Into the unknown: Students and recent grads discuss their hopes, anxieties and aspirations

We spoke to 12 students and recent graduates around the world, from Singapore to Stockholm, about how they’re approaching the next few months and feeling about the industry they’re entering.

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Given the exceptional circumstances of this year, we at It’s Nice That approached our annual Grads series a little differently. In late April, we launched a survey calling all creative graduates to tell us what advice they need and from who. We’ve listened and now we’ve acted. As a result of the survey, this year’s advice pieces seek to answer the most pressing questions asked by those of you directly affected, from the people you wanted to hear from.

Below, you’ll also find a folder of digital stickers which are free to download and use. Inspired by emails we received from students as the pandemic unfolded, the eight stickers embody the feelings and atmosphere of those graduating during this difficult time. Many told us how they were unsatisfied with how their respective institutions were dealing with the crisis, so the stickers are available to freely express the discomfort and solidarity felt by many, in any way you choose. Please do share them with anyone that may find them useful too.

The Graduates 2020 Stickers

Download eight free digital stickers which you can use in any way to support a fairer creative education.

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In previous years, the core mission of our Graduates series has been to advise, educate and inform current students and recent graduates, as they embark on the beginnings of their careers. Clearly, though, 2020 is different, with the global economy pitching into a downturn and the jobs market in a deep freeze. And that was even before the Black Lives Matter movement once again resurged across the US and the rest of the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

To mark the fact that graduates are going through something completely new this year, we wanted to hear from them directly. So we conducted a survey and selected a global group of 12 respondents, asking them how the Covid-19 crisis has affected them, how they’re feeling about the future, and what they need from the creative industries at this moment in time. Their answers are often saddening and troubling, covering everything from missing out on a physical degree show (“like watching a really good series on Netflix and then the last and most exciting episode is just deleted,” as one of our interviewees put it) to concerns around not being able to fall back on casual work in the service sector.

Yet there are also a lot of uplifting sentiments below, which will give those of us already working in the creative industries hope for the future and some reassurance that our industry will be in better hands in years to come. Plus, there are a lot of suggested actions below for how we can help young creatives from all backgrounds get into the creative world, so industry leaders, please take note! Finally, if you’re a student or recent graduate and you want to get in touch off the back of reading this article, please get in touch with me on ma@itsnicethat.com.

(It’s worth noting that all of these interviews – aside from the one with Petra Lee – were conducted before the killing of George Floyd; hence its omission from these responses. However, because Petra is based in Minneapolis, we went back to her for comment last week.)

GalleryNing Lui

Ning Lui

Originally from Hong Kong, Ning studied architecture at the Bartlett, UCL, and recently completed a master’s at Sci-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) on a full scholarship. She’s now based in London and working as an architectural assistant, while freelancing as a 3D artist and visualiser.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you and your work already?

The virus’ economic impact may limit job prospects; however, the role of the architect is highly adaptable to other creative professions. The rigorous education prepares you with skills to go into visualisation, UX/UI, VFX, illustration, as well as game, graphic, product and interior design. I think it’s really important for graduates to try to build on their existing skills in these unpredictable circumstances, and adapt to new environments in a world where change is the only constant. Although I am currently on furlough, I now have invaluable time to finesse my architectural rendering skills through hands-on practice and access to online platforms like Linkedin Learning. Although easier said than done, it’s vital to stay positive and passionate towards your interests as you never know what opportunities may be around the corner.

How do you feel the creative industries need to change?

The architecture profession would benefit from opening its doors to an influx of innovative minds with diverse educational and professional backgrounds. In the UK, it takes at least seven years to become an architect, which may deter talented people from entering the industry. By comparison, the US offers the MArch 1 programme (a three-year Architecture master’s open to applicants with any undergraduate degree), which allows people to join the profession at a higher level. Unpaid internships propagate a vicious cycle of exclusivity as only those who can afford to work for free gain valuable experience. To combat this, the architecture sector’s first ever trade union, SAW (Section for Architectural Workers), campaigns for all workers to be paid a living wage. The Instagram account “Archishame” sheds light on the industry’s ongoing exploitation by sharing offers of unpaid employment. Unfortunately, many “shamed” architecture companies have responded by stopping internships altogether. I hope that in the future, the rigour and resilience of architecture graduates will truly be valued and recognised.

GalleryPetra Lee

Petra Lee

Petra was born in Singapore and grew up there and in Da Nang, Vietnam, before she went to university in St Paul, Minnesota, graduating in 2018 with a BFA in Studio Art and a BA in Graphic Design. She is now a junior designer at Malley Design, an agency in Minneapolis.

