Placement Year: Bridging The Gap

Placement year can be difficult. For most people it is the realisation that there is no safety net in reality. At university and school, you can re-sit a test if you fail, in the work place, if you don’t do your job well, you are replaced. Placement year can both make or break a student; for myself, it broke me at this point.

During December, I was let go from BWAR. The reasoning behind it was difficult to comprehend for myself. The thing that placement officers don’t tell you is that the companies that take placement students will do one of two things: (1) they will make you shadow others and you will be the designated coffee barrister and maid, or (2) they will use your skills to their advantage.

I was lucky with BWAR, they helped me expand my skills in graphic design as well as other transferable skills. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learnt though was to stand up for myself as well as learning about humility. Most placement students will feel that because they have got a placement, they are the best in their field. The fact of the matter is, that we as students are far from perfect or at the top of our game.

When I first started at BWAR, I thought that I would be used for the skills I had, as I was in essence stepping into a junior role that another member of staff was leaving. Whilst this was the case, it didn’t last for long. We are told before we begin placements that we should ‘make our own opportunities to learn’, so when the boss asked if I wouldn’t mind taking on more responsibility due to another member of staff leaving, I practically bit his arm off at the shoulder replying, “of course I would love to gain more experience”, this however, was the beginning of my fall.

My new title was “graphic designer and content writer”. I have never been a content writer, with blogging being the exception, but I decided that sometimes you need to do things you don’t like in order to get better at them. At first it was great. I got to learn how to talk to customers and gain an insight into the world of SMEs and other occupations. My writing skills improved, but with time the content I was writing became monotonous. There was only so many times you could write “we have over 50 years of hands on experience in the building industry, and are Gas Safe Registered”. With boredom came lack of passion, and in turn, my ability to content write declined. At this point, my job role was not as promised. My boss was not actively seeking a replacement content writer, nor was my role split 50/50; graphics and content. Instead, I was content writing most of the time and barely doing one logo a week.

With the content I was writing not maintaining the high standards expected, I was given a warning. This warning though was not welcomed, for I knew I could have dealt with it better. Though I had bitten my tongue during the meeting, I knew that I should have said something. I was not a content writer and the position was only supposed to be temporary. The fact that I was being punished for something I knew nothing about, and for all intents and purposes, was not great for me.

With time, I soon found myself out of a job and in a spiral of worry and depression. Christmas was far from easy. Businesses are not open over the Christmas period, so I had to wait until January for replies in regards to finding a new placement. I had chosen BWAR as it was a paid placement and I was trying to save up for university the approaching academic year. Now I was eating into those savings to stay afloat.

I do not hold anything against BWAR. The opportunities and teaching I got from the company were amazing. I learnt not only what I was good at, but also where I could improve. I learnt some basic CSS and HTML, how to put content into websites, how to duplicate sites, use of customer service skills, graphic design, templates for print and why we need them, marketing and so much more. The friends I made there were also invaluable and the clients I spoke to helped me discover more about the world around me, which is essential to life in the real world outside of university.

A few of my friends and old work colleagues endeavoured to help me at least find paid work after I left BWAR, and for that I am eternally grateful. The real world can be harsh, but with a few good allies and contacts you can go anywhere. I believe the expression “it’s not what you know, but who you know” was very applicable.

After Christmas I was getting interviews but no responses, which did not help with my depression or anxiety. I started to think that I was destined to fail my placement year and in turn my life in employment. All of a sudden, I received an email from a prestigious design studio, Neomam, in Manchester, stating that they would be willing to take me on under the conditions that I wouldn’t mind waiting until February/March time. I of course agreed and will be contacting them again soon to ask for an update. For me, this was the turning point. I had prospectively emailed the company asking if they had any openings for an intern. Though the reply was no, they had looked at my blog and had fallen in love with my perspective on things as well as my content writing skills.

I might not be a content writer for the likes of companies like at BWAR, but apparently I was a good writer when it came to columns and essays. This restored my faith a little. For myself, I knew that content writing like at BWAR was not my calling, but perhaps writing columns and blogs may have been. A few other companies started emailing me back stating that though they did not have any positions, but they would consider me after I graduated, due to my blogs. It was a path I then decided to consider.

A friend of mine in the meantime, placed me on his books for 4 weeks so that I would have a month less to worry about. Although this was not paid, it did go towards the weeks I needed to pass my year. The experience I gained whilst working with his company were essential and got me back on track to loving graphics again. I worked with some amazing clients who were based in the local area, as well as advertising for the Troll Run.

