Climbing the ladder
Then: Carla studied graphic design at university in regional New South Wales, scored work experience at her lecturer’s studio which, after standing out, led to a fulltime job! After moving to Sydney, she worked as a junior designer for a boutique agency, completed AWARD School and then worked as a senior designer and art director for the agency, Moon. In 2012, Carla packed her bags and moved to Berlin for a creative sabbatical (amazing, right?).
Now: Carla’s been living in Melbourne since early 2013, and has since launched her own business which focuses on hand lettering.
The best and worst things about your first job?
The best thing was being thrown in the deep end, such as handling clients’ briefs straight out of university. It was scary at the time, but also good to try out the old ‘fake it till you make it!’ The worst was being sent to the print room and trimming one million documents and slicing my finger with a scalpel and then having to go home because I felt woozy. Lightweight!
Anything you’d change about your earlier career choices?
I wish I’d been a more brave in my choices – I studied in regional Australia and lived at home with my parents to save money. But after living in Germany, I now wish I had studied design abroad and learned a language. At the time of choosing a degree, I was a big scaredy-cat and didn’t have the confidence to go for it.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Don’t take it personally, run with it. It can only help you to get better. But first you have to show your work to people more experienced than you to get feedback. Don’t hide away in your bedroom trying to create a masterpiece, put it out there. If it’s bad? Keep creating and trust that one day it will be good.
Secret to standing out as an intern or work experience student?
Be excited about what you are doing! If you’re given the job of putting together a dry presentation document, do it with gusto and passion. Show interest in what others in the studio are working on, ask them questions and offer to help. Be reliable, show up early and stay back late if needed. Oh, and be nice! Your personality will help you land a position more than a fancy portfolio.
Most creative chance you’ve taken (that’s paid off!)?
I made a video to send out to creative directors as a little promo piece. I set up a tripod looking over my shoulder and made a time-lapse movie of me writing a little story introducing myself on post-it notes with props like my mouse, cables, a Pantone swatch book and other things I had on my desk. It got me a job and I’ll never forget a recruiter saying it was the best application he’d ever seen!
Key to getting your foot in the door?
1. Internships and work experience are great, but work on personal side-projects, too. They can lead to building your profile, and they keep you creatively fulfilled. It can also fill out your portfolio with the kind of work you’d like to be doing.
2. Keep up your profile online – post your work to Instagram and on your blog.
3. Attend design events and make connections with other designers.
4. You could even do a brave creative application to send to studios to get a foot in. You could get a meeting out of it and get some portfolio feedback.
5. Find a mentor who can give you tips on your designs and portfolio. It could be someone you work with or a lecturer. These people can be quite a special presence in your life and push you further.
Your take on unpaid internships?
I don’t think anyone should work for free. Would you ask your plumber to work for free? No. People get away with paying nothing in the creative industry. If you work for free, you are not helping the industry standards. Even if you are asked to do a ‘trial brief’ for a job, always ask to be paid, otherwise you are giving away your valuable time and creativity.
Last words of wisdom?
I’ve recently taken the step to start my own creative business. It’s not something I would recommend to people just starting out. I think those years working in commercial design studios give me great experience into seeing what it takes to run a business – client management, time management, working with others, learning your craft, even things like how to save your files in a neat organised system! Think of your craft as an apprenticeship – do the hours required to get really, really good at what you do. Keep taking risks and being brave with your work. Ask for help. Work weekends. Fail while daring greatly (thanks, Theo Roosevelt). Steve Martin once said “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. I like that.
Thanks to Carla for sharing her wonderful design advice! If you’d love to find out more her business and view her amazing portfolio, visit her website or say hello via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
<The Bottom Rung series is inspired by the release of my debut novel THE INTERN (HarperCollins, out February 1, 2014) and my desire to ‘pay it forward’ with career advice and tips on climbing the ladder. Click here to read more about THE INTERN. Come say hello at Facebook and Twitter – distractions welcome.>