Foster & Partners, Vtek, John Lewis, Harlequin, Trisha Guild, Sky, Virgin and many other industry names in the design world went along to the New Designers exhibition at Islington's Business Design Centre last week to scout for fresh talent.
Overall, the standard was "very good", according to David Worthington, a passionate supporter of design and chairman of the UK Design Alliance, Lloyd Northover Group, CCSkills and Designersblock. But, if this year's graduates wish to find work, they will also have to show determination, confidence, passion and a willingness to be flexible, or risk sharing the fate of last year’s graduates, who struggled to find jobs in the midst of recession and deep economic and political uncertainty.
The problem with many graduates, says Thorsten van Elten, a manufacturer and retailer, who was hoping to find some textile designers at this year’s show, is that "they look too much towards what’s current at the moment, rather than trying to be progressive in the way they think."
This year, Thorsten curated the One Year On display at New Designers, showcasing work by a selection of 2009 graduates who have made a success of their first year out of college.
"I think New Designers is a great, great concept," he says, "I just think that there are too many design courses out there now and the quality of some of those courses is more than questionable.”
He reckons that only 10 per cent of graduates will end up being in design jobs in 12 months time, but adds that the key to success in the design industry is through work experience and a flexible attitude.
"Some of the people have not even considered some of the other jobs in the business," he says, "but there are sales jobs, marketing jobs, pr jobs and loads of other different design jobs out there."
While The Association of Graduate Recruiters reckons that graduates will generally need at least a 2:1 degree to get a job, Thorsten doesn’t think that this is "of any importance at all," placing more value on the attitude of the graduate explaining, "a likeable person doesn’t get reflected in the type of degree level they have."
For Kate Usher, who graduated from Cleveland College of Art and Design with a First in Textiles and Surface Design last year and exhibited her stunning wallpaper designs at the One Year On exhibition this year, success has come through hard work and determination, but it's scary at first, she admits. "When you leave uni, you're completely on your own - you think 'what do I do now?' and that's probably the hardest thing."
Kate wanted to start her own wallpaper business, so applied for a scheme developed by the Gateshead Council in Newcastle called Starter for Ten. This gives rent-free workspace to creative entrepreneurs in their first two years of business and has "helped massively," says Kate, whose advice to new graduates is to "try and get some work experience, even if it's unpaid. I did experience in different areas - textiles, fashion, interiors – and it helped me to realise what I wanted to do."
At this year's show, there were some "shining stars", who cropped up again and again in the judging process, says Isobel Dennis, the show’s director, who identified Tortie Hoare, BDC New Designer of the Year in part two of the show, as a particular highlight. A graduate in Furniture, Design and Craftsmanship from Bucks University, Tortie reinvented a French medieval process of boiled leather that allowed her to create solid, strong contemporary furniture in an eco-friendly way.
She is just "innately talented," agrees David Worthington, "She could get this thing that was quite unusual, put it in a place where you wouldn’t expect to find it and interpret a design language or philosophy in a way that you would feel perfectly comfortable having it in your house – it was effortless – she was just so exceptional."
While talent goes a long way, in a competitive market, it's up to the graduates "to grab the attention of the people who actually offer the jobs," says Fotis Evangelopolous, who has just graduated from London Metropolitan University's BA Furniture and Product Design course. He was commissioned to design a bookstore system for Somerset House as part of a competition which took place during his degree show, and is pushing to get it put into production. "I see the same challenges for this year’s graduates," he says, "nothing is going to happen by accident - you have to work for it."
At the New Designers exhibition Fotis was determined to get noticed: "I started grabbing people and actually showing them our stuff."
His attitude paid off - in fact, one of the people Fotis grabbed was David Worthington, who admired his design, but most of all, his confidence. "Fotis deliberately spotted an old person and came up and said, 'let me show you what I’ve done.' That attitude will get him a job somewhere."
Graduates need to make themselves available and have a firm handshake when they go for jobs, says David. They also need to have "a clear and simple portfolio" and do "as much work experience as they possibly can" in order to meet the right people. Meanwhile, for design industry employers out there, it is essential to keep pushing new blood through if the business is to survive.
As Fotis says, "I met so many creative people at New Designers and I think it would be a shame if we didn’t find a job. We are the new generation – if we don’t have the chance to give our ideas, what is the world going to be like?"