Changing Careers: Social Media to Graphic Design

Shillington College

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Starting in Social

In hindsight it still feels rather odd but fourteen months ago I was plying my trade as a Social Media Manager for another digital agency here in London.

Fast forward to today and quite a lot has changed. Now I’m working in the same field but as a fully-functioning – albeit fledgling – graphic designer.

Although it was a fairly swift transition, this sudden career switch was by no means an easy decision. For context, throughout school and university I knew I wanted to get a job in advertising/marketing. As a fresh-faced graduate with absolutely zero relevant work experience, I wangled my first position at an agency specialising in word of mouth marketing, where I was promptly thrust into a community management role just as the whole social media thing was taking off.

For the next five years I grappled with the constantly shifting, and often frustrating, nuts and bolts of social media, working on a range of brands from tech to whisky, property to beauty, and everything in-between.

Anyone who works in “social” knows it can sometimes feel rather “relentless”, as its instantaneous nature means you can never really afford to sleep on the job, quite literally in some instances. Although I was enjoying the experience of being right at the heart of it, I started to get itchy feet; living life through 140 character spurts, dealing with hissy customer complaints and endless data metrics started to hurt my brain a bit.

It was time for something different.

The big call

Having studied art all the way through school, I’d always liked the idea of a career in graphic design. In hindsight, I probably should have studied it at university but I thought an English degree would be more worthwhile. However, it’s only when you’re in full-time employment that you realise just how important it is to do a job you actually enjoy. It’s a bonus if it’s something you’re really passionate about.

Over time, I slowly realised the allure of graphic design was getting too strong to resist yet it still took over two years to actually down tools and go for it.

It’s never easy quitting a job, more so when you’re ditching it to pursue something so different from what you’re used to. Weighing things up at the time definitely caused a few headaches – was I still young enough to make the switch? Would it be worth it? Was I wasting five precious years of experience for nothing? Would the inevitable pay cut be worth it? Friends even told me not to bother – I’d be wasting my time, they said.

When it came down to it though, the choice was quite easy. I looked at several graphic courses in London but Shillington College stood out above the rest. They offer intensive graphic design courses for people “yearning for a creative career but who are worried about starting from scratch”. Yep, that was me.

Back to school

I ended up enrolling in November of 2015, said goodbye to social media management a month later and started Shillington’s three month, full-time course in January 2016.

Three months really doesn’t sound long enough to learn how to be a graphic designer, does it? Especially when I considered that, come day one of the course, some of my classmates revealed they hadn’t ever used a Mac, let alone any Adobe programmes (I’d never opened Photoshop before either). In three months though, we were told we’d have our own glistening portfolios brimming with A-grade work and would be applying for our first graphic design jobs.

Still not entirely convinced, there wasn’t time to dwell on things; from start to finish the course was super intense, something I had naively failed to anticipate. It was split into weekly schedules, each with a focus on a specific programme, particular skill or area of design. Days were normally divided between short lectures, exercises and then bigger briefs covering everything from print brochures to mobile app design. Shillington treat the classroom like a fully functioning studio and during the course we completed over 30 briefs before selecting six or seven of the best ones for inclusion in our portfolios.

The most challenging part of the course came at the end – “portfolio time”, two weeks of blood, sweat and tears devoted to getting your chosen work ready and primed for the eagerly anticipated graduate exhibition, a chance to show off our work to friends, family and potential employers. This period was really stressful and I personally found it much harder than any A-level or university exam I’d sat in the past. Putting all we had learned into practice, each piece of portfolio work would receive endless rounds of feedback from our teachers before being finally approved. Some people found this all a bit too much and threw in the towel at this stage! The rest of us worked solidly day and (most) nights to get everything done and it was so worth it in the end.

Crunch time

It felt a bit surreal looking at my polished portfolio on the night of our graduate show, something that seemed nigh on impossible to produce just three months before. Whilst I was glad the hard work was over, it was doubly daunting to think I was now expected to go and put everything I learned into practice by getting a graphic design job. The niggling doubts came to the fore again – could I really go and be a designer in a real agency after what was really just a crash course?

Well, here I am!

Having worked at Crab for around nine months now, I’ve already learned a vast amount – a tangible reminder that whilst you can grasp a great deal in the classroom, a real working environment is the best way to build up confidence in your ability and to put things into practice.

It wasn’t the easiest decision to make but I am 100% happy I made the move; as Tim Canterbury once said, “it is better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than half way up one you don’t.” So, if you’re ever in a position to do something similar I would definitely recommend it.

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