I still needed a paid job alongside this though, and opted to join a recruitment agency. There are many benefits to using a recruitment agency, the main one being that they find you work very quickly. In under a week of our initial meeting, I started a new job in customer services during the day, whilst continuing my internship from home in the evenings. Working in customer services, which doesn’t sound like it would help me with my graphic design career, actually did. Customer services taught me about content and humility again. The majority of inbound calls could have been prevented if manuals had been more user friendly, whether that meant text being bigger, content being clearer or images being a bit easier to understand. Although I may not have been doing any graphics here, it did help me understand the consequences of bad design. My time with this company came to an end rather unexpectedly, however it meant that I had enough money to pay off next year’s accommodation, with a little left over for the likes of my car insurance and so on.

I managed to find a placement that would cover me for my remaining mandatory weeks, which is where I presently am. Mel’s Weddings came at a time that I needed it most. Whilst unpaid, I am allowed to work from home and if I am needed to be in the office, I know that I will be covered financially.

During my first week or so, I helped in re-branding the whole company to “Luxury Events Group”. The following week I had helped run their social media accounts to learn about SEO requirements and Marketing. My followers on Instagram went from 200 to nearly 4000 almost overnight, with wedding companies, venues, marketing, bridal magazines and many brides to be now following my personal account.

It turns out that when you announce an “Instagram takeover” people assume you are a well-known blogger. I was posting not only to the company Instagram (@luxuryeventsgroup), but duplicating the posts on my own account (@scarletruthmargaret) and tagging the company in them. Hashtags and tags became my new best friends, as I will discuss in my next post.

Alongside this, an old friend of mine contacted me and wondered if I was still in the area of Staffordshire, offering me a teaching role. I had never considered teaching, as I was far from patient and I know that I was not a great public speaker. I may act confident, but put me in a room with 20 blank faces staring at me and you’ll find I internally scream for the earth to swallow me up. It wasn’t as it sounded though, it was 1-on-1 tuition in how to use certain pieces Adobe software and it was with adults and not children. At the end of the day, it was money and experience and would help me relearn what I hadn’t had practise in in a while. Though the company this was for has to be anonymous at this point, I know that it will eventually look good on my CV once they have signed a release.

I am excited for the next couple of weeks with Luxury Events Group and my teaching job, and I will be excited to see the opportunities that arise from them both. I will take each day as it comes and will aim to be a better me at the end.

So far, if I were to sum up my placement year, I would say that it has completely broken me. In saying that, it has also made me realise what I need to be doing in life and what strengths and weaknesses I need to focus on. All learning curves involve a steep slope, but I know that once I reach the top I will be ok. I may have had my confidence shot, but I know that the biggest lesson I needed to learn was humility, and I feel that I am doing this slowly but surely. I am not at the top of my field, and I may never be, but I do know that I am a better person from this.

App Graphic Problems

When talking to a customer there are various responses they could give in terms of what they would like it to look like. Sometimes, the app graphics can be easy replicate from a website or the style of the company’s logo, but other times it can be a bit more difficult. For example:

This customer requested their app to look like their website:

App Screen ShotJA

This was relatively easy as the customer was specific in what they wanted. The website was simple to replicate and looked good on-screen.

 

 

Alternatively, when a customer requests their app to take a leaf from their ‘sister company’s’ aesthetics, it can get a little difficult:

App Screen Shot lion LionThe difference in colour and the fact they wanted it both ‘the same, but different’, made this very difficult, and though we have not received amendments yet, graphics that make you have to stab in the dark can be both helpful and a hindrance.

 

Finally, customers who have both a website and an app from us, can make us, as a tech team, have a bit of a race to the finish. They both need to follow the same line of aesthetics, but if an app has been built first, it cannot be published until the website has, due to the fact that the webpage will need to be embedded into the app, as part of it’s functionality. All websites are made mobile responsive, where as the original site for this one, was not. This would mean that even though it would update in time to the correct site, due to the same domain being used, it would not look good in the mean time.

churchThe web team, will endeavour to make the website similar in appearance to the app. This may not be as much of a challenge as the app graphics were based off of the original website anyway. This information was gained upon the content call made by myself at the beginning of the project.

Design Work: Eastern Gold

Some of the design work that I have been given over the past week has been interesting. The most notable has been for a jewellery company.

I enjoyed this brief and had to do 4 mock up of completely different styles for the customer. Though still awaiting feedback, I have had permission to us the graphics fully to publish. Please see them below.

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I enjoyed this project as I could incorporate the style of artwork I enjoy: simplistic and romantic styles. Though one of the designs was purely based up the salesmen’s request, for the content (the gold digger one), I feel like the brief was met, and I hope that the customer is happy with these options.

