6 Key Tips for Graphic Design Students

There’s a mass of vague advice for graphic design students. A lot of wishy-washy information that misses the mark. If you’re looking for actionable advice as a graphic design student, this article is for you.

Here are 6 bits of advice, in 5 minutes, you’ll wish you’d had sooner.

1. Nobody cares about your degree. People only care about the results you create.

Design studios, agencies, and non-design businesses are wary of allowing students or graduates to touch anything. They don’t trust you. And relying on your degree to establish authority and prove your competence will only take you so far.

Instead, look at it this way: Your degree proves you’ve studied, while your portfolio and experience demonstrate your competence.

Strive for a solid grade inside your course, but externally learn how to prove you can do it. Learn how to sell, educate yourself in business and design strategy, and continuously apply and refine that new knowledge. You’ll shock yourself with how quickly you can excel.

2. Surround yourself with designers who challenge you.
“If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants”. — Issac Newton

Surround yourself with people who, through observation, show you just how little you know and how much you can improve. Not the nip-at-your-heel types, but those who direct you towards a potential, not even you’re aware of.

It’s instrumental that you work with designers, studios, and people far more knowledgeable and experienced than yourself will catapult you towards a greater competence.

Have friends that make you feel at ease, but when you want to achieve incredible career propulsion, surround yourself with badasses.

3. Experience. Experience. Experience.

Work experience should be your highest goal while at university. If you’ve gained none by the end of studies, good luck finding a job you like.

Experience reveals to you the real way to operate in the industry and not the make-believe version you adapt to in university. Tackling real-life briefs will show you just how much you need to improve and where. The more studios you intern at, the more you’ll be exposed to multiple methods of thinking, presentation, design technicalities and styles for the same type of work. If it weren’t for my 5-months of industry experience, I doubt I’d ever have made it as a freelance designer straight out of uni.

“Pick up the phone and start dialing”

Follow Jordan Belfort’s lead and pick up your phone. Students and graduates alike are scared of calling, opting instead for e-mails (which often gets overlooked or lost) and long anxious waits. By calling, you instantly get a reply and grant yourself an opportunity to grab a personal work e-mail. When you send a follow-up e-mail straight after your call, they’re more likely to spot you in their inbox and reply quickly. Rinse and repeat this, and you’re sure to nab yourself some work experience.

4. Ideas mean nothing if you can’t create them. Skill means nothing if you cannot think.

Don’t be an “ideas-focused” designer who can’t give form to their ideas. Don’t be a “technical” designer who cannot think or generate concepts.

If you’ve ever tried explaining an idea verbally, you’ll know too well that everyone has a different picture of how it looks, and from this picture, they decide whether it’s a good idea or not — a recipe for disaster when pitching to clients. Alternatively, if you’re only technically skilled, everything you make serves no purpose. Sure, you can make a cool pattern, and your typesetting skills are top-notch, but you’ve nothing to work with. Whichever side you fall, you become dependant on others.

A designer who can do both is an incredibly valuable asset, both to themselves and those they serve. You can formulate strategies, direct imaginations, and implement them with knowledge and precision. When you can take a complex idea or problem, and mould it into clear and concise visuals and solutions, you become indispensable.

5. Admire a designer/studio? Contact them.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Follow a studio that makes you question the boundaries of design or a thinker whose ideas implode your mind? Reach out to them.

A little flattery and an interesting question can be all that’s needed to start a conversation. I contacted Vince Frost back in 2018 with a simple question: “What top 3 things would you advise students/graduates should focus most of their time and efforts on?”. What I got was far more than I expected. Not only did he reply (what!?) but he checked out my whole website, offered me feedback, and gave me 19 answers to my original question. My mind was blown.

Turns out, getting in contact with big design names isn’t as difficult as we may seem to think. Sure, it’s not always going to be easy and nor should we expect anything of them, but it is certainly possible.

I think I speak for the design industry when I say that we are always happy to lend a hand to a newbie designer who’s ambitious, curious, and humble. So after you read this, contact someone!

6. You have 3 years. Read like your career depends on it, because it does.

Students drink plenty but read little. Great if you’re trying to enjoy the “student life”, but not so great if you’re trying to leave with a career. Whatever your view on the quality of education at your university, you need to be reading as much material as you can get your hands on.

Design books are beautiful but often tend to be picture books for adults. Open yourself up to the world of literature. Business, politics, fiction, self-improvement, psychology, philosophy, anything that grabs your fancy! Don’t fall into the little graphic designer bubble and only read about graphic design. Expand your knowledge!

Here are some personal book recommendations:

  1. Chimpanzee Politics
  2. This is Marketing
  3. The Obstacle is the Way
  4. The Alchemist
  5. Nineteen Eighty-Four
  6. Children of Time
  7. For Two Thousand Years
  8. On the Shortness of Life
  9. A Tale for the Time Being
  10. Designing News
  11. Type: New Perspectives in Typography
  12. Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This
  13. Why Fonts Matter
  14. A Smile in the Mind
  15. Life lessons from Kierkegaard
  16. Life Lessons from Nietzsche
  17. Thinking With Type
  18. A Little Life

Be the first to see new articles, projects and updates