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The Life of Design: Uni vs. the Real World


Are graduate designers getting the best experience at uni? Gemini People's Sean Williams explores

The Life of Design: Uni vs. the Real World

After graduating from university with a degree in Industrial Design, and now specialising in finding amazing talent within design – it’s safe to say that there is a lot that, as an undergrad designer, you don’t learn prior to entering the big wide world of design in London. This city is full of all kinds of brands and agencies, constantly innovating and striving for a competitive edge over the other. Our designers aren’t. There could be a few reasons for this; is our curriculum outdated? Are students not getting enough mentoring from heavy-weight creatives? 

Don’t get me wrong, life at uni was incredible and totally unforgettable for so many reasons from sport and social to all-nighters stressing over projects. However, I believe that there are times where we as students have a tendency of getting trapped in a bubble, and it’s difficult to get out of that when moving into a full-time job.

Stand out

During my experience at uni, we were known as ‘the best student designers in the country’ which sounds great (I definitely used that quote a few times in interviews!) However, with this label came a responsibility to work hard but play it safe. We were tailored to work in a certain way and discouraged to think outside the box or innovate because this wouldn’t get us the extra marks. In the industry it’s a totally different story, if you want to be a great designer in a top agency, you need to do something out of the ordinary.

I will always encourage my designers to own their unique style, don’t change it. When it comes to putting your portfolio together, put in some projects that you have done in your own time – projects that will stand out from the crowd, that interest you and you’re excited to talk about. Don’t be afraid to throw in some conceptual projects, backed up by live projects for clients.


I’m not the only one who can admit that lectures can get a little tedious. Ever wondered why? It could be because, as design students, we want to be inspired by cool stuff, real-life case studies. My theory is that there aren’t enough heavy-weight creatives in the industry giving talks to these Uni students. This could be so beneficial for a student to understand the kind of things they could be working on every day and what life could be like after education. Even something as simple as how an agency is run from top to bottom and the place of new designer in that structure. 

Wrong software?

I learnt some amazing things across the entirety of my course. Things like how to use 3D CAD, Adobe Creative Suite, branding, UX design and more. The problem was, whenever it came to look for jobs over my placement year, agencies wanted designers to work in programmes that I had never heard of before… What’s Sketch? Invision? Maya? Cinema4D? It was only until I started working in the industry that I realised this software exists. If you’re even remotely interested in hearing about new software in design – communicate and connect with other designers on LinkedIn (people are friendlier than you think), follow hashtags on Instagram, or just pin cool stuff on Pinterest. You’ll start to notice trends on who’s using what. When it comes to actually trying to learn new software, you don’t need to spend your entire student loan on workshops and online subscriptions – try grasping the basics on YouTube and building your knowledge from there.

I could go on but before completing boring you, I will finish up with this. Times are changing, and as a designer learning at university, you need to react to the change. I recommend challenging the questions asked by lecturers to find out how and why you should use that particular software and how is that going to be more useful in the industry or how to prepare for full-time work and more often than not, they will give amazing feedback. Do things that will help to increase your knowledge of the industry – go to events and network with people living and breathing the creative industries – consider doing some voluntary freelance work – or even try and set up a meeting with a designer in an agency (if you’re brave enough!). And if all of that fails, drop me a line and I’ll bore you some more.

Sean Williams is a consultant at Gemini People

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Major Players, Fri, 18 Jan 2019 11:46:56 GMT