On being a young designer: The Drum Design Awards

As with any industry, standing out from the pool of young talent can be a challenge and designers are no different. What makes you different? How do you get that job over the hundreds of other qualified candidates? The Drum spoke to two budding young designers about the trials and tribulations of getting into such a saturated industry.

Natalie Palmer is a digital designer at fitness brand, Sweaty Betty. Earlier this year she won Young Designer of the Year at The Drum Design Awards, a category created to encourage and reward young talent under 26.

Standing out from the crowd

One of the challenges she faces in the industry as a young designer is staying true to her own style and work. It took her a while to find her niche in the highly competitive industry, but it is important for young designers to find their place and stand out. She says: “What makes you stand out with your portfolio? What are those projects that you are truly passionate about? I only really found that in my third year at university. It took me a few years of trying out different styles and exploring different pathways before I found the one I was confident in.”

Many of the issue that face young designers are not just London based, the same challenges apply no matter where you are. “You are always struggling to find that killer project, that niche that is going to make you stand out,” she proclaims.

“Unpaid internships are a big issue in London. People are willing to work for free. You're young, you're hungry, you've got lots of energy and you want to work. But you need to make sure that you are not taking advantage of and ask for a paid internship.”

Designer, Jack Parker was highly commended for Young Designer of the Year. He finds that, as a young designer, getting your ideas heard in a room full of people is quite difficult. “Understandably you're the least experienced in there and you feel a certain pressure to prove yourself or do well" he explains. "However it couldn't be more the opposite.

“People aren't going to expect you to know everything so really you've got nothing to lose, even if you feel your idea isn't all that it could potentially spark something with someone else, start a conversation and people will ultimately just respect the fact you had the courage to speak up.”

Make or break

Breaking into the industry for Palmer had its challenges but doing internships, side projects and making sure she had the right connections early on fundamentally helped her. Getting the role, she is in now, she used LinkedIn and emailed Nicola Pearle, the head of creative here at Sweaty Betty with my portfolio. She said: “You need to check in with people so even if you just ask to meet for a coffee and you're not expecting a job out of the end of it, it's making those early connections so that people can open those doors to you in the future.”

For Parker, getting his first role out of university was made easier for him due to his design course in Preston offering a placement year out. This helped him gain placements with The Partners, Turner Duckworth, Landor Associates, B&B Studio, The Allotment and NBT Creative.

He explained: “After my placement year I returned back to complete my degree in Preston knowing full well what to expect in the industry and I had made connections I could return to once I had completed the final year.

“I ended up returning to an agency I had a placement with and walked into that job before I had even graduated.”

Finding your muse

Palmer and Parker both find their inspiration from everything around them, rather than an individual.

“It sounds quite token but everything,” said Palmer. “My team at Sweaty Betty always inspire me. I'll go to an exhibition which will inspire me.” At the moment, she is taking a free community course on coding which is inspiring her to do web design. She continued: “You can go onto Instagram and you see work from across the world. There's always something to be inspired by. It never stops.”

Parker takes ideas from mind blowing things that he can find in books like A Smile In The Mind or when he is looking through past D&AD annuals. He said: “I typically find certain projects that really I can't even comprehend how the particular designer has made such a genius link. The kind of work you look at and you think I wish I'd done that.”

Getting the recognition you deserve

With both Palmer and Parker receiving accolades for Young Designer of the Year comes recognition and a platform to show the world who you are and what you are doing.

Palmer said that winning the award will allow her to make connections within the industry. On the awards night alone, she was at a table with other brilliant young designers who shared their stories and what they were working on with each other. “I'll have those networks now,” she said. “I also met people from the top studios in the industry on the evening and I have them in my network now as well. There are lots of things that can come from this. It's going to be a great asset to have on my CV and in my portfolio. It’s a really established design awards so people know about them and will respect the award.”

Just the sound of the awards is impressive says Parker. “To be nominated and highly commended is a massive honour, something that in every interview I go in from now on it will definitely be mentioned and I can't be more grateful for this to have been made possible.”

The Drum Design Awards took place at the Emirates Stadium in London, Thursday 7 June. A full list of the winners can be found here. Register now to find out about our 2019 awards.

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