First Hand — Cumbria-based design graduate Vincent Walden on battling restrictions and making the most of mistakes
After graduating from Cumbria Institute of the Arts’ graphic design course last year, Vincent Walden initially landed a job at the student’s union, heading up the design department. But he would soon find his way to working at Vincent and Bell, one of few creative agencies in his adopted hometown of Cumbria. Starting his career in what he describes as a “purgatory-like state” between student and graduate, he reflects on some of the realisations and tough truths that he’s faced so far.
After I had wrapped up my graduate exhibition, and then officially graduated last year, I was left kicking my heels in a purgatory-like space between student and graduate. Luckily, I had already landed the graphic designer position for the UCSU (University of Cumbria Students’ Union). This was a 9-month long graduate programme of sorts, which allows you to secure a job in design as a step into the industry, but also lets you manage the complete graphic outlet of an established charity. It’s an opportunity you don’t come across often as a junior designer, and it turned out to be bloody brilliant. In my naive state I thought I’d be confined to strict brand guidelines, but instead I was given the reigns, a company MacBook and copious amounts of trust.
Since May, I’ve been working at local agency Vincent & Bell. I didn’t expect to find a second design job in the local area. Being the northernmost city in England, there aren’t too many choices; it’s either get into one of two places that employs designers, or commute to Scotland. The obvious option would have been to move south, to the glorious lights of London, but here I can work and explore my deeply loved environment of the North. I am very proud to be here, and plan to stay; a good pint isn’t badly priced here either.
Learn to work within limits and understand your own
At university there was no limit as to what I could or could not produce. After years of being able to make my design interests suit any given project, learning that this isn’t something you can do for paid work has been a challenge. Post-graduation I believed that any given design job would fulfil my need to be creative and that I would be endlessly happy working in the career that I studied for. I don’t mean to insinuate that my paid work is not free or creative, but it has restrictions. Even with generous amounts of freedom, you still don’t get to rebrand the NYC Subway system straight away.
While that seems obvious, for a hungry student aiming for the stars it’s a hard reality to swallow, even if you subconsciously always knew it to be true. I love my job but when home time rolls around, there is nothing I want to do more than sink my teeth into self-initiated work. This isn’t because I was told that a design career would be the route to an endless source of satisfaction and fulfilment, but because I had idolised it.
“Looking back, a pat on the back for a successful project taught me little more than my tutors’ preferences.”
Money matters and finding support close to home
I thought I’d be paid more as an academically trained worker. But in fact, I’m on similar, or lesser, pay than someone of my age who has not studied at university. While I’d much rather be content with my work life than have a few extra pounds in my monthly balance, I had – quite rightfully – expected that thousands of pounds of debt would amount to better paycheques.
My financial set-up has been relatively privileged. During university I didn’t need to work another job to support myself, and stuck to a strict weekly budget, but I have been helped by my loved ones when it was needed. As much as I may want to complain, I am being paid enough to cover my rent and operate independently, and living and working in the North means that things are much more affordable. I now live a moderately comfortable lifestyle, and the generosity of my family has allowed me to succeed without being weighed down by the stress that money can bring.
Let your mistakes make, not break you
My mistakes were the most poignant parts of my education. Looking back, a pat on the back for a successful project taught me little more than my tutors’ preferences. One of my biggest mistakes at university was single-handedly trying to plan our graduate show. With just over 40 students, our course was quite small, but it was a real testament to how mental health suffers if you fail to delegate work correctly.
The experience, despite all my failures, gave me great confidence. I doubt I’ll come close to doing a project that big for quite a while. That said, there’s been a couple of times I’ve stuck my foot in it at my current job. Even if it’s taught me much better working practices, I’d have loved to avoid the embarrassment of making silly mistakes.
One of the biggest learnings since graduating is how to listen properly. As I began working within my current studio I found that if I didn’t listen correctly to my boss, then it would seem as if they hadn’t listened to the client. In the past, I had only myself to answer to, but now, within a larger structure, learning to listen – and listen correctly – has proven instrumental.