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The Dots held a Graphic Design Portfolio Masterclass at the world’s largest independent design consultancy – Pentagram.

This was to give talented budding Graphic Designers the opportunity to have their portfolios reviewed by Pentagram Partners and a handful of the UK’s top Creative Directors, Art Directors and Heads of Design.

During this time, The Dots team managed to steal a few minutes with each of the industry leaders to ask them for their top tips for Graphic Designers.

3 Top Tips For Breaking Into The Industry

3 Top Tips For Breaking Into The Industry

Photo by Jack Woodhouse

1. Be proactive

One of the top tips we got from all of the industry leaders, was that they expect aspiring Graphic Designers to go above and beyond to break into the industry.

Leif Podhajsky’s (renowned Graphic Designer/Art Director) advice for someone trying to break into the industry was to, “make things happen for yourself, you can’t just wait for something to happen. So go out there and do something different.”

Corrie Anderson (Head Lecturer at Shillington College) supported this, stating that her advice for those aspiring to get into the industry is to, “jump in. If it’s something that you’re passionate about – go for it. Work hard at it. Don’t think that it’s going to come easy, but enjoy the ride at the same time”.

2. Have brains and balls

Ben Marshall (Creative Director at Landor) made a very similar point by suggesting that to get into the industry, you need “a bit of brains and a bit of balls! For example if you’re on a placement, you’ll have briefs and you’ll have work to do, but actually keep an eye out for the bits in-between the brief because there’s a much more powerful chance to make an impression at that point.”

In short, make sure you find spaces in-between the lines where you think you can add value and make yourself irresistible.

3. Follow your heart

As corny as this heading is, it’s one of the best pieces of advice we could give to Graphic Designers and everyone else.

Harry Pearce (Partner at Pentagram) told us to, “get close to things that you care about, don’t just take a job for the sake of it, just wait […] that’s the main thing I would say”.

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

What do you look for in a Graphic Designer? 3 Top Tips

What do you look for in a Graphic Designer?

Photo by Jack Woodhouse

1. To Listen

It may not have seemed an obvious point, but it is absolutely vital to show potential employers that you can listen and take on board instructions and ideas.

Naresh Ramchandani (Partner at Pentagram) claimed that in a Graphic Designer he looks for “someone who listens – they’ve really got to be responsive.”

Listen to others and take on board what they have to say – it’s the best way to learn and grown.

2. Take Risks

We get it – it’s a lot more comfortable to play things safe. But how are you ever going to stand out from the crowd if you don’t ever push the boundaries?

Timba Smits (Creative Director at TCOLondon) said that the main thing he looks for in a Graphic Designer is “somebody whose mission is to do something that everybody else isn’t doing. It’s about the point of difference, the passion and the drive to want to achieve that.”

Strive to be different and show your passion for thinking outside the box.

3. Work well with others

One of the great things about this industry is that more often than not you get to work with others. Great if you work well with people… Not so great if you consider yourself as more of a ‘lone wolf’.

Jane Scherbaum (Deputy Head of Design at the V&A Museum) told us one of the main things she looks for in a Graphic Designer, is “‘team spirit’. When I’m putting together a project I want people who can ‘riff’ off each other, share their ideas”.

2 Top Tips For Putting Together A Standout Portfolio

2 Top Tips For Putting Together A Standout Portfolio

Photo by Jack Woodhouse

1. Show off your technical skills.

A common point among the industry leaders was the notion that you should show all of your abilities in your portfolio – but make sure it’s interesting.

Leif Podhajsky in particular said “I would like to see a set of designs where you can show me a good layout, where you can pick a typeface, that you’ve got basic coding skills, that you can take a photo, that you can do something from concept all the way through to completion […] if you can show me an interesting way of how to do those then you’ve got a pretty good portfolio”.

