20 years old and in need of some help and good advice..


New Member
Hi everyone..

I'm fairly new to this forum and thought it might be a good idea to create a thread to help myself really..

I'm 20 soon to be 21 and i have literally just finished my first year at university where i am studying Graphic Design for a further 2 - 3 year depending on whether i take a year out to go abroad or placement etc..

So far my first year hasn't gone as i planned really and not as i expected.. Looking back on the work i did that is in my portfolio that has been handed in i can not help but think to myself.. "What the hell happened to me". I feel as though my work is awful and no where near as good as it should be or could of been. I've heard people say your work is a reflection of what type of person you are and to a point a believe it especially now i looked through my work

I do have depression and will be getting myself sorted at the docs very soon.. i feel this is the cause of my work that i feel isn't as good as what i should and could of been. i feel i've struggled in the first year and I feel like I need some motivation or a kick up the backside.. some inspiration of some sort to get me back to a level where i'm competing with other people in my class.

Tutors say keep looking.. feed your mind.. look around and tell us all how can we be designers if we're not looking at design. I totally agree with this and maybe i'm not looking at graphic design enough, maybe i don't think about it enough.. I am a big worrier and can't help but ask my self, "What am i going to do after University?" I really want to make something of myself and not just be stacking shelves in the local supermarkets or whatever not that there is anything wrong with that but i want to have a job i enjoy, love and earns me money to buy myself some nice things in life such as cars as thats what i am really in to and everybody haves something they want something don't they whether it be a house, car, a few beers or a night out at the opera if thats what you enjoy haha. After all this is the reason i am studying at university isn't it? to have a direction and earn myself a job afterwards hopefully..

I feel like i don't know where to start, where to look, how to look, what to look for, what to take in and what to take from that piece of pieces of design to help me design better and create something that employers want to see so i can shake that persons hand and walk away with a job and hopefully get further up the ladder as i go on from there..

Over the last couple of weeks it has hit home that i've done not as well as i could of/should of but well enough to pass the first year and what i would like is some advice on what to do to help me focus more, help me find a path and any recommendations that anyone can add especially if you may have been in this same situation as me..

I've often thought of being able to walk into a graphic design office and walk round to see what goes on in a day to day work based environment, see what people are doing, working on, see people discussing work or whatever it is that people do in the working environment of a 'Graphic Design' job.. i've often thought about visiting a company or two around where i live and asking to get some work experience but i feel like i'm incapable or i feel like i'd be given a mass of responsibility and work to do and then not being able to do it.. and it puts me off going to ask or investigate into what the role of a Graphic Designer is on a day to day basis.. My main worry right now is that i want to have a job for when i leave uni and right now its all i can think of. I don't want to sell my car cause i can't find/get a job and i don't want to go on benefits or sponge off my mam or dad or have a job that has no relation to what i've studied..

I am after some help, advice on where i should start, what i should be doing or what i should start doing. What would you recommend to someone like me to do? I don't want to throw it away and give up on uni or do something else.. i want to achieve, be great and be a graphic designer.

I really do appreciate if you have taken the time to read through my post and hopefully you can make some suggestions or advice to me so i can get on form and compete with the top end of the class.. i know i can do it.. i'm a 20 year old needing a push in the right direction thats all..

Also would it be a good idea for me in a week or two to create a thread so people may post links, images etc that could be useful for me to look at to feed the brain..
Thank you for taking the time to read through my thread. :icon_smile:
Also if it may help.. i feel i am interested in logo's, fliers' brochures, or even web design.. The last project i did was a web design where we had to create a story board of our idea which was based on an occupation we were given. I was given bicycle repair shop and later changed it as we were shown a bad example of a website for a company that sells envelopes.. No names mentioned.. i took this on and decided to make it my occupation and basically make a storyboard of my idea.. i feel it turned out fairly okay.. better than any of my other work through out first year of uni and i feel it was better than what i'd seen of this company's website that was shown to our class as a really bad example of design.


Don't feel too bad. I handed in my final project on Friday and on reflection I felt like I'd wasted my time at uni too. I spent too long focussing on creating work that I thought clients and studios would want to see, because I'm old (27) and wanted to be able to go into employment straight from graduation. In fact I should have done was just have fun, experimented and focussed more on the creative idea, rather than the professional finish.

I know I can come up with creative solutions, but as a result, I don't feel like more portfolio reflects that, so I now plan on finishing off some stupid personal projects that are just about me having fun. First year doesn't mean anything in terms of final marks anyway. Second year and third year are where it counts, so focus on those. Also, I, and indeed my classmates found, that producing design work as part of an educational system is actually quite unnatural; you can't just create something, you have to show you've researched everything about it before you hand it in. Where did the inspiration for the typography come from? Did you experiment with different paper stocks first? That sort of thing. It actually puts a lot of restrictions on your flow, and it often reflects on your work.

