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My job explained: Graphic designer

Claire Hartley is a graphic designer. Read on as she talks about creativity, criticism, confidence - and how to get the right people to see your work...

Can you tell us a bit about your job?
I'm a graphic designer working at digital design agency Substrakt in Birmingham. I specialise in branding and visual identity with a big love for illustration too. We work with a range of companies in the creative sector so I get to work on a variety of exciting projects that engage with like-minded people.
What’s your typical working day like?
Due to the nature of my work there's never really a typical day. There's always something new to get my teeth into, whether it’s a new brief, research, designing or a brainstorming session with the rest of the design team. Being at a small agency I get the chance to work on projects from start to end which is a really rewarding feeling. I get full involvement from initial scope to end production at the printers, which has taught me loads about the industry in itself. 
What attracted you to graphic design?
I've always been a creative person and growing up I had a constant supply of sketchbooks and materials that I loved. Translating that to a digital medium came from art college, where we were encouraged to be experimental with our work, whether it be photography, painting, sculpture or graphics. I become more aware of design studios and the type of work they produced so it naturally became a field to explore.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I love the working environment of design studios. It's great to be surrounded be like-minded individuals on a daily basis. Sharing ideas stimulates so much creativity - that's what I thrive off.
What’s the most difficult thing about your job?
When entering the industry three years ago I was exposed to clients for the first time and my first projects weren't going to be spot on first time round - although I didn't expect this! Having somebody tell you they don't like your work or to change something you feel precious about can be the hardest thing. However, with experience I've learnt how to take feedback constructively, while using my skills to consult with the client on what will work best. 
What qualifications do you have?
I left school at 15 after my GCSEs and went on to art college to do an AVCE in Art & Design. I wasn’t great at academic subjects, so this was the perfect route for me after school and gave me a full five day week to explore different practices and develop creatively. I then went straight on to university where I studied a BA in Graphic Communication for three years, which really developed my individual style.
What other skills do you need?
Confidence in your work and the ability take advice. Be aware of what's going on in the industry, network and meet other creatives - you never know what opportunities may arise.
Was it hard to get your first job?
Graphic design is a tough industry. There are so many more graduates than jobs and the most vital thing that studios will look for is experience. That leaves many designers in a predicament where they struggle to find a job as they have no experience yet struggle to get experience as the studios don't have any jobs. I can remember being in that situation myself and so I'd strongly advise contacting studios for work placements over summer holidays whilst at university. This will put you at such an advantage when applying for jobs when you graduate. Do your research too: find out who the creative director is and give them a call - tell them you will be sending over some work and you would appreciate any feedback. Don't be afraid to follow up emails with a call too. Designers are busy people! 
What advice would you have for people who want to be a graphic designer?
Keep going and persevere. There's chances you'll get knocked back in the industry several times, whether it's being told you didn't get your dream job or your proudest idea being disregarded. Also, don't be too proud - you'll look at your most admired studio’s portfolio but don't expect to be working on those types of projects in your first job. Those studios have worked for years to develop their portfolio and quite often or not they'll be working on those not-so-great projects too. They just keep hush about those ones!
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