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5 things my design degree didn’t prepare me for

by Becky Byng | 22.07.2019

The prospect of the ‘real world’ and getting a ‘real job’ and being told about becoming a ‘real adult’ was something that I was always told about growing up in education, but was never something I thought I would have to actually act upon. Funnily enough I was wrong. Soon came the looming fear of my three-year degree ending and having to come up with a countless amount of make-shift replies to the dreaded question we all hate “So, what are your plans after Uni?”

With two weeks left of university, I spotted a post advertising the need for a Junior Graphic Designer at Tug Agency. I applied on a bus and had no expectations that It would go any further. Six weeks later and one month into my new role as a Junior Graphic Designer at Tug Agency, I now have a good response to the dreaded question we all hate, and an insight into the advertising industry. So, with my new-found experience, I proceed to delve into the hard-hitting facts of – what did university fail to mention and teach me about along the way?

The true meaning of a “fast-paced” agency

The first thing that university never papered me for was the pace of the real world. At university, the shortest project I can remember doing was four weeks long. It roughly went – one week of research, two weeks of experimentation and development and then one week of finalising and making.

As you can imagine, my first week on the job in an agency was definitely a wakeup call, to say the least.

It turns out that in an agency you aren’t finding yourself doing a week’s worth of research but maybe an hour or so before you make the needed creative, finish it off, send the files over for approval and start the next task on your list. What university needed to tell me was I should invest in a good pair of trainers, because you really hit the ground running in an agency.

Don’t think too hard about it

Many times, at university I would hear similar phrases thrown around the studio along the lines of ‘Think outside of the box’ and ‘Think conceptually’ not to mention ‘boring and simple won’t cut it’. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the purpose of an art university; it is a place to develop and push creative boundaries, however when you’re always used to being told to push and push, it’s even harder to restrain and pull back on the abstract ideas to more simple and literal design choices.

In an agency your work will be shared among the general public, who are busy and sometimes need obvious information and visuals straight away. Conceptual ideas aren’t the be-all and end-all of advertising. what University didn’t teach me was the different range of client expectations in design.

If you want to learn, teach yourself

For my BA degree, I attended a Communication College. I studied there for three years, doing briefs, creating work etc. With a graphic design degree though, there’s a certain element of nostalgia to it. Educators are afraid to let go of traditional methods of work.

My design degree didn’t teach us how to use digital software (kind of ironic how I ended up in a digital marketing agency). My university was the old printing college, meaning traditional techniques such as screen printing, Lithography, Letterpress, were encouraged rather than photoshop, adobe illustrator and Cinema 4D.

In the second week of being here at Tug, I was given a brief that required me to do a lot with after effects. Having never used it before, I watched a few tutorials and learned as I went along. With the expansion of digital design becoming more common, Universities need to promote and educate students of the suitable software available, as it’s only going to get more and more popular with advertising. And I’m sure in months to come I’ll be learning how to use other software on the job.

A design degree alone won’t cut it

When going through the interview stages at Tug Agency, I realised that they didn’t actually want to talk in detail about my in-depth knowledge of using digital grids and my strong love for san serif fonts, or even my passion for monochromatic colour schemes, but more about what I’ve done in my spare time and what I did outside of university.

Comments from tutors such as ‘getting a First will get you the best job’, ‘the creative industry is very competitive they only take the best.’ Yes, and they are right in some respects, however there was scarily ever any mention of how to make yourself stand out in the creative industry. Having a strong portfolio is one thing, and being an interesting person is another. The tutors at university didn’t ever push for extracurricular activities, it was something I did on my own accord. And when I was having my interview 50% of the time was talking about my work, yet the other 50% was talking about who I was as a person.

The “real world” is pretty great, actually

From my first nervous day, to my 4th week working at tug, I’ve experienced the fast-pace environment of the of advertising world, the unrealistic deadlines from clients and the need constantly learn and keep up to date with industry standard software, university forgot to mention one small thing – I’d enjoy it more!