A day in the life of a graphic designer

I spent the day at a design studio and this is what I learned.

10:14 Am; Piccadilly station.  I breeze past a sign that reads “the doors will close forty five seconds before departure”. The train leaves at 10:15, so of course we’re running, and of course we make it just in time. It wouldn’t be a very interesting blog post if we didn’t.  As soon as we board the train we’re off, one hundred and ninety eight miles, two hours and fifteen minutes. Travelling for four and a half hours in a single day isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but today will be worth it. Today I’m spending the day at Publicis.

The day before, I’d spent time scouring the web, seeing the kind of work they had done. Wikipedia states that they made 6.6 billion in net revenue last year and with a six story office directly on Oxford Street, it would be reasonable if I was intimidated by it all. But frankly, I wasn’t. There wasn’t any expectation on my skills; I was there for work experience.

I expected them to just sit me down to assist a designer for the day and I would have been fine with that, but that’s not what ended up happening. Instead I shadowed people for the day, seeing what they did, looking at the process that real design studios go through. I wasn’t involved in anything but I can say that this way I’d end up learning more.

So what did I learn? I learnt that design work can be really inconsistent. Some days you might not have much to do at all and then the next you’re working until midnight. That didn’t surprise me much, I’ve seen this working for NOISE, but in all other respects it differs so greatly from them. At NOISE I just get given a task and I’ll run with it in whatever direction I like. But at a big firm like Publicis, everything is different. The creative team handles the ideas and the actual graphic designers have a lot less room to do what they want. That sounds stifling I know, but it allows the designers to really focus on getting the designs right. But the work is split up even more than that. They have people that specialise in certain things to increase the amount of work that can be done and improve the level of the finished product. It’s like a production line. You don’t really think of that when you think of a design.  

I talked with three designers across the day. The first two were polar opposites in terms of design and style. One was a corporate advertising campaign for Airbus, the woman I was working with had a 200 page booklet from the client of things she could and couldn’t do. She assured me that it isn’t always like that; I was glad. The second was for a company named Kipling, not the cake company or the poet, I know, I asked. Apparently they make bags, must be a London thing. This was far less constrictive.

I didn’t spend too much time shadowing these people. The third designer I sat down with, a guy called Jeff, was working on the campaign they were working on for us here at NOISE. There was a surreal moment while waiting for photos to get retouched and there wasn’t much to do where Jeff asked me to show him what I’d do to retouch the photo as there wasn’t enough space at the top and bottom for what was needed. I filled in past the edge with a content-aware fill and covered up any inconsistencies with the healing tool. He said he hadn’t thought about using the healing brush in that way, I said that you learn a new thing every day. But today I think I’d learnt a lot more than that.

Then the day was over and after a quick stop off at the happiest shop in the world (Hamleys) and a couple of other places, it was off home on another train back to Manchester. I was most surprised I think by the fact that I didn’t have to pay for anything in the day, NOISE paid for everything I wouldn’t have been able to afford the train prices (or anything for that matter, considering London prices) so that was handy. My Dad asked me “I don’t get it, what’s in it for them?” and I get it, that’s charity for you.

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