In 2016, there were an estimated 1.69m individuals employed in design roles across the UK economy, according to a Design Council report. The same study estimates that there were more than 73,000 ‘design-intensive’ firms in the UK in 2017, an increase of more than 60 per cent since 2010.

The UK ranks fourth in the world for design exports and exports 50 per cent more design than it imports. And in 2015, the total value of exports (both goods and services) in which UK design had made a key contribution was £48.4bn, representing 7 per cent of total UK exports that year.

With such a strong economic footing, the design industry needs to nurture creativity more by giving and creating more opportunities for students to gain work experience.

Next year will be 20 years since I graduated from Salford University. My time of graduating and getting my first job in the property marketing sector, could not have been better timed. Around 2003 it seemed every college and University was doing a graphic design course. Which meant 3-4 years later the entire sector was saturated with budding graphic designers all hunting and going for the same jobs, most of them with the same qualification, but differing portfolios and skill sets.

This led to the average wage for graphic designers going down and more ‘less creative’ roles to fill, as companies were employing in house designers, where they hadn’t previously. The industry started to become damaged, and good creative graduates were being driven out of the sector never to return.

Over my 20 years as a professional designer, I’ve interviewed and worked with a large number of designers with varied creativity. Some of the most exciting and creative people weren’t always the ones with the ‘first class honours’. For a portfolio to have bags of character, (as well as the person presenting it) it doesn’t just come from a qualification, it comes from experience. It is estimated that about 50 per cent of design employees are educated to degree level.

I started in the design industry when I was just 13 years old, (slave labour in Wigan was still about in the late 80’s). From that very early age I was picking up experience in interior design, graphic design, printing and sign writing. All of which defined me as the business owner I am today. Without the open arms of the businesses that let me work there at weekends, after school and in holidays, I know I would not be where I am today. The business owners, all of which I will never forget and am eternally grateful to, made time for me to to develop as a designer. All of these skills, physical and mental, are still used today.

Whenever we have the opportunity to develop a student through work experience, we jump at the chance. It’s a way of us giving back to the industry. During the time spent with us they will grow their skills and grow their portfolio with ‘commercial’ work, this is key to a more rounded designer, experience. Forget the fancy courses and high grades, their portfolio is a barometer of their creativity, and you can only have a truly ‘rounded’ set of work and skills with experience. I’m not saying don’t go to university, but a student shouldn’t think grades are the only thing they should be bringing to a business. We need talent sure, but ‘real’ talent, that comes with experience.

Therefore it is so important to nurture talent through experience, not just qualifications for the benefit of the person, the industry but also the economy.

Phoebe Rowe who is studying Graphic & Communication design at the University of Leeds has just completed a 3 month placement with us, and not only have we gained commercially from her time here, but she has also gained skills and developed as a designer. Phoebe explains:

“When beginning my 3-month placement at Blaze Marketing, the main thing I wanted to take away was not only a variety of work for my portfolio but an insight into how a fast paced and professional studio works. I had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects including branding, brochures, web design, digital marketing, map drawing, and much more. I think it’s safe to say I have covered everything.”

“Not only have my design skills but also my confidence and communication skills improved largely. At the start of this internship I was working in a very ‘student’ style, which has definitely been refined, adding potential use and value to my work.”

“One of the most interesting things I have learnt in my time at Blaze Marketing is how to approach and communicate a project through pitches to a client, whether this is communicating a new brand or web design etc. This has expanded my knowledge, which I will be able to transfer across all areas of design and marketing as a future designer.”

“My time here has been so valuable for me and I’ve learned skills and approaches I would never have learned in University. I can’t underestimate how this experience will help once I start work.”

(Source: The Design Economy 2018, Design Council)

Article written by Kevin Whitter – Creative Director of Blaze Marketing Ltd. Manchester 2019