Straight after graduating from #shilloman, Nicki O’Donoghue had four interviews lined up. Within a week, she secured a job as a junior designer at acclaimed Manchester studio, Music. We’ve caught up for a chat to hear all about the transition from student to designer, the importance of doing your research and why Manchester is an exciting place to be a designer.
Since leaving Shillington you secured a job designing for Music, one of Manchester’s top branding and communication agencies. What’s it been like making the transition from student to designer?
Intense! My first week I was given a branding project for a new client we were pitching to and a website to design. But luckily, Shillington prepared me for what it’s like to work in an agency. The way Shillington teaches its students is to set ‘client’ briefs, with some being restricted to brand guidelines and others being a bit looser—this is exactly what it’s like in a studio environment. I’ve had briefs where you have to stick to the brand fonts and colours, but I’ve also had briefs where I’ve been the one who gets to define the branding. The quick turnaround time at Shillington is also very realistic as I’m often given briefs that I only have a couple of hours to work on, whereas others can go on for weeks and even months.
Can you tell us a bit about working at Music? What’s an average day for you?
I get in at about 9am and have breakfast whilst I either continue with work from the previous day or catch up on design blogs whilst I wait for work to be assigned to me. From then on it’s pretty unpredictable! Some days I can be working on small jobs for The Christie or Manchester City Football Club, whereas others I might be working on one brief for weeks. On bigger jobs like these I’ll normally be working alongside a Senior Creative, which is invaluable as you learn so much from working closely with another designer.
Music has some incredible clients in its portfolio such as The British Fashion Council, has there been a stand-out project you’ve worked on so far, or any in the mix for the near future?
There have been quite a few fantastic projects that I’ve really enjoyed being involved in but unfortunately I can’t talk about just yet. However, I have been fortunate to work on both The British Fashion Awards and London Collections Men for the British Fashion Council. London Collections Men was particularly stand-out as I worked alongside another designer from start to finish on the January 2016 season. This meant being involved in the initial concept through to the final design of the event collateral and marketing materials.
What was your background before studying at Shillington, have you always thought about being a graphic designer or was it a later calling in life?
Design was always something I was interested in and the original plan was to train as an Interior Designer, but I really didn’t enjoy my Art A-level so the thought of having to do an Art Foundation before I could specialise really put me off. So instead I went onto study Media at university and when I graduated I got a job as a Production Runner for the BBC in London, which I did for a couple of years. I took a break to go travelling and when I came back I realised I didn’t want to go back. The hours were crazy, the work unstable, and I hated living in London. So I used the experience to move into events, which then led onto marketing. By this time I was living in Manchester and I’d reached a point in my career where I was thinking “How did this happen?” Working so closely with graphic designers in my marketing job reminded me of the original plan and re-sparked my desire to work in design. The thought of going back to university to retrain for 3 years was completely out of the question, so when a colleague told me about Shillington it seemed like the perfect opportunity. And I haven’t looked back since!
How have you found studying and working in Manchester? Some people refer to it as the London of the North, would you agree?
I love Manchester! I’ve been living here for 3 years now and it’s definitely become my home. There is so much opportunity here for designers and many award-winning agencies are now based here. Because of this, clients are looking outside of London for creatives to work with so being based in Manchester isn’t as restrictive as some people may perceive.
I think Manchester is moving away from its reputation as ‘London of the North’ and is carving out its own identity as a creatively vibrant city which lots of people want to be a part of.
What do you love about being a designer?
The obvious answer is the chance to be creative, but I’d also say being able work with so many talented people. I love that no two days are the same and I can honestly say I’ve learnt something new everyday since I started and I know that’s never going to change. The industry is so fast-paced and technology is evolving everyday, there’s always something to learn and a new way of approaching projects.
Did you have any previous design experience? How did the course build your skill set?
The only design experience I had was the occasional attempt to design posters and cards using Microsoft Office. I actually designed all of my wedding stationery using Word! Prior to Shillington, I’d barely even used a Mac before, let alone any of the programmes, so I was completely brand new to it all. The structure of the course is great as you’re gradually introduced to each of the programmes and the design process. For example, we had to learn how to design in black and white before we could use colour, and with type before we could use illustration and photography. Similarly we learnt how to master InDesign before we used Illustrator and then Photoshop. This made it all easier to digest as otherwise it would have been quite overwhelming.
How did you find your overall experience at Shillington? What would you say to someone considering enrolling on the course?
I’d say to do it—it’s the best decision I’ve ever made for my career. I can honestly say I loved every second of the course, even the stressful ones. The tutors were so supportive and their knowledge was invaluable. The fact that they’re working graphic designers means they’re aware of the latest design developments and know what agencies are looking for in graduates.
I had four interviews off the back of the graduate show alone and was hired by Music a week after graduating, and that was all down to the skills I’d gained whilst at Shillington and a portfolio that I was very proud of.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to recent graduates on the job hunt?
Make sure you know your portfolio inside out, and don’t be afraid to shout about your work. You’ve worked hard to create a body of work you should be proud of and, I expect, you feel hugely passionate about, so let this show. A big part of why I was hired by Music was my ability to present my work and explain why I made the design decisions I did and that I understood the brief and the client/audience I was designing for. Make sure you’ve done your revision too and understand who the agency are, who their clients are, what work they’ve done and, most importantly, why you want to work for them. Basically, be prepared.
If you’re keen to embark on a design journey like Nicki, we’re currently enrolling for our upcoming courses in Manchester and London. Get in touch via email or phone for more information or head down to one of our Info Sessions to learn more.