How are you feeling about the future?

At this point, I’m seeing 2020 as a year of reckoning for the US (and I would assume many parts of the world) on all levels – government, local, cultural, individual. It’s clear that centuries of capitalism, colonisation, white supremacy, mass incarceration, police brutality (and the list goes on) have been endemic for far too long. Initially, I was curious to see how just Covid-19 alone would change the way we do things – whether at a national level, a corporate level, within our industries, even how we treat each other. I was afraid that not enough would change, that once the pandemic ended, things would just go back to the way they were. Now it’s clear that that absolutely cannot be the case, as the revolution over the past two weeks has brought to light so many issues and already made significant progress in holding law enforcement accountable and working towards its abolishment.

On 7 June, the Minneapolis city council pledged to begin the dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department. There’s still a long way to go, but it has been extremely encouraging to see support at a larger scale than before. Corporations and institutions seem to have found some generosity during this time of crisis, and though much of it is face-value PR, I hope they adopt it as habit – that it should not take a global health crisis or far too many Black lives to understand that these centuries-old systems of oppression need to shatter once and for all. I have been encouraged to see how many creative initiatives have launched because of all of this. In hopeless and desperate times such as these, art always finds a way to open a conversation and try to make sense of everything.

For me personally, it’s been hard to feel creative with all of this going on. Earlier during the Covid-19 crisis a silver lining for me was that time wasn’t a factor in the same way it used to be. With everything closed, plans out the window and endless time at home, it took off a lot of pressure to be whatever it was that the powers that be often demand of creatives. I’ve always felt like I am constantly racing against time – not only in meeting deadlines, but also in feeling pressured to reach a certain level of success by a certain age because of how competitive the industry is. I just passed two years out of university and I still don’t feel like I have accomplished as much as I would like to. That’s always been a constant anxiety for me, but when Covid struck, it made me feel like this is a year where I can experiment and play without feeling like I’m wasting time. However, that is in itself a statement of privilege, and I wish more than anything that we weren’t in the crises that we are.

Now, in light of everything that has happened in Minneapolis and across the globe, I feel that sense of urgency again. I should have been using all that extra time to fight for justice as much as I was able before more lives were taken. Black activists and voices have been ignored for decades, and while it is wonderful to see some change finally start to take place, I know it is extremely frustrating that it didn’t happen sooner. My work has always been about otherness, displacement and marginalisation, but I am now planning to connect more closely with the BIPOC art community in Minneapolis as I continue my practice.

How do you feel the creative industries need to change?

I think my biggest frustration with the creative industry is how white-dominated it is. I'm sure a lot of my frustration comes from living in Midwest America, where I can't even name one non-white owned agency in the Twin Cities where I live. In the three agencies I've worked at here in Minneapolis, I have always been the only person of colour. My experiences ranged from feeling like nobody tried to get to know me or understand that I was different, to the whole work environment feeling like a woke popularity contest, but for white people. They’d flex whatever progressive trends they were into at the moment, but it was always saturated with blindspots. I think the creative industry would be radically changed if there were more leaders of colour who had the space to bring their varied and diverse experiences to the table.

GalleryLucy Ferreira

Lucy Ferreira

Lucy recently graduated with a BA in Design from OCAD University in Toronto, Canada, and says she’s most interested in branding, identity and print design. She’d like to see herself working at a smaller design studio that focuses on a multidisciplinary approach and takes on a variety of different projects.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you and your work already?

As many other recent graduates have experienced, my university’s grad exhibition has been cancelled. There are plans for launching an online exhibition; however, we’re losing a lot of opportunities from not being able to connect with potential employers in person and speak about our work. In Canada, about 2 million people have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. I had a part-time job as a barista that I lost, which is not the best thing to have happened while I’m in the transition between graduating and looking for a full-time design job. Local studios seem to be doing alright in spite of the economic troubles. I’m a little worried, though, because it doesn’t seem like a lot of jobs are being made available for recent graduates. I also think it’s more difficult to get hired when you’re unable to speak and show your portfolio in person.

How do you feel the creative industries need to change?

On one side it’s important to keep in mind that the creative industries are also facing problems with the pandemic, so a lot of my frustrations could be directly linked to the troubles they are going through. That being said, it would be really beneficial if members of the creative industry could create more networking opportunities for new graduates. It could be to review portfolios, give advice, or just have a conversation about design and the industry. The biggest frustration I have when looking for entry-level jobs, and this isn’t pandemic-related, is that a lot of them require one or two years of experience working in the field. It’s frustrating. I need the job to get experience but I need experience to get the job.

