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starting out as a graphic designer

starting out as a graphic designer


We chat to three recent graphic design grads about kick-starting their careers.

To those of us who haven’t studied design, it can seem like graphic designers have super powers that make things look like they’ve jumped straight off the wall at an art gallery. How do they work with fonts, colours and shapes to make it look so damn good? It’s sorcery!

If you’ve ever thought about diving into a career of graphic design (even if you’re currently working in a completely different industry) here’s some advice and insight from three people who have put pen to paper (literally) and become graphic designers.

DARSH SENEVIRATNE Hi Darsh! Can you introduce yourself real quick? I'm Darsh Seneviratne, a photographer turned design student, impatient gardener and (very) amateur carpenter. I've worked across a number of different jobs over the years, but most recently I've been working at Australian tech/design company Canva. 

When did you decide to study graphic design? And what were your previous jobs? I was on an extended holiday in Berlin and was blown away by the beautiful work over there. I had always wanted to study design, but never really felt like I was meticulous enough. One sunny afternoon when I was in a park eating a salad roll, I decided it was time to rip the band-aid and dive headfirst into Shillington. My previous job was working in a professional photographic lab and studio, and before that I was a sales manager at Nikon, and before that I was flipping pizzas!

How did you make the jump from studying to actually working in graphic design? It happened quite quickly! I felt like I'd just graduated, and then a contract position at Canva opened up. I leapt at the opportunity as they are such a massive company with so much to learn from.

What was the most helpful thing you learnt in your course that you use day-to-day? Grids! Margins. Just anything that keeps things visually organised. They're an absolute lifesaver. They also keep me organised and aligned in life, so it works both digitally and mentally.

What do you love about being a graphic designer? Being able to think of innovative ways to be more inclusive and bring visual information to diverse audiences. Having the opportunity to work in an environment that encourages this is special.

SOPHIE BO SCHMIDTHey Sophie! Can you introduce yourself and where you work at the moment? Sure! I'm Sophie Bo Schmidt, a Scandinavian living and working in Brisbane. I recently set up my own little one-woman studio where I work on a mix of projects across user-experience design, visual design and website design and builds.

What prompted you to study graphic design? I was a UX researcher, testing websites and providing insights about users to inform product designs or redesigns. I often felt I had all these juicy insights and I dreamt about also having the visual-design skills to execute the designs.

What did you get out of your studies? I discovered not only my love for UI (user interface), but also for branding, typography and grids. And I somehow got the guts to branch out and work for myself. The teachers at Shillington are super-skilled, passionate and most importantly, they really care. They want you to get the most out of it, so they push you (creatively) as far you can go. It’s amazing having someone see you in a new light.

How did you make the jump from studying to actually working in graphic design? Gradually! I went back to my job (I took leave to study) where we also run UX courses online. I redeveloped our visual design module. Then a friend and I started a skateboard media site for kids where I did the logo, designed and built the website. I started doing little design gigs and finally branched out to work for myself. I’m currently building a visual identity for an architect, doing branding and website design for a skate-ramp builder, as well as some UX research work for a large government website redesign. I love the variety of it.

What’s the hardest thing about being a graphic designer? Knowing that everything could be executed differently – that there are so many ways to solve a problem for a client! This can bring up some doubt in your creativity and make you spend hours and hours perfecting an idea. Also, pricing your work!

PING NICan you introduce yourself and where you work at the moment? My name is Ping Ni and I’m a graphic designer at Eastman Music Company. We make musical instruments.

When did you decide to study graphic design? What was your previous job? I decided to study graphic design in January of 2020. I was previously working in a corporate role as a product manager for the violin family of instruments at Eastman Music.

How did you come across the course at Shillington? I was researching how to break into the creative field and came across an article on Medium from a Shillington alumna who had just graduated with an amazing portfolio. It seemed like the perfect program in terms of length, content, and teaching style for me to gauge if graphic design was a viable career path.

How did you make the jump from studying to actually working in graphic design? After graduating, I sent my portfolio to the creative department at Eastman Music, and started as an intern. After two months, Eastman offered me a position as a junior graphic designer. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on freelance projects since graduating. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people could use design work just within my network. A few projects came from friends and family, and a few came from serendipitous conversations with strangers. 

Are you working on any side projects? I’m currently finishing a book project for an interior designer and builder that documents the journey of a house they flipped. My freelance work gives me that space to be experimental. If I waited for my dream project to land on my desk, I’d still be waiting. 

We love the “helpful food site” you created. Can you tell us about it? Pingcooks came out of my frustration with food media and my lifelong passion for cooking. I wanted a place to share my recipes, but I didn’t want to create a self-obsessed food blog. Pingcooks is about making cooking accessible to normal people, so the identity is built around honesty and approachability. It was my introduction to design. I taught myself the basics of UI, UX, branding, photography and website creation. I realised after finishing the design that I could do that for a living, so I found Shillington.

Do you have any tips for others who want to move over to graphic design as a career? In this field, resilience will take you further than skill. Never stop learning. Take advantage of books – they’re better than the internet. Embrace imposter syndrome.

These informative chats were produced in partnership with Shillington. If you’re keen on studying graphic design this year (either full-time or part-time), take a peep at Shillington’s on-campus courses starting in May and September 2021 and online courses starting in September 2021.