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Posted by Jennie Spiller

I found the following post on JKRs Design Gazette blog. A brilliant blog with lots of interesting branding and packaging related material, they have also published a book from it – ‘The Blue Lady’s New Look and Other Curiosities:’ Avaliable here


“It’s that time of year again – when design graduates pour out of university into the big (hopefully not too bad) world. Times are tough, but the truth is the competition for jobs is always fierce. Below is a presentation by JKR designer Gus Cook, which he put together to share with students.”

Gus has been at JKR for a year, pretty much direct from his degree at Falmouth.

“Below he shares all the things he wished he knew going into his final year – hindsight is a lovely thing and perhaps his hindsight can be your foresight!”

365 days later.
When looking back with the 20:20 vision of hindsight on the period between graduating and getting a job, I realise there were a few things that I wish someone had told me.

Boring as hell but so damn important…

I wish I hadn’t worried so much about whether or not my portfolio was ‘ready’ and been more concerned about sending it out! The best bit of advice I got was when someone told me “send it out now”.

Make a long shortlist.

I hadn’t thought beyond three companies. On leaving Uni, I realised that I hadn’t really thought through where I might want to work. As a result, I only ended up sending my portfolio to 4 people and surprise, surprise …. only one ended up in a placement.

I should have done some proper research into the companies/studios out there and not sent out three, five or even ten portfolios; I should have aimed for at least twenty! It may be stating the bleeding obvious, but there are more than three good agencies in the UK.

Stepping stones, not holes.

I thought it was all about getting a job. In effect, a two-week job interview. Make or break for your confidence.

But it’s not. It’s much more than that. It’s also a unique opportunity. It’s probably the first and last time in your career that you will be able to sample so many different places with such minimal consequence.

I wish I’d realised this earlier and used it to my advantage. I had no idea what type of design was going to suit me best. On reflection, I could have structured my placements to ensure that I visited completely different types of companies; one branding, one packaging, one interactive etc. In turn, this would have helped to point me in the right direction when looking for a job.

Obviously the work is important, it’s EXTREMELY important! But I didn’t understand that actually there is a hell of a lot of other things that matter.

For me there are three things that are just as important as the work.

The people
This is the first thing, and the most important one. You are going to spend more time with them than anybody else you know. You’ve got to work for them, with them, learn from them, respect them, drink with them and ultimately be inspired by them to do your best work.

The atmosphere
Obviously this will be a case of different strokes for different folks but basically it needs to be an environment that you feel comfortable in, a place you’re genuinely happy to come into every day.

The work ethic
I hadn’t thought about the fact that some places aren’t going to be right for you – that’s OK, even if they’re the places which you thought would be your dream job.
All companies work differently, if you find yourself working until 03:00 am every day, it might not be because you can’t hack it, it’s more likely that you might fit in better elsewhere.

I thought that to graduate I had to know everything… well despite graduating I definitely didn’t, and a year on not much has changed.

The most reassuring thing I discovered was that I’m not supposed to know everything. The good companies will be the ones that see enough potential in you to want to train you.
What I have now worked out is that there’s a big difference between being willing to learn and being eager to learn.

At Uni, it’s easy to forget that a creative agency is made up of far more than the creative department.

I wish I’d learnt to appreciate the value of advice from a non-creative perspective earlier on; you can learn from everyone from the receptionist to the creative director – it’s also amazing how far a little mutual respect goes.

On graduating I was far too sensitive when it came to any constructive criticism, if I could do it all again I would have just listened more.

Listened more in particular to people’s advice and their criticism. If you really listen to and respect people’s opinions, not only will you learn more, but it’s also more likely that they might take the time to listen to you.

Shock horror! But it didn’t occur to me that it’s not just about what you can do at work, it’s also about what you can bring to work.

Companies don’t just want designers, they want people! And when choosing people, sometimes that can be as simple as just being nice.

Sounds obvious, but it isn’t always! I struggled to write a paragraph to elaborate on this so I’ve stolen a quote from Bill Bernbach;

“When we started our agency, we had in mind precisely the kind of people we wanted with us. There were two requirements: You had to be talented and you had to be nice. If you were nice but without talent, we were very sorry, but you just wouldn’t do. We had to ‘make it.’ And only great talent would help us do that. If you were a great talent, but not a nice person, we had no hesitation in saying ‘No.’ Life is too short to sacrifice so much of it, to living with a bastard.”


From a fellow graduate who is also on a year out, I totally agree with everything Gus has written. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Only thing I would add is: Learn to make a good cuppa, and make lots of them!

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