April 5, 2024No Comments

Career paths: how do you qualify?

There are so many ways to get a career in design, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that you just need the formal qualifications to be a good designer. It’s absolutely possible to be good at design without any qualifications at all. Like with everything, everyone learns differently, and I think it’s important to find the right path for you, whether that’s traditional or not.

With this in mind, I wanted to explore how graphic designers can start a career – whether they choose university or not.

Embrace Your Creativity and Passion

I’ve often tried to explain to people that the bottom line is that you just need to be a good designer. It doesn’t matter what official qualifications you have or what other jobs you’ve had—if you’ve got a passion and willingness to learn, great, and if you’ve got ‘that thing’ too, you’re already halfway there.

Many successful designers have started their careers simply because they love to create. It just starts with that spark and grows from there.

Take time to explore your creativity, experiment, put ideas on paper, and try something different. The more you immerse yourself in the creative process, the more you refine your skills and develop a unique style.

Build a Strong Portfolio

Let me share how often I’ve been asked for evidence of my formal qualifications. None. Most people don’t care about that—instead, they’re looking for something to show I can do the right job for them.

Your portfolio is your resume. It showcases your skills, style, and creativity to potential clients. The key is to showcase your best work, the kind of work you love, and give potential clients an idea of how you could do the same for them.

Like me, most designers nowadays have an online portfolio on their website, making it easy for people to see what they’re about. If your client projects are scant or you’re just starting out, I’ve seen plenty of designers use personal projects to great effect. I did something similar with my book TenYrsLater and am still doing it with a new set of projects underway.

Network and Collaborate

Something I always advocate is getting to know other designers. There’s often this belief that creative people must carefully guard their circle, for fear of their ideas and work being stolen. That rarely is the case, and in fact, I think it’s important to network and collaborate with other designers. Sharing ideas and supporting others has huge benefits and works wonders for your mental health during tough times.

If you work alone, as many creatives do, just having a few trusted peers to call on for guidance is always helpful. Don’t think of them as competitors but as a support network.

Embrace Continuous Learning

Graphic design is constantly evolving, with new trends, technologies, and techniques emerging all the time. To stay relevant, we must embrace lifelong learning. Whether mastering new software, checking out design trends, or honing our skills in specific areas, always seek knowledge and improvement.

If you find online resources, workshops, webinars, or even formal courses beneficial, take advantage of them. Stay curious, adaptable, and willing to step out of your comfort zone to grow as a designer.

Remember, your journey as a graphic designer should be unique; don’t be afraid to break the rules.

October 3, 2023No Comments

A future for the design industry?

Whether you’re already in the design industry or are a design student, you must have come across the news about government cuts within the arts sector. It’s been rumoured for a couple of years, although right now, as we’re in the midst of it, there’s more and more concern over what this will mean for us and the future of design.

In short, courses for the arts will be subject to a massive 50% cut in funding. That will mean that the variety of courses will be diminished, and resources will be harder to come by – and many colleges and universities will be forced to remove classes from their curriculum altogether.

While the future of design may be uncertain, all this did get me thinking about how things have already changed – design is constantly evolving, and perhaps this is just another change we will need to adapt to? I wanted to share some of my views – and experience - about where my design journey began and where things might be heading.

How designers used to work 

‘Online’ wasn’t really such a big deal when I started in design. It existed in some alternative, far-off way, but not many businesses were up to speed with it. People used to fax each other, which was about as technical as things got. Back then, we spoke on the phone.

Running a design studio before the internet was a different animal. If you wanted people to see your work, you had to have a physical portfolio, which you took to meetings. It took a lot of time and effort but also made building a rapport with clients much more straightforward. In that respect, we’ve both gained and lost something.

The truth is marketing and the design process, in general, have been made much more efficient since those days. Still, the changes in technology have also made the industry much more saturated, easier to access to most people, and made it seem ‘easy’. But this also means that design has been somewhat lost as a professional skill and appears to be more of a hobby, something that everyone can learn to do. And I think that’s a dangerous thing.

The internet years

Undoubtedly, the introduction of the internet has changed a lot for our industry over the last couple of decades. Before the ’90s, when I was in university, most design was print-based. Most marketing was done via printed advertising, flyers, posters, etc. And that’s a very different skill to designing for online media.

A large proportion of a designer’s time now is spent on websites and digital media – and that’s reflected in the types of higher education courses available. Perhaps that’s why more students are opting for the arts and less in the sciences now – is it perceived as the attractive, easier option? Everyone has access to the online world, making design seem so much more accessible to people. There are plenty of new programs and apps to aid design – and marketing – it might seem like easy money.

We can showcase our work online with a ‘set it and forget it’ web page and manipulate it to serve our needs.

What technology isn’t able to do, though, is come up with real, human ideas. We still need our brains to do that – and that’s the skill formal education is vital for. And that brings us nicely back to our original point, right? Those pending government cuts and what they could actually mean for us.

How could the cuts affect us as designers?

According to government statistics, our country needs more people to do jobs like nursing, science, teaching, and other skills to keep the economy (and humankind) running to its best. To address this problem, they need to put more resources into attracting new students to study for those jobs, taking resources away from more oversaturated courses, arguably the arts. That includes music, classical arts, photography and film, and, of course, design.

I’ve visited a couple of universities over the past couple of years, and I was astonished at the number of design students that will be released into the industry. I saw the sheer oversaturation for myself, so I can appreciate the issue the government are facing. Still, while the cuts will solve that in the short term, over time, it will mean that we will have a massive shortage of people who can do those jobs well.

Will AI triumph in that case? I certainly hope not! Perhaps we will see an influx of ‘imported’ design, done fast and cheap. What a grim thought…

Of course, these are just my ramblings. Your view may be different. But things are set to change, and I don’t see it being for the better. Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject – let’s hear your views.

©1973–2023 Tony Clarkson
&Something Studio is a design studio based, but no way trapped, in Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury has trains and roads which lead both in and out.