12 Tips for Students and Graduates looking for Design Jobs

A guest post by Steph Pickerill, from Jeenia Ltd who offers her advice for design students and graduates looking for their first design jobs

student or graduate portfolio
Getting opportunities to expand your portfolio is tough. Landing that dream design job is just as difficult – but whether you’re going it alone after uni, picking up the odd job while you’re studying or preparing for an interview, here’s some stuff to consider.

1. Design your presentation

Everything that represents you – your website, portfolio, blog – should represent your work and your talent. A CV that claims outstanding typography skills should work as evidence for it. Be clever with the content. Don’t put everything into your portfolio, select only your best work that you’d be prepared to discuss and that you’re happy to have scrutinised. And don’t leave out the messy bits. Design is about process and a client or employer may appreciate an insight into yours – show brainstorms, alternative ideas and sketches, as well as the end result.

2. Take the right opportunities

Working for free for long periods of time is tempting, especially in the climate we’re in, but it is important that you don’t fail to appreciate what you have to offer to an employer or client. Particularly once you’ve graduated, taking on too much for free may lead to you undervaluing your work. Take your skills seriously and know their worth, if you don’t, others won’t either.

Similarly, don’t over do it. Respect every job, even if it’s small. Showing you’re keen and efficient may lead to future work.

3. Welcome ALL feedback

A project doesn’t stop with the finished design; always ask for truthful feedback. Praise is good but it won’t always help you improve. Make the most of criticism and get used to it, learn how to handle it and apply it to your next project. Equally, recognise unconstructive criticism and move on!

4. Knowledge is power

When you’re pitching a job, the only ammunition you have is your portfolio and yourself. Once you’ve made the first look it’s best, the second has to be pretty impressive too. I’m not talking about how you scrub up but the knowledge you bring to the table. Be resourceful. Thanks to the internet, you have a load of information just waiting to be used and most of it is free.

5. Be online

Having an online presence is more than constructing a ‘self-brand’ or a good website; it’s about making sure there is a personality behind your portfolio. Read blogs and eBooks, keep an eye on industry news and what other designers are doing. But stay critical, have an opinion and be professional in the way you express it.

6. Sharing is caring

The years you spend studying are the ones when like-minded peers will be most accessible. Professionals spend years building contacts through networking- you have yours right there. Make use of an environment filled with young designers by sharing ideas. These people will be joining you in the industry; having a readymade support network will be invaluable.

7. What’s your style?

There’s nothing worse than uninspired creativity. As a designer, you will have a style – find it, know it, don’t be limited by it and be prepared for it to evolve. Think about how that style stands out, reflects your values and may fit in the wider creative industry. Knowing what you’re good at is an asset.

8. Practice makes (closer to) perfect

Practice practice practice. And don’t stop designing for personal projects, it’s the only way to work out what you’re good at, make those inevitable mistakes and stay in tune with your own creativity (and can fill time when projects are quiet.)

9. Be a good communicator

Just because you work with a computer, doesn’t mean you have to hide behind it. Employers and clients want to know they are dealing with a human so communication skills are essential. They are looking for more than an artwork machine. Especially when freelancing, a satisfied client has had their ideas realised; to get to those ideas, you must communicate well.

10. Beyond artwork

Be prepared to go further to understand the project you are taking on, beyond the brief. Engage with the business and the way that your work will fit in with their wider marketing plan by taking the time to think your ideas through. Do your own research, particularly if the business works within an unfamiliar industry and imagine you are the Creative Director. Don’t rush into your first thought, walk your initial ideas around in your head for a while, it’ll help develop them. If you take only a surface interest and rush in with a half decent idea, it’ll show. Get involved, and they’ll want to use you again.

11. Beyond the call…

Likewise, work hard. Too many employers and clients are able to talk about the ‘poor work ethic of the next generation’. Make sure they have nothing to justify this; work hard, stay off Facebook and be prepared for long hours.

12. Have fun – it shows!

Don’t treat any job like it’s dragging (even if it is). The project isn’t complete until the client’s impressed/amazed/bowled over. Being merely ‘satisfied’ isn’t the same as being impressed.