GalleryAnnie James

Annie James

Annie is a designer based in Pōneke (Wellington), New Zealand, who just finished a master’s of Interior Architecture at Victoria University of Wellington. She is currently freelancing part-time as a communication designer for an online literary journal.

How are you feeling about the future?

I count myself as extremely fortunate to live in Aotearoa (New Zealand) during this time. Sometimes the geographical isolation of New Zealand can feel quite inhibiting but now it feels like a haven. We are lucky to have political leaders that have prioritised the well-being of people before anything else. The pandemic has caused a complete perspective shift and my reaction has been two-fold: I am sceptical yet somewhat relieved? It’s daunting being a new grad at this time, knowing that many places of work have imposed hiring freezes for the foreseeable future. However, accepting the state of things relieves some of the pressure to get a job in what already was a highly competitive industry. This increases the value in the side projects and interests I have. While I didn’t force myself to become hyper-productive during the lockdown, the newfound time on my hands inspired a lot of excellent introspective thinking. We have all been forced to re-evaluate how we use our domestic spaces and I find this very interesting as an interior architect. This time has also given me the confidence to pursue personal projects, such as producing my own furniture and developing a publication that evaluates material culture. Additionally, I am able to collaborate on more projects with friends that I normally wouldn’t have the time to see through.

How do you feel the creative industries need to change?

I have found it really helpful having reasons to make things, so having more competitions for new grads would be wonderful as it would provide some intermittent motivation and encourages us to collaborate and learn from each other! I would also like to see more exploration into the processes of different design and architecture practices. There tends to be a focus on sharing the final designed result in events such as public talks or interviews without necessarily going into detail into the processes and time it took to achieve this result. I feel this would be insightful to new graduates and students especially when there are fewer opportunities for entry-level positions during this time.

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Sam Corijn

Sam Corijn

Sam is studying Graphic Design at LUCA School of Arts in Ghent, Belgium, and is currently working on his graduation project.

How are you feeling about the future?

It is difficult to see the future of the design world because everything is evolving so quickly. Personally, I don't know if I want to venture into the work arena already or continue studying. The current situation certainly doesn't make that choice easier. From a purely economic point of view, I also don't know what is best. Continue studying and wait until everything is like before, and then look for a job in a normal way? Or is it better to look for a job right now? I think this is something that many graduating students are asking themselves. A positive element may be that now everyone is connected and accessible – I communicate with my best friends in the same way as with someone on the other side of the world. Everyone seems to be equally far and equally accessible.

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Emma Leuthold: Final project about typical products of childhood

Emma Leuthold

Emma is in her fourth and final year at the School of Design in Biel, Switzerland. After graduating, she’s keen to gain practical experience and test what she’s learnt with a job working in a studio.

How are you feeling about the future?

Since I was financially dependent on my parents during my degree, I was really looking forward to standing on my own two feet after this summer. I know that it is generally difficult to get a job in the industry, especially with little work experience. The virus of course worries me a lot to a point where I think it’s almost impossible to get a job. I am currently investing a lot of time and energy in my portfolio. The current situation doesn’t make me sit around lazily, but pushes me to do a good job because the challenge is even bigger.

How do you feel the creative industries need to change?

My personal concerns are over the training of young graphic designers, since I’m experiencing this situation myself. In Switzerland, there are different routes to becoming a graphic designer. A common way is to graduate from high school and study visual communication at a university. You can also do an apprenticeship in a studio. Sadly, very few studios offer an apprenticeship because it is a lot of work to train someone. So it is almost impossible to become a graphic designer without having a Matura [a form of high school diploma]. It's a shame to put this hurdle in the way of people who are creative and have good ideas but don't have the ability to prove themselves on a school level. I hope that this does not extend to the job market and that degrees won’t count more than innovative ideas and commitment.

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Line Bach Poulsen

Line Bach Poulsen

This summer, Line will be graduating from the Danish School of Media and Journalism with a BA in Graphic Design. She also works part-time as a graphic designer for the Copenhagen-based creative studio ArtRebels.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you and your work already?

The Covid-19 crisis has caused a lot of concerns and uncertainty regarding the future, as it has to many others. It has also meant that I have made my entire final project from home, and that I will be graduating over Zoom. Being able to work from home is a privilege in this situation, but working on my final project under circumstances like these also makes it seem quite irrelevant compared to what is going on in the world. Even though I would love to say that the situation has made me more productive than ever, sadly that is not the case. I really miss the long days in the studio with my classmates, being able to inspire and support each other. That amazing sense of community and support is something that I have really come to appreciate during lockdown, and I now see how important it is to my process!

