Did you have a plan for graduation and what actually happened?

Perky Bros Jeff Perky, Creative Director Nashville

My path to design was atypical. I originally graduated from school with a degree in business admin/marketing, only to find out through my first job as an ad agency account manager that my passion was really on the creative side of things. So I took a chance and went back to design school with a strong focus on what I wanted to get out of it. My plan was to graduate and move back home to Tennessee to get a suitable job, hopefully with another ad agency. I was mostly interested in print and branding at the time. The truth is, I didn’t get that many offers when I moved back to Nashville. Whether it was timing or experience, I just didn’t fit. Luckily, I had maintained a great relationship with a small design studio in NYC that I had interned with through design school and they kept me on retainer, with me hopping back and forth to NYC (not bad) 1 or 2 times a month. There wasn’t a lot of print or branding work, mostly digital and mostly designing all things for Flash, but it was with some great people. It gave me the opportunity to grow and the financial comfort to take some smaller branding projects that didn’t exactly pay the bills but were creatively fulfilling. After a couple of years, I was able to open up Perky Bros full-time.

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M.Giesser, Creative Director Melbourne

Yeah, no, not really crazy, big or even any plans as such, but I did have every intention to simply graduate, which btw, I didn’t.

There was a bit of a mix up in one of my classes (marker rendering from memory), and I had failed the first semester due to the teacher missing a heap of my assignments, and it was meant to be amended, but apparently it wasn’t. I found all this out after school had already wrapped for the year and while I did make a few attempts to resolve the issue, it seemed like more effort than what it was worth. Truthfully I’ve never put much stock in design education and knew it wouldn’t be the piece of paper that got me a job.

I often think about the irony of receiving the “Go To Los Angeles Award” which was given to the student who displayed the most outstanding creativity in their final year, yet I never actually graduated. To me it succinctly captures the ridiculousness of the education system. Not to mention it’s just a terrible name for an award. LA was by no means a notable design city 20 years ago. Anyway, it did manifest itself into a fairly deep–seated loathe for Toronto after 10 years, so I did move, but to Amsterdam instead of LA.

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Nice People Amber Asay, Creative Director Los Angeles

When I graduated from design school, I had lofty goals of running off to NYC and getting a design job at a cool studio like RoAndCo. I ended up going to Florida instead, which didn’t have much of a design scene and rooted myself there for a bit. One of my professors said it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond because you become more memorable and wear more hats, and that was what I decided to make of my situation that I landed in. Since then I moved back to California and continued to push myself and pave my own design career without the New York life that so many designers dream of. New York isn’t the only way!

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Studio Reko Frans, Creative Director Stockholm

We started Studio Reko during the first term of our last year in design school, and before that we didn’t really have a plan as to what we were going to do after graduation. A company approached us and asked if we could help them out with some design work, and to be able to do that we needed to have our own company so they could pay us. Me (Frans) and Ludwig worked together on a lot of projects during our school years and realised we are a good fit. So when that first project came to an end we decided to just keep going doing our own thing.

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Leena Murdeshwar Leena Murdeshwar, Illustrator Atlanta

I did actually. But you know what? Nothing has gone as planned after the graduation. Being an international student has it’s own struggles. It’s not just getting the degree and finding the job. There is a lot of paperwork, a lot of waiting and a lot of patience. It has been a painful process. It always gets worse before it gets better. I needed the crisis, to push me to be better. Everything that has happened in the past has led me to something else. So, I am learning to be patient with myself and I am currently interviewing for all the best job opportunities I can find……… until I find the place, which is best for my design growth. Do not settle until you are satisfied, is my mantra.

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Alexandra Hartford Alexandra Hartford, Illustrator NYC

After completing an undergraduate degree in Architecture, I planned to work for a year and then do a masters in a design related field. Feeling totally burnt out after my final thesis, I decided to work and travel for the summer to gain some perspective on my future career path. One night, a friend suggested we move to New York City for a year and 3 weeks later, I was on a plane with all my belongings crammed into one suitcase. I worked as a bartender, taught design classes in a prison, and worked at an architecture firm. By working all these jobs I discovered my true passion was in illustration. Here I am 3 years later, still living in NYC and working for myself as a freelance illustrator!

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Jacknife Matt Currie, Intern Toronto

I planned to go straight from school and into a position at a studio! I thought the transition would be quick and seamless after 3 years of design school. It turned out to be a couple of seemingly long months of making connections and knocking on doors before an opportunity presented itself, and I started my internship with Toronto’s Jacknife.

The toughest part was dealing with the initial deflation of not landing anything, and trying not to get discouraged when nothing seemed to be coming my way. I was so excited to finish school and to finally get out into the industry, and then suddenly school was over and it started to sink in that landing a job was going to be a whole new mountain I had to climb.

