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How to get a graduate design job without losing your soul

e’ve all bWeen there: fresh from university, sense of achievement from a brilliant degree show, you’re talented and want to change the world. Your friends move all over the country and seem to land their perfect first job with ease. You’ve sent out countless prospective emails. It’s three months later and you’re working in a bar part-time because you still need to survive. Shy of a couple of two week placements over summer, you’ve not yet got a proper design job. What’s going wrong?

I thought it would be useful at this time of year to give you some dos and don’ts. This mainly applies to design graduates and although we’re talking graphic design, it can work with fashion, photography, architecture… all kinds of creative backgrounds.

Graduate 4

Your approach:

  • Be good, really good. Talent is a start but I’m interested in what you do with it.
  • Be positive and friendly.
  • Be interesting and interested.
  • Be curious. Keep working in your spare time. Keep creative. Keep practicing. Explore ideas. I love to see a sketchbook and doodles.
  • Get offline! You may be a millennial but most of the industry isn’t. Networking is your friend and you can even enjoy it. Join things, talk face-to-face with people, be nice, be memorable.
  • Join a club or organisation: ISTD, CSD, People of Print, Museums Association, local sports clubs… anything! In Bristol, join Bristol Media and go to events. Around the rest of the country there are all sorts of creative networks and organisations for all kinds of businesses, whatever your specialism. Get to know people in the industry this way and you might find out they’re looking for someone before they even advertise it.
  • Don’t ask, don’t get. Ask questions. All the time. If they’re not advertising, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no job going.
  • If there’s a skill you’re missing that would help you stand out, learn it. Learning doesn’t stop when you leave university. If grammar’s your weakness, learn to improve. Can’t draw like you used to? Practice and practice. If you need to learn a new piece of software, do an online course in it. Don’t know how to artwork for print? Learn! Set yourself challenges like #100daysproject. Agencies love to see people self-improve and want to learn more.

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First contact:

  • Know who you’re talking to. I get countless emails starting ‘Dear Sir’. They immediately get deleted. Even if I was a sir, they’re not personal and would still get deleted. It doesn’t take five minutes to find the name of the person you’re emailing.
  • You can still have personality. Show it in your cover email/letter.
  • Tailor your CV, covering letter and portfolio. Do not send more than three projects to potential employers. They don’t want your whole portfolio in an unsolicited email. Pick your most relevant projects for that agency and in your covering letter say why you’ve chosen them and link similarities to the company’s own client work if possible. They want to know you’ll fit in. Make sure you use the right person’s name, the right company name and the correct job title. Double check! (I’ve had emails addressed to me that mention another company’s team and clients in the body.)
  • List what you can do: concepts, artwork, coding etc. Don’t say ‘I know 100% of InDesign’. No you don’t, no one does. There’s a current trend in CVs with infographics showing how well people can use software packages by percentage. It annoys me. How can you possibly know how much you know?
  • No typos! Get someone else to read through everything before you send it. (Out of over 100 applications we had for our designer position last year, 80 were immediately binned for having errors in either the cover email or CV. It’s a very quick and easy way to filter applications.) Alright, you’re probably not a copywriter but if you’re accurate, it shows agencies that work won’t have to be done twice.
  • Everyone likes movies and socialising! I’m far more interested in your qualification in cat herding than hearing you like to go to the pub. But I do still like to read what people’s interests are so keep them in. You won’t be judged professionally on it but it can make you stand out more.
  • Be persistent but don’t stalk or piss people off. Follow up on your email with another email a week later. If still no reply after a couple of days, feel free to call the person. If they don’t want to talk to you, fine, but they probably just had other things on their mind and got sidetracked. It might be the start of a very good conversation.

