Starting out in Design? Here's my Advice....
We caught up with one of our design friends, Ed Ofori-Attah who kindly wrote us this article sharing his advice for young, creative people interested in starting out in design. We believe it's always good to share knowledge with the next generation and Ed's views on design education in this changing landscape are really eye opening.
I often get asked by students or young people how I got to the place that I’m at and I realised that it’s not something I’ve documented well over the years.
In the past social media wasn’t as big as it is now. But I have learnt quite a few lessons over the 10 years that I’ve been in the design industry and I’d love to share them with you. This will be the first of a string on many posts I’ll write in the future, but for this one I will focus on the infancy of a designers journey.
This advice is coming from my own experiences living in London as a digital product designer. This article is aimed at students whether you have just finished GCSEs or anyone who is looking to choose further education at any stage of their life. These individuals may know that they want to be in a creative career, they might even know specifically which route or they may have no clue. I will try and present a range of strategies to cater to each group I have described, giving my personal experience gained from my 10 years of being in the industry.
GCSE, A level and College students — The years of absorption
During my childhood and even till this day, I’ve always been absorbing things around me from a creative perspective. During secondary school all the way up to GCSE at times, it felt a bit much as we all know now some creatives learn differently, a great example of this is visual learning. Taking exams and writing essays were never my strong suit, but when it came to course work I got full marks for it. You have roughly 10–12 subjects to take in at the time. For example Maths, Science, English etc. These are all the necessary subjects for everyone the way I see it. You need Maths to know how to count your money and calculate your taxes. Science to know the way the world works around you. English is important so that you can read and understand your contracts and write down your ideas and so on and so forth.
So when you finish your GCSE’s and the weight of all other subjects are lifted. Here is where, from my experience, my recommendations begin.
Choices and Experimentations
During your GCSEs you should be making a conscious choice on what your options for A Level or college apprenticeship etc should be. If you already know which creative career or industry you want to get into, more power to you, you’re one step ahead. If you don’t know which pathway you want to choose, stay calm, it’s ok you have loads of time to think about it.
The key to these years of A-Levels and college, or should I say the ages of 16+ is ‘Experimentation’ and feeding your visual library. By this I mean get creatively practical. In your spare time, draw, paint, experiment and learn a different art or design program, experiment with different materials where you can.
From this, find out what creative medium you like or dislike. Go to free art events and join art communities online, be fearless when posting your stuff up and get constructive feedback from other artists. All these things will help to shape your view and hopefully open up doors for your future creative career. Within the classroom, if you choose Art, Product design and Media studies, these subjects will obviously help the process.
Nowadays, we have the traditional University route and not so traditional route with Youtube, Udemy and other online courses that teach design. I will admit, everything I learnt at university that was valuable to my growth to becoming a designer is also available in video form for you to pick from on these online platforms.
The only thing that University provides that some of these online courses don’t are the face to face support structure. For example, sitting down face to face with your teacher, lecturer or mentor and for them spending quality time to go over your work with you. This for me was invaluable, as it became very clear after these sessions on what I needed to do to become better as a designer. It’s also helped that the teachers were from the industry too.
But this is all subjective as it really depends on the quality of college, university and teachers. I was fortunate enough to have a great teacher at secondary school all the way through to college and also great teachers who were masters at their craft at university. But, I also showed the hunger and determination to learn which they also responded well to, and were more inclined to guide me as a result. This in turn gave me the best student-teacher dynamic in the subjects I took. If you do choose to go down the route of university then I would suggest going to one which specialises in the creative arts. Simply because you will be among other creative people who hope you can also pick up another compelling skill on the side. I went to UCA (University for the Creative Arts in Farnham). Some of my friends studied animation, photography and TV production. I would always pick up a cool trick or two from their subjects, thus gaining some knowledge of their processes and skills.
The major drawback with a university is that it is a big leap from the actual industry itself and normally students end up struggling to find work even with the best grades. In my opinion, this is because some university curriculums fail to simulate a real working studio environment, where students get to ask questions about the industry they are studying. Therefore being disillusioned about their skill level and how projects and the business of design actually works. Lastly, of course, the obvious financial dept that comes after you graduate is something you need to weigh-up. Which to me now that I look at it, does not make any sense.
If you choose to go down the online route, make sure you have a set structure for self-learning. Create something every day whether big or small. Meet up and network with others who are on the course or learning the same thing as you, as this helps you feel that you’re not alone. This also helps when you’re learning and seeing things from a perspective you never knew existed. I tried an online course myself, and I realised if I had before, I probably would have reaped the benefits of what I learnt. Next, arrange 1–1 sessions with your online tutor for at least 2 hours every week. This should be enough time for you to ask all questions etc. Have a study set up at home and make sure it’s clean. I can’t stress how much this is important. Self-learning is not an easy thing to do and requires discipline. A clean space to learn without distractions will definitely help you focus.
If you manage to take one of these courses, do the correct networking to build up your contacts and start building on your projects. You’ll be at an advantage. Networking if done right leads to opportunities and future work. What I found when I first started to interview for work in the industry after graduation was that the interviewer was always interested in the work I had done in my spare time or that outside of my course. As it was self-led, non-prescriptive and showed more of my personality along with my thinking.
Again all these things are from my experiences. Some people learn better alone and some learn best with others. The journey to a prosperous creative career is vast and exciting young Padawans.
So to put it simply, pick which way of learning works for you and don’t stop! Continue to improve as the creative domain is forever changing.
Peace, Love and Blessings to you all!
Ed Ofori-Attah - https://www.linkedin.com/in/ekasoa/