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How to Prepare for Careers in Design

By Guest Writer

Updated June 3, 2016 Updated June 3, 2016

Abi Meats, co-founder of the design brand Rude, shares her advice for any current or prospective students keen to enter careers in the design industry.

What types of academic background do you see people coming from, in design careers?

Most people I know that are in the creative industry have been to university. I don't think it’s necessary to have that background if you find a good internship straight from school, but these can be hard to come by at school-leaver level.

Further education gives you time to try out ideas, find your own style and immerse yourself in creative arts. If university isn't an option, then find the best design company near you and impress them with your thirst for knowledge and desire to learn about the creative industry.

For those who want to enter careers in design, how important is it to complete relevant internships, placements or part-time roles?

I think it’s really important to get design industry experience, as often, you need to find the right area of design to go into.

It took me a few years after university to find the creative path that suited me. I did a four-year sandwich course with a year out in the third year; this really made me realize how to put theory into practice and understand that coming up with a great idea was just the beginning. Getting it through client approval to a finished piece was quite another.

What advice would you give to students who want to start getting hands-on experience in the design industry?

I’d approach a cross-section of design companies to do an internship/placement. Try and find out which design studios are good at this and which take people on regularly; they are more likely to give you the best experience as they will be set up for it.

This might sound silly, but remember that from a director’s point of view, potential interns need to show they’d be helpful, constructive and inspiring.

Do your research on the company you’re going for an interview with; I’d certainly research the person coming to see me!

Be prepared to be a runner. You might not get to design straight away, so ask lots of questions, make yourself useful and make the tea. If you can be generally helpful then you’re more likely to make a positive difference in the studio and fast-track your design career.

What else can students do before they graduate, to give themselves an edge?

I always look for creativity over a slick presentation; university is the best place to develop this as you have time and freedom. Once you’re in a creative industry environment, you will have deadlines and guidelines, so push the boundaries as much as possible while you’re studying.

For me, design is about how to present an idea visually, so a sense of how to market yourself in an interesting way is important, as well as an understanding of how to work and interact with other people. For instance, one student working on her final year project approached her favorite designers to submit work or ideas to an exhibition she was curating. She sent us a brief which we responded to (flattery always works) and we were invited to the opening night, where we met lots of people we knew and lots more that we didn’t.

It was quite a big thing to pull off, but she managed to submerse herself into the design community by bringing likeminded people together. So she made herself an insider by association.

What aspects of university design courses do you think are most valuable, in helping students prepare for careers in design?

What I see from interns is their breadth of knowledge across different mediums. I think it’s necessary to try and use all the facilities to experiment and see where that journey takes you; something you might initially view as mundane could become your new obsession.

Also, think about the thing that you create from beginning to end, and what skills you might need if you were to execute all these parts yourself. An example is the Urban Outfitters collaboration we've just done; what ends up as a product on the shelf has gone through an in-depth design journey to be there.

From brief > concepts > illustration/image making > client amends > rounds of visualizations > artwork > product selection > factory sourcing > factory ready spec sheets > sampling > production > photography > marketing… and finally launching a range that is exciting and true to the brief where the project began.

Are there any aspects of the design industry which are set for growth?

I think all aspects of the design sector are going to be in demand, as design is so important in our society. It’s more important than people think.

What would you say are the most essential attributes for anyone keen to pursue careers in design?

These days there is so much talent around and you have to be the very best to succeed. You can’t fake it; you have to be good!

Abi Meats is a co-founder of the design brand Rude. Abi and her husband, Rupert Meats, have spent the last 15 years building up the business, which initially started out as a t-shirt label. Today, the brand has built up external commissions to illustrate, design and manufacture designs for clients such as The Tate, Doctor Who and Urban Outfitters. Abi is responsible for designing, range planning and producing the collections.


This article was originally published in September 2014 . It was last updated in June 2016

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