Freelance Graphic Designer, Philly Smirk, was almost a lawyer. After 3 years into a law degree, and feeling very unenthusiastic about life, she quit and pursued design (yay!). Here we talk about the value of internships while you're still studying, doing assignments properly - the first time(!), and why fluoro green wrapped Christmas presents are a No No.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a control freak when it comes to design. I drafted architectural plans with proposed home renovations for my parents. I was only a kid, but I could always see room for improvement. As the self appointed Creative Director of our family Christmases, I would come up with the concept, style guide and table decor every year. God help any sibling trying to put mismatched ornaments on the tree. As annoying as I was, what I was doing is essentially what I still try to do today - create an overall experience and memory for people to enjoy. My sister may not have fond memories of me shaming her when she tried to put a fluoro green present under the tree (#neverforget) but every year the family would arrive, excited to see what I had come up with. I love capturing a mood, telling a story and seeing how people respond to it.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
The plan was to get a job as a Junior Designer in one of my favourite Studios, work under talented creative directors, expand my skill set and get some solid years of industry experience. That way, if ever I decided to start my own studio, I would have the skills necessary and a sound insight into the realities of running a business.
For whatever reason, it ended up the wrong way around. Job hunting took a back seat as the freelance work kept coming in. While it didn’t go according to plan, I’ve been learning as I go and am very appreciative for the opportunities given to me by some amazing clients.
I have recently started looking around to see what my options are for the year ahead. As much as I love freelancing, I do see a lot of value in working with and learning from talented creatives with much more experience than myself.
Who are your top five design crushes right now?
1. Christopher Doyle and Co
2. Pop & Pac
5. Studio Plastac
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self? At 16, I was about to sit my final year 12 exams, had already enrolled in university and was going to be a lawyer. While I’ve always been hard on myself, my family never pushed me. When I’m genuinely interested in something, I become obsessed with understanding everything about it. With that in mind, my parents always told me that no matter what I chose to do, I should do it well. That’s probably the career advice I would give to myself (unfortunately at 16 I ignored it).
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self?
1. Christopher Doyle and Co
2. Pop & Pac
5. Studio Plastac
At 16, I was about to sit my final year 12 exams, had already enrolled in university and was going to be a lawyer. While I’ve always been hard on myself, my family never pushed me. When I’m genuinely interested in something, I become obsessed with understanding everything about it. With that in mind, my parents always told me that no matter what I chose to do, I should do it well. That’s probably the career advice I would give to myself (unfortunately at 16 I ignored it).
Three years into a Law degree and feeling very unenthusiastic about my future, I finally understood. Find out what excites you most and do it very well. It doesn't matter what your profession, as long as it’s executed with integrity, attention to detail and a sincere love for what you are doing. Whatever you choose, there is always the potential to be exceptional. It may take longer than the more obvious choices, but if you're good at what you do, it will eventually pay off. I have a long way to go, but knowing I’m on the right path for the right reasons makes me excited for what’s ahead.
What has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
1. Value yourself, your time and what you bring to the table.
2. Choose your projects wisely and learn to say no. There’s no point weighing yourself down with projects that don’t inspire you to produce work you’re proud of.
3. Keep learning and expanding your skills.
4. Keep evolving your style. Quite often I look at my portfolio and wonder why it isn't more varied. I know I’m capable of adapting to different styles, but if that’s not communicated in my portfolio, how would anyone else know? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a signature style, but it’s important to be able to adapt in order to create the best design solution for each individual brief.
5. Ask for help and take the time to help others. It’s no secret that I’m not a technical genius. Fortunately, I have a lot of very talented friends who are and I often turn to them for guidance. We can’t know everything but if we all bring what we know to the table and share it, collectively we have it covered and can keep improving.
What advice would you give students starting out?
Short term, unpaid internships are valuable (as long as you are learning from the experience). As a student, I was so focussed on my own projects that I didn’t do any. As a graduate, I came to realise that I had made a big mistake. It’s not the end of the world, but it really affected my confidence and experience coming out of my studies. I ended up doing internships after graduating and only then did I realise how beneficial they really are.
Make the most of every student project. You may not get such open briefs again for a while. Do it properly the first time, every assignment is an opportunity to create strong design work for your portfolio and it pays off. A lot of clients have come to me after seeing my student work.
Spend time developing strong concepts. Don’t skip the details. It might not be obvious, but people do recognise and appreciate attention to detail and thoughtful design.
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