Wednesday, 22 February 2012

White Lies

For a graduate, experience at relevant agencies can really distinguish you from others, espescially for placements and for junior design positions, I have noticed a strong trend for those needing graduates with 1-2 years experience.

When a friend recently told me that after being on the dole since graduation with sporadic and short placements over the Summer, he was giving up and going to work a bar job until july, when he'll start looking for graphic design jobs again, I was a little lost. By then, he assumes that he will have enough experience to get a job, without actually doing any internships. This, I assume, is because he's planning some little white lies on his cv. Perhaps sporadic placements between August 2011 and August 2012 can just be rephrased as "I have been on placements solidly since graduation" and with an adequate list of good agencies to hand, who would doubt such a confident answer.

Obviously, with a lack of experience all will become clear if he does get a job, that perhaps he does know little about agencies and has less design experience. But essentially names on a CV: it's all words and no substance. So what if you've been at Pearlfisher, where's your work?

His admission has really spurred me on to find work that I have stolen from agencies and find out if I can tweak it or use it. Without evidence of placements showing myself blossoming into a young professional designer, I may as well have been behind a bar for the last 8 months and not be wallowing in debt. This is why short placements that give you nothing but cutting out to do and errands to run make me angry. It is so important that you get something physcially from the placement, or atleast make something they did your own, because without proof, you have nothing.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Know your Place

Knowing your place in an agency is hard. Each agency is different with different hierarchies and systems. It often takes the first week just to figure out what role everyone plays. Your own role, as an intern is submissive, you get told what to do. But I have been at agencies where I have had to bite my lip.

Working in the industry you are working with people who are supposedly much more experienced than you and much more knowledgable and so I often assume that by the time I get something, for example a board for a presentation, to mount, that everything has been checked. This was I figured out after 10 A1 mounted boards found their way to the bin, wrong to assume. After a week at this particular agency I decided that rather than remounting everything after mistakes had been spotted, to have a look for them myself. Whilst I don't want to seem like a know it all, I also don't want to waste my time and energy assuming that they have done their job properly.

As an intern, I usually find myself sitting in on briefings in projects I will be helping out on rather than being briefed myself. In this case, you are sitting in on the ongoing discussions about the work, watching it progress. I was at one agency, where I felt like they were using me as a person who prints and cuts, and goes to Sainsbury's rather than to my full potential, and so it angered me when I could see a project I was briefly helping on, going wrong. I had to bite my lip in case I told the account handler what I really thought of her attempts at copy-writing, and nodded non-commitally.

In highlighting problems that have been missed due to computer error, or because it had been rushed and everyone is busy is acceptable because you are highlighting in order to save time for everyone and it has clearly been a mistake. I found that I was being heralded as having an eye for detail and perhaps I will be remembered for that, rather than for being dim enough to let obvious mistakes run through the plotter wasting time and money, (despite it not being my fault they were there in the first place).

When it comes to creativity, I find, it is best to keep my mouth shut. With a room full of people more eperienced than you, you can rarely criticise. I find it is best to word every thing positively so as to not make it seem like I am arrogant or think I am better than them. I am yet to find an agency that actually takes on board any suggestions I have anyway.

After all, what do I know, I am only an intern.

Saturday, 18 February 2012


Being in an office 9-5 all week, makes Friday a cause for celebration. I have been to many agencies that have some sort of Friday Tradition.

One agency had an office picnic affair where everyone bought in food and we shared it. It was lovely to share and eat together, espescially when most of the week lunch times were skipped, or rushed, eating poised above your keyboard. However, I felt alot of pressure to bring in something really nice, yet I didn't have the money and after presenting my shop bought cake (which cost me a fortune), I realised it was no where near the calibre of what everyone else had bought; homebaked flans and cakes, shop bought produce from the likes of M&S, Paul and an Italian Deli... Rather than making me feel included it made me feel inadequate. I took three-quarters of my cake home and ate it alone. My cake wasn't good enough for them and neither was I.

Another agency were more inclusive with a voucher-fuelled trip to a popular burger chain restaurant in which I felt more included and not too guilty. If I am invited out to eat at lunch, I often ignore the mundane sandwiches in my bag and grab my coat, but if an agency is a little more on the flush side, or my colleagues for the week are used to the finer things in life, then I have to decline.

A friend of mine is always insistent that you should do everything with everyone, so as to be as social as possible and get every opportunity to make friends with your short-term colleagues. I agree in that I always feel more confident and included in an agency where I have gone out for after work drinks or food but with a limited overdraft and placement opportunities dwindling I can not physically reach for my money. I think I have lost hope that these small gestures will eventually get me a job. A few drinks here and there is a small price to pay for an agency to like and appreciate having you around and want you to stay longer, but on the wages they are paying you, you can barely afford to eat at all.

Money troubles leave me with a dilemma everytime I am invited out by an agency and to be honest I base my decision on how nice they are to me and whether or not I actually want to go for a drink with them, rather than whether I think it will get me anywhere or not. After all you don't want to be sat around a table with the creative director you don't like at a placement you hate because after a few drinks, you might tell them what you really think.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Last Days

Each Placement has a last day. Sometimes they are sad, because you're just settling in and getting to know everyone and then you have to leave. Sometimes they can't come soon enough.

Interns are expected to give gifts as a way of saying thank you to their resident design agency. Sweets, cakes or pastries, are well respected gifts. Other examples I have heard of are drawings, customised tea towels and plants; the latter I am assuming was some last ditch attempt to make the agency remember her well after the placement was over. As if a creative director will be looking over to the plant when wandering who to call up for a junior position. Seems a little desperate to me.

