Advice — What impresses industry visitors at degree shows?

Posted 29 May 2018

Degree show season is upon us! In case you missed it earlier this week, we’ve launched a submissions-based listings of UK shows, which you can add your own events to – simply hit the button at the top of the page.

To mark the occasion, we’re sharing some last-minute tips on making your show the best it can be, having absorbed advice from some well-seasoned degree show visitors on the industry side. Here we’ve collated some of this wisdom, with thoughts from Pali Palavathanan – founder of design studio TEMPLO and committed grad-show attendee – to find out what impresses, and the little things that make all the difference.

Know what you want from it
Before it all kicks off, it’s important to ask yourself what you want from the experience. What is it about your practice and skill set you want to demonstrate? Once you know this, make it the priority. Potential employers will be curious to see where you envision yourself out in the world, beyond your studies, so it’s also worth checking that your work communicates what you love doing and the direction you want to go in.

Give the work space to breathe
One thing to consider is how much space you’ve given an object, screen or print. In Pali’s mind, “plastering walls top to bottom with work” can overwhelm a viewer; “It’s important to give work space to breathe and shine.” This also gives you a chance to ensure what you do show packs a punch and shows personality.

“Avoid displaying work that doesn’t translate well for an exhibition environment,” advises Pali. “Take a step back and ask yourself what will grab attention. If it’s a complex project with many parts, cherry-pick the elements that will really cut through the noise of a degree show. Mix it up and explore pace and variety, from physical objects and printed items to digital executions.”

Promotion and following up
Chances are, the promotion for your event is well under way – industry have been invited, along with friends and extended family, but don’t be afraid of taking some personal initiative and reaching out to additional contacts. And most importantly, remember to follow up with a reminder just ahead of the show! 

If you’re inviting new contacts from studios or companies you admire, an email or personal message on Instagram or Twitter might doesn’t hurt – just remember to keep your message concise, personal (a little flattery never goes amiss) and include clear information about the event. And although it’s not wholly advisable, we have heard tales of students turning up to deliver invites to studios in person, to varying degrees of success! However, stunt-style promotion (think sending strange objects in the post) wasn’t quite as popular.

“Presentation is paramount, there’s nothing worse than seeing unevenly hung work and grubby boards.”

Making the most of what you have
Presenting your work well doesn’t have to mean spending way beyond your budget. After all, this is your graduation show – everyone knows you’re a student. Keep in mind your next steps: don’t blow all your savings if it means paying off debts for the next few months. While high-production values are appreciated, this is also an opportunity to show that you embrace what’s available and can solve briefs within limitations. 

A cheaper production material might be forgivable, but sticky fingerprints and slap-dash finishes less so (spirit levels and cloths are hardly bank-breakers!). In Pali’s words: “Presentation is paramount, there’s nothing worse than seeing unevenly hung work and grubby boards.” 

Showing film
If you’re presenting a film, keep in mind the way that people will experience this. If a screen is surrounded by distractions and has limited headphones available at busy periods, it might not hold a viewer’s attention. Consider arranging group screenings at specific times, or if possible, create an allocated viewing space within the location. It’s also an idea to make sure this film is easily found online, should someone search for it after the show.

Keeping up momentum 
Don’t spend all your energy on the opening night: keep the momentum of your show up with additional events – from talks to screenings – but do keep timings in mind. “One thing to be mindful of is that [industry] are less likely to visit the shows on weekends,” says Pali, “Ensure most of the buzz is focused on working days when studios will be more willing to pop along after work.”

Edit down supporting work and captions
If you’re displaying something highly abstract or minimal, having supporting insight into process will be useful to anyone wanting to know more about the work. However, keep it relevant – whittle it down to the essentials.

This approach also applies to captions and texts that accompany work. In an exhibition environment, with so much to see, attention spans will be short. Ideally you want one to two lines per caption, capturing the essence of the project.

Branding: Work with the space, and credit it
As branding for degree shows becomes ever-more impressive and elaborate, it’s good to ensure that the exhibition space serves as a continuation of that identity, without letting it taking over. “I remember seeing an identity that was more interesting than the actual work!” shares Pali, “So it’s important that the branding comes to life without over-powering the work on display.” 

Branding also presents a chance to make sure the work is properly credited and signposted in a consistent way, which makes life easier for a viewer to absorb information. Ensure that group projects are marked as such, which also includes crediting everyone’s roles in the branding, curation, planning and production for the show itself.

“I’m really impressed with students who aren’t afraid to engage with me, and talk through their projects.”

Being present
While the opening night might come as a huge relief and chance to party and let off steam, the duration of the show can serve as a networking opportunity, so be sure to make the most of it where you can. 

“When walking around the shows, I’m really impressed with students who stand by their work and aren’t afraid to engage with to talk through their projects,” shares Pali. “It’s not just great work studios are looking for, but also great people skills.” 

Take-aways and business cards 
A few people we spoke to admitted that degree shows are one of few times they really collect and use business cards, so make sure yours is available and that the information is clear and up-to-date (including a live website). If you have the time, money and resources, it can also be a great opportunity to create something memorable for people to take away. One good example included a pack of nicely printed postcards, featuring the work and contact details for each member of the course. 

Prepping for next steps: websites, social and PDFs 
One frustration we noted from industry visitors was not being able to find students quickly and easily online. This ranged from discovering a ‘coming soon’ website, to finding that an Instagram account was private. 

It’s advisable to get your website up and running, even if a little primitive: A few simple images (perhaps something recognisable from the show), basic information and contact details will suffice. If you are on Instagram and Twitter, ideally accounts will use a consistent and recognisable name, feature relevant work and be open to access.

In addition, Pali adds, By the time your degree show goes live, you should really have a teaser PDF to send out to studios as well as your portfolio ready. The more together you come across, the better.”

...But most importantly, enjoy it!
We couldn’t put it any better than copywriter Roshni Goyate in her advice piece for students: “It’s important to take the time to look back and reflect on everything you’ve achieved. Whether that’s good feedback from client work, a great essay mark, or just a conversation that left you on a high. Let yourself feel damn good about it.”


A special thanks to Pali, the team at It’s Nice That and Anyways for their time and feedback on their experiences of visiting shows!

Posted 29 May 2018 Collection: Advice
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Photography, Illustration
Mentions: Pali Palavathanan, Roshni Goyate, It's Nice That, Anyways

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