2. Less is more!

That being said, you don’t want to overload the interviewer with heaps of projects and briefs you have done. As Paul Pensom (Art Director, Creative Review) says, “always remember that your portfolio is a calling card, not a filing cabinet, so don’t throw everything into it. You’ll be remembered for one or two pieces so choose carefully and edit ruthlessly.”

Jane Scherbaum (Deputy Head of Design at the V&A Museum) agreed with this, adding that one should “edit, edit, edit. Distil everything down to the really really strong projects that communicate what you as a Designer are about. Include work that you can really talk about, what’s the central idea to each project, distil it down to that. Think about who the portfolio is going to be shown to, tailor it and that all comes back to ‘edit, edit, edit’”.

If it’s good enough for Jane to repeat it’s good enough for us – EDIT!

4 Top Interview Tips

4 Top Interview Tips

Photo by Jack Woodhouse

1. Prepare & Research

It’s not enough now to simply know what to say about your work. Research the agency that you’re applying for, research the interviewer. Make sure when you’re in the interview you know what the agency stands for and why you think you would be a good fit. As Harry Pearce (Partner at Pentagram) told us, “my tips for an interview are to be calm, be clear, know about the person that you’re meeting. Understand their work”.

Don’t just prepare to impress them, prepare yourself for criticism too. As Corrie Anderson (Head Lecturer at Shillington College) perfectly summarised, “be prepared to take on criticism as people will ask questions and potentially be critical”.

Being critiqued is a valuable part of growth, so take it on the chin.  If you respond positively to criticism you’ll earn massive brownie points with potential employers. Think of it as training for when you present work to clients – remember, they’re not going to love everything you do!

2. Be confident, be friendly & be inquisitive.

Timba Smits (Creative Director at TCOLondon) top interview tip is to “come into that room and just try to be as natural as possible. I know it’s hard to say but at the same time, I’m just a person… I’ve been in the exact seat that you’ve been in so just walk in there with a bit of confidence and a bit of flair behind your portfolio”.

So, if you’re really nervous before an interview, just remember that whoever is interviewing you has been in the exact same position, knows how you’re feeling and can totally empathise!

Paul Pensom in his brilliantly succinct fashion summarised his tips like this – “be confident, be friendly and be inquisitive”.

3. Explain process behind the idea, tell a story.

Naresh Ramchandani (Partner at Pentagram) strongly advocated this idea, telling us that you should “really take the trouble to explain your work as you are showing it, rather than assume the work explains itself. I think the narrative, the heart and the intention that you’ve got behind the campaign or the piece of work is as much what you’re buying when you hire someone as the piece of work itself. The personality has got to come out, as well as how accomplished you are”.

Employers are looking for people who have great ideas, so explaining the story and process behind work is a great indication of how your mind works.

4. Be Succinct, don’t waffle.  

Saying that, lengthy explanations aren’t every interviewers cup of tea, so be succinct.

Don’t overload the interviewer with information. If they’re interested, they’ll ask. As Timba Smits puts, “let your work do the talking and just try to be the rose amongst the thorns”.

Harry Pearce actually preferred to simply look at the work – “let the person who’s interviewing discover your work rather than over explain it or kind of over embellish the story. I think so many people come to an interview with me and tell me how much fun they had doing something – I’m really not interested in that. I’m interested in the quality of what you’ve brought to show”

I guess the key point is every interviewer is different, so try and gauge early on if they’re the type of person that responds to a story or would prefer to simply look at your work and ask questions.

Remember, it doesn’t do any harm to ask the interviewer if they’d like you to talk about the story behind specific projects. This will be your chance to get excited about the journey you went on – that’s what engages your audience. Everyone loves passion!

Looking to get feedback on your portfolio?

The Dots host monthly Portfolio Masterclasses, focusing on a variety of professions. Register your interest in upcoming Portfolio Masterclasses here.

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Posted by The Dots Team

Akin to a beautifully designed, content rich and more creative version of LinkedIn, The Dots is an online community of creative professionals.

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