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.
I think the North of the UK definitely has a stereotype of being really friendly and welcoming, which in turn definitely creates a proper community within the design industry up here. It’s a pretty positive and supportive place to be, and it’s nice that the big cities like Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield are so close both geographically and socially. That definitely helps with getting clients as there’s a bit of a "six degrees of separation” feel to the North, where people are constantly recommending one another for work or sharing each other’s stuff online. Manchester is a really lovely place to be for young creatives as there’s a lot of people to look up to and learn from, but also a lot of things going on that create a demand for us to keep doing what we do.
Make things work for you! Things don’t always happen as we plan straight out of education, and that’s a-okay. Working a non-creative job for however long you need to is a reality, but that can work to your benefit massively. I know I’ve been lucky with working somewhere that’s got a creative background with its fair share of valuable contacts, but everywhere needs some form of design — offer to do posters, menus, logos, the works. It’ll get you into the swing of working for other people and keep your portfolio current. Sometimes, it’s not what you know but who you know, so use that to your advantage. Similarly, make social media work for you too; if you use it correctly it can open up a whole world of opportunities. A good 75% of my work comes from the right people stumbling across my Instagram, so being present on that is a pretty important part of what I do. And, even if you can afford to, don’t work for free! Unpaid internships are incredibly damaging to the creative industries in so many ways. Your time and talent is valuable.
Professionally, I’m currently working with Patagonia on a window campaign for their Manchester store which is super exciting! And I’ve got some pretty big projects going on behind the scenes with a few international clients which have been huge pinch-me moments. They won’t be live until next year though so keep your peepers peeled! Personally, I’ve just moved to a new apartment so decorating that and getting a proper mini studio-space going is going to be a work in progress for the foreseeable future. My boyfriend and I are super lucky to have such a gorgeous space to call home, and I’m absolutely loving injecting my love of colour and shape into it.
The best part for me is if I get positive initial feedback from a new client. I still struggle with finding the balance of what a new client is expecting from me initially, so I tend to over work myself a little to make sure I’m ticking all the boxes and it’s a huge sigh of relief when the response to that first batch of work is positive! It’s also really nice to be able to set my own schedule, but I struggle a bit with that too sometimes when it comes to juggling my different jobs. Things always work out but it can be super stressful sometimes if a brief takes longer than anticipated and consequently has a knock on effect on other work I have on. I’d say the time management of being self employed is the worst, especially with working late nights on the bar sometimes but I am much better at it now than I was a year ago. It’s a learning curve!
I think if we’re all a little more considered with who we work with and are aware of the ethics of the brands and individuals who hire us, we can definitely have a positive impact on the world culturally, socially and politically. Design and the creative industries in general are the driving force behind a lot of things, both good and bad, and I think it’s important to recognise this and make sure our skills aren’t contributing to the latter. It’d be nice to work alongside other people on collaborative, personal projects that get people thinking and bring some positive change about. I think “giving back” isn’t necessarily always a case of actually giving, but more so maybe preventing negative things and people from having a platform via our skills and abilities.