration, and send it to Aberdeen F.C.

I sent it in such a relaxed, disinterested way, when the club’s marketing manager phoned me up a couple of days later, and requested more like that, I genuinely couldn’t remember what I’d sent him… I went on to work for them for some time.

Learning from experience

Why had they rejected me previously? Why did they then decide to use my work? They accepted my work because my work landed on the correct person’s desk on the correct day. The times I was rejected, it didn’t.

So how do you get your work to land on the correct person’s desk, on the correct day? You send out a lot of work, regularly to increase the chances of this happening, and ignore any rejections. Exactly what the author in the first story did not do.

Selling as a freelance designer

When I go to a client’s for an initial meeting, I am not selling, I never sell. They will have got in touch with me as they are interested in my services. All I need to do is listen to their needs, explain the concept, explain how it could work, give any advice on any specifics they are interested in, irrespective of whether they have agreed to work with me or not. And most importantly of all, be honest. If I don’t know the answer to something, I tell them I don’t know, and also say if I can find out for them I will.

Generally all my client meetings have a positive result.

 

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Patronising advice for design students and graduates – finding a job

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The difficult to reach first step of the career ladder

Times are tough, and have been for a number of years. It is particularly tough for those finishing their education coming out into the workforce to find the first step on the career ladder. So here is my advice.

Ignore the recession

Easy to say, not so easy to do. I have come into conversation with a number of people either recently graduated or close to graduation. Their negativity and fear regarding job prospects is understandable and very sad. So my advice is, don’t let the recession get in the way of your dreams. Pre recession there was maybe 30 jobs out there for you. Now there is only four. How many jobs do you need? One. It will just be a little harder to find.

If you allow the recession to stop you being motivated to find work you will wake up one day in about 10 years and hear an announcement that a new recession has begun. And you hadn’t noticed the previous one end. You will also hear of someone who went on to do well because they thought of a clever way to get active during the recession. You will be kicking yourself.

Job searching basics

There is lots of advice out there, use it. Don’t send anyone an email that is a copy paste email. Ensure something relates to the company or person you are writing to. I like ‘such and such’ on your website. My favourite campaign is your one for xyz. It is not so much about ‘sucking up’ to some one. It is about personalising an email. Therefor a very busy person is far more likely to send you a personal message rather than a ‘thanks but no thanks’ copy paste job.

Unless you have written 200 applications, you have not even begun applying. Use that number as a positive target. Something to aim for. Five a day, every day, it will soon mount, and you will become better at it.

Worst case scenario

So what do you do if you still can’t get in. There comes a point where you have to work. Perhaps it is in a coffee shop, perhaps as an entry level trainee in a different area completely. You may well have the best time of your life and make friends for life. An odd thing is, you will be surprised how random opportunities can come your way in life. You may find there is a creative position within this company you never knew existed. I worked as a barman in London. I went on to start my own business as a blackboard artist, as a full time job. Who knew that was a possibility? But I had the contacts and knowledge just from working in the branch to know how to do it. And what I didn’t know I learned on the hoof.

Be prepared

Another issue regarding the random nature of things, is after sending hundreds of CVs out, and working yourself into the ground trying to find a job with no success, you could find yourself sitting at a dinner party or in some other social situation, when during small talk someone says ‘oh we are looking for a designer, can you Photoshop?’. And before you know it, you have a job, without applying or being interviewed.

Now here is the important aspect of that scenario. Make sure the last design work you did, wasn’t what you did in college. Make sure you are still active. Have a website portfolio, or a blog that is active. Make sure you can show your enthusiasm for your area of expertise. Because you will be kicking yourself if an opportunity like that comes up unexpectedly and you blow it because you were not prepared.

Working for free

It’s a tough one. You need experience to get a job, how do you get experience. How do you build a portfolio that shows what you can do, without working for free? From my experience, the sort of people who would accept free work, are the worst people to work for. They are like sharks. They will never pay you at a later date when you are experienced. Their shark brain will go, ‘find another idiot to work for free’. They will not respect you, will not respect your work, and will almost certainly insist on doing something to the design which is so bad it means you can’t use it in your portfolio. There is also the argument that working for free for people demeans the industry you wish to work in.

Stay positive and keep learning

If you still can’t get a job in the design industry there are further options. Start up freelance is one of them. Another is to look at the different aspects of your work and work at it in your free time. Illustration or animation for example, or typography design, or motion graphics. Something that would have been hard to get to, and possibly too exhausting to work on in your free time as a designer as it is too similar to the day job. Working in a different field you are completely fresh to work on this in your free time. This can be incredibly rewarding and go on to you being able to work in your niche area later. Helps if you think of yourself as being like an out of work actor. Ignore anyone who uses the word ‘hobby’ to describe what you do.

Keep taking online courses to extend your skills. If you work in the web, get javascript, get php skills. In design, add typography design or motion graphics, take figure drawing classes, there’s always more to learn. Keep adding to your portfolio and good luck!