How to succeed in the design world

Exhibit impressive skills in art and design and put yourself in the frame for a successful career, says Margaret Jones

Great artists and designers don't down tools at teatime and switch off. They live and breathe their creativity. In the arts there is no nine-to-five. Be ready to work, and work hard! Yet having a true vocation doesn't mean you can't be exceptionally successful in business (look at Vivienne Westwood, Terence Conran, Neville Brody) and that passion, drive and inventiveness means art and design graduates are in demand for their creative-thinking skills and ability to verbalise their thoughts confidently.

Design and art are often put together in higher education, and although similar, they have differences. A designer designs for a mass market and manufacture. An artist creates one-off pieces that appeal to a more individual market and are less likely to be produced in bulk. The two areas feed off each other, and an artist's creativity can be tempered and commercialised by a designer.

When considering design as an area of study, the sheer variety of courses and types of design on offer can cause confusion. A quick look at the Ucas website shows over 2,600 courses aimed at specific types of design, with around 200 providers. Some, such as surface pattern design, demand creativity and aesthetic awareness. Areas such as graphic design require good technical and computer skills. Good visual skills, colour knowledge and awareness of proportion are common to all courses.

The traditional route to an arts or design degree is through a one-year Foundation diploma. This is usually done locally - it's a full-time, further education course and has a number of advantages, not least that students tend to live at home so don't need to move away. It's a bridge between school and university, offering a unique chance to develop your skills as well as really enjoy exploring your creativity. You try a number of different disciplines, gradually narrowing those down until arriving at the final project; this variety is great if you're unsure what to specialise in. Entry qualifications start at GCSEs plus portfolio.

A BA honours course needs higher entry qualifications, starting around 160 UCAS points, depending on the university. You learn transferable skills: research, both visual and textual; team working; giving presentations; and putting your portfolio together. Work is assessed by portfolio presentations (examinations are very rare) so you learn how to talk confidently about your work. Increasingly, students enquire about study trips, opportunities for work placements, entering national and international competitions and attending international trade fairs. For example, Indigo, a fair held in Paris, has many UK art colleges exhibiting, with students selling their own textile designs.

And if you're thinking about teaching, you should find out if you can you undertake a Student Associates Scheme, which means getting paid to do work experience in the class room while still an undergraduate.

After graduation, jobs vary; you may be the only designer or part of a team. Employers range from private companies to large multinationals, as well as local authorities and consultants, and self-employment as a freelance is another option. It's down to you to get creative!

Margaret Jones is a senior lecturer in the department of art and design at the University of Bolton,


Tayab Iqbal, 20, is in the first year of a design for interiors foundation degree at the University of Bolton

I've always had an interest in interiors - the idea of being able to manipulate spaces so that you can not only alter the look of an interior but also change how people think and feel is something that appeals to me.

This course deals with all aspects, ranging from critical studies to looking at uses of colour and texture for interiors. We learn how to compose surveys of existing spaces and draw them to scale, and how to use CAD (computer-aided design) programs such as 3D Studio Max, which are very important in today's design.

We're taught through lectures and practical lessons and do coursework in our own time - there are no exams!

Once I've finished this course, I am going to go and do a one-year top-up course for interior design. And when I've completed that, I'll have qualified with a BA (Hons) in interior design.


Student Associates Scheme

More information on gaining some classroom experience


Find out about visiting the Parisian trade fair

Foundation awards

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