Design Routes: Finding Your Way as a Graduate Designer by Keelin Coyle, WorkGroup

Keelin Coyle is a designer at WorkGroup a Dublin-based design studio. She took part in this week’s “How to Get Hired? Moving from Student to Designer!” a day-long workshop run by the IDI Design Enterprise Skillnet in collaboration with Each&Other. For more information on events happening as part of Offset 2018, visit the website And for more info on Design Enterprise Skillnet events, visit.

People ask me all the time if I like my job. For me, being a graphic designer has always been less of a job and more of a vocation. Once you start, it becomes a journey so vast you can spend a lifetime in its pursuit. I graduated without a clear vision of where I wanted to be based or what I wanted to do as a specialty. However, the one thing I was certain about was that I wanted to work somewhere where I respected the team and believed strongly in the work that we were creating.

This curiosity and determined lack of plan, led me to study in Rotterdam, accept a graduate internship at Edenspiekermann in Amsterdam, and eventually landed me in New York, where I spent two years working at a branding and strategy agency in Dumbo, Brooklyn. I believe a good designer is a culmination of multiple things—raw talent, technical ability, and hard work, along with individual interests, life experiences, and whatever can be absorbed along the way. These elements combined create a unique designer who is distinct from their peers.

Designers can take control of their visual environment and curate the building blocks that help inform their work. Online resources like Pinterest, Tumblr and Behance cover the digital aspect but a physical collection is equally valuable too—tangible artefacts move references from the online to offline.

Never underestimate the power of face-to-face conversations to expand what and who you know. Designers I met at mixers in New York, or intimate events in Rotterdam, have continued to be sources of knowledge and inspiration.

A good friend of mine gave me some invaluable advice — rather than asking someone outright for a job, invite them to meet for a coffee instead. On returning to Dublin from New York, I was humbled by how positive and responsive people were to my invitations.

Over one of these coffees, I fortunately reconnected with a past tutor of mine— Conor Nolan — and David Wall, WorkGroup’s co-director. This informal re-introduction led to a freelance project, which turned into a full time role at WorkGroup 12 months ago.

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.”—Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell.

So what can you do to effect this? When connecting with design studios, every interaction counts, and unfortunately ‘unsend’ is not an option. In the past, 9% of applicants to WorkGroup forgot to send an email attachment, 11% sent a group email and 15% spelled the names of our directors wrong.

At WorkGroup, and in virtually every other industry, personal connections are the most valuable when hiring. 75% of WorkGroup’s past employees started as interns and many of those internships began with simple conversation or email. Always remember that studios are not necessarily looking to hire a perfect graduate designer. Rather, they are looking for someone who will bring value to the studio environment — be that through design-related skills or a diverse talent entirely. Personality can go a long way.

Every designer has their own unique background, or combination of elements that makes them different. For me, my experience abroad, the people I’ve met, and my personal references have helped to shape what I do and where I am today.

When figuring out what to do after graduating, it’s important to look at both your strengths and your weaknesses, as well as what you are truly interested in and passionate about. This may mean taking a slight pivot towards art direction, user experience design, or indeed, graphic design. Mainly, it’s about being aware of and appreciating personal creative talents. Combine this with a positive studio environment and working as part of a supportive team, you can get great fulfilment in the work you are creating.

label: Off Set // Off Site How to Get Hired? Moving from Student to Designer!, Each&Other, March 20th Feb

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