How can I take the leap into a design career?

Sarah has plenty of design qualifications, but she wants to know how she can make the next step into a design career.

​Hello. My name is Sarah, and I would like to be a graphic designer but I am finding it difficult get the relevant skills to gain a position in the field. 

I gained a B at GCSE Graphic Design. I then studied product design at A level, a course which i did not excel at, and then I studied Advertising and Brand Management at university, where I gained a 2:2. Since graduating I have not managed to progress any further.

Last September I attended night school for Adobe Photoshop, where I attended both beginner and advanced. I also learned about in Adobe Illustrator, but only at the beginner level as there was not enough students for the course to run.

To be honest I’m not sure where to go from here. What steps do you think I need to achieve to progress into a career? 

— Sarah

Expert answers

Erika Clegg's reply:


Firstly, I’d really like to commend the way you are applying yourself to this. I have taken people on at my agency for exactly this reason, even if they have limited directly applicable experience, because focus and dedication are two key assets for people in the industry. 

So well done, you should be very proud of yourself.

What I would strongly advise you to do now is find details of up to ten companies that you would be able to get to for a couple of weeks, and try to get some work experience. 

Write to them, explaining your ambition, setting out the actions you have already taken to progress your skills base, and setting out why you particularly think their organisation would give you great experience (and how you could add value to them for a few weeks). 

Word of warning: take the time to make these bespoke - I get generic enquiries that go in the bin. If you can’t work out whether I am ‘sir’ or ‘erika’ I probably don’t want to invest time in you, either!

Compensation for work experience varies, with some earning minimum wage and some being totally unpaid. My policy is to cover travel and lunch, which I think is a fair exchange since good companies will also put a lot of effort into making your internship fruitful.

It’s worth looking at a range of agencies (you can find reputable ones on the Design Business Association website) and companies with in house design teams.

In addition to these: read. Read voraciously. You can follow a wide variety of websites which will update you on everything from marketing strategies to graphic design awards to cutting edge panmedia campaigns and, if you really love the industry, you’ll find they make compelling reading.

And soak up the world around you, forming opinions (and good reasons for them). 

What do you think the impact of design has been on political campaigning? Why do some food companies chat like a friend and others lecture like a professor? How will the proliferation of velvet, tweed and dark greys on the catwalks filter down to the High Street by this winter? What do you think of the new itv branding? What impact can technology have on creativity, and vice-versa? 

It’s a fascinatingly varied industry, and an informed graduate is highly employable.

Good luck!

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