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Experience Vs. Opportunity, in Brief

I’ve been holding on to the April issue of Print with the intention of mentioning a simple phrase that caught my attention. It was an article written by Colin Berry regarding Sputnik, an 8- to 10-student in-house design group for the California College of the Arts that creates around 50 projects per term and was launched in 1996 by instructors Bob Aufuldish, David Meckel, and design department dean Michael Vanderbyl. One of the biggest benefits of this, of course, is the early experience in developing printed and on-line materials, working against deadlines and budgets, and interacting with clients. And, as we all know, experience is everything. Hiring a recent graduate with no experience is always a conundrum for employers: Will it work out? How much time will be spent on training? How much money spent on fixing mistakes? And on, and on, and on. What many employers forget is that, once, someone had to give them the opportunity. And that’s where the following phrase resonated.

“Young designers don’t lack experience, they just lack opportunity […].”
Bob Aufuldish

Without getting overly sappy, I think this is something we should all remember. As employers, this should be a reminder that hiring a young designer should not be seen as hiring as someone without experience, but hiring someone with potential. As students, this should be taken as motivation to work additionally hard when given first, second, third opportunities; just because you were hired based on what you may think is an awesome portfolio, you’ve been given an opportunity to demonstrate what you can do, so don’t mess it up. And, finally, as evolving designers who may be on their own or heading a design firm, I think this needs to be considered as a consistent driving force in that every new project and client won are opportunities. Opportunities to break into a new industry or a new medium. Opportunities that build experience.

Experience comes naturally.

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ARCHIVE ID 5160 FILED UNDER Business
PUBLISHED ON Aug.22.2008 BY Armin
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

A feel-good one for Friday. Shucks.

In all seriousness, I'd say most of the projects I've enjoyed most and have been most successful are not the ones that rely on specific experience. They are almost always challenges I have to learn how to solve along the way. Maybe I'm just too young for real experience ;).

On Aug.22.2008 at 10:13 AM
Amanda Woodward’s comment is:

I think it is important to remember that we were ALL hired out of school by someone. We owe it to the design industry to give back by hiring fresh grads or (in our case, because our studio is tiny) taking taking on internships from the local universities/design programs. It is sappy to say but it feels really good to foster the growth of a new designer.

On Aug.22.2008 at 12:50 PM
Josh’s comment is:

Brief but excellent. I've notice this for a long time, but no one ever seems to talk about this.

As a self proprietor, I've now crossed that threshold between being unknown to the community and being somewhat known. This means the occasional student resume finds its way to my email box and sadly they generally aren't up to snuff. Though that could seem harsh, I'm very, very friendly to the idea of educating students emerging from their university studies and respond personally to each of their inquiries.

Though, the employment opportunities provided by small to large design entities is lamentable. Of course there are budgetary considerations to make, experience levels to evaluate, but it often seems that unless graduating with some ungodly high level skills, most students have trouble finding any decent opportunity. (this also plays to the quality of firm, which is amazingly varied)

It's also pretty amazing that finding a junior design or entry level position is often akin to finding an underground club in a city as large as New York. They are of course unadvertised(as most positions end up) and magically float around through word of mouth. The trouble with that is if you're like most students you have a very small network and even if you have a network, it may not be the same one as an available design position floating through word of mouth is.

Thinking of ways to change this predicament(and others) I propose the following:

For Educators - Take more time to explain the intricacies of the profession and how to search for a job, whatever the means.

- If your school has the opportunity, build a program like CCA or MCAD(and i'm sure others), that can do work for profit or non-profit groups to give students the chance to practice what you preach. Despite some possible regulation hassles, most schools should be able to do this.

- Take proper time to help students write an effective resume and outline ways to grab employers attention through mailers, etc.

For Employers

- Internships are the perfect opportunity to evaluate talent. Lots of good firms don't hire interns. Why? If you've got the talent to build up businesses you should have some left over to build up young designers.

