A a grad­u­ate D&AD trustee give their and per­spec­tives on how to present your de­gree show in the best way, win plau­dits and wow all po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers

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A D&AD trustee and grad­u­ate give their per­spec­tives on how to best present your de­gree show work

Grad­u­ate show time is upon us again. And if you’re among those fran­ti­cally pre­par­ing to show­case your work to the pub­lic, the pres­sure will be well and truly on.

Lead­ing de­sign agen­cies and noted de­sign lead­ers are known to pe­ruse the sum­mer shows to keep an eye out for new tal­ent – and this is pos­si­bly your best op­por­tu­nity to im­press them. So how do you make the most of it, and make your work stand out?

To get some an­swers, we asked two D&AD ex­perts to share their hon­est and un­fil­tered views. First up, New Blood trustee Tom Man­ning ad­dresses the is­sue from the point of view of some­one who him­self grad­u­ated (rel­a­tively) re­cently. Then we hear from some­one more se­nior – L A Ron­ayne, D&AD trustee and cre­ative di­rec­tor at Stink Stu­dios – who reg­u­larly vis­its grad shows with thoughts of re­cruit­ment in mind.

Both, in their dif­fer­ent ways, of­fer a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into how the peo­ple who mat­ter will view your show, and re­veal must-read ad­vice on ex­actly how to please them.

The pri­vate view of my grad­u­ate show marked a sig­nif­i­cant moment. In the space of one evening, I broke out of the co­coon of arts ed­u­ca­tion, emerg­ing as a fully-de­vel­oped pro­fes­sional de­signer. Well, that’s how I feel look­ing back on it now. But the sig­nif­i­cance of a grad­u­ate show can eas­ily be over­looked when jug­gling mul­ti­ple projects, pre­par­ing to sub­mit a port­fo­lio, pulling all-nighters, and fend­ing off an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis about life af­ter uni. These were all se­ri­ous con­cerns as I wrapped up my de­gree, but in hind­sight I’m glad I gave my grad­u­ate show some love and at­ten­tion. It wasn’t just a sym­bolic mile­stone. It jump-started my ca­reer and it can do the same for you too. Here’s how. SE­LECT YOUR BEST PIECE OF WORK This sounds like a no-brainer, right? But when I say best, I mean best to help you stand out on the night. Of­ten you only get to en­ter one piece, so you’re ask­ing a lot of it. It has to rep­re­sent you: show­cas­ing your char­ac­ter as a de­signer, as well as lay­ing out your in­ten­tions for the type of work you want to make. Af­ter all, sub­mit­ting a piece of con­cep­tual pho­tog­ra­phy when you want to do UX de­sign is likely to leave peo­ple scratch­ing their heads.

Also think about how easy it is to ‘get’. If the work feels like an es­o­teric in-joke, then I’ll just as­sume it’s not for me and keep mov­ing. But if a piece makes an im­me­di­ate vis­ual im­pact or sub­verts some­thing fa­mil­iar, I’m forced to lean in and take a sec­ond look. As a re­sult, I’m much more likely to un­der­stand the un­der­lying con­cept and jot down the de­signer’s name. PRESENT WITH PRIDE Re­mem­ber at school when teach­ers would tell you to tuck your shirt in and make your tie an­other three inches longer? Well, you need to give your grad­u­ate show piece the once-over of a strict head­mistress. Make sure your images aren’t pix­e­lated. Your show might be the first time you’ve cho­sen to print at A1 in­stead of A3 – so make sure the im­age can stand up to what you’re ask­ing of it. Once it’s printed, mount it well. There’s al­ways some­one on your course with magic hands when it comes to ap­ply­ing SprayMount with­out bub­bles or creases. Bribe them with a drink and get them to do it for you. Look af­ter it as you bring it to the gallery space, and mind the cor­ners! Get some­one to proof­read your caption – you’re a com­mu­ni­ca­tor, that means ver­bal and vis­ual. So check for ty­pos, and try to write like you talk, as if you’re ex­plain­ing this idea to a friend in the pub. VOL­UN­TEER TO SET UP THE SHOW Of­fer­ing your­self up for ex­tra work may seem like mad­ness in your fi­nal term, but hav­ing a say in how the show is branded, pro­moted and laid out, helps you get a sense of the event be­fore it hap­pens. Not to men­tion you’ll get your pick of the spot to display your work. Some­what less self­ishly, this is also your chance to sac­ri­fice for the greater good of your course­mates.

