How to get noticed at a graduate degree show

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Want to stand out among all this lot?

Rushing to finish off your final year university project? Then work fast, but don’t forget that graduate shows are your window of opportunity.

Graduate degree shows are already being prepared, with none bigger than the gathering of some of the UK’s best design talents at New Designers on 3 – 6 July, at the Business Design Centre, London.

Today we’re offering up some advice for exhibitors to get the most from the show, the experience and the potential employers.

1. The pitch

The rather broad line between not speaking to the people looking at your work, to reeling off your life story – getting your ‘sales’ pitch honed can make the difference between appearing uninterested/annoying and prospective employers handing you a job interview. The number of industry figures that were grumbling about graduates paying no attention to passing attendees, and instead sitting around watching their iPads, was at an all-time murmuring high last year.

Do:
– Work on creating a concise, brief explanation of your work, processes you’ve used and inspirations
– Be friendly, approachable, and greet everyone that shows a flicker of interest in your work, or even that of an absent colleague
– Ask questions and be enthusiastic. The show is long, the building is an oven, but look and act as fresh as you can manage!

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Don’t:
– Expect your body of work to say everything about you – it doesn’t
– Don’t go overboard explaining your project in minute detail to a person (unless they’re ridiculously interested)

2. The display

A picture says a thousand words, so make sure they’re the best ones you have – nobody in a hall of hundreds of graduates is going to have time to read an essay, so most of what grabs their interest will be purely visual. Prototypes are pretty much a standard now – if your stand can’t accommodate your full size modern penny-farthing cycle concept, then find a way around this. Anyone that visited Falmouth’s tiny stand last year will have seen its augmented reality screen to show off work – a nice gimmick – but it also led people to an exhibition space it had hired just around the corner in the creative hub of East London where there was space for everyone’s prototypes (and free beer and pasties).

Do:
– Have good renders, photography, super short videos and clear presentations boards (with your contact details on them!!!)
– Have a scale model or well-made prototype [with a DO NOT TOUCH sign for the hoards of school kids that WILL try to break it]
– Go wild – club together and hire another venue nearby, make the most of your stand, spend some time with the person organising your university’s space – make the most of the event

Don’t:
– Crowd your stand: keep your presentation boards easy to understand
– Have a super long presentation video

3. The follow up

In a world of modern communications, a simple piece of card with a few contact details on goes surprisingly far. Clean, concise business cards, with a name, contact number, email address and website are all you need. If you need help, tap up someone from the graphic design course to do it for you. In addition, make sure your email address is somewhat respectable – ‘onlyonetesticle@gmail.com’ might be off-putting to some potential employees – and that any online portfolios you list (Coroflot, Linkedin, your own standalone website) all have recently updated content, including your final year projects.

Do:
– Have a clean, bright, well laid out standard business card – stay clear of creating your own logo, having lots of images, gimmicks, or badly ink-jet-printed paper ones
– Check everything is up-to-date online before sending someone there

Don’t:
– Have nothing to give people – even if you have to hand write them – just make sure they’re presentable and legible
– QR codes are wank – just include a direct web address to your portfolio

4. Don’t be a shambles

Under no circumstances let your university fuck you over: Liverpool John Moores University should be ashamed of itself for what it did last year. Didn’t see any of its product design students’ work? They were hidden in the spacial design section because the university wants to merge the two departments. Still didn’t spot it? That’s because only one of their students (the impressive furniture design of Tom Poole) could actually be bothered showing up.

Do:
– Show up
– Make the most of a horrible situation – your stand’s not where it should be? Do something about it – be creative – take matters into your hands to get your work seen

Don’t:
– Let your university screw up your chance to be seen

5. The man hiring

Attending the show with an agency perspective looking for new talent to hire, Russell Beard (@rbsquarebanana) offered us a few good pointers for the actual projects, and what the designer should be looking to show, including this:

“One thing that struck me from many courses (and something that helped sort the wheat from the chaff) was the approach to simple and effective thought.

“I got the distinct impression that with 60 to 70 per cent of the product design projects the student had ‘found’ a brief and simply started running blindly towards a solution that presented itself. Very few seemed to establish the brief and then have a good, long, bloody hard think about it: Before ‘ideation’, ‘ethnography’, ‘mind mapping’, just good old fashioned thinking.

“I’m looking to hire a brain, not a rendering king or a CAD surfacing whizz. Those are skills that can be taught or at least nurtured. The ability to think, challenge, question and define is what a truly great product tends to result from.”

Take note.


If you’ve got any pointers – if you attended the show to hire, or you are there as a graduate – leave us a comment below the line.


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