Steph PickerillSteph Pickerill is Founding Director of Jeenia Ltd, design and student employability company that helps young designers, graduates and those still studying within creative and computer services to gain real work experience. The students are given invaluable opportunities to work within practical business scenarios, expand their portfolios and make contacts while, crucially, being paid for their work. In return, the clients enjoy an innovative, youthful and exciting approach to their marketing. www.jeenia.co.uk Twitter: @JeeniaStudents

Make Design Business Dreams Come True – Set Goals

A Guest Post by Mhairi Gordon-Preston from Suit Free Business Help For Design Companies

Business dreams are fantastic; they can fire-up your enthusiasm and make the planning and work feel worthwhile. What’s even better than business dreams? Watching them become your reality.

Studies show that setting precise business goals makes business dreams a lot more likely to become real. That’s because the right goals keep your drive high, focus your mind, and get your creativity flowing.

1 “Begin with the end in mind” (Stephen R Covey, author & speaker)

What changes would you like in your design business? Examples could be “I want clients who really get my style” or “I want to earn an additional £800 a month”.

Note down your answers to the question — don’t analyse them, just let them flow out.

2 Highlight one answer that feels like it would have the biggest impact on your business at this moment

(There may be lots of things you want to do, that’s wonderful — remember you can always come back to this process as soon as your first goal is finished, or on-track.)

3 Make your goal do-able, but exciting

Don’t underestimate yourself with a half-hearted wish like “It would be nice to have one new client by March next year”; you have more talent than that in your little finger! Your goal should be something you’d go for when you’re on a high or having a good day — it should stretch you a little.

4 Get into the nitty-gritty

Make your goal specific, an example could be: “I want four new clients, giving me work totalling £600 per month, by 9am, eight weeks from today”.

Don’t be tempted into fuzzy phrases like “I need more clients”. Put actual dates & numbers in, even if it feels challenging. Dates & numbers will really increase the chances of your goal becoming reality. And remember: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.” (Les Brown, speaker & author).

5 Finally, “Ink it, don’t think it” (Mark Victor Hansen, business coach & entrepreneur)

Write your goal down; perhaps turning it into a desktop background, design or collage. Whatever format you use, make sure you place it where you can see it every day in your work area.

For an extra boost, put a credit-card sized version in your purse or wallet. Studies show that, funny though it sounds, carrying your goal on you really increases the chances of it becoming reality.

I look forward to your achievements — do feel free to share your success stories with me.

Mhairi Gordon-PrestonI’m Mhairi Gordon-Preston and I help design business-owners & freelancers become more profitable and more fulfilled. Get monthly tips from me, plus a gift ecourse at SuitFreeBusinessHelpForDesignCompanies.com. I worked as a designer for 10 years, have run my own businesses for 10 years and am an Enterprise Champion in my local town, helping small businesses connect with each other

Photo Stop! Revolution not Evolution (that’s for pansies)

A guest post by Daniel Mackie from www.danielmackie.com

swimmer illustration

Decisions, decisions! Up until recently I, like many other illustrators, had been using Photoshop as my main illustration tool. However I abandoned it and picked up my watercolour brushes. What!? Why? Well, back in 1995, when I first started out as an illustrator, Photoshop was the new weapon of choice for a ‘fresh-out-of-college’ illustrator like me. I was bowled over by the effects I could achieve (mainly invert, curve and blur at the time). Photoshop had only one level of undo (control z) and no layers. The only way to go back in your design was to save different versions of your work as you progressed, but hard drives were the size of knicker draws at the time, not the great vacuous caverns that are available today. So you’d usually just plough on forward, hoping your computer didn’t crash, until you’d finished. Whatever command you instructed the software to do, you had to be pretty sure that was what you wanted, because one more commands down the line and you couldn’t undo it! You had to be brave!

Don Draper illustration

Photoshop is now a much more powerful piece of software. You can effectively go back in time and re-edit everything in your design. Now this is fantastic. But. Well for me, I started to notice in my own work that my use of colour was like everybody else’s – flat. I’d try a load of different colours out until I decided on the one I wanted (hue/saturation, brightness/contrast… etc). If something wasn’t working I’d move the layers around, try a few effects, scan something else in… etc. I realized I wasn’t making my mind up and making a decision about what I wanted. Having too much choice was making my working methods vague.

I wanted to shore things up. I had some experience of using watercolour. I used to paint bowls of fruit at the kitchen table when I was a lad. I knew that when the colour went onto the paper it was difficult to get off, as it stains like claret on white carpet! If you painted over it you’d run the risk of everything turning to sludge brown. Because of its permanence, your drawing had to be spot on even before you started. Now this is the polar opposite of Photoshop. After being sure your drawing is spot on, you have to be one hundred percent committed to the colours you’re going to be using. You have to make a decision and stick to it. If it goes wrong you have to start again.