When it came to or­gan­is­ing his show, de­signer Olly Bromham knew he wanted to be a part of the show from the be­gin­ning. “I’ve al­ways been a fan of grad­u­ate show web­sites as they usu­ally re­veal some­thing about that year and the way they work. Or­gan­is­ing and brand­ing a show was a big­ger project than any of us had worked on be­fore and I learnt a huge amount from be­ing part of a larger team.” Bet­ter to be re­mem­bered as that team player who al­ways had a spirit level and tape mea­sure to hand. Af­ter all, you never know who you might end up work­ing with one day. SEND OUT SOME IN­VI­TA­TIONS An empty grad­u­ate show is the worst. A grad­u­ate show full of proud (or con­fused) par­ents is bet­ter, but still not ideal. Your show is the per­fect rea­son to reach out and make your­self known to in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als that you ad­mire. Phys­i­cal in­vites could be a good way to go. It’s rare to get a beau­ti­ful piece of phys­i­cal mail these days, and odds are it’ll do a bet­ter job of get­ting them to at­tend. But maybe for a more per­sonal touch, why not slip a short hand­writ­ten note into the en­ve­lope too?

Once you’ve sent the in­vi­ta­tions, re­mem­ber to look out for your guests on the night. Just imag­ine be­ing in­vited to a party and then get­ting blanked by the per­son that in­vited you – crush­ing, right? So in­tro­duce your­self, thank them for com­ing, help them find their way to the bar, and then let them know where you are so that they can swing by your work. TRAD­ING PLACES On the night it can be tricky to know where to stand. Do you stay near your work? Do you roam around? Do you talk to ev­ery­one or no one? I rec­om­mend think­ing of your­self a bit like a shop as­sis­tant; you want to be help­ful, friendly, but not over­bear­ing. Don’t put peo­ple un­der pres­sure to buy. A sim­ple trick to try is swap­ping places with a friend that has a piece of work nearby. If some­one likes your piece your friend can point them in your di­rec­tion and vice versa. This can help you feel less ‘in the spotlight’, mak­ing con­ver­sa­tions more re­laxed and in­for­mal. FOL­LOW UP Busi­ness cards; they’re as es­sen­tial as they are old fash­ioned. Don’t be afraid to hand them out if you have a good chat with some­one. Also, ask if they have a card. There’s noth­ing worse than en­joy­ing a beau­ti­ful en­counter, then spend­ing the next day by the phone, wait­ing for them to call.

When the show’s over, al­ways fol­low up with an email. Noth­ing com­pli­cated. Just, “it was great chat­ting to you last night, I hope you en­joyed the show, here’s a link to my on­line port­fo­lio, I’d love to get your thoughts if you get a moment”. Ca­sual and sim­ple. And on that note, make sure you have a fully-up­dated web­site or PDF port­fo­lio ready to send to them. CEL­E­BRATE (AF­TER THE SHOW) You’ve se­cured an al­co­hol spon­sor for the show, hooray! There’s a free bar on the night, hooray! It’s 7:30pm and you’re al­ready drunk on ar­ti­san gin – shit!

Like I said, the grad­u­ate show marks a sig­nif­i­cant moment. It’s a time to cel­e­brate your achieve­ments, drink the last of your stu­dent loan, and plot how you and your class­mates are go­ing to take over the world, or at least the de­sign in­dus­try. But please get drunk af­ter the show’s over. I’ve at­tended pri­vate views with stu­dents fall­ing over, chas­ing each other, and only just stop­ping short of slid­ing around on their knees like it’s a school disco. Trust me, it’s not a good look.

The morn­ing af­ter the pri­vate view, through the fog of your hang­over, feel free to con­grat­u­late your­self. You’ve done it. You’re a grad­u­ate, a cur­rently-out-of-work pro­fes­sional, and if you did your very best to shine on the night, I doubt you’ll be out of work for long.

Hold onto your five pan­els, it’s hirin’ sea­son! For the dis­cern­ing cre­ative di­rec­tor, this means the ev­ery­day ma­nia of life plus the fol­low­ing: meet­ings about in­tern­ship pro­grammes and hir­ing bud­gets, spread­sheets with names in YES, NO and MAYBE columns, the first icey-cider clink­ing in­tros out­side pubs, that weird heat­wave day that comes but once a year and – some­where amongst it all – your grad­u­ate show. So how are you go­ing to stand out?