How are you feeling about the future?

Right now the future seems like a lot of questions. First of all there are a lot of things that are making me anxious and worried. What will the industry look like? What will the world be like? Will I be unemployed? How is life outside the safe environment of school? On a brighter note, it has made me reflect a lot on how to evolve as a designer: How can I refine my skills even more? Who can I collaborate with? How am I able to stay connected to meaningful creative communities? How can I keep experimenting and nurturing my passions?

How do you feel the creative industries need to change?

Because of the current crisis, what I think is needed from the creative industries also applies to every other industry: Change. Even though it is caused by terrible circumstances, I think a lot of people have experienced a change in values and beliefs during lockdown, and it might have an impact on the way we want to work, live and consume. Therefore we are facing a very important moment for further changing systems and moving society into a better, slower and more humane direction. It is a huge vision that design cannot take on alone, but in collaboration with other industries I feel very hopeful that we as designers and creatives will have a big influence.

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Sam Hanner: Growth, 2019

Sam Hanner

Originally from a small village in south Norfolk, Sam moved to London in 2008 to do a Foundation in Art and Design at Kingston University before going on to study Fine Art at Goldsmiths University, graduating in 2012. After seven years of working as a labourer, set builder, scenic artist, book-shop assistant, and art technician, he returned to education to study an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in London in 2019.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you and your work already?

Firstly, I’m incredibly lucky that amidst an unforeseeable global health crisis I am still young and healthy. It’s easy to get caught up in my own situation and forget the privilege of that position. The main effect Covid-19 has had on my work, however, is the shutting of the Royal College of Art, which has meant that I’m no longer able to access my studio. All of the other facilities like the print workshops, metalwork, woodwork, ceramics, the library and many more are now inaccessible too. I think I would feel a lot better about that if I wasn’t still paying so much for the course, a course clearly advertised as an experience of making and learning situated in the studios, workshops and lecture halls. We were all shut out of college, sat at home, some people returning to their families abroad, cut off from any communication and it seemed like ages before we heard anything from senior management. Then, when we did hear something, which was quietly snuck on to the student intranet, it was news that there would not be a postponement of courses, students would continue to pay full fees, there would be an online degree show, and if we didn’t like it we could skip the term or take leave. What, at first, had seemed like a temporary hiatus increasingly looked like a radical altering to the experience we had all mapped out.

How are you feeling about the future?

My main feeling about the future is one of a kind of horrific curiosity, if that’s not putting it too melodramatically. It’s evident that there are going to be many changes across industries but quite how everything is going to change is too much for one person to know or predict. My most immediate future concerns are financial. Like so many people in the UK, I worry where my income is going to come from. All of my jobs that have subsidised my development as an artist have come from sectors that have been badly hit, if not completely closed down, due to Covid-19. If gatherings aren’t happening, then art technicians aren’t needed in galleries, museums or art schools, and the work that I could previously rely on picking up quite easily in London dries up. The extra work that I was envisaging picking up over the summer, to save money and see me through the second year of my MA, is now nowhere to be seen.

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Michelle Kim Nguyen

Michelle Kim Nguyen

Michelle is based in Sydney, where she’s in her second year of a BA in Visual Communications. While she’s interested in working with motion graphics, her goal is to become a freelance illustrator.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you and your work already?

Covid-19 in Australia has led to schools going online and many stores having to shut down during the pandemic. For us, this has been going on for about two or three months but has fortunately become a lot better and now restrictions have been lifted. Personally, this meant I was not able to work my casual job, which meant I unfortunately could not earn money; however, I found that this was the perfect opportunity to really focus on my design projects for university and also improve my illustration skills. I was also very fortunate to not have any of my family or I get the virus and I will always be grateful for that.

How are you feeling about the future?

If I could summarise my feelings on the future, it would be nervous excitement. As I keep improving my own design thinking, I feel more capable of being a designer; however, there is always a fear that I won’t be good enough. One key issue that keeps reappearing is the idea of stagnancy. I always get to points where I believe I’m not improving as quickly as others or that I just simply do not know how to get better at what I’m doing (for example, developing creative ideas, my illustration skills, etc). This always leads me down the rabbit hole of self-criticism and comparing myself to others around me. I hear rumours that the turnover rate for artists and designers is high, which makes me feel insecure. I’m afraid of the competition – and I know there will be A LOT of competitors. I understand that this is normal in every field, so I want to know how I should make myself truly stand out and keep being that stand out designer when I do get the job.

