Design Graduates Should Keep An Open Mind

By CARSTEN GLOCK, Creative Director and Founder at GLOCK. The firm was founded in 2006 and is an interdisciplinary creative agency that has served many worldwide brands.


Consider Stepping Off The Linear Path

How many of us plan our holiday experience before we arrive? With technologies like Google Earth enabling street-level exploration, we almost don’t need to travel to get a change of scenery. But imagine everything you’d miss out on. The food. The smells. Spontaneous interactions. Similarly in a design career, following a rigid, linear path from one fixed role to another can avert experience and stifle potential. In my opinion, it’s damagingly limiting.

As we grow up, and especially during further education, we’re encouraged to have a clear view of where we want to end up. This is nothing new, but it’s showing up increasingly among applicants as fixed ideas of how their design career will unfold. I’d encourage exactly the opposite. Having an open mind in terms of your career path fuels discovery of skills and passions you might not even know you have yet. Returning to the holiday analogy, planning can make us overly focused on the next step. We risk missing all that’s in our periphery, and maybe even the true adventure.


Learning As A Continuum

Thirty years ago you couldn’t Google a job description or what a day-in-the-life of an Art Director looked like. Newly graduated and junior designers jumped into the industry head first, learning the role and their own unexpected strengths and weaknesses on the job.

I experienced this in my own career, which has taken me from architecture to photography to founding an independent design business. None of these were my plan or intention. Along the way, I discovered skills I didn’t know I had, such as making connections and presenting client work, both through self discovery and the honest feedback of trusted mentors.

I learnt, and am still learning, that it’s okay not to know everything. It’s better yet to make mistakes. Trying new things and failing at them is an intrinsic part of continuous learning and evolution; without it you stagnate.


How Can Design Leaders Help?

Perhaps ironically, people who set out with fixed ideas about their end goal are often those who miss out. Imagine taking a walk in a forest. Stick rigidly to the path and because you’re not looking in every direction, you lose on unexpected delights of nature along the way. To limit your perspective is to limit your experience.

The role of leaders in this context isn’t to change anyone’s lives or set the course they might deem right. They can help by offering a different viewpoint. There’s no one way to do this, but facilitating consistent feedback loops and open conversations will encourage individual growth and self-realization.

A bespoke approach to developing people will support their journey. Be open to noticing and embracing an individual’s undeveloped skills. We’ve seen it work time and again when people are willing to veer off their conventional path. Our current managing director joined as a junior designer. An openness to unearthing skillsets outside of the conventional designer led to him becoming an intrinsic part of our agency leadership, even if he did resist it to start with! It can be particularly limiting to have a fixed perception of what roles entail in the creative field. Don’t give up on people. Keep encouraging them to try new ways of working and approaching problems.

As agencies, we shouldn’t ever stand still. By demonstrating adaptability and progression we reflect it back to our people. We create opportunities for their evolution, and in turn our own and our clients’.


Tips To Graduate Designers 

Here’s an exercise anyone can try right now. Shed any preconceptions of the role you’re either already in, or applying for. Let go of the endpoint you’re trying to get to, along with any fixed parameters of how you’ll get from A to B. Now, be brutally honest about what you’re good at and not. Is this role definitely the best use of your skills and energy? If you’re consistently showing up as someone other than yourself, heed the red flag. When you’re good at what you do, it feels good. Your career should feel good. It should also challenge and push you. If you’re still standing in the same spot as a year ago, ask yourself whether that’s where you want to be.

I’d encourage never neglecting any unexplored opportunity that comes your way. Go one step further and proactively step off the linear career path when the chance presents itself. You might just discover new routes and roles, even the dream job you didn’t know existed. And most of all, enjoy the ride.