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Tom Campion Tom Campion, Animator Dublin

I didn’t really have a plan other than getting a job I was happy with, which I imagine is the same for most graduates. I guess when you graduate, after all your hard work, you sort of expect to have employers approach you about working for them. I found that you really have to go through the process of interviews and emails to get your foot in the door before any mention of a job happens. It’s a lot more work after you have graduated, more than you think there will be. But if you put in the effort, no doubt you will be rewarded!

It’s a great experience to even just get an interview with a studio — it helps you to speak confidently about your work and to meet people in the industry. Going from working 12 hours+ a day for my final semester to having nearly four months off work was a strange headspace to be in. I was constantly trying to make something to simply satisfy my urge to create. It’s so important to create just to have an outlet, without a lot of context or pressure, and it also keeps up your skills for when you start working again!

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Zack Rosebrugh Zack Rosebrugh, Illustrator Los Angeles

I majored in film studies as an undergrad, but realised maybe halfway into my senior year I didn’t have much interest in going into the field. At that point, I had already taught English as a second language for a few summer jobs and decided to get certified during my final semester at school so that I could find work doing that until I was able to figure out what I wanted to do in the long term. I can’t remember if I had illustration explicitly in mind at the time, but I do know it was around then I started becoming drawn to editorial illustrations I saw in the New York Times and The New Yorker. I began to emulate some of the styles I saw in these publications in my doodles, and sometime during that last semester decided that I wanted to be an illustrator. The plan was to teach in France for two years and then do illustration full time. Which, luckily enough, is how it has worked out so far.

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Studio Basil Ann-Sophie Maeyaert, Creative Director Brussels

I actually graduated twice. First, I studied to become an interior architect in Brussels. At that time I already had a clear idea of where I was heading: the hospitality and retail industry. I noticed that the design agencies I looked up to were all ‘multidisciplinary’. To be able to stand out (and fit in) in that sort of environment, I headed to London for a second degree in Graphic Design.

After graduating I was super excited to start working, but real life kicked in soon enough: no experience, no job. I started doing internships, living off my parents and my savings account until I was lucky enough to be hired by B3 Designers as a junior graphic designer. They specialise in interior design and branding for amazing restaurant concepts, so I landed where I wanted to land, but on the graphic design side.

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Joel Burden Joel Burden, Illustrator Boston

I’ve come from a Graphic Design background, so I guess I planned to follow the well-trodden route after graduation and find some placements/internships in studios that sparked interest. By that time however, I was already riddled with mounting fear over whether I actually felt fulfilled by what I was doing, or I was just doing it because I’d already spent so long doing it. It’s hard to spend a chunk of your life striving towards something, only to find that the something isn’t necessarily what you wanted. After that I spent around a year almost in limbo. I knew I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue Graphic Design, and in equal measure, I wasn’t sure where that left me. With the gift of hindsight, this period was actually monumentally helpful in me getting to where I am now, at the time however, it left me deeply unsettled. Eventually, after some time away from everyone and everything and doing some fairly mundane jobs, you realise without that creative outlet to express yourself, something fundamental to your very being is missing. I moved home, and started fresh. That process naturally evolved into Illustration, and is still evolving into areas I wouldn’t of expected, like painting and sculpture.

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Classmate Studio József, Creative Director Helsinki

We did several pitches together for competitions and commission work during uni and so we hoped to continue to do this after graduating. We hoped that if all went well we would form our own collective or studio and here we are.

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Leonardo Design Studio Stéphanie Bergeron, Creative Director Montreal

After graduating from Graphic Design at UQAM (and even before), I was 100% sure I didn’t want to be a graphic designer. Creation wasn’t my strength. I liked presenting my work, even if it sucked, getting feedback from my peers and debating. So after graduation, I went working as a sales representant, then as a business analyst, to finally come back in design by founding Leonardo. I found another way to work in the field I love.

Marie-Andrée had no plan after her internship at Sid Lee, so she went freelancing for 4 years in agencies and with direct clients. Thanks to that path, because that’s what allowed us to have some clients when we first started the studio. We then grew our own client pool with time (and work).

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Marina Veziko Marina Veziko, Art Director Helsinki

It took me a couple of extra years to finish my bachelor’s degree – partly due to exchange studies and internships, but mostly due to motivational issues. I was really struggling with the “superficiality” of graphic design and often thought about quitting school and finding another career path which would allow me to contribute more to society.

After finally graduating I landed a job at a brand design agency. My initial plan was to stay there only for a little while and then maybe apply for a master’s degree in a slightly different field. Basically, I wanted to win more time and think about what I actually wanted to do. I ended up staying at that agency for more than three years – surprisingly I found myself really enjoying the work.

I guess working with real clients and helping them with real issues just felt a lot more fulfilling than designing beautiful typographic posters as we did at school. I also realised that branding doesn’t always have to be a synonym for greedy capitalism. I try to work with clients who I share the same ethical and ecological values. Nowadays I’m not that strict about everything having to be so “meaningful”. Sometimes it’s nice to create something that is purely aesthetic or just for fun.

