HOW TO IMPRESS AT YOUR GRAD SHOW
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
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.