Illness and Internships

One main worry I had about going on a placement was that I would be ill at any given point. A solution to this is to find an employer who is willing to work with you. At my placement at BWAR!, my employer has been very understanding, allowing me to take time off for an operation 2 weeks ago. He also forced me to take the following day off so that I could recover, regardless of whether or not I felt ok.

Both disabilities and illness happen to near enough everyone. If you’re looking for a placement and are worried like I was, I would suggest you discuss any of your problems openly at your interview or induction. You need to put you first. Remember, some bosses will allow you to work from home, just like mine, so that you won’t lose any pay or time at work.

Know Your Allies

The idea of a placement is that you get hands on experience in a real work environment. Though this perhaps could mean that there are no safety nets, you are also open to a lot of helpful people, but you need to learn who they are. In my placement so far, I have found that just because someone had a specific job title and you are an intern, it doesn’t mean that they (a) have the time to explain something or (b) are good at explaining things.

I have learnt a lot in the past few months but the biggest thing I have learnt so far, is who to go to if I need a hand in a specific field. Inside the office, there are specific people that are available to me when I need to ask questions. Though I have almost two full notebooks already of ‘how to’s’, ‘advice’ and ‘reminders’ it is clear that by the time I get back to university I will be better at asking for help.

As an independent and proud person, I have always struggled to ask for help, but here, there isn’t much of an option. Though I do some research outside of the work place, an internship is for asking questions, learning and applying knowledge. Perhaps the main focus of an internship is not necessarily teaching someone skills, but perhaps it is more for encouraging and learning how to apply skills as well as learning being a humbling experience.

By asking questions, you not only learn how to do things, but you can also build key relationships with members of staff. Here at BWAR, I have manages to gain a lot of insight in not only how apps and websites are built, but also a lot outside of my field. On a daily basis, I not only deal with customers, but I can also be learning about how to adjust simple CSS and so on.

The staff here are encouraging and understand that everything is a learning curve. Everyone here has multiple job roles and can do many diverse jobs in one day. From tech support to app creation, there is a lot that each member of staff can do. This also means that should one individual be busy, as this is a quick paced environment and also only a small business, someone else can help me. Though I am still learning, I aspire to be like them. A diverse job role, such as this one can aide in future prospects.

With no two days being the same, the learning potential here does not have a limit as such, the limit is merely in what questions I ask. As the weeks go on, I know that I will never stop learning, whether it is the meaning of key words or how to deal with an awkward customer.

Placement Year Update

In recent months I have been settling into the company I have managed to secure a placement with: BWAR!. The company itself is only small but is fast paced and has meant that for myself, no two days are the same. Based in Staffordshire it is lively and a place and will offer me a lot to learn.

In the beer garden after work with some amazing people #internlife #guinness #spoons @jdwetherspoons

A photo posted by Ruth (@scarletruthmargaret) on Jun 5, 2015 at 10:01am PDT

My initial few months have been an eye opener and curve ball. I have been thankful of the amazing team I am surrounded by and the support they have given. The training I have been through so far has been clear and will help me in my future endeavours. My actual job title here is one that is flexible. Although I am a Graphic Design intern, I also take on other roles. Most specifically, I also write content and slightly delve into customer service. I feel like working for a smaller company will offer me a more rounded experience due to the fact I have many different job roles.

BWAR! are host to other companies and have many resellers. The company sells website, apps and print work to various companies, mostly to tradesmen and small business. From a day to day basis, I could be calling many different clients, or doing work for many different clients. I could be calling a client to ask questions about their business so that I can write the content for their homepage and about us, the next I could be creating the graphics for an app. The limitations of my job role seem non-existent and that is why I feel that this placement year will enlighten me.

So far I have made what feels like a hundred logos and other graphics as well as written hundreds of pieces of content for various companies up and down the UK. I know that for everything that I have done, though my name is not next to each individual piece, I have helped someone. This job is rewarding, knowing that my artwork and writing is out there.

Stuff for work #internlife #evapes #vintage #tattoo

A photo posted by Ruth (@scarletruthmargaret) on May 26, 2015 at 2:13pm PDT

Though naming client I have worked for so hard, whilst being a part of the team here are confidential, I know that I can display certain aspects of the work I do and what I learn whilst I am here, including the work I do internally.

Since working here I have learnt a lot and I know I will continue to learn whilst I am here, whether I am working with clients, or the company itself. I will also learn humility, the same as I did when working in sales. Sometimes a client will not like what they see, on other days, you will see banners and logos you create out in the big wide world that though you are not happy with, the client is. It is key in this job to remember that not only is the customer is always right, but also that it is ok to ask questions.

Placement: BWAR!

I am in love with my internship. The people I work with are so nice and helpful. I think I am going to enjoy my time here.