If I was be­side you right now, this is the ad­vice I would be whis­per-shout­ing in your ear like a slightly judge­men­tal, but well dressed aunt. STOP RIGHT THERE – DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT? Con­sider, if you will, the big­ger pic­ture. What is it that you want? I’m go­ing to go ahead and as­sume ‘job’. But where? There is a mosh pit of agen­cies and stu­dios and brands out there and we’re all com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Be­fore you touch even one sin­gle VEL­CRO Brand Heavy Duty Stick On Strip, re­search who it is that you want to im­press and why. They are the tar­get au­di­ence in your bid to get hired. Your show is one thing that could get their at­ten­tion. NEPO­TISM Not all se­nior peo­ple go to grad shows and none of us make it to them all. We might favour the places we stud­ied (What’s up, Cen­tral Saint Martins?), or the or­gan­i­sa­tions we are in­volved in (<3 you, D&AD New Blood); but largely and lazily we rely on trade press to let us know who we should be pay­ing at­ten­tion to. GET READY TO SHINE A LIGHT ON YOUR BEST SELF You should fig­ure out who’s at­tend­ing from the fine likes of Com­puter Arts, Cre­ative Re­view and It’s Nice That and woo them with your cre­ative pea­cock­ery. But also think about what you’re show­ing in terms of a head­line in your book. “Just some stuff from my de­gree year” won’t have them storm­ing the arena. ‘THE SPACE’ Now fo­cus on ‘the space’. Call­ing rooms ‘the space’ is deeply unsettling and shouldn’t be en­cour­aged; but for those of you used to work­ing on com­puter screens, I’m afraid you must adopt this line of think­ing. What looks nice on a lap­top isn’t nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to be beau­ti­ful and vis­i­ble from 20 paces in a packed out ‘space’. Your work needs to play to the peo­ple in the cheap seats. THE AGE OF IN­STA­GRAM Oh we as a species do en­joy shar­ing pic­tures that demon­strate how rich and var­ied our lives are, don’t we? Think about what you’re go­ing to display that will com­pel peo­ple to take their phones out and se­lect a fil­ter. The per­son whose at­ten­tion you want may not be there on the night, but if lots of their pals take pic­tures they may as well be. Here’s a handy se­ries of key­words to greatly in­spire your think­ing: Big! Eye-catch­ing! Provoca­tive! Noisy! Opin­ion­ated! AD­VER­TISER’S TEARS Fash­ion, pho­tog­ra­phy, illustration, de­sign and film all look won­der­ful in gal­leries. If you’re not a craft-driven cre­ative, pure ad ideas – no mat­ter how bril­liant – are a harder thing to show off. ‘Big think­ing’ is green juice to this in­dus­try, an es­sen­tial di­etary re­quire­ment. You just need to find a way to make yours look ap­peal­ing. SIDESHOW One of my favourite parts of the D&AD New Blood Fes­ti­val is a mini event where in­dus­try types are in­vited to lis­ten to cre­atives do a five-minute pre­sen­ta­tion. In 2016 I was there with my friend/men­tor/for­mer boss, the then D&AD pres­i­dent, now CCO of Deloitte Dig­i­tal UK, Andy San­doz. We were still work­ing to­gether at the time. And we were hir­ing. A chap from Leeds called Lyn­darn Har­ri­son got up and told us a tale about be­ing good at swim­ming and one about be­ing bad at mak­ing beer. “We should talk to this guy” San­doz What­sApped from the back of the room. And within the week Lyn­darn signed his first con­tract. The moral of this story is, maybe try and put on a sim­i­lar event at your show. BLACK, LEATHERETTE PORT­FO­LIO CASES They make me so sad. If I am backed into a cor­ner with one I feel like I am go­ing to re­live ev­ery not great scamp of a not great idea I’ve ever seen. Ab­so­lutely nowhere does it dic­tate that this is how you should show your work. Find a way to do some­thing fab­u­lous in­stead. Please, do it for me. THE BUSI­NESS OF BUSI­NESS CARDS: PART ONE Go­ing to grad shows is like go­ing through a car­wash. One emerges on the other side dizzy and glis­ten­ing with the pos­si­bil­ity of re­newal, but hard pressed to namecheck a spe­cific bris­tle. Put some­thing smart and fun on a card and hand them out. Also, go easy on the gim­micks. I’m all for treats, but I’m all good for a haiku whit­tled into a bit of a tree that won’t fit in my hand­bag. THE BUSI­NESS OF BUSI­NESS CARDS: PART DEUX If some­one gives you your card, think care­fully about the fol­low-up email you send. You’ll likely be ask­ing for more of their time, so try and do so with as much charm as pos­si­ble. Per­sonal anec­dote: I only take one or two of mine along to these things and only hand over to folks who are sound as well as tal­ented. THERE IS NO TEAM IN “I GOT THE JOB” I’m sure your friends are all very nice and I know you take pride in your alma mater, but if the show iden­tity isn’t your own sweat and blood, go easy on themes and group ac­tiv­i­ties. Show us what you (sin­gu­lar) have got. We can’t hire ev­ery­one. ALL EYES ON­LINE Your ex­hi­bi­tion is the party side of your port­fo­lio. It’ll be a bril­liant ex­pe­ri­ence, but the ul­ti­mate place to show off how ace you are is the in­ter­net. Plan how you’ll steer peo­ple to your In­sta­gram, Twit­ter or site. That’s where you’ll re­ally make ‘em fall for you.

Good luck. I hope to be read­ing rave re­views about you soon.

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