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  • Customise your portfolio. If you’re applying for a junior web designer position but your portfolio is mainly corporate identity, don’t panic. If you’ve got a couple of weeks’ notice, or even a week, that’s plenty of time to work your magic and do an entire project or two to boost your folio. This is how I landed my first job.*
  • Use your experience. If you’ve had a placement, show the work you did there. Of course you need to ask their permission and be honest about your part in it but as long as you don’t put it online they should be ok with it in your folio.
  • Show your best, most relevant work. Not ALL your work. This is very important and shows your editing skills as well.
  • The core idea is more important than polished visuals. I’d rather see a sketch with a powerful idea than a worked up graphic with no real purpose.
  • Show your commercial and most recent work. It’s far more relevant to a potential employer than a second year group project. As the saying goes, ‘you’re only as good as your last project’, whether that’s through paid work or off your own back.
  • Be confident, not cocky. If you’re not a confident person, pretend. It has the same effect.
  • Be on time.
  • Be professional. Dress like you want the job. I’m not saying wear a full suit but jeans and a t-shirt might be a bit too informal.
  • Be passionate.
  • Tell them what you can bring. They want to know you’ll get on with everyone and also bring value to their offer. Sell the benefits of projects you’ve done and how they helped the end user. Everyone likes results.
  • Follow up the next day with an email thanking them and asking for feedback. It’s the least they can do.


If you do all these things – or at least most of them – and apply to the right places for you, you’ll get there in the end. You will. You’re just at the start of your journey. Let us know how you get on @thewaydesign.

I wish you the very best of luck and enjoy the degree show!


*Side story: after three months of fruitless job hunting following my graduation, I managed to get an interview for a small agency in Nottingham. Knowing that this was specifically for print/corporate design and that I’d spent my entire third year on ‘new media’ as it was called then – designing DVD menus and film credits (despite my adamant refusal to live and work anywhere near London) – my portfolio was chronically lacking in appropriate work. I picked out two competition briefs from the YCN book and set to working my creative magic. The day before my interview, I reprinted my folio with the two completed additional projects and left out all my digital work. I got the job. The reason they gave was that my portfolio showed more relevant print experience than any of the other interviewees.



We love a National Park and so draw inspiration for this month’s #mapofthemonth from the US National Park Service.

Yellowstone National Park is a place of beauty and wonder. Above are two maps of the park – one taken from the National Geographic Magazine 27 years ago and the other from the official visitor information just two years ago. Can you spot any differences?

For more information visit

Interpreting the Tree Team

The project

April saw the official launch of the final phase of the Westonbirt Project. The project started with the 2014 opening of the Welcome Building and new parking facilities, and finished with the building of new areas at Westonbirt – the STIHL Treetop Walkway and the Wolfson Tree Management Centre (comprising the mess room and machinery store). If you’ve not been to Westonbirt Arboretum, or haven’t been for a while, now may be a good time to discover it!

We thought it might be useful to share our experience and the process from concept through to completion…


The brief

We were tasked with creating an engaging, low-tech interpretation area for visitors to learn about the work of the Tree Team and to connect them further with trees through a deeper understanding of what it takes to care for a living collection.





Following a site meeting to discuss the project, the concept went through various phases of development, taking into consideration the stakeholders involved in the project. Here you can see how it developed from our earlier initial sketch through to the approved final design.

The team were keen to use the skills of a local artist from the start and so following concept approval we briefed in Jody Thomas to visualise the elements (bottom pic).




Working with Antomic Woodworking on the production and build; they measured, cut and base painted the elements, built the frame to hold it all together and designed, cut and built the interactives. The flat sheets (made from 18mm Tricoya) were then delivered to Jody’s studio for spraying.




On a freezing day in December, Antomic installed the project on site. The following day they installed the panels then we went along with Jody to meet Antomic and the Westonbirt team to spray the back and do the finishing touches.

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Part of the project also included design and production of a Hotspot sign in their house style to guide visitors from the main path through to the interpretation area.


Following the build and finish, the interpretation area can now be viewed by visitors. It includes a toolbox which is changed regularly and allows people to see smaller items which the Tree Team use, as well as a blackboard which is updated monthly by the team so visitors can see them at work around the arboretum and will know what they’re up to and a ‘book’ which gives further details about the science behind their work.




The official opening ceremony was held at the end of April when the walkway, mess room and machinery store were officially opened by Ellie Harrison of BBC’s Countryfile.