The decision-making in the production of an illustration is one crucial part of the process. I also believe that limiting the options I have forces me to make better decisions throughout the creative process. When you have a number seven brush loaded with Cadmium Red you have to be sure that where you’re putting it is where you want it because once it’s on it’s not coming off. This kind of decision becomes even more loaded the closer to finishing the illustration you get. But you’ve got to make it.

Daniel Mackie was recently awarded ‘best in book’ in the Creative review illustration Annual 2011.

break dancer illustration Daniel Mackie

Photoshop – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A Guest Post by Richard Fisher at Frank Communications – a  Leeds design agency offering a range of print, multimedia and web design services. Website:  http://www.frankcommunications.co.uk

Kate Winslet

What was once a great tool known only to the design and advertising community is now part of common parlance. It even appears in the dictionary as a verb – ‘you can tell that image has been photoshopped.’ High profile stories of dodgy usage – Kate Winslet’s lengthened legs spring to mind – have given this creative software a bad name.

It’s fair to say that virtually every image you see in print every day – in magazines, newspapers, on billboards and posters – has been photoshopped. It’s an essential part of the designer’s toolkit, enabling us to create high impact quality work. But it is also often misused or handled badly. Here, we highlight the good, bemoan the bad and shake our heads in disbelief at the ugly sides of the art of photoshopping:


The best Photoshop work goes unnoticed (which is the whole point from an advertising perspective at the end of the day!) Used correctly, it enhances a photo and can be used to remove flaws. Clearly its good practice to check and improve any photo you use even if it is just making sure the contrast is ok. Untidy or low quality images look unprofessional and can reflect badly on your brand. But it’s about being subtle, about having the skill to change and adjust the image so that it is improved without revealing the process of improvement.


Photoshop is often used as a quick fix to make an image stand out. How often do we see effects just for the sake of having effects? Lens flares appearing in photos for no reason or a random Photoshop filter to make an image stand out even if it looks out of place? Many people over-estimate how much Photoshop contributes and how much the user contributes to the finished piece. They think it is just a click of a button to correct or manipulate a photo but without an understanding of composition and light and shade, photos look unnatural.


People know these days that every image of a model or a celebrity has been doctored in some way or other – to remove blemishes, wrinkles, excess flab etc. The effects of this on the way we see ourselves is much debated and analysed, but we think there are more pernicious examples of the misuse of photoshopping – in the doctoring of reality for political purposes. For example, this post was inspired by BP’s admission that it changed an image of a command centre overseeing the team tackling the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The doctoring of the image was to make staff look busier.

Other giant firms and even nations have been embarrassed by similar errors

  • Iran was caught out after it apparently doctored images of a multiple missile launch, to hide the fact that one of them failed to go off.
  • Microsoft was forced to apologise after its Polish arm changed a promotional image of three employees – amending the apparent race of a black man to white, even failing to change his hand to match.
  • Britain’s former culture secretary James Purnell was embarrassed when his presence at a photo shoot was faked because he was late.

It is surprising to still see to this date so many examples of Photoshop disasters within the press and media – the majority down to carelessness and not fully utilizing the expansive toolsets within Photoshop.

Do you have any examples of Photoshop disasters within print advertising? Please share on the comments below.

Creating Effective Exhibition Stands

A guest post by Nimlok.co.uk who offer a bespoke exhibition stand design service

Providing exhibition stands for clients is a highly specialised service.  However, if you do not have an accurate understanding of their company then it will involve a great deal of guesswork.  Without knowing certain basics, you really will be just poking around in the dark. Answer the following questions:

  • What type of products is your client promoting?
  • What kind of image does their company have?
  • What (if any!) ideas does your client have about how they want their stands to look?

It is vital to know the answers to all of these questions!  After all, the ultimate goal in exhibition stand design is to attract as many visitors as possible within a very short space of time.  And this cannot be done without a good knowledge of your client and their company.

Logos and Branding

The best exhibition stands are the ones which make full use of a company’s logo.  This means they will be eye-catching and that any existing clients will recognise the company straight away. If the company have a particularly strong logo, then how about presenting it in a 3D, projected or illuminated format?  Many clients will really like the idea of this!