- Post your job opportunities. Junior, Senior, Creative Director whatever. It doesn't seem democratic to keep this knowledge internal and secret. However ironic that is being practitioners of democratic process and defenders of civil liberties outlined by the constitution.

- Be mentors. Many ambitious students with decent talent don't have trouble connecting with designers they like, but a mentor is not defined by how much press they get as a designer, but by what knowledge they are willing to share.

- Be available. Find time to allow students to visit the studio(if possible with virtual offices on the rise). Volunteer yourself to speak, do critique at a school, teach a class or lecture on a subject or just set aside a time to critique individual portfolios. All of these are thrills for students and ultimately foster community.

I've already gone off the deep end so i'm just gonna keep swimming to the bottom.

On Aug.22.2008 at 02:38 PM
Mig Reyes’s comment is:

Wow, this post definitely resonates with me.

Still a part of that "young designer" generation, I credit much of my experiences and success to the designers who were all willing to share.

I've taken on the jobs that were considered "too small," and worked at places that perhaps weren't deemed as "cool" or "trendy." I walked away with new friends in the industry, and certainly more experience. All because people gave me a chance.

So many students these days are thristy to get real-world experience. It's a major let down when "top studios" hold back their passion and knowledge. I've heard so many stories of my friends working at hot-spot studios, only to get bummed out because they were treated like peons.

If the creative industry happens to suck in the next decade, I'll happily blame today's current leaders for not giving the youngans a chance. Believe it or not, we give a damn, and we're looking for mentors—not just jobs.

I think Paul Arden hit it spot on when he said, "Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you."

On Aug.22.2008 at 06:50 PM
ps’s comment is:

a couple of month ago, we just hired again someone fresh out of school.

its so true... and i'll never forget: someone took the risk with me when i started.

while our new team-member is working out great. i have to report that what most designers out of school that we come across seem to lack is not the experience or the talent or the drive, but the right attitude.

sorry, a great portfolio does not make you a superstar yet. not every project that lands on your desk will be to your liking and one that will make it into annuals. but just as design studio owners such as myself need to be willing to give young design talent a chance, young designers need to be willing to bend their expectations to a level of healthy reality.

On Aug.23.2008 at 12:18 AM
Josh’s comment is:

@ps I know from my own experience that being helpful and having that healthy reality as you put it are much better traits to have.

@mig In sort of a deja vu moment, I read the latest article of CMYK(which he is blogging for)about Internships: The new first job. I liked the perspective of the article, but I found it odd that getting young designers jobs is now an initiative(and they only sound mildly successful). As if only recently have young designers not been able to find jobs. Goes back to my point above. Employers that want to hire interns or a junior level designer should advertise it openly. We'll leave the issue of not wanting to hire them off the table for now.

Not every design student will end up practicing in the field. This much I know. Some will toil and fall. Some may never enter, while others may work "in the field", but never have the chance to maximize their previous potential. This is what is most tragic to me.

Perhaps this is a dog eat dog, fight to the death profession. If that is so where is our reality show?

On Aug.23.2008 at 05:14 AM
Kerri’s comment is:

One thing I love about the firm I work for is that we often contract and hire new grads. For me it has been an excellent way to sharpen communication and be challenged to new ways of thinking.

If I could give any feedback to new grads both looking for opportunities and on the job it would be to take those chances seriously. There are some firms that are excited about you and are willing to pour their time and knowledge into you. Please don't take that for granted. As many have stated perviously, there are not many out there willing to do this, so if you do encounter such opportunities make the most of them.

What I mean by this is treating every project like it's going in your portfolio and the people that you work along side with respect. Nothing will kill an opportunities quicker than an "I'm better than this" attitude...even if that is true.

On Aug.24.2008 at 11:05 PM
Prescott Perez-Fox’s comment is:

@Armin, Thanks for raising this issue. I feel that recently I've been having this conversation with myself, as no one practicing in the field seems to have a eye out for the job seekers or the less-than-satisfied. I think I might have to start busting out that quote whenever I get told that I lack experience (or as is often the case, the right type of specific experience).

