Notes for the Next Generation: A Journey From Intern to Senior Designer

Branding Design
Design Strategy

Earlier this year our Senior Designer (and author of a very popular article about Sketch and Illustrator), Matt Emmins, was invited to the University of Portsmouth to deliver a talk to the Graphic Design 2nd year students about working at Other Media, on life after graduation, including his personal journey from design grad to intern to senior, as well as offering the students some nuggets of advice that have helped him on his way.

We caught up with Matt to discuss how it went and what he took from the whole experience.

So how did this opportunity come about?

So I guess it’s come about as a result of my own graphic design journey, having graduated from the BA Hons course in Graphic Design at Pompey (Portsmouth) Uni, 6 and a bit years ago.

I’ve always had strong ties with the uni and kept in touch with many of the lecturers there, including my good friend Dan McCabe, who I have always looked up to as a design mentor from my first ‘dabblings’ in design. He got in touch knowing that my day to day work is focused on crafting beautiful digital solutions and this is something that he’s conscious to get the students more involved in and aware of.

What was your talk about?

I had 20 minutes, which seemed really daunting to begin with, but soon became a huge challenge to cram everything in that I wanted to say.

My talk covered a few different aspects including, initially, myself and who I am. I remember the talks that I have been to and taken the most from are the ones where I feel like you get to know the person talking a bit, over and above their professional career.

Following this I talked about Other Media and the work that we do for our clients, focusing on the collaborative nature of working in a multi disciplinary team and showing some examples of the work we do across mobile, web and brand.

The second half of the talk looked at my own journey and the trials I faced interning in multiple agencies before I settled here at Other Media. It was all rounded off with 5 pearls of wisdom that I wish I  had known before graduating, and things that I try to remind myself of daily.

And what were those pearls?

I had 5 little bits of advice:

Watch your widows

For the typographically uninitiated, these are a massive design faux pas. They are words that sit on a new line by themselves and disrupt the legibility and layout of multiple paragraphs of text. Whenever we get a CV in the first thing I check is whether they have let a widow slip through before I check their credentials. It’s a little thing, but it shows care and a critical eye.

The pencil is your friend

This one was a little bit tongue in cheek, and I framed it that the pencil would save their lives. Essentially the argument here is that you should always carry a pencil on you at all times, just so you can jot down all the info you need in meetings, so you don’t have to ask stupid questions later.

Keep it simple

Which is something I sometimes forget. As designers we all want to put our stamp or a bit of ourselves into a piece of work, but we have to remember that at the end of the day it’s usually better to refrain from adding extra details or visual effects. As the old saying goes: “form follows function”.

Be Honest

When I wrote this down, I initially was thinking about being honest with yourself, making the work that you want to and don’t morally object to. Like not working for an oil company or cigarette manufacturer for example, but it soon grew into being honest with others too. Especially during the interning process. Don’t just mindlessly agree with others because you think it’s what they want to hear. Be firm in your opinions and have an expression of your own. Critique confidently, no one likes a suck up.

It’s going to be ok

Finally, that it will be ok. There will be times when it will suck, and you will feel downtrodden and defeated, but by sticking at it and enjoying the process you will learn heaps and grow as a designer.

How did what you had to say go down?

It seemed to go well. The students were attentive and engaged with what I had to say. It’s always hard to gauge what people actually take from the experience, as no ones gives tends to give you immediate feedback but everyone listened closely and we had a couple of questions at the end of the session that opened up some discussion. The initial feedback from the teaching team was that we ticked the boxes in terms of what they wanted to drill into the students so I’d say we delivered.

Did you take anything away from the experience?

The whole process was really rewarding and gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own journey as well as validating the professional growth I have undertaken over these past few years. The teaching aspect of the group critique we took part in after the talk was really enjoyable. Bouncing ideas off each other and pushing the boundaries of conceptual thinking within the confines of the brief is something I want to practice more in my own work.

It also reminded me of how much time students have to work on their projects, rather than the fast paced, budget conscious ‘real world’.

Will you be doing more talks?

A follow-up talk for later in the year was discussed, as well as some further project reviews, and perhaps the opportunity to set some briefs for the students with a more digital focus. These are all just in discussion at the moment but it would be great if we can make it work.

It’s safe to say that I’d love to do it again, and would love to go and visit other educational establishments and give further talks. It was challenging but fun.

Check out some of the projects that Matt has worked his magic on here.