Reeling in Your ‘Catch’

Once you have ‘caught’ the attention of a visitor you will want to ‘reel them in’.  Make sure that plenty of your client’s contact details are easily at hand throughout the display.  Leaflets, business cards and flyers are great to have at hand throughout your client’s stand.

Getting the Message Across

Exhibitions have a tendency to be quite noisy locations, so a special attention to visuals is always a good idea.  Photographs, prototypes and diagrams will all do their job, however noisy the venue becomes!

Don’t overdo it with text though…  many people are very lazy when it comes to reading information and will not be prepared to stand around poring through reams of information about new products.  If you do have to use text, then try and keep it to a bare minimum.

Having a few short sentences will often deliver a far more potent message than any long and sprawling paragraphs!  If any visitors want to know the finer details regarding any products, they can soon pick up a few of the company’s leaflets instead or approach the friendly staff that will be on hand.

Choosing the Right Colours

Using the correct colours in an exhibition stand design can be a very tricky business.  They do not want to appear too dark, but they should also not be so bright that they give visitors a migraine either!

Some clients will have definite ideas about the colours they want to use, particularly if they have a colour-themed image to their company’s stationary and graphics.

For a really powerful display that will stop people in their tracks, complimentary colours are a serious consideration.  A background in one shade will cause the foreground to jump right out if it is presented in its opposite colour.

Creating a Model for Your Client

Presenting your client with a 3D scale model of a proposed display will make the whole business far more ‘real’.  Once they have inspected this you will have much more idea of what they do/do not like and whether you are working along the right lines or not.

This can also be a great way of ensuring that no expensive mistakes are made!

Some Effective Features

Incorporating a video screen or laptop into your client’s display can have a very beneficial effect.  A short video message of around three minutes can be highly informative and really grab the attention of visitors.


The correct use of lighting is very important in an exhibition display; it is all about creating a careful but effective balance.  It should not be too bright, but it must be light enough for visitors see what they are looking at!  Why not use some spot lights in the construction of your clients stand?  These can have a really dynamic effect on a display if they are situated cleverly.

Is There Such a Thing as Green Graphic Design?

A guest post by Britt Brouse

Does green graphic design exist and does green graphic design really even matter? Yes and yes.

green designWhen people think of businesses going green, they might picture Fortune 500 companies installing wind farms and solar panels, and reducing their packing materials; however, there are many ways for graphic designers to be environmentally responsible. Even one graphic designer or small design firm can make a big difference.

Below are five examples of green graphic design initiatives to get started:

1. Streamline office space to be more energy efficient.

There are lighting choices, furniture and design choices and even windows, doors, insulation and heating and cooling systems that can all help your home office or commercial space be more green. Contact your local chamber of commerce, and find out if they have any information on becoming certified as a sustainable business. Some cities now have green chambers of commerce to address this growing need.

2. Create social changes

Get all your coworkers involved in becoming more environmentally aware. Purchase only environmentally friendly office products, make sure everyone is recycling and reducing wasted paper and materials. Encourage using green transportation such as bicycles, public transportation or carpooling to get to work.

3. Donate to green causes

Designers can purchase carbon offset credits to offset the impact made when traveling for business or to a conference. Start a donation matching program where you match employee donations to environmental charities. Don’t forget to talk about these initiatives either in an e-newsletter or on the “About Us” page of your website.

4. Work with green clients and organizations

Choose to work with clients who have environmental or corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in place. Designers can also help clients to build a greener brand and better communicate any CSR or environmental initiatives in their communication materials.

5. Make green production choices

Select environmentally friendly inks and use a printer who reduces wasted paper and employs the most environmentally friendly chemicals during the print process. Finally educate yourself about recycled and sustainable paper sources.

To find out more about green graphic design, check out these leading resources:

  • Green Graphic Design by Brian Dougherty is a book about how graphic designers can effect environmental change.
  • Society for Responsible Design is an organization website with many useful tips for green graphic design.
  • Design Change is a non profit organization with resources for designers to create environmentally positive changes in their work.
  • The Living Principles is a hub for green graphic design, with event listings, resources and a community forum.

Britt Brouse is a writer for PsPrint Blog. She has been writing about marketing, graphic design and printing for more than five years. In between writing deadlines, you can find her riding her bike around town, sipping an iced-coffee or hanging out on the front porch with her dog, Jackie. PsPrint is an online printing solutions company, which you can follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Image via Flickr user Sean McGrath