14 June 2017

The Graduates 2017: how to make the most out of failure


14 June 2017


No matter how hard you work, the road to success is never straightforward. If you want to make it in the creative industry, you’ll need to not only get used to being rejected (a lot), but work out how to harness short-term set backs and transform those soul-crushing “didn’t get the job” moments into life lessons.

As part of our Graduates advice series, we asked a string of stellar creatives working in every corner of the industry to play the role of your unconventional agony aunts and uncles. So whether you’re planning a future as a graphic designer or a set designer, this lot can teach you a thing or two…

Charlotte Roberts and Bertie Brandes: co-founders of Mushpit

It’s very easy especially just after graduation to get caught up in constantly monitoring what your peers are up to and comparing yourself and becoming disheartened or discouraged. While it’s useful at times to measure yourself against others, I would try not to get to caught up in it as it can make you anxious and insecure if you’re constantly looking outwards. Instead focus on what you want to achieve, not what you think you should have achieved by this point. 

When working with brands for the first time be very sure about your values and ethos, it’s exciting to get approached by these big brands and you can often feel you need to compromise in order to please them (albeit for a fairly paltry sum of money). It’s super important to remember your value and what they are gaining from you; whether it be your niche, young audience (which A LOT of big brands have trouble reaching), tone of voice or individual aesthetic.

We were once banned by a well-known hair brand from putting a girl with armpit hair on the front cover of an early issue of Mushpit as it didn’t fit with their “brand language.” That seems archaic now given the coverage of body hair among style titles now, but we compromised and ultimately used the weaker cover shot because we were scared they would pull and we wouldn’t be able to afford printing. It was a learning curve about trusting our instincts and standing up for what we believe in. 

Kibwe Tavares: filmmaker

Working in film and advertising can be a bit relentless. Very rarely does anything go entirely smoothly or exactly how you had planned it.  For every job I’ve won or finished there has been about five I didn’t get, or got cancelled at the last minute, or I even got replaced on. I learn a lot more from when things fail or I bite off more than I can chew. You learn more about yourself and what sort of things you want to make, and it means when you finish something you a really proud of, it means a lot more. So just keep on keepin’ on.


Kibwe Tavares: Robot & Scarecrow

Frances Corner: head of college at LCF

Something that I return to often is that being a creative means experimenting and taking risks. At a time of pressure on what we mean by the value of something, students will feel more concerned about not taking chances, but we must experiment and be aware that failure and mistakes are absolutely crucial to how we learn as human beings and how we push our creative thinking on.

I particularly like this quote from Lewis Thomas: “Mistakes are at the very base of human thought, embedded there, feeding the structure like root modules. If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we would never get anything useful done… We are built to make mistakes, coded for error… What is needed, for progress to be made, is the move based on error.”

Whether you’re a scientist or a fashion designer you have to be pushing your ideas and your materials as far as they will go, and that risks failure and things going wrong. When things go wrong, you are often encouraged to go in a new direction you hadn’t seen before and you find a new solution. It’s certainly true that you learn more from the things that go wrong than you do from things that succeed. If things never go wrong, you are just following that rails of what’s already in existence, and if you truly want to be a creative, you just can’t do that.

Eddie Peake: artist

Protect the periods in which little seems to be happening – they are extremely valuable. Use them to explore material and ideas you might not be so confident about showing to the world when opportunities do start presenting themselves to you which, if you are serious about what you’re doing, and you enjoy it, and you are prepared to work hard, they inevitably will, even if that means creating opportunities for yourself from scratch. Take advantage of the fallow periods by making work, whatever that means for you, non-judgmentally and at a natural and steady pace, as unencumbered by extraneous or outside forces as you can possibly allow yourself to be.

If you are an artist at all, you will have to deal with failure, rejection and disapproval as a constant part of your work. It is very easy for us to convince ourselves that other people who seem to be getting all the opportunities and having lots of success are doing so without trial or tribulation. The art world as it stands is set up in such a way that pits us against one another, and so inevitably jealousy, competition, shame and humiliation are malignant energies that permeate its entirety and seem not to dissipate.

In light of this, even if we are struggling to reconcile our experience, which may indeed be difficult, against the apparent experience of an artist for whom things seem to be going smoothly, successfully and easily, it is important to remember that you never really know what another person’s situation is, or what difficulties they have had to overcome — however easy they may or may not have had it.


Eddie Peake: Only Ever Alone

Toby Evans: Co-Founder/Creative Director, Superimpose Studio

Success and failure tend to go hand in hand: take the rough with the smooth. I would say there are a few things that could set you up for not taking a big blow to your confidence early on in your working practice. One process that’s always worked for me is to take a mental step back from my work: to try and look at it objectively and separate emotional attachment from my objective view of your ideas.

If failure has been the outcome, don’t let it get to you. It feels rubbish for a minute but just crack on with the next project. Don’t get hooked up on other peoples successes: they would have had many failures to reach those successes — you will just never hear about them.

Ollie Olanipekun: Co-Founder/Creative Director, Superimpose Studio

My advice would be to take on as many self-initiated projects as you can fit in, personal as well as group projects. Here you can experiment, fail and learn how to handle being pulled out of your comfort zone. Many young creatives focus only on their craft and forget they are (or will be) part of a multifaceted team. So having a good understanding of all the deliverables at each stage will be hugely beneficial when you’re concepting or selling in your idea. And failing is crucial to learning – there’s no escaping that – but fail on the small budgets not the big ones!

Oli Beale: executive creative director at Anomoly

Be your own client sometimes. Try and find some time among the madness of doing work for other people, to sell a great bit of work to yourself. Make it. Put it out into the world. Put it in your portfolio. I swear I got my big breaks based on the great stuff I made for myself rather the average ads I had made for clients.


Oli Beale

David Lane: art director at Lane Associates, creative director Frieze

Don’t prepare to fail, it’s a really negative and uninspiring foundation for a project, if you have done your research, understand the problem and put in the time to come up with a clever solution I’m sure you will get the job. However if you don’t…

a) Definitely ask for feedback, especially if the treatment you submitted was unpaid, it really is the least a client can do and you never know maybe there are some changes you can make that will make it work for both you and them. If there really isn’t, their comments will still help you learn and formulate future proposals. It’s also really good to keep an open dialogue as it is more than likely there will be more work down the line and it is good to show that you are not disheartened and still keen to work with them in the future.
b) Don’t worry. If they completely rejected your proposal but you really believe the idea you presented was the right solution to their brief, then you are probably better off without them as a client anyway, you might never see eye to eye. 

c) Try and spend the time you would have spent on the project working on something for yourself. 


David Lane: The Gourmand

Supported by A/D/O

Founded by MINI, A/D/O is a creative space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn dedicated to exploring new boundaries in design. At its heart is the Design Academy, which offers a range of programming to professional designers, intended to provoke and invigorate their creative practice.

If you’re after more advice and insight into the creative industries, sign up to Lecture in Progress – It’s Nice That’s new sister company, which was launched to inspire, inform and empower emerging talent with information on the workings of the creative world.

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