Summer Degree shows are already underway up and down the country from Falmouth School of Art to Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee. The next step for many is to take a trip to London to showcase their work at national shows including New Designer’s, D&AD New Blood and Free Range, and is seen as the first opportunity for final year artists and designers to gain an insight into opinions beyond their tutors and peers. A daunting and exciting prospect in equal measures, they are certainly my first port of call when I’m scouting for new talent. This year is my fourth year visiting, and is always a highlight in my calendar, giving me a chance to see some of the best products, prints, fashion and furniture UK’s new designers have to offer.
As many of you will be preparing for a busy few weeks ahead, I thought it would be useful to share a few tips on how to survive London’s national degree shows. But before I do...I graduated in Product Design from Nottingham Trent University in 2004 and was not selected to be part of New Designer’s. I was devastated, as I thought this was my only shot at getting a job in the industry. For all of you that didn’t make the cut, do not be disappointed, there are many other ways to get your work in front of the right people. (I’ll be sharing my advice on this in my next blog post.)
So for all you lucky ones out there, (who I may get the chance to speak to), here are my tips to making it through a crazy busy few weeks…
It may sound obvious, but keep your business cards topped up every day. There have been a number of occasions when I’ve been really interested in a graduates work, but there wasn’t any cards to hand, and simply had to walk away with minimal details. These rarely then make my shortlist.
Don’t feel obliged to stand by your work the entire time. You may feel like if you walk away from your stand, you may loose out on meeting that one person that gives you a big break. Honestly, if they are really keen on your work, they will leave their details or come back again to see you. Plus, it’s good to take in other work from other university stands, be inspired, pick your own favourites, take a few cards, photos etc.
Encourage people to take photos. It’s the social media age, and any images of your work that could potentially end up on someone’s twitter or Instagram feed is always a positive. I wanted to take photos of a graduate's collection last year, and was told no photos allowed. They could have been someone I would have promoted and eventually worked with, by being denied this opportunity, I had no visual reference to work with and so they didn’t make my shortlist. Plus it’s a good ice-breaker if you’re not so confident about talking to people, invite them to take photos, and give them a card with your Twitter/Instagram details. Being tagged will mean you can keep track of any coverage you gain.
Have realistic expectations. There will be a lucky few of you that will get noticed by the right people, the buyers at John Lewis, the shopping editor of Elle Deco for example, but the reality is, the majority of you will not come away with any leads. This may sound hugely negative, but I don’t think anyone ever actually says it! The shows should be used as an exciting opportunity to branch out beyond the campus walls, gain confidence in essentially selling yourself, and your work, whether to an interested passer-by or to the creative director of a leading design agency, without feeling completely overwhelmed that every person is your one shot. Any feedback should be regarded as enriching and positive, and make you more determined to move forward with more confidence.
Translating Off-line to On-line. With such a variety of free online resources available, if you haven’t got a blog or website yet, set one up. It’s a vital online tool to highlight your work and creating a digital portfolio is the best way to get your work out there, beyond the show stands. You’ll no doubt know more about this than me! So I won’t offer too much advice, but aligning this with details on your business cards will make it extremely easy for admirers, bloggers and buyers alike to remember your work.
Also, make sure it’s all up-to-date, when I come away with 10-20 cards of shortlisted graduates, there’s nothing worse than going onto a website to just see a holding page or no contact details. Sounds really obvious, but there have been many designers I’ve tried to track down and haven’t been able to once the shows are over.
Don’t be shy, it’s all about you. Not everyone is that confident talking about themselves or their work, but remember, no one knows it better than you. You did the research and development that got to this point. Talk about the processes, and the inspiration, it doesn’t have to be a lot, but your passion for the work will come through regardless. Perhaps put a blog post together that you can lead interested people to if you find it really hard to talk to people, and give them a business card to find out more.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Business cards, postcards, press packs, and hand-outs all cost money and there’s no need to go crazy. You’ve already spent a huge amount of money getting to this point, and of course looking professional is great, but a whole plethora of marketing materials isn’t necessary. Simply presenting your work in the best way you can, with a good amount of business cards that lead you to a blog or website is more than enough at this stage. Focus on the work and best way to be contacted, and you can plan your marketing strategy once you’ve got yourself established.
I’m sure there are plenty more tips and suggestions to offer, so feel free to add your own in the comments section. Good luck to everyone making the trip down to London over the next few weeks, I’m excited and you should be too!