the graphic design blog that speaks the truth

It’s getting to that time of year again in the UK where the mad dash begins for University and College graduates to find a job in their desired field. It’s no easy task by any means, especially if you are seeking to gain a foothold in the creative industries. Considering the state of the world economy, it’s no surprise that there aren’t enough jobs to go around, though this has been the case for some time even before the aftermath of the credit crunch.

A Saturated Market

Graphic design is an over-saturated market, no doubt about it. The lure of what seems (from the outside at least), an attractive lifestyle, along with a misconceived acclaim to fame, means that more students are enrolling in design-related courses than ever. Eventually, a percentage will graduate and seek design-related jobs. Also, don’t forget the uneducated hobbyists who claim to be ‘Graphic Designers’ & then, of course, there’s those already established within the industry. With service providers multiplying at a rapid rate & the current economic climate limiting the number of new start-up businesses, is there enough work to go around?
Unfortunately there isn’t, which results in thousands of graduates struggling to get a job within the industry regardless of the level of their degree or talent.

From my own experience, my design class at University had roughly 30-40 attendees on the books. Of those, I know that only 3 or 4 now work in a creative field, the rest simply weren’t able to find a job or didn’t feel comfortable in their own abilities to look for one properly. I still keep in touch with those of us that were able to find employed work and I know that each one of us found it extremely difficult, mainly due to the university not fully preparing it’s students or teaching them how to land a real job. After graduating it took me around 8 months to build up a solid portfolio before I was even considered for an interview at an established firm in the creative industry.

Freelance vs Agency

Jumping straight in at the deep end with no real world experience can be seen as a massive risk to take, especially if you see freelance as being your only source of income. Due to the current density of competition, it can take time to build up a good reputation and client base. Even for the most talented of designers.
Having said that some designers have managed to forge a career with only freelance experience, preferring to learn along the way. Recent figures show that there are 20,000 design businesses in London alone as well as 15,816 freelance designers (source: Design Finder), which shows that more and more people are deciding to go it alone, as I did in 2009, but only after working in-house to gain real world experience first.

Experience is Priceless

One thing that used to really bug me when looking for work is that most vacancies required previous experience in the designated field. Which meant of course if you didn’t have any you wouldn’t even be considered, which makes the situation for students even harder. How are you meant to get experience if you need experience in order to get it? One way around this is of course working for free in work experience placements but not everyone can afford to do this. I guess it just depends on how badly you really want it.

The best form of education is working professionally in your field. You can read all of the textbooks under the sun, but until it comes time to put what you know into practice, you won’t truly learn any of the tricks of the trade that matter. This really applies to any industry, not just design. This is where I believe that designers without a formal education can really shine, as they have no predetermined opinions on how things should be done and can absorb real world skills. This is of course depending on the work placement that they do undertake is at a place that knows the profession inside out.

I certainly do not envy any design student who is going to have to go through the mad rush for work this summer but I’m confident that at least those with genuine talent will be successful. It’s just a shame that not everyone will be so fortunate. My advice to any students looking to get work would be:

  • Don’t rely on email to get in touch with companies. Pick up the phone and meet people in person, but at the same time don’t be a nuisance and respect people’s valuable time.
  • Curate you portfolio. Be critical of your own work and only include your best work. Remember quality over quantity.
  • Show your personality but don’t always let it influence your work.
  • A portfolio can be creative too. Think of a unique approach of how you can grab people’s attention. An A4 CV just doesn’t cut it anymore.
  • Keep Learning. Just because your studies have finished doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know. This is just the beginning.
  • Don’t give up. If you want it bad enough, you’ll get it (but not in a stalker kind of way!)



  1. 02/05/11
    1:26 pm
    A great post! About to graduate and enter the mad dash! Not graphic design, animation, but a creative field all the same. Thanks for the advice!
  2. 10/06/11
    10:05 am
    Kate Webber
    Hello, This is a really interesting read, and i completely agree about getting the experience is really hard. I'm training to be a graphic designer and i've managed to scrape a placement this year and finishing of my degree next year. My question is, do placements count as the experience needed to get a job and does it actually make you stand out, or is it another year trying to develop yourself but it's not valued by the industry? My placement is actually slightly different, i'm in a group of 6 students; graphic design, marketing, web development, business support, 2D animation and 3D Max and we do free work for small businesses helped by the government and universities. So we haven't got that support that knows the industries inside out, but we do get 100% of the work to do, being a graphic designer i'm central to all the work and have developed a lot. But will it be enough? And is it valued to the same as a 'normal' placement? I was confident that having a placement, any placement, would help me stand out more, but now i'm not so sure. I'm currently doing a dissertation on this subject and would appreciate any opinions you have Thank You Kate
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