@josh, great suggestions. All we have to do now is follow our own advice and bitch-slap those who propagate the old ways of thinking, ie, a culture of hazing.

Onwards and upwards, my friends.

(by the way, who wants to hook me up with some ... opportunity?)

On Aug.25.2008 at 03:50 PM
RitaSue Siegel’s comment is:

I wrote a book especially for designers about to graduate-how to prepare themselves. It is free and available at ritasue.com/book. Best printed out on both sides.

On Aug.25.2008 at 04:10 PM
Josh’s comment is:

@rita

I skimmed through your book Rita and it's a very excellent resource in a systemic way. Much of what students need to do to go about finding a job is a process, by which one foot needs to follow the other. Many areas which you touch upon in finding a job are probably hit and miss with most young designers starting a search.

My first internship was knowing a name, calling them, getting an interview, waiting...waiting, taking another summer job and then getting the call. In between all that was most of your process.

The one thing that you touched upon that I wish schools did a better job of was coaching up students to their strengths. I know of a few people that have switched titles, but not the industry as they found their personalities and skills to be a better fit from that which they graduated in.

So i'd like to ad an addendum to my list above.

For Educators Please mentor your students and help them achieve success and a degree according to their skills. Some are suited for the creative visual work, while others maybe suited for the business/account/project managing side though still want to be in the creative business.

Of course some schools are now graduating students in visualization and planning, but for those at a school without these programs it would be nice to help students who deviate from being a possible design laborer and help them find their place as well.

On Aug.25.2008 at 06:41 PM
Liana’s comment is:

I just finished grad school in May and someone took a chance on me fresh out. I've never felt so blessed in my entire life. I have always been a hard worker, and I truly believe that all of my hard work has paid off. This is not an opportunity that I'm taking for granted because I recognize that a chance like this comes by rarely. I will carry this with me as I move forward with my professional career, and I hope to one day be in the position to give someone else this same kind of blessing.

I also feel that by doing well in the position I was put in, I continue to pave the way for future "fresh out of school" new hires.

On Aug.26.2008 at 01:10 PM
Ty’s comment is:

Excellent article! I'm a student still learning the craft.

I completely agree with Kerri.

On Aug.26.2008 at 08:54 PM
BAMmGRAPHICS’s comment is:

There's a dilemma in this town -
when a graduate needs the experience at an agency,
and is willing to work for anything;
                    and
when the experienced need to work for something and can't get the opportunity...from the agencies/studios.
The management tend$ to noti¢e the graduates more.

On Aug.31.2008 at 07:02 PM
Joe Schwartz’s comment is:

As a design educator teaching at the high school level, I try to stress the importance of taking adavantage of the opportunities afforded them in my classes. My program is one of the few in the country at the public school level that provides the students with project work that is based off of real-world design problems and not just textbook assignments or learning simple Photoshop filters.

The Creative Economy won't suck in the next decade or two - it will explode as the skills that are put into practical application by the black-turtleneck types become as valued as those skills practiced by the corporate attorneys, sales and marketing departments. Even non-designers can learn something from doing rudimentary design work in school. If we can educate everyone with some knowledge in design basics, everyone will benefit by it.

On Aug.31.2008 at 10:00 PM
Raphael Del Rio’s comment is:

I'm still grateful to the principals who agreed to meet yet another student when I was getting out of school. I'm even more grateful to having my mistakes and effups pointed out and explained so that I wouldn't repeat them.

In a way the transition from student to professional is never truly complete. I often have to catch and stop myself saying "when I was a student..." because even after six years I'm still forcing myself to learn so I'm not really done being a student. I have yet to meet a designer whether they're in their twenties or their sixties who has learned this profession from one end to the other. Even the big guys at the top make plenty of mistakes they continue to learn from. The day we no longer want to learn new things about the business and new ways of looking at our profession is the day we start becoming irrelevant and fall behind.

On Sep.09.2008 at 04:03 PM