We were constantly told to "feed your mind" as well. It's one of those pro-active mantras that's really intended for the people on the course who don't give a shit and need to be pushed along their degree. Seriously, you're feeding yourself all the time without knowing it. You're doing it now by being here. When you flick through a magazine and look at the type, the layout, the colours, you're doing it. It comes naturally, don't try and force it by going to an art exhibition (unless you want to) or sitting in a library reading design books like Johnny 5 (see here). Find stuff you dislike too, and try to understand why you don't like it.

I would absolutely get work placements. Get them now! Nobody will give you responsibility for a job that you could totally fuck up. You'll likely be cutting things out, folding paper, stuffing envelopes, vectorising images, basically stuff the designers don't have time to do themselves. But this is important because you're in their studio, talking to them, working with them. They don't give a shit about the quality of your work at this stage (you're a student, why would you be producing professional quality work?). It's your chance to prove yourself invaluable in a creative environment. Most people I know got a job straight from uni because they worked a few placements at studios they admired and made a good impression.
Thank you for your reply.. Just your comment has made me feel slightly better about myself and my work etc already.. appreciate that. I think that from what you've said that i should look for a week or two in a company over the summer holidays before i start working at my job i already have and that may ope nmy eyes up a little more hopefully.

... producing design work as part of an educational system is actually quite unnatural; you can't just create something, you have to show you've researched everything about it before you hand it in. Where did the inspiration for the typography come from? Did you experiment with different paper stocks first? That sort of thing...

This is a good thing. When I was at university (not GD but a creative discipline), I learned that some of the best projects - from an academic perspective - were those that 'failed', as they afforded a better opportunity to demonstrate genuine learning and development, the thinking being that it's better (or at least 'as good') to fail and understand why than to breeze your way to high quality outcomes. Willful failure for the purposes of pulling this trick will be picked up straight away by any tutor worth his/her salary but it's worth keeping in mind that critical development is every bit as valuable as work which is self-evidently good when you're in a learning environment.

Fail > learn > understand > succeed.
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I could write thousands of words on how I would approach your dilemma, but thinking back to when I was in your shoes, the one thing that I can say with confidence is: Typography and the study of it.

Graphic design at its fundamental core is the visual representation of information, and usually involves the symmetry of image and type. Or sometimes one or the other. I found when I was studying for my final project thesis (I chose Typography), I learnt more in 6 weeks than I did the previous year.

This is only my opinion and by no means it will work for everyone, but reading about Eric Gill, Jan Tschichold, Paul Renner etc etc. gave me the tools to gain a foothold in my career.

PS Don't ever use Comic Sans or Papyrus for anything.
The first year you take on a few bits of info that stick in your mind. My enduring snippet of info that I took from my first year was from a tutor that simply said 'never stick rigidly to a grid' this goes for anything, type, logos, editorial etc. This really hit home when I had a problem at my end of year show. We had a wall each to showcase our work. I had measured everything up perfectly so everything was the same width apart, I infused the golden ratio in my layout of work etc but it still looked wrong. The heading a the top of the board seemed askew. I spent ages rearranging stuff but always sticking strictly to my grid. Another tutor came along and simply adjusted the heading by eye. Technically it was wonky but it looked spot on. Its little things like this that you take on in the first year as you are still kind of discovering yourself, the rest of the time you're in the pub with your mates. Thats kind of what being 20 and being at Uni is about hehe. The second year you tend to start to find areas you are more interested in and would like to know more about. The third and fourth years are where you work hard (and play hard) and leave uni with a sense of accomplishment (and loads of debt).

As a designer whenever you look back on your previous work you will always think "wow, what was I thinking. That is crap etc". But that is only because between then and now you have learnt more techniques, refined your style and through experience now make better judgements. Even now I look back on my work and think I could do it better but if I went back in time under the same circumstances you would still do the exact same thing as at the time it was the best you could do. As long as you always do things to the best of your ability then you can't ever say your work is poor, even on reflection.

The thing is with depression the first thing you do is remove yourself from social situations because you dont feel youre at your best and so dont want people seeing you that way. Depression also saps your energy so social situations will also feel draining. Its tough but you need to surround yourself with other people and especially other designers to stay in the loop creatively and also socially because that is where your inspiration will come from - other people.

Oh and make sure you take everything on board in your 'print theory class' or whatever your uni calls it. Knowing how print works and how to provide files to a printer will leave you way out in front of your peers when leaving uni ;)