Voices

Voices // 10 things I got wrong

by Katie Cadwallader

Having only been a designer for two years, making me a mere toddler in the industry, I decided to think about the mistakes I made in those first mine-filled years and try to draw lessons out of them (no matter how painful). Some were big whopper slip-ups, head in your hands moments, whereas others were misconceptions I had about being a designer when looking up at my future as a graduate. So without further ado, here are the ten things I got wrong.

The first thing I got wrong – No one cares about grades 

This is something I believed, because so many people told me so. Every guest lecture that visited told a hall of students (and their dismayed tutors) that no one cares about your grades. They don’t matter, no one asks, your portfolio is the important thing. Portfolio aside, because obviously it’s vital in getting your mac in the door at an agency, I completely disagree with this statement. It makes me quite cross to think designers are telling students this up and down the country, belittling their hard work (spoken like a true swot). Everything you need to do to get a good degree grade, directly equates to what it takes to be a good junior designer. All the box ticking, nitty gritty, not so fun & flashy tasks, sound a lot like your first year in the job to me. We should be asking about grades because they’re a great way to find out what going on behind closed doors. 

The second thing I got wrong – My designer status

I’d assumed everyone else thought it was as cool to be a designer as I did... how wrong I was! When someone asks what I do for a living, I usually take a second to assess whether they’ll know what graphic design is. Just to avoid any British awkwardness for them and myself. My friends & family understand the product of me being a designer but not what I do on the day to day. Or how I could be working on the same 2 inch square stamps as I was a year ago. Good job I didn’t get into this for the cool points.

The third thing I got wrong – You need to develop a style

I’d been patiently waiting for my style to come in. Hoping for some sort of eureka moment when my portfolio would start to look like a body of work... you’d be able to spot one of my projects in the wild and say “That looks like a Katie Cad”. I have yet to have said eureka moment. Instead, I had quite a different epiphany when I read this Bob Gill quote – “If you honestly think your statement is interesting, then an absolute miracle happens; you listen to the statement and it designs itself”. What I took from this is that a good idea comes with its own style. Typefaces, colours, illustration style etc – they all seem obvious because they fit the idea. If you have to force style on an idea, then it’s usually not a go-er. This happened to me only last week and my (tactful) Supple sister said “It’s not you, it’s the typeface”. That’s how we break up with an idea in Supple Studio.

The fourth thing I got wrong – 200 tubes

It was my first big mistake as a junior. I’m sure every designer has a similar story to tell. The only thing is, my mistake arrived on an articulated lorry. 200 mistakes to be exact. I won’t go into the details, only to say that my error involved maths (which I’m sure all my mistakes, present & future will also blame) and a table saw. I learnt two key lessons from this horrendous experience. The first (if my boss could avert his eyes about now) – if you screw up, but can fix it before anyone finds out, do that and keep schtum. The second being the back up option if that’s not possible – tell someone about your mistake and then follow up with how you’re going to solve it. Helps to ease the blow. A wise man (you can look again now boss!) once told me “It’s not your mistakes that define you, it’s how you fix them”. It’s how I turned my first big negative into my first big positive.

The fifth thing I got wrong – Mum’s the word

Pretty simple thing to get wrong here – telling my mum about top secret projects. Mums don’t care (or believe you when you say you can’t tell anyone) and my particular kind of mother tells everyone she knows. Including the women in the Post Office. You live and you learn.

The sixth thing I got wrong – “All the ideas will be gone”

This is direct quote from a particularly brutal crit whilst in Uni. It can feel this way when you’re a student or junior designer. There are only so many times you can be told “Jim Sutherland did that...” before it stops being a compliment and instead becomes a bit annoying and scary in equal measure. I used to constantly worry if there were any ideas left for me. Would I ever be original? After a few years, this fear has shifted slightly. The reason being this – you have a brief, a very unique complicated problem from a client. You come up with a solution, an idea, an answer. So doesn’t that make it original? Has there ever been an exact scenario like it? To some extent, every project is original so long as it’s relevant. So now I fear being irrelevant much more than being unoriginal. When you’re irrelevant, odds are you haven’t answered the question right.

The seventh thing I got wrong – I’m going to be a PhotoFlop

(Gets up from chair) Hi my name is Katie and I’m part of the Creative Suite generation. There’s a huge pressure on graduates today to be super slick rick on the programmes. We certainly felt this pressure in my final year at Uni. I spent a lot of time worrying and swotting up on my digital skills. If I could turn back the clock, I’d divert this energy. The thing is, every studio in the country has an expert at retouching tote bag mockups, or someone who was there at the inception of Illustrator. So why try to be the best at something most designers can already do? Instead, I think we should spend our time becoming good at something they can’t do. Something to make you stand out and become indispensable.

The eighth thing I got wrong – Me Vs. The World

I’d heard lots about this industry, some good and lots bad. I didn’t want to leave my lovely Cornish cocoon where everyone was rooting for me. My tutors and lovely friends all stood firmly in my corner. I felt like I was setting out into the Wilderness with only my Macbook for protection. This is the thing I’m most relived I got wrong. I swapped one support system for another. My colleagues, boss, freelancers, printers, paper reps and the lovely people of West England Design Forum – they are all rooting for me, willing to help me on my merry way. It’s not this lone wolf journey everyone makes it out to be. Thank god!

The ninth thing I got wrong – This is the most important thing in the world

Of course I think design is important, otherwise none of us would do it. Design can be a catalyst for change, power for good and ease the strain on the public eyeballs. All excellent qualities in a career choice. But it’s not the most important thing. I have friends who work at the heart of the NHS. A bad shift for them can be a really badshift... life-endangering type bad. Which makes our stresses about proofs and proposals seem quite insignificant. When I was having a particularly stressful day as a junior, or tense wait for a business card arrival, I coined a pretty grim motto to help keep perspective. “No one ever died from bad kerning”.

The last thing I got wrong – a few years in, I’ll know it all

Well, a few years in takes us to about now. Luckily, no one likes a know it all anyway.