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How to Become a Designer


Design is about solving problems creatively. Think about creating a new product, creating a website or poster to promote it, designing a retail space in which to sell it, designing packaging for the product to be picked up by the customer.

Design is also a crucial tool when providing people with information, the London Underground map is a great example of this and one of the longest lasting pieces of design in the UK. Over the last thirty years design has evolved into a real profession with some established career pathways and great opoortunities to progress.

Design is part of the ‘creative industries’, a sector which also includes advertising, visual arts and museums. In 2007, the creative industries were identified as the second largest industry in the UK after finance. They continue to grow faster than any other industry and it is predicted that by 2013 the creative industries as a whole will be bigger than the financial sector.

What makes ‘good’ design?

What makes good design is subjective and everyone has a different opinions. However there are 3 things you should always consider: is it a good idea, is it well executed, and does it supply an answer to the client’s problem?  You can create the most beautiful piece of work in the world, but if it doesn’t solve the clients problem and communicate a message clearly and effectively, then it would not  be considered a good piece of design.

Job satisfaction comes when you create something that makes a difference. As Greg Quinton Creative Director at The Partners, has said, “If a picture can say a thousand words, a great poster can do that, communicate a message, and stay in the mind for years.”

Where do designers work? 

Designers work in all kinds of environments. In small studios of 4 or 5 people, in advertising agencies, as part of an in-house team for brands or as as a self-employed freelancer for all kinds of companies. Designers work wherever there’s a need for creative thinkers with the skills to match.

What skills do you need to be a good designer?

Good designers tend to be natural problem solvers. They can think around a problem in different ways and often come up with different approaches from many other people. Designers work on lots of different products and brands and each time they start working on a new one they must find out all about it, so plenty of curiosity, about the world, observancy, and an energy to learn new things is essential.

Also important are a designer’s craft skills. Designers must be able to visualise both in their heads and on paper. Although computers have become an essential part of designing it is important that designers can still draw by hand, in recent years many professionals have complained that younger designers are losing this skill because they are too dependant on the computer.

Also very important is the ability to empathise with other people. Designers don’t design for themselves, they will always have a target audience. In order to design something that is relevant to that audience designers need to be able to put themselves in someone elses shoes and understand the world from their perspective.

How can I become a designer?

There are excellent design courses in colleges and univesrities all over the UK. A great place to start looking for the best course for you is D&AD’s University Network. This is group of over 110 courses that are striving for the highest levels and they will have access to lots of input from professional designers through D&AD’s programmes.

There are many different types of BA course ranging from traditional Graphic Design to Interactive Design or Product Design. Many of these courses recommend that you take an intermediate course such as a National Diploma or a Foundation Degree before you apply for a BA as this will help you to decide exactly which field of design you want to specialise in.

As well as studying fro a design degree there are a number of things that aspiring designers can do to stand out from the crowd. D&AD publishes an annual every year of the best design and advertising, they are a fantastioc resource for any design student. D&AD also runs design workshops, which offer another way to hone your skills and build contacts in the industry. For those who really want to stand out, D&AD’s Student Awards are a must, winning one of those will get your work in front of some of the best agencies out there. Work placements either during your degree or after are also essential and are often peoples first stepping stone into a job.

Finally, practice, practice, practice will make perfect. It is hard work getting into the design industry, but once you are there it is one of the most rewarding careers you can have.

Further information:

Zoë Bather, Studio8
A week after winning a Student Yellow Pencil for ethical branding at the D&AD student awards in 2002, Zoë got a call about a week of work at Frost Design – Bather’s entry to the awards had caught Vince Frost’s eye. That week of work turned into 3 years. Just 18 months after joining Frost, Zoë was promoted to director alongside fellow designer Matt Willey. In 2005, she and Willey decided to strike out for themselves, joining forces as Studio8 and specializing in print design. ‘We’re lucky, work tends to come to us,’ she says.

David Goss & Phoebe Coulton
David Goss teamed up with Phoebe Coulton while studying graphic design at Central Saint Martins and they’ve worked together as a team ever since: she’s a copywriter and he’s an art director. They entered ‘every D&AD advertising award going’ at the student awards in 2005 and the commitment paid off: the pair walked away with two Student Yellow Pencils. Next they applied successfully for a bursary towards a five-month work placement at one of the agencies run by advertising giant WPP, ending up at JWT.  

More placements followed at top agencies including BBH and Mother. Then they spotted a new agency called Dye Holloway Murray. They really admired Dave Dye’s work, so proactive as ever, they sent off a letter. They responded and offered the pair work. Eighteen months on, they are now working on a client list that includes Gaymer cider, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Howies and Land Securities.

By Laura Woodroffe, D&AD Education & Professional Development Director

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