First Hand — University of Leeds Graphic and Communication Design graduate Shannon Lea on her first year

Posted 01 September 2016 Written by Will Hudson

This article was published as part of our soft launch in 2016.

It’s Nice That identified Shannon as part of their annual graduates feature in 2015. Here we asked her to share what she’d learnt in her first twelve months since graduating...

For the past year I’ve been working as a junior designer at North. Founded by Sean Perkins in 1995, North is responsible for some of the most significant identity design undertakings of the past 20 years. With projects including RAC, First Direct, Barbican, Land Registry, Telewest, The Royal Mint, Co-op and Tate — North is somewhat of an identity design behemoth.  

Sending my portfolio to the studio in May 2015, by the end of June a week after term finished, I’d begun working at North. The first lesson of working life I learnt was more to do with actually getting there; if you want a job straight out of uni, you can’t start applying soon enough. Of course this isn’t everyone’s aim. Fresh from uni is one of the few times when you can genuinely try something new; whether that’s travelling the world, doing something altruistic or simply returning home to eat for free at your parents’. However, if a job straight out of uni is what you’re after, I found that portfolio pruning had to go hand in hand with university deadlines. 

Know what you like. If you’ve interned before, sooner or later who’ll know whether you’re into big agencies, in-house teams or smaller studios. Before starting at North I’d done a year or so in industry as part of my course and I’d begun to think a smaller team setup was my thing. Time at North quickly confirmed this and it was simply luck that the job I wanted most was at a studio that felt like exactly the right number of people. Being able to talk to everyone you’re working with, easily and in one space, makes a big difference – there’s also something pretty amazing about a small team of people carrying out such ludicrously big design jobs. 

Listen (eavesdrop). I read somewhere that one of the worst things you can do is wear headphones at work. I’m not saying don’t ever throw on a podcast, but I learnt a lot more listening to the projects, people and discussions around me than to the dulcet tones of Ira Glass and This American Life. And whilst I’m sure your taste in music is great, that new project with loads of creative freedom isn’t going to go begging for long. 

Learn extra. Young designers are increasingly adding more strings to their bow in terms of the additional skills they bring to their role; something I find a little intimidating to say the least. Whilst the hours of Photoshopping I’d put in at a previous internship came in useful quick, it dawned on me that a familiarity with animation would be a real help to what I do. Equally, I wish I had more skills that weren’t necessarily on the beaten design track. 

Get good on the phone. I’m not the biggest fan of using the phone at work. It’s fine, I’ll do it, but I maintain the theory that if a landline seems a bit of a relic, odds are you grew up with texting or MSN Messenger as your main means of contact. Obviously the phone is integral to any business, and it’s important you get comfortable using it; I guess I’m still learning that one myself. Often the phone is the best means of keeping a project moving along or clarifying a client’s feedback, and it’s way quicker than emailing. 

Collate. Collecting the things you see and genuinely like isn’t to be underestimated. Even if it’s just a folder on your computer, keep it tailored and tight and when you see something on a blog, in a book or magazine just keep a record; creating an asset for yourself and any future projects. 

Quantity and quality. I remember being pretty shocked by the speed of everyone when I first started working at North. I still am. It’s not just the speed but the quality; the ease with which numerous design routes can be thought up, implemented and rolled out into a thorough, thoughtful and persuasive presentation is something I hugely respect and am still learning to work towards. 

After what must now be nearly 400 days of working life, the thing I learnt early on and still continue to realise, is just how little I know. But I find it reassuring to learn something different on virtually every new project I work on. Even if this rate of learning decreases over time, with technology changing so quickly and design continually keeping pace, it’s reassuring to realise that as a designer the learning won’t stop anytime soon. 

A final and crucial lesson learnt during my first working year, that’s important to remember now in particular, is just how mercilessly this piece of writing will be utilised by my workmates and quoted back to me in a broad Northern accent. I’ve attempted to vet it for potential punch lines and any particularly low hanging fruit, but something tells me I’ve not been nearly thorough enough. Never mind, Jamie still bloody loves tennis.

Posted 01 September 2016 Written by Will Hudson
Collection: First Hand
Disciplines: Graphic Design
Mentions: Shannon Lea
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