Design your own career: 3 options for success

Fred Deakin is a professor at University of the Arts London. He runs Fred & Company, specialising in interactive art projects. Previously, he co-founded the award-winning design company Airside, which achieved BAFTAs, D&AD Pencils and a Webby before shutting its doors in 2012 after 14 years of success. He explains how to craft your career...

You now have three choices – four if you count a life of crime or living off your parents until you turn grey, neither of which will end well, believe me.

01. Work for someone else

Firstly, you could go and get a job (or more likely, let's face it, an unpaid internship). Understand that finding this job will almost certainly take you a long time.

I spent the first nine months after my graduation going to more than 40 face-to-face interviews looking for my first design job before I got lucky, and that was when such jobs existed in reasonable quantities.

These days, many unscrupulous companies create their whole business model around the endless resource of talented graduates who will work for free, tossing their broken interns out on the scrap heap as soon as they falter and replacing them with the next eager victim.

Just consider that you could sack everyone in the creative industries and replace them all with the latest wave of art school graduates – that's every year. You are a tiny part of a tsunami of talent looking for their first break, so you had better be a good surfer.

02. Work for yourself

Secondly, you could set yourself up as a freelancer. If you're good you might get yourself represented by an agency. If you're not, you're better off handing out your business cards to friends and family at parties, hoping that Uncle Tommy's start-up takes off and your logo goes global.

Some people love freelancing – sure, there's variety and freedom involved – but for me the lack of self-agency is an obstacle to creative growth; not only that, it can be pretty lonely.

03. Craft your own career

Collaboration skills can bridge the gulf between academia and industry, said Fred Deakin sudring this year's Collabology workshop

Collaboration skills can bridge the gulf between academia and industry, said Fred Deakin sudring this year's Collabology workshop

I think the third option is a better way, and that is to do it yourself. Make your own job. Create your own agency, social enterprise, digital start-up, fashion brand – whatever it is that you are dreaming of.

Crucially though, do it with your peers. Your generation is one of the first to be truly digitally native. You have an incredible opportunity to create your own careers by engaging with this ridiculously fertile new cultural landscape that you have grown up with; to produce your own art and manifest the kind of world you want to live in.

However, it's tough to do this on your own – and not just psychologically: when it comes to delivering today's multi-platform projects, you will do far better working within a tight team of talented friends who share the same values and goals as each other but have very different skills.

This will maximise the range and power of the projects you can work on, whether they are self-initiated or not, plus you'll enjoy yourself a lot more in the process.

When Nat, Alex and I set up our groundbreaking design studio Airside back in 1998 we had all freelanced and worked for other people for a while, and to be frank, we were fed up with it.

We found a cheap studio space, sublet desks to our mates and started doing our freelance work there while we pitched for bigger projects. And, slowly but surely, Airside emerged.

The early years involved long hours, little income and – guess what? – a whole lot of fun. That fun expressed itself in our work, the world started paying attention and we hit it big.

It wasn't easy – nothing good ever is – but the support and respect we gave each other alongside the diversity of the talent that was gathered together in our studio made it all possible.

When I hear students talking about which companies they'd most like to intern for, my heart sinks. You all know more about the current cultural and digital landscape than anyone who will be employing you, by virtue of the fact that a) you are continually immersed in it, and b) you helped to create it, brick by digital brick.

Know your power, class of 2015! It's your time – don't waste it making somebody else rich(er) or sitting around waiting for someone to do you a favour.

Instead, make the world the way you want it to be and share the experience with people you care about. You'll grow in the process and end up being a whole lot more employable, whichever way you choose to go next. Now go get 'em!

Words: Fred Deakin
Illustration: Żaneta Antosik

The full version of this article first appeared inside issue 241 – a character design special – of Computer Arts. Get up to 55 per cent off a subscription to CA here.

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