University is over, here’s a little overview of my life for the last three years.

Well. I’m finished. The final hand-in for university is complete, and I don’t think it’s really hit me yet.

The past few weeks have been some of the most difficult, enjoyable, and stressful parts of my university career; and it all finished with an ‘Upload’ button on our submission website. I’ll never know if a physical submission would’ve been more exciting, but it really was anti-climactic uploading my final work onto the website after all this time. One thing I can say though, is that I'm incredibly proud of myself. When I look back at where I started this mission to becoming a designer, it’s comforting to be able to say:

“I did it”.

I applied all the way back in June 2018, with not a huge expectation of actually getting in. Everyone was accepting their offers, getting ready to move halfway across the UK to their new adventure — and I was still thinking about getting my third A Level. I remember being pushed to apply by the head of my sixth form, for which I will be forever grateful. At the time, I was still unsure of what degree I’d actually do. I think by the time I started applying I had chosen either Graphic Design, Product Design, or some other form of Visual Communication as my degree of choice; but it really was all a bit up in the air.

I’ve never claimed to be an artist at all. Drawing has never been a main passion of mine, and the same could be said for Illustration. I had however always been interested in digital art. I still remember making YouTube banners for people when I was 14/15 and editing my old FIFA YouYube videos with transitions and effects (they are painful to watch now I must say). I think that's where my journey really started, and it’s quite amazing to say that in a few month's time (hopefully) I will have a job. I think it’s always the dream — turning a hobby into a full-time profession.

First Year

I started my first year with very little knowledge of Graphic Design as a subject. I knew what it was, but I had no idea of the scale of work that you could produce and it be called ‘Graphic Design’. I remember our first task for university was to create some form of project that centered around a ‘Day In The Life’ of ourselves. Atypically for myself, I went down the route of making a small editorial piece, which documented a pretty true portrayal of my daily life at the time. I remember seeing everyone else’s when I got on the course. I have never, ever, ever felt so out of my depth. It really was ‘Wow, I’m actually here. And damn these guys are good’ moment.

Joining the course at 18, I’d been in education for more than half my life and felt quite young compared to everyone else. Everyone seemed to have big portfolios of school work, and some even with professional freelance work. I couldn’t really compare at the time, but I knew I had gotten on the course for a reason. This was possibly the main reason I was always motivated in my first year to work outside of university. Most days I'd come home and create something in 3D or make some concept art. Clubbing wasn’t really my thing, and I was more than content with spending all evening designing. I certainly had my fair share of nights out don't get me wrong, but most of them were in the second year with some good times with Flat 12 and my mates from the course.

I will say that the first year was tough. I remember wanting to drop out a few times. It’s hard moving out for the first time, not seeing the friends you’ve seen for pretty much every single day of your life, and spending the next year of your life in a massive city (compared to where I am from anyway) where you don’t know anyone. I think one of the main reasons I stayed was due to the support of the tutors and my friends, which I am very grateful for. I’m glad to have made friends that can see knowing for a long time, and I truly cannot wait to see where they end up with their design journeys.

Trusting the process

Something that took me a while to grasp was actually trusting the process of the course. When things aren’t going right, the deadlines approaching, the project doesn’t look like the amazing thing you had imagined — it’s easy to lose motivation and become completely deflated (this actually links back to an article I wrote in 2019 about depression in artists). It’s tough when people say “You’ll work it out, don’t worry. Just trust the process” because at the time where you are the most stressed it just seems like empty words. But in the third year, that’s where I think it finally clicked for me.

I think the most important thing I learned at university was to trust my own decisions when it came to work. Knowing that I do have the capabilities to create a great project. Knowing when I just need to get shit done. Learning to make work that you are not only proud of, but can have full conversations about your design decisions and the process behind your idea. I think this was probably a consequence of working so hard throughout the year, and really figuring out who you are, and want to be as a designer. My tutors were right, the process is everything. Trust it.

The Burnout

I’m writing most of this after I’ve finished my final hand-in for university. With Muse, Oasis, Radiohead, The Beatles, and endless other incredible bands having been my soundtrack for the past three or so months (or should I say three years?). It’s been a lot of long nights, meetings with tutors, and tough decisions on projects. It’s been a few months of big ups and downs, and seeing the culmination of all my hard work put into the final folders was actually really tough to see. It’s not just been three years of work leading up to this moment. But three years of my life. The course has consumed a huge amount of my time and saying that I haven’t enjoyed it would be a lie. I’ve absolutely loved creating work but doing this constantly day in and day out has taken a huge toll on me.

One of the best things I learned this year was knowing when you should

take a break.

I’ve always been a ‘lets power through this’ sort of person, but some days it was just so hard to get up, sit at your desk and do it. I remember my tutors saying it was okay to take a break, and for weeks I avoided it with the aim of pushing myself to the absolute limit. The day after I finished my 2nd project, I took pretty much an entire week off and came to my next tutorial with nothing. It was incredibly freeing and it benefited me so much in the long term, something I really didn’t think would happen. My 3rd project was undoubtedly my favourite of the year, and I truly think it was because I chose to take that step back for a moment and think. Those few days were enough to allow me to reset and come back even stronger to create probably my best project of university and a stand-out portfolio piece.

Looking back

If I look back at university as a whole, there’s a clear contrast between the person I was then, and now. COVID obviously changed my experience at university in the second and third years significantly, but overall I’ve I think become a much more confident person and designer in general. I’ve always been a sociable person, so I had no problem talking to people, but I’ve also always enjoyed my own company and was content with walking around the streets alone taking photos or listening to my audiobooks. If anything those are some of the best days I have - it’s nice to have a break away from everything! But I do wish I had spoken to more people in the first year. I’m leaving the course with the realization that I don’t think I've actually spoken to some people for more than a conversation once or twice across three whole years. I know there are over a hundred of us, but It’s just so strange to think about.

If anything I think most of the good friends I’ve made across the years were made in the first few weeks of university, and the final two terms of the third year funnily enough. Maybe it was the realisation that this is the final year, and I really should make more of an effort to talk to the people who will be in the same industry as me in a few month's time. Talking about people’s work is something I love to do, and having the occasional chat with someone in the studio was something I dearly missed for most of third year. It however was lovely to have this experience back at the end of the year. Seeing the final things being added to projects, working till the art building closed for the night, and becoming invested in people’s projects so much that you forgot about your own work sometimes! That is certainly a highlight of the year.

Who am I now?

At the start of the year, we were told to create a small booklet that was called ‘This is Me’. I looked back at this scruffy little booklet a few times through this year, as I wanted to keep my promises that I made to myself. I said that I wanted to be comfortable with the work I produce and be a designer that always wants to improve. I wanted people to be honest with me about my work, and I wanted to get to a stage where I could apply to a motion studio and compete with the other applicants. Looking back at this now, I realize how helpful it was writing this booklet.

I’m not the perfect designer. I’m a designer in progress. I’m a perfectionist and I always prefer people being critical and constructive rather than praise my work. I realize that in the first year I was jealous of other people’s work — and now if anything I’m proud of my fellow students and feel like I really do belong beside them. I can’t wait to see my work alongside theirs when our degree show website goes live.

The final thoughts

Do I recommend going to university? Absolutely. Ever think you’re not good enough to apply for art school? You are. Put the effort in, and enjoy it. I for one, absolutely cannot wait to put my skills into practice in a studio and start really showing people what I can do. This is my time, and I’m ready for the next challenge.

Thanks for reading my ramblings! Want to read more? Click on my medium profile!

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Trying to make my way in the world of design. Nottingham Trent Graphic Design Student.