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Forth + Back Tanner Woodbury, Creative Director Los Angeles

The short answer is no. We were in the same design program and had classroom dreams of starting our own studio together. Upon graduation, we gathered the small accumulation of work we had and put it up under the name Forth + Back. We went on to work at other studios in Los Angeles (Tanner at National Forest and Nik at Italic) for a handful of years, learning valuable skills not only about design, but also about everything it takes to run a studio. In our off-time, we would apply these skills to anything and everything we could get our hands on, and continue to build our portfolio with Forth + Back. Eventually, we felt stable enough to take the jump and devote our full time to running the studio.

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Fable Jiahui Tan, Creative Director Singapore

I was freelancing for quite a while through Army (males have to serve two years of army here once we turn 18) and during University. Long story short during the second year of University I met a client who screamed at me over the phone in the middle of the night threatening to sue me because I am “not a real company.” I logged onto the government portal and registered a business (with that client still on the line). Good for us our processes here online are decently fast. I then began to do up my legal documents the next day and got to learn more about running a business alone. One thing led to another and I began to take on bigger jobs from the various sectors. I continued upon graduation until today. In hindsight, I have to thank that client for doing what he did to me because without him I would never have registered a practice so soon. If you are wondering — I terminated his project the next morning after registering the business.

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Studio SPGD Surya Prasetya, Creative Director Melbourne

I studied Design at TAFE in Melbourne, and then moved on to studying Visual Communication at RMIT. After finishing university, I interned at a few design studios and worked as an in-house graphic designer for a fashion label in Melbourne.

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Elbert Uba Elbert Uba, Graduate Manila

There wasn’t really a concrete plan, but I wanted to work in a design studio and/or become a freelancer focusing on brand identity projects, because that’s what I knew and what I liked doing. What actually happened was completely different, though. A few months after graduating last year, I impulsively decided to move to Manila and apply to publications and studios doing experimental and playful work. I met the badass girl bosses at Bad Student and I’m super grateful for them because they taught me a lot of new things and helped me kickstart my career here. I owe it to them. Moving here was risky and difficult but I literally got out of my comfort zone and it was hella fun.

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Hannah Valentine Hannah Valentine, Illustrator Manchester

This is a lengthy one, but in short — yes and no! I wanted to go down the more traditional post-graduation route of interning and landing a full time role at a design studio, but I left university with a body of work I was neither proud of or happy with, and didn’t want to show it to the world under any circumstances. I had a really big love/hate relationship with third year, and it really knocked my confidence as a designer. At the time, I sort of knew what I wanted to to be doing but felt a huge pressure to create work for the sake of impressing tutors and getting better grades. I felt like every little detail of everything I did had to be conceptual and purposeful in order to score points when it came to marking, and that got me into such a tizzy of overthinking everything I created. I love being a conceptual thinker but it’s nice to just create sometimes. This was a proper head vs. heart time for me, but it was definitely an experience I learnt from. I found it quite hard being so lost with myself as a graduate while all my peers began to get jobs and opportunities in design. I didn’t feel ready or confident enough to apply to anywhere, so I began to slowly work on creating a portfolio of work I was passionate about, telling myself I’d be out of bar work and in a design job like everyone else by the end of summer. On a positive note, I think my bitterness about leaving uni definitely fuelled me to pursue the path I’m on now, which I really can’t grumble about!

Two years down the line and I’m still pulling pints, but I am totally okay with that. I work at The Pilcrow Pub, a craft beer bar brought to life by Standard Practice Studio (formerly OH OK LTD). I began working here at the start of my final year of uni, just as a part time job alongside my studies. What actually happened was that I upped my hours (because a gal’s got bills to pay!) and my General Manager at the time had me design a few posters for DJs and events at the pub. Only one or two a month, but it was “real life” work that I had creative freedom over and it finally gave me chance to post work online that I felt I was actually happy with. I set up self employed in the November after graduating, as I’d had a couple of queries about work and I wanted to do things by the book. For the first few months, I had a total of about 3 clients. It all felt a bit farfetched and pointless, but after a while things started to slowly pick up momentum.

Now, I’m back to being part-time at The Pilcrow (mostly because I genuinely really enjoy working there) alongside working one day a week as an in-house designer of sorts for the wider company that owns it, as well as numerous other bars and festivals in Manchester, plus as a freelance designer for hire. Things have kinda come full circle and I’m really happy with my path right now. It can be pretty hectic trying to fulfil three roles on a day-to-day basis, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I think what I took most from my “expectations vs reality” of graduating is that it’s fine to have a long term plan, but it’s important to nurture the opportunities which might grow on your doorstep too.

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Kayley Kemple Kayley Kemple, Freelance Designer Dublin

I tried not to think about it for as long as possible to not stress myself out, to be honest! I realised after a while and after seeing my peers getting their lives together that I needed to start planning for what I was going to do once I finished college. I made a list of all the places I really wanted to work and I reached out to them. I was lucky enough to get an internship lined up before I finished, at Post Studio in Dublin. The design community, especially in Ireland, is incredibly social — don’t be afraid to reach out because you never know what might happen!

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