Year One: Student to Junior Designer.
After four years of studying (and partying) hard at university, the time came to enter actual adulthood. And that feeling is pretty much Oh sh*t what now?.
My time at university began in 2018 and included all the usual thrills of student life and a not-so-usual global pandemic. All resulting in a cancelled year abroad (I’m still upset about this). I eventually graduated with a degree in Graphic Communication & Design in 2022. Phew. Then comes the dreaded post-graduate job search, which I’ll admit can feel long and relentless, but finding the right fit is worth the wait.
Transitioning from a university student to a Junior Designer has been exciting and challenging, here’s what I’ve learnt in my first year at ilk…
Keep an eye on design outside of work.
A great thing about university was that I was constantly surrounded by, and engaging with, design. Stuff like long reading lists, campus libraries and archives, lectures, student exhibitions, industry talks, a weekly life-drawing class and a cohort of 65 other creative students, and that’s outside of any assignments. It’s fair to say that losing access to a lot of these resources has an impact on my creativity. I noticed pretty quickly that I needed to make a conscious effort to fuel those creative juices. Design blogs, books, exhibitions, passion projects and hobbies have all been important in filling that gap. Luckily, joining a team of designers means I’m able to pick their brains about their fave resources too. Keeping the creative spark going outside of hours very much helps improve your output in hours.
Don’t stop asking questions.
It’s an oldie but a goodie, but “no question is a stupid one”. As the newest member of a team, your inner monologue can tell you you’re acting like an annoying, younger sibling nagging everyone. But that’s not true, and speaking up is actually the best thing you can do. I joined a team of super talented designers, so I’m here to steal all of their knowledge, mwuahaha! I’m half-kidding, but sharing a desk with six other more experienced designers is a gold mine of knowledge. As creatives, we often need another eye to look over something “What do you think of this?” or a “That looks great, what are you working on there?” as we snoop on their computer screen. Or even when your mind goes blank and you’ve forgotten every single Adobe keyboard shortcut “How do I do this again?” (which happens often). Sometimes you do just need to get your head down and go quiet for a few hours but there’s never a bad time to ask, ask, ask away.
Get involved in everything.
A similar tactic is just… getting involved. Being able to work with different departments and individuals is one of the best things about agency life. It means there are always opportunities for sharing ideas and getting involved in things going on agency wide, which is how I’ve ended up writing this blog. Also on my list is monthly brainstorming sessions for the PR and social team, helping with internal social media content and SimFit the office personal trainer (this one is still to be ticked off, but maybe one day). Since joining ilk, I’d heard about the infamous annual summer party ‘ilkstock’, it’s a thing of legend. So for my first ilkstock, I joined the committee helping to plan and design the event with a team from across all departments. This was a great opportunity to work closely with people that I wouldn’t usually and maybe ilkstock 2023 will be my great legacy.
Stick to a routine.
Believe it or not, at university I was not the epitome of health, nor did I keep to a sensible sleep schedule (shocking). It may seem obvious, but transitioning to a full time 9-5 after fitting in uni assignments in between socialising and a shift-based part-time job for four years is quite tricky. I learnt pretty quickly that settling into a good, healthy routine is essential for performing well. ilk offers work from home flexibility but I’ve found being in the office more is more productive… and it’s just good vibes!
Remember to have fun!
As much as I’ve said it’s been a challenge, it’s not all doom and gloom. Coming to a creative agency means no day, or design brief, is the same. Which any designer will know is pretty much the dream. I’m always encouraged to offer up ideas, given creative rein where a brief or deadline allows, and if there are any new skills or software I want to try out, all I have to do is say so. The skill set amongst the designers is so broad that even though I could be trying something that’s completely new to me, there’ll most likely be an almost-expert on it in the next chair. It’s natural to enjoy some days more than others but if I’m ever asked “Do you enjoy your job?” it’s followed by “Yeah, I love it.”.
Embrace the journey.
As a recent graduate, and now Junior Designer, I’m really at the start of what will hopefully be a fun, fulfilling career. So embracing the journey feels really valuable. I find monthly 1-2-1s super helpful, as they give me goals to work towards, and are a great way of tracking my progress. The same goes for 6 monthly reviews. Really, they’re nothing like university assessments with a pass or fail. They’re all about helping me become a better designer, and that feedback is a big motivation. When my hard work is recognised, it really means something!
Learning never stops.
My friends and family might think I stopped learning when I graduated, but I certainly don’t. I’ve already discovered so much about my abilities as a designer – both skills I know I can nail, and that I’d love to add to my toolbox. But hopefully these lessons have shown that, for me at least, it’s about so much more than just those skills. It’s about feeling creative, and working with other people who inspire you. Asking questions, and finding ways to have fun. And all that should keep you getting out of bed and into the office with a smile on your face, rather than crawling back under the sheets to shake off last night’s hangover (most of the time, at least).