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Our Founders Top Advice for Design Students

28 Sep 2023

As your new academic year kicks off, we’ve put together some advice from our founders to get the most out of your course.

Hello Students! Whichever year you’re about to start, we’re really excited for you. We LOVED the uni experience. This doesn’t mean we got everything right all the time, we certainly made plenty of mistakes, but we also learned how to be better designers. Our advice comes from some of the things we were glad we did, and some of the things we WISH we’d done, or that we’d known at the time.

YEAR ONE

  1. RELAX.
    Try not to get hung up looking sideways. You’re joining a fully mixed group – all with different types of experiences and exposure to the world of design. Everyone’s there to learn.

  2. PREPARE.
    Make sure you have access to a computer (ideally with Adobe Ai, Psd & InD) in and outside term times. Whether it’s familiarising yourself with the facilities at your uni, or investing in your own laptop or computer. You don’t need a new Mac – refurbished/PC options are just as good.

  3. DON’T FORGET YOUR PENCIL & PAD.
    You can’t avoid computers entirely, but there’s plenty you can do off-screen. Always have a notebook handy to take notes, write thoughts, doodles, scribbles directly or loosely relevant to your design projects. A5 is best so you can carry it everywhere. Grabbing a quick photo on your phone of interesting things you come across is also a good way to document.

  4. TURN UP.
    This seems obvious, but it’s easy to get sidetracked by social life outside of uni. Just turning up to lectures, talks and working in the studio may not instantly give you all the answers, but stick with it.

  5. ASK QUESTIONS.
    Trust your tutors and course know what they’re doing when they send you out on odd workshop tasks, but it’s always worth questioning and challenging to gain a better understanding of the relevance of each lesson.

  6. VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE.
    Speak to different tutors, and chat with your friends on other courses, a different perspective can be useful, and it’s the perfect time to explore.

  7. MAKE THE MOST OF RESOURCES.
    Remember how much you’re paying to be there. Use all resources available to you and campaign for anything you think you’re missing out on. It’s likely you’ll have access to equipment and materials you’ll struggle to get a hold of outside Uni.

  8. TUNE IN.
    Read up on the design world. Look up some of the popular blogs, books & magazines to find out what the conversations are.

  9. DO YOU.
    Fully embrace whatever makes you unique – there is no, one ‘model’ designer. You’ve made it this far, so you’re obviously a talented creative. Individuals are sometimes misunderstood through school years, but now you’re amongst your people. If anything got in your way of thriving previously, it could now be your strength. You can use this opportunity to work however suits you, and seek out any help or support available that will further improve your experience.

Stories from our Founders First Years:

L: Pre-Uni, I wanted to be a Physiotherapist. But after a gap year & a complete change of heart, I used clearing to get a spot on a Graphic Design course – something I loved, but never thought of as a career. It was the right choice, but having not been prepared and on a completely different path up to then, I started off feeling clueless and a bit behind.

J: I started on a college course to become a Paramedic, but it was cancelled after a year, so I opted for an Art foundation. This got me into uni on the Illustration BA, but over the first term, I realised it was too quiet and studious for me. I reached out to the Graphic Design head, and found this was better fit, and was able to move over from the second term with no problems.

YEAR TWO

  1. YOUR SPECIALISM.
    Depending on your course, this may be when you start to specialise in a certain area of design. To help you decide, take a look at what previous groups have produced and see what resonates most with you. You can also speak to peers and tutors to find out where each course leads.

  2. LOOK BEYOND.
    Check out some wider reading and interests. In the first years, it may have been helpful to get your bearings, and get stuck into the design world, but finding material and inspiration elsewhere will help you find some real gems.

  3. GROW SKILLS.
    Keep working on your basic skills – whether it’s getting to grips with Adobe, going to life drawing classes, or watching a YouTube on photography – get hands-on, and keep making the most of trying your hand at new techniques.

  4. STUDIO TIME.
    Work near your course mates, get their opinion. A fresh set of eyes can quickly spot something you’ve missed. You don’t have to agree or listen to every piece of advice, but it’s incredibly useful to have a sounding board to hand.

  5. INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE.
    Your uni should link you up with some live briefs, lectures and talks from industry, and will often give you the opportunity to visit a studio. These are all good experiences, as you’ll grasp what sort of agency or type of design you’re interested in. However, DO speak out if you feel there’s a lack in diversity amongst visiting studios and lecturers. Studios are made up of a whole mix of characters, and it can be disheartening to not meet anyone you feel akin to.

  6. NO SUCH THING AS A FAILURE.
    Don’t be disheartened by a project flop. You’re still learning how it’s done, some folks will pick things up faster than others, and some will find other projects more challenging. It’s better to push yourself than play it safe.

