Into the real world: Designers recount their first job experiences

Into the real world: Designers recount their first job experiences
What they don't teach you at university: Kiwi designers reflect on their first industry jobs and what they learned from the experience.

You'll definitely want to pick up a copy of our next issue, out this Easter – one of our feature stories digs into the creative rite of passage of working for free and how it relates to design in particular. That culture shows no signs of abating - whether you're starting out and looking to fill your portfolio or more established yet finding yourself pitching for project after project - so it's important for us as professionals to draw our own lines in the sand.

In speaking to AUT senior design lecturer KarolWilczynska for this story, she offered up some insight about getting started in the industry.

"Don’t go and work with a one-man band. Go and work in a studio - up to 10 people," she says. 

Learning everything from one person can limit your understanding, as s/he will inevitably have a fixed view on certain things, and being exposed to diverse perspectives is a good thing.

"You won't get the many voices that are required to understand what you need to learn to deal with clients, pitch ideas, negotiate, review the way you work, learn to increase your level of confidence with certain media – photography, online tools, etc."

​With that in mind, I decided to ask a few Kiwi designers about their first jobs. Read about their experiences below!

Amy Potter - independent designer and creative director, Leaping Tiger

See: hellomisspotter.com / leaping-tiger.com

First job felt like an extension of university, so much more learning to be done! I was offered it out of our end of year exhibition, working at Cluster Creative in Wellington.

Laura Cibilich - design director, Designstein

See: designstein.co.nz

My first design job was at a small communications agency (which no longer exists), which I got after the directors saw my portfolio at my end of year show. I learnt all the industry basics of what to do and what not to do, that design school just can't teach you.

There was only one other designer/art director there, who taught me so much. We worked together on all projects, which was a great opportunity for me to grow and learn, as well as work on a variety of projects from start to finish, which I'm very grateful for.

Brendon O'Dwyer, designer, Dow Design

See: twitter.com/designetica

As you'll find with most designers — I started taking on freelance work whilst I was studying. This was an advantage to have some 'real world' work in my portfolio. After I graduated, I landed my first full-time job as a designer in a small studio on the North Shore. Our main focus was with film distribution clients, and I worked on a broad array of media including print and digital. If I remember correctly I found the ad via Seek and landed an interview. I learned a lot there that I probably should have learnt during study — but I think we all know this is another issue.

Soon after I became a regular writer and events organiser for Design Assembly NZ, and I have to give them a shout out here because I cannot explain how important it is to get involved within the design community outside of work. The connections you make are vital to your success. 3–4 years later and I'm happy to say I'm now working in a larger more prominent design agency with some very passionate people. We work on everything from branding to packaging. You've gotta start somewhere, and I know its tough out there for grads. Just stay passionate, and love what you do — people will see that in your work and it'll carry you a long way.

Louise Kellerman - founder, Design Assembly

See: designassembly.org.nz / louisekellerman.co.nz

It took me three months to get my first job which was as a junior designer for North & South magazine, found through looking at job adverts in the (printed) Herald.

After three months there the design studio I had done work experience at in my final year called and offered me a junior designer role there. I took it, as I felt that magazine design was too specialised for me to start my career off with.

I spent three and a half years in my first job working on a huge variety of clients and learnt heaps about the business of design, the reality of starting out as a junior designer (and how much Photoshop work you do) and how to work with people - both my clients my co-workers!

Charli Prangley - marketing designer, Xero

​See: charliprangley.com

Here's what Charli said about her first design job when we interviewed her recently:

"My first full time design job was at Mitsubishi Electric. I learnt so  much there because the team was really small so I was able to take on a lot of responsibility and learn quite quickly about inhouse design."

Evie Kemp - independent designer and illustrator

See: eviekemp.com

And Evie Kemp's take:

"After I completed my Bachelor of Design at AUT I worked as a Mac operator in the ad department of the NZ Herald. I learnt a lot from my time there and I know I'm a faster, if not better, designer for it."