This series will focus on real methods and stories on breaking into the tech industry as a young designer.
I spent four years studying Product Design (B.Sc.) in Dublin’s Institute of Technology, and graduated on Halloween, October 2015. In late September 2015, I started working in digital design agency, Clickworks. I spent just over a year there as a researcher and designer. I was mainly involved in the rebrand projects / digital content management and towards the end, some strategic workshops too.
I’ve now moved onto Accenture - where I’ll be working in their new Centre for Innovation from the 5th of December. My official job title is “Associate Content Designer”, I’ll be housed under the design pillar of the centre as part of the Fjord team. I’ll be focusing on brainstorms with clients during the initial stages of projects, generating content which aligns with the existing TOV and seeking out new opportunities through alternative research methods.
When I’m not working, I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors - it’s so refreshing when you get a break away from the computer screen. I’ve got a lot of time for outside-the-box thinkers, so I try to attend as many exhibitions and talks as time will allow. I have a particular interest in disruptive technology and always try and stay tuned in with upcoming trends - even if they are conceptual.
You started life as a designer in Industrial Design - what pushed you to make the jump into Digital Design?
During my four years in college, I gained a pretty robust understanding of “classic” industrial and product design. Initially, we spent a lot of time studying historical movements - from Art Noveau and The Bauhaus, right up to The Space Age and Memphis - we covered it all. As time went on, we started to learn more about the design process and manufacturing - creating tangible products for the masses you could say. Iconic pieces like the Eames Lounge Chair Ottoman and Michael Graves 9093 kettle really resounded with me and taught me more about principles, materials and form than any book ever could.
Fast forward to my Graduation exhibition in 2015, where I proudly stood in Grangegorman, armed with a stack of “professional” business cards, various bottles of beer and of course, my final year project - a firefighting helmet loaded with wearable technology. I think I surprised myself more than my lecturers on that one, but I guess if you’re trained to see things in a different way you do just that without realising sometimes.
So, back to the question...I think I started to consider the transition from physical to digital design during my final year in college, mainly when job hunting became a hot-topic of discussion amongst my peers. I presumed it would be a relatively straightforward process, but soon realised there was slow growth in any sector that didn’t involve technology, particularly in Ireland. People weren’t discussing metal stamping or bevelled edges, it was UI this and UX that.
Initially, I had no idea what all this meant so I decided to take action and upskill - I attended some robotics classes in Kevin Street and took a crash course in coding. I also explored web design, and spent hours upon hours scrolling through various websites and applications in an attempt to learn the fundamentals of information architecture and functionality. It was tough but rewarding, especially when I subconsciously started to make fluid connections between different mediums and processes.
Do you feel junior designers are undervalued in today’s tech industry?
It’s a great question. Open-ended but great.
If you’re a junior designer today, it can be tough to get a break. Employers have a pool of international talent to choose from thanks to portfolio websites like Behance and Dribbble, where one can find work that is truly world-class with the click of a mouse. Those in the tech sector can sample code from up-and-coming developers through resources like Github and Codepen. But there’s more - because the internet has made learning so accessible to all, there are no boundaries to what one can learn in their free time. This means skillsets are rapidly growing, expectations are rising and college degrees are no longer compulsory (not always a bad thing if you ask me).
So with such an array of resources, it’s hard to imagine how one could be labelled “unemployable” in this day and age. But unemployable is not the same as undervalued.
The sad reality is, a lot of companies are not hiring junior designers. There are a variety of factors for this, but I think mentorship is a big one. In order for an intern or junior designer to be successful, they need guidance - it’s common sense. This causes a problem because mid to senior level designers do not feel like they have the time or authority to do such a task. They say things like “I’m not qualified to do something like this” or “I wouldn’t know what to tell them, it would be awkward” and in some cases “I don’t want someone following me around all day asking stupid questions”. It can be a vicious cycle; a game of pass the parcel.
Then there’s the other problem. Some companies (usually younger ones) are interested in offering mentorship, but they simply don’t have the resources. In order to build a strong team, you need to have the right structure - if you think about it logically, you would need to start with mid to senior level designers to ensure you have a solid foundation. Then, and only then can you invite some more junior members in to inject some energy to the team and thus boost growth.
I believe that mid to senior level designers do have an appreciation for younger designers breaking into the industry, even though they may not always express their thoughts explicitly. In my opinion, graduates are valued highly within the tech sector, mainly because of their agile profile. When you’re in college, it’s frustrating because you’re using software that’s outdated as a result of poor budget allocation. However, that’s something that’s recognised by seniors in the industry and never fails to impress.
I don’t think you can put a value on brimming, innovative ideas so why do we do it?
This is something I’ve really tried to reflect on - getting your first job straight out of college is a really overwhelming (and sometimes lonely) process, particularly within our industry. You’re almost wrapped up in this safe cocoon in college, and led to believe it’s just a matter of walking out one door and into another, but that couldn’t be further from the truth and it’s something that at least I was never warned of.
In no particular order, here are my personal top ten tips for young design graduates:
Without question, it would have been an internship.
If I’m being honest, the idea of working for free was just not on the cards for me as I was funding my own tuition. It was something I foolishly dismissed, and in my final year of college, was shocked to discover paid internships were actually a pretty common thing. You could say I was naive and clueless, but the reality is I was too quick to dismiss a very accessible opportunity.
If you’re in your second or third year of studies, and are reading this, I would suggest you take action and at least apply for some experience - even if it’s only for a few days or weeks. The amount I learned from my first year working in the “real-world” was astronomical - nobody ever really teaches you much about things like pay and tax, or working on weekends to meet client deadlines in college. In my opinion, internships work to demystify the practical day-to-day activities one may encounter in their first job, but they also help to better guide your final career decisions when you graduate.