  7. KEEP GOING.
    If you’re struggling to figure out the perfect formula, you’re definitely not alone! The creative process is often messy and non-linear, and you only get better with more experience and practice. Keep digging, ask for advice, and make sure you’re open to changing direction. Taking a step backwards can sometimes help you move forwards.

  8. DON’T BE PRECIOUS.
    Ideas are cheap, getting them to work is hard. Know that your ideas and explorations are never lost, or never a waste of time. If an idea isn’t working, don’t be afraid to start from scratch.

  9. TAKE A BREATHER.
    Sometimes, you’ll get so close to a project, and so overloaded with design, the best thing to do is take a break and do something completely different. We call it ‘Creative Procrastination’, as mental breaks are like a re-start on your brain – we can see things much clearer once we’ve got a bit of exercise or had a short stint gaming…anything that takes our minds off the problem for a little while.

Stories from our Founders Second Year

L: James and I first collaborated at Uni. He can illustrate, and I can write, so we’d borrow each other to level up ideas. We also used housemates, other students, other departments and even reached out to some very kind strangers to help us bring projects to life.

J: I was able to land a couple of short, unpaid internships in my second year through uni competitions. Both gave me some good work to get stuck into (as all internships should), and helped me get ahead in terms of experience.

L&J: The second year was the most frustrating and turbulent. We all felt lost at points, moments of success would be followed by questioning what our course was even about or what we were supposed to be trying to achieve, what linked it all together and how to define it. 

YEAR THREE

  1. MAKE IT INTERESTING TO YOU.
    Select projects that you are personally interested in researching. You can also use your dissertation to support your practice. See it as an opportunity to answer a question you want to solve.

  2. GET TO KNOW THE INDUSTRY.
    Get to know potential agencies, find ones you’re interested in, and maybe even start up a conversation with them. Ask for a brief, or for their feedback on some of your work, or even for a visit to their studio.

  3. THINK PORTFOLIO.
    Also keep in mind your eventual portfolio and degree show, and make sure you have a variety of projects that position you for the sort of job you have in mind, whether it’s more big bold handmade ideas, slick premium details, or a mix of styles.

  4. YOU’LL NEVER PLEASE EVERYONE.
    It’s good to get a range of opinions, but don’t let a left field, or bad opinion throw you. Talk about it with someone who you trust will put you in the right direction, and you can either ignore it or find something helpful to take away.

  5. SEEK OUT TALKS.
    If there’s a design conference, talk, events or gathering – it’s worth turning up, as you’ll now have a new level of understanding. Listen, absorb and join in with some of the conversations in the industry.

  6. PRACTICE PRESENTING.
    Practice presenting you portfolio, so you know it inside and out. Make notes on each project, and think about the more personal questions industry may ask, like – why do you want to be in London? Why do you want to work here? What most interests you about design?
    You don’t need a rigid script, you just need to have some talking points ready to go to keep a conversation flowing.

  7. IF YOU THINK SOMETHING IS INTERESTING, TALK ABOUT IT.
    You don’t need bring everything with you to interviews. If there’s some background work, or some extra experiments or lengths you went to for you project, share it. You can even find a way to incorporate some of this journey into your portfolio.

Stories from our Founders Third year.

L: It was a field trip to the ‘AGI conference’ that really inspired my 3rd year. It gave me a whole host of thoughts and ideas from the most prominent figures in the industry to bounce off and explore. Even seeing there was conflict in opinion and approach within the industry was comforting. After that, I wasn’t as shy getting stuck in, because I knew the questions I wanted to ask.

J: I finally felt things clicking going into 3rd year. I was much clearer on how to approach a brief in my own way, and knowing when I needed to reign it back in and how to push it further, and it felt like a relief to finally got over the frustrations and confusion from second year.

James & Lizzie and the NUA Graphic Design course (+ friends) Circa 2014

GOING INTO INDUSTRY...

L: Some studio’s were intimidating, others were incredibly warm and relaxed. Don’t sweat the interactions that don’t go so well, you’ll find the best places for you will feel much easier – they should show you they’d like to work with you, just as much as you want to work with them. For me, it was a bigger London studio, I never expected would be a good fit, that took me in straight out of uni. They were set up to mentor and bring me up to speed with industry process, and I loved they did so much in-house that I could absorb.

J: I hopped around a lot of internships after uni. It was good to experience a few different places, as I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be, but it’s a bit of a financial strain in London, so I was grateful to eventually find a permanent spot with a start-up that suited me perfectly. I’m most happy figuring things out myself and doing a full range of jobs, which a smaller studio allows you to do.

If you’d like to ask us any questions, or if you want any advice on any of the topics we covered above, send us an email: info@librarydesignstudio.com with a bit about you. We look forward to hearing from you! 

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