I find the whole ritual a little strange because, espescially if you are working for them for free, it is more of an opportunity in which you would expect them to say thank you to you, but never mind. Of all my placements I have rarely given a gift. I'll be honest, sometimes I think it is plain not deserved. After all, my pennies are precious and I am not going to fork out on presents for an agency who has pretty much trodden all over me for 4 weeks.

However, if you have had a good time and you do want them to think you are a nice person, it is a good idea to leave a little something behind. For me, chocolate usually does the trick and atleast you get to enjoy it too.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Times are Hard

This economic recession isn't doing any favours for any graduate anywhere, but I hadn't really noticed it's effect on the design industry until recently.

Previously, I had thought that design agencies would be in high demand due to companies that are struggling needing rebranding, new packaging or some sort of promotional boost whether it be in-store or online. Graphic designers are useful at boosting sales, so we are useful in the recession. Turns out alot of agencies are struggling and these are the ones who can find little work themselves. These agencies couldn't afford to take on an intern with no work to offer them; that's fair enough.

The Big Ones are worried. Even the agencies where work flow is high and the money is rolling in don't think it wise to take on a junior, and some Big Ones (not all) don't pay graduates either (after all it is a privelage to be asked there.)

Junior designers are a massive risk. They might not know Adobe well enough, they won't execute anything to the standard of a Mid-weight and certainly couldn't do it as fast. If anything it's like raising a child. It is not unheard of either to lose a newly obtained Junior Designer post because the company realises that it has taken too big a risk. Even if you did prove yourself, there's always going to be a designer that has more experience and is faster than you.

I think it is a crying shame that finances affect creativity like this. Companies, in order to make the most out of their design team, need to do things fast and well, and a Junior isn't ready for that yet. Despite the all important supposed youth and energy that we are meant to bring into the design process. Who needs New Blood anyway. We're not good enough yet. Besides, at this rate I'm not even going to be able to bring youth and energy to the table.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Student

We have many names; the intern, graduate, placement but one I find derogatory: student. Interns are all of different levels and personalities but if we all have one thing in common it is that we are not students; we are graduates. 

I did not pay to go to university for three hard years to walk into the working world as a student. When do we not become a student? Junior designer for me is a long way off, and granted I am still learning but I am not a student; a student is someone still studying at a school. By calling me a student you are making me directly comparable to a first or second-year, and often people assume I am still at school. Pure ignorance allows people to think you walk into a job straight away and I find this really frustrating when it comes from the industry itself. 

I guess one of the reasons I am writing this blog is to show people how it isn't always easy. At College, the ex-students that come in to talk to you are the successful ones. They are the ones that the tutors have remembered and were probably the ones that did well at college anyway, so if you are mediocre or forgettable, like myself, these are the wrong people to take advice from. It is rare that people who find it hard to succeed are the ones to give advice, but it is valuable. It is the testing things you need to know about, not the happily ever after. Not yet anyway. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Keeping Linked-In

London is a small place and I often find myself avoiding eye contact with an old class mate on the opposite platform. Bumping in to old classmates is an opportunity to see what every one else is up to. Eeveryone is Oh so interested in what agency you are with, they are even more interested in telling you how much they are earning and how easily they got their job/placement. 

Social networking sites and linked-in are bad enough at rubbing in your face that others have a job, despite you thinking the you are better than them at College. If university taught me one thing and one thing only it was arrogance. I thought I was up there. I was better than the rest, I could have thought of that idea, could have done designed that better, could get that job or that placement. I thought I would atleast get a yellow pencil! 

Being given the chance to prove that I am better than the fifty or so others, however, I am not doing so well. 

There is nothing worse for my self confidence than hearing of the successes of others. Espescially since I consider most of the agencies taken over by my classmates as now out of bounds. Which is a shame, because they are some really good agencies. (Damn them.)

Well, atleast that's one more stamp saved. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Black Listed.

The creative industry is like a small country village, where every one knows every one else. Graphic designers, illustrators, photographers & advertisers all went to College together, they had the same teachers, the same friends; they go drinking together. 

Espescially in the case of working in London; you have to be careful. 

At design agencies I am always on my best behaviour, because I am conscious that I want people to like me, or atleast not dislike me. An internship is kind of like a really long and horrendous interview, and you wouldn't say anything to annoy an interviewer, would you? 

A friend of mine took advantage of a design agency and I fear he will regret it greatly. After arranging at short notice and short-term placement, because another agency let him down, he turned up late, had an extended lunch break and after two days announced he wouldn't be there for the rest of the week because he was heading home for a few days; family holiday. The agency had to sack him; they 'employ' alot of people from the same universities (and we all know eachother) so to set an example they had to be firm. My main fear though, is that his name will now be blacklisted among the design world. His name will go around like a dirty chinese whisper, and finding further placements will become hard. My friend has also set a poor example to the agency for students from our course, which is dissappointing. 

Ofcourse, small-village gossip can be good for getting placements. Many agencies I have been to are more interested in where you have been, than what you have done, and I am fairly certain they just give their friend at that agency a call to see if you're worth the bother. As long as you work hard and be nice to people, (as championed by Anthony Burrill) you will be fine. 

Networking is also very key to cracking this industry and it is not something I am very good at. I have been told that it is a good idea to leave every placement with atleast two contacts. I have another friend who goes around the office in the last week of her placements and gets email addresses from anyone that will give her one. This has enabled her to get into some of the top agencies in London. She has her heart set on getting a placement at one particular agency and I think by doing this, she could very well get it.