You can see a summary and finished photos of this project on our portfolio page.

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Top Five Tips on… Legibility in design

You want to make your content inclusive to as many audiences as possible, whether that’s in print or online. So here are our top five tips for making your designs legible, gleaned from years of experience plus guidance from RNIB and the Equality Act 2010:



Type 1

There’s much discussion about whether serif or san serif are more legible. Choose what works for the situation, what the audience might be more comfortable with, and don’t make it too fussy. Some serifs are hard to read, as are some san serifs, it’s a personal choice often. Headings can use ‘display’ fonts which can be more tailored to the item you’re creating (period style, more character etc). You should generally ensure that blocks of copy use simple, clear fonts such as Frutiger, Helvetica, Cambria. The less flourish on them, the easier they are to read.

The general rule is that italics and scripts, although fine for highlighted text, are harder to read as blocks of copy, as are very light fonts since they can seem to disappear. Bold and heavy weights can be used for headings but are not suitable for body copy. Upper case can be very clear when used for pulled out points but avoid blocks of copy with it.

In terms of sizes, all the fonts in the image above are written in the same point size so you can see how much variation there can be. For good legibility you want to pick a well-balanced font where the ascenders and descenders aren’t too long (that’s the top of the ‘d’ and bottom of the ‘p’). For printed items, 9.5pt for body can be perfectly legible if you’ve chosen a well-balanced font. On an information panel, generally the smallest size you can use is 14pt.


Contrast and colours

Type 2

You want to ensure maximum contrast when using copy over colour or imagery. Here I’ve shown you the same size and weight font used across several background images and colours. When using on a coloured or shaded background, make sure to use a very light/dark coloured font over a very dark/light image or colour. When a word is put over a noisy image with lots of contrast in itself, such as trees or mountains as here, it makes it very difficult to understand.

Equally, tonally similar colours make it hard to pick out words (as grey and yellow shown here). Never use red/green, grey/red or complementary colours as text and background together. They appear to zing and are just really hard to read, whether or not your reader is colour blind!





Type 3

All content needs a heading at a minimum, then body copy. Longer chunks of information (articles and such) are better broken up with subheads, bullets and pulled out quotes if suitable. This is called hierarchy of text as shown here: it starts short and big and filters down to body copy. Generally in print, short line lengths are easier to read, usually columns of up to ten words are fine. On panels, you want to keep the line lengths short, particularly for pull-outs as you don’t want people visibly moving their heads just to read the information! Hierarchy is important to consider both online, off line and in print.




Type 4

Good use of space can actually make copy more legible (particularly for dense or small copy). You’ll see in the hierarchy example, extra spacing between blocks of text. It enables the design to breathe and makes it more visually appealing than solid blocks of text. In the spacing example you can see the same copy used with left aligned text, force justified and with tight kerning (the space between the letters). Version one is best practice for legibility, as you can see. It’s easy to follow, well spaced and clearer than the other two.




Type 5

A last consideration for legible design which is particularly important to keep in mind for financial reports and statistics, is how the numerics appear. Some fonts have their numbers all sitting on the baseline, others break out of it as shown in the example. The latter can make it hard to follow lines within charts and spreadsheets unless shading or lines are used to separate them. If working on a number-heavy document, choose a font where there can be no ambiguity between numbers such as 3, 5 and 8 and 1 and 7, which can be commonly confused.

I hope this helps with your next project and has been an interesting read. If you’d like to talk further or have any questions about legibility in design, please do get in touch via our Facebook page. I could go on but I’ve tried to keep it brief!



Hello Howard!

We are excited to announce our new member of team Way! Howard Swift has joined us to help nurture the business, supporting and growing our clients and the studio team here as our Project Manager. He says-


“It’s a real privilege to be joining the guys here at The Way. They’re a really great team doing great work for great clients – so my first challenge is to try and maintain that certain level of general greatness!”


We’re thrilled to have him on board and look forward to achieving great things together.
You can read his biog to find out more.

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