First Hand — Junior designer Ned Image on the importance of seizing every opportunity
Swapping the Dordogne for design, Ned Image’s path is an unusual one. Having left his hometown in France in 2013 to attend Norwich University of Arts, he graduated with a BA in Graphic Design last year and is now a junior designer at design consultancy The Partners. He recalls his first year and shares his learnings on portfolios, placements and tells us why it's important to be patient.
You can’t expect to walk out of university and into you dream job. It takes hours and a lot of preparation to build up a portfolio. Long before I graduated, I contacted as many design studios as I could to apply for work placements. I even squeezed a placement in over the Easter of my graduation year. My aim was to build a portfolio that not only demonstrated my interests, but was also hard evidence that I was proactive about getting a good grounding in the industry.
I think it’s also important to be patient – you hear about graduates that do one placement and get hired immediately. That’s certainly not always the case. I did four or five placements before The Partners – at places such as big fish, Williams Murray Hamm a few times and Blast. The knee-jerk reaction when you’re not offered a permanent role is ‘I must not be good enough,’ but that’s not true; think of placements as invaluable periods of time that add layers of experience and let you experiment, don’t get hung up on getting hired.
When an opportunity comes your way, take it. Even if you find it intimidating. In fact, especially if you find it intimidating. When you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re learning. And suddenly, you’ll find yourself working faster and making smarter decisions without second-guessing yourself. You pick up tricks and learn from your mistakes – whether it’s laying out spreads, shortcuts, design development or preparing for client meetings – just keep throwing yourself at every aspect of the job. In the past year, I’ve grown to be not only a better designer, but a better communicator, and it’s all been through trial and error, (sometimes a bit more error than I’d like!)
And by that, I mean ask for it. All the time. You’re not in a vacuum when you do a placement or start out as a junior and the more you ask for help, the quicker you’ll learn. At The Partners, we tend to work in regular teams but certain projects will require more fluidity which gives rise to opportunities to work on different clients with different people. That’s how I got to work on the typography for the London Symphony Orchestra – which was amazing because not only did I get a chance to experiment with type design concepts, I also gained a deeper understanding of the identity work as a whole, and I’m a big believer in learning by osmosis.
“Placements are invaluable periods of time that add layers of experience and let you experiment. Don’t get hung up on getting hired.”
Another thing that I’ve learnt this year is to voice my opinion. The value placed on ideas at The Partners is huge, so the more you throw them out there, the better. At first I was nervous about sounding stupid but once you get the hang of it you actually get better at articulating an idea. It’s lead to me to work on certain projects that I never expected to – like our recent work for European TV channel ARTE. The brand idea is based on the insight that the channel draws all Europe’s culture into one place and positions ARTE as a culture magnet. I talked to our creative director Stuart Radford about a couple of ideas I’d come up with (some weren’t great!) but others were taken on board and I got to develop an ident or two that made it into the final brand.
Moments will come along in your first year out of uni, when you get the chance to put everything you’ve learned into a design project that is entirely your own. I cannot express how great I’ve found that. Whether it’s pro-bono work or a competition, go for it! It may mean extra hours but it’s always worth it. A recent competition I entered gave me the chance to develop an entire brand on my own and add a project that I’m really proud of to my portfolio. I’ve also had the chance to design the face of a charity which will be launching later this year.
Graduates don’t need to hear it from me to know that starting out in design isn’t without its hurdles but, as someone who’s picked himself up off the race track a few times now, I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep at it. Just do as much as you can – whenever, wherever, for whomever – do the hard labour; cut things out; package things up; make tea. Some of my chances have started as chats in the kitchen. Basically, make yourself essential in any and every way possible.