Top creatives reveal what they wish they had known in college, to give you a head-start in your creative career.
Design school is great. It gives you the opportunity to mature as a designer, illustrator or artist, prepares you for your future career, and helps you develop the beginnings of a design portfolio. But it can’t teach you everything.
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With that in mind, we’ve talked to some successful creative professionals and asked them what they wished they had known when they were at art college – so you get a head-start on your course mates.
01. How to actually find work
“The one key thing I don’t remember being taught was how to actually find work,” says seasoned pro Ben the Illustrator. “How to market ourselves, approach potential clients and so on. Whether we were going for full-time jobs or freelancing from the outset, nobody really knew what to do once we left college.
“The upside of this is that I learnt it all myself, and due to naivety actually had original ideas, but when the chips are down and the workflow is unstable, it would have been good to feel like I’d been taught some kind of foundation in self-promotion. This was late 90s, so slightly pre-internet. I know there are good colleges now that have students putting together amazing portfolio sites before they graduate, but I still hear from students who have a killer folio, and yet don’t know what to do with it.”
Check out our designer’s guide to self promotion for expert tips for promoting yourself.
02. How to accept commissions
“For me, I would say there is a major void in higher education,” explains illustrator Aaron Miller. “You are taught about unrealistic deadlines and creative outputs from the start.”
“But a huge part of the job that was never explained to me was the ins and out of accepting a new client. Do I send an acceptance of commission doc, do I ask for a percentage of payment upfront? What do I do if it all goes wrong? Does the client really need that editorial illustration at 5:30pm on a Friday night?”
03. How to manage clients
“I wish they’d taught us about clients,” says creative director of Knight Studios Christian Day in now what’s becoming a common theme. “How to identify them, how to connect with them. Granted, this has changed wildly since I was at university, but networking is networking!”
He continues: “How to get in front of them, how to get them interested in you and your ideas, how to present and sell your ideas, how to service clients and build those relationships… you can go on and on. Having the skills and ideas is one thing, but if you can’t get them in front of those clients, you’ll be sat alone in a dark room.”
04. Why the AoI is important
Illustrator and designer at Empire magazine Olly Gibbs joined the Association of Illustrators to help boost his career and client list. At art school, he feels he missed out on advice for turning yourself into a product that could actually sell.
“It was great for helping people refine their ideas and find out which pathway of design they wanted to follow, but it didn’t give enough of an understanding of the real world,” Gibbs explains. “I was lucky enough to have done a lot of freelance previously and during my time at art school so that helped. It just would have been great to find out more about the money side.”
The moral here? Join an association that can help you sell yourself!
05. That personality counts (maybe more than your diploma)
“Despite what your teachers or parents tell you, your diploma won’t necessarily get you a job,” says Toronto-based web designer Janna Hagan. “Proving what kind of work you are capable of producing through your portfolio, or demonstrating passion and potential will more likely catch a potential employer’s eye; compared to a student who has more formal education. Having a killer portfolio and personality will land you a job anywhere.”