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Left

Henriette Brück: Creative Hiccups

Right

Henriette Brück: Werkschau

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Henriette Brück: Werkschau

Henriette Brück

Henriette studied Communication Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany and graduated in February of this year. She’s now living in Amsterdam, where she’s currently doing an internship as a digital designer.

How are you feeling about the future?

I'm honestly a little anxious about the future, especially regarding my job. I feel like I have little chance of getting a steady job once my internship is over, as budgets are being shortened everywhere and no one is taking on junior designers. I try to stay positive, though, as I’m currently gaining experience in managing and being more independent in my work. This might be a valuable skill in the future. I'm mostly frustrated with the general mindset that you need to have a minimum of three years’ experience to enter a job. That seems like a high hurdle for me and gives me the feeling that I need to do plenty more underpaid internships before I am seen as “valuable” in the community.

Jia Lin Lee

Jia Lin just graduated from the Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore with a Diploma in Communication Design and is now spending some time working on her portfolio before she starts looking for a job.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you and your work already?

Due to Covid-19, our annual design show to showcase our graduating projects was canceled, just weeks before it was meant to be held. I remember the whole cohort being utterly disappointed when the news was announced. To many of us, that show was not just a mere show to display our graduating works; it symbolises our years of hard work as design students and our aspirations, and it’s also a way for our loved ones to understand that this was what we’ve achieved after all those sleepless nights. The cancellation stripped us of a chance to get our names out there to potential employers who would’ve otherwise come to view the show and see our works. Such an opportunity is hard to come by, especially for a fresh graduate.

How are you feeling about the future?

The current situation is quite daunting, because we just graduated, are about to take a big step into a challenging and fast-paced industry, and with the pandemic going on, we’re not too sure about what that means for us. There is a huge silver lining during this pandemic and that is in the form of multiple professional designers from all over the world stepping up to offer many useful advice and resources for fresh grads. Personally, it’s a great time for me to take a break and practice some self-love by spending time discovering more about myself as an individual and reflecting on myself, to decide what paths I could take from hereon.

How do you feel the creative industries need to change?

I do hope that the creative/design industry will be able to place more emphasis on mental health. Throughout the few years of studying design, it’s always so common for us to hear about how designers will slave away, squeezing their brain juice, sacrificing their sleep, skipping meals and rushing to meet deadline after deadline. Such habits can take quite a toll on one’s body and mental health. As students, my peers and I have also experienced a bit of what that would feel like. I do wish to see that the industry I’ll be entering will be one where we’ll be able to pursue and grow our passion without having to do it at the expanse on our mental and physical health too much.

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Lina Reidarsdotter Källström: Divination Station Tarot card

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Lina Reidarsdotter Källström: Divination Station (VR)

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Lina Reidarsdotter Källström: Divination Station (VR)

Lina Reidarsdotter Källström

Lina is currently based in Stockholm, where she is studying Visual Communications at Beckmans College of Design and working on an intriguing thesis project focused on a VR experience involving Tarot cards.

How has the Covid-19 crisis affected you and your work already?

Not being able to see my classmates has been really difficult. I think like in every art school the education is made up of the people, and while you can learn things from lectures and educators, the best learning and support ultimately comes from your classmates. It’s been hard not having the same access to that source of positivity and community. Missing out on the time when we were supposed to graduate together is like watching a really good series on Netflix and then the last and most exciting episode is just deleted and replaced with worrying newscasts.

How are you feeling about the future?

Now more than ever, I think it’s important to step out into the future with new visions, energy and hope. We have to force ourselves to make the best out of it and try really hard to bring the energy of the class of 2020 into the world. I feel like people understand this and are rooting for all of us who are graduating, and that’s touching and something I feel positive about. This situation has brought new perspectives on a lot of issues, and I feel as if there is no longer a “normal” way of doing things. Going back to a “normal” state of being doesn't have to be the goal. The pandemic has illuminated systemic inequalities in my own country and all over the world. When we recover from Covid-19, I hope we don’t put the pieces back together as they were, but use this opportunity to create a new and more equal place for everyone. I hope the industry acknowledges that this situation brings an opportunity for the industry to shape the future of this field in a more conscious way.

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About the Author

Matt Alagiah

Matt joined It’s Nice That as editor in October 2018. He was previously executive editor at Monocle magazine. Drop him a line with ideas and suggestions, or simply to say hello.

ma@itsnicethat.com

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