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Nick Hard and Jeff Knowles – Planning Unit

Describe the Ideal Candidate in three words

PERSONABLE 
HONEST
PROACTIVE
What’s the best way to get noticed at application stage?

It’s difficult. Designers are either really busy or twiddling their thumbs—and when we're doing that we're usually procrastinating about the next thing we should be getting on with. Sometimes it’s just pot luck when sending something in to a studio—your email might come in, or your piece of mail might drop on the mat the exact same day that a new project comes in and we need an extra pair of hands. Other times the most amazing portfolio gets sent in but unfortunately nothing comes of it because the studio is really quiet. 

I think the best thing to do when approaching a studio is to keep it simple, if you're sending an email, don't go on too long or it won’t be read. Keep it short and sweet, and engaging. By all means say you are interested in the studio and appreciate the work, but don’t be gushing about how much you love everything about it, and how it would be your ultimate dream to work there—we don't want to hear it, and you will only be disappointed. Don't make certain studios your heroes, you know how the saying goes..! 

The best thing to do is be yourself, and be friendly. As mentioned before, unless a studio is actively advertising for a position, any correspondence is a bit of a stab in the dark. If you do get a reply, try and exchange a few emails—you might be able to strike up an informal relationship. Maybe arrange to pop by at the end of a day to say hello and see the studio, but not to show your work—we’ve already seen that in the PDF or link that you sent. If you come with your work it puts us under pressure to give feedback and explain the situation with jobs, if we want to see the work again we will ask. 

For us it is always nice to meet a person and see what they’re like. At the end of the day we will be employing the person and the work they will go on to do, we’re not employing the work they have done. So it’s best to keep in touch, say hello every now and again, and stay in the minds of people—in design, a studio never knows what is going to come through the door next.

What’s the most common mistake people make when they apply for jobs?

I don't think it's about mistakes as such, it's missing the right things, or not doing them well. It's popular to photograph projects these days, but try not to make them too abstract—you're not using the work to create a beautiful photograph. You're photographing it so the work can be seen, so don't try to hide it.

Don't just show cool little boutique or self-initiated projects, if you have them, mix them with real world projects. It doesn't matter what industry it's for, if it is a unique creative solution, it tells us a lot about you as a designer.

I think personality is key as well, a lot of studios have a relatively small amount of people, and they work closely in the same space. It's not like a call centre where a particular type of personality can get lost amongst endless rows of work booths. There are no partitions in a studio space, and a lot of projects are collaborative—ideas need to be bounced around and shared, so personality is key. The best portfolio in the world is no good if ego gets in the way of it. Be proud and excited by your work by all means, but there's no harm in being a little bit humble!

They way you describe your work is important too. Don't get hung up on describing the design in specific detail, try to tell it from a personal angle, explain about the the client, the company, the people you worked with, the design challenges etc. Are there any funny or interesting tales to tell? It's more engaging to hear the story of the project rather than which print techniques and Pantone colours were used—those are the visual bits and we can see them for ourselves.

How important is it for you to see commercial work?

I think it is important, it can tell you a lot about a designer. I think designers are far too hung up on only showing 'cool' projects or pieces of work. They show that you can design and you have a good aesthetic sensibility, and all designers like to see lovely work—it's what we all get off on. But that's about as deep as it goes. Other designers might like your work, but would a client be impressed? Maybe, but they are probably more interested in their own design problems. 

All studios have clients, and ultimately you will be working on client projects. So it is important to see commercial work, it tells us a lot about a designer. In an interview explain the project, not the design. Explain who it was for, and what problems it solved—that tells us whether you understood the brief, the client, the company and their project. The design will speak for itself. 

Again don't worry if it was a 'cool' client or not, it is far easier to make an already-cool client with a cool products look amazing, but it's far more impressive if it's not such a well-known client in a not so well-known industry. That's far more challenging, and is very impressive if there has been a really creative idea and applicable design for the outcome.

One very important point about showing commercial work is to be honest. Most commercial projects are not done by one person, so it is very hard to show it as an individual piece of work. Don't worry that you didn't do it all yourself, we understand how commercial projects work—so don't worry how much or how little you designed, just be frank with us, again, it's far more beneficial for us to know you understood the client, the brief and how to solve the problem.

What’s more important, experience or enthusiasm?

I think both are important, but it's definitely important to be enthusiastic, because not everybody has experience, or the right type of experience, but everybody can be enthusiastic.

It's important to stress that enthusiasm shouldn't be mistaken with being a big fan of a studio. Looking at a studio from the outside isn't always the reality of the place. It is unwise to pin all your hopes on a certain 'ideal' studio—the reality of working there can be quite different to your assumption. There's all the other work that is produced that isn't shown by the studio, there is the environment you work in, the people you work with, the types of bosses, the working process, the hierarchy. Obviously it is good to have an appreciation for and knowledge of the work a studio produces, but it's not good to go into an interview in awe of the place and and come across like a star-struck fan. 

Likewise do not go into an interview with a sort of disrespect because you are not familiar with a studio, or not a big fan of a studio—again, there are many more dynamics to a studio than the work that's on a website, or that has been featured on a blog.

Don't judge a studio before you have seen the place and met the people—we wouldn't judge you beforehand. It's is far more beneficial to ask a lot of questions about the place too, as if you're successful you will spend a lot of you time in that environment and with those people. I think enthusiasm should come across as a curiosity, a willingness to understand a studio, the people, and the work processes. We are looking for people to become part of the fabric of the studio, not people that see a studio as a vehicle to get a cool piece of work out there. That will eventually come anyway, it's the other 99% that is the important part.

Does it matter what you wear to an interview if your portfolio is stunning?

Its sounds contradictory, but it matters because it doesn't matter.

One point is to understand the industry, that is to say, you wouldn't turn up wearing something suitable for a building site, so don't turn up wearing a suit, it instantly makes your potential employer question whether you know what the industry, or what a particular studio is about. The best advice is to be yourself, wear what you normally wear everyday, we are employing the person, so we need to see past any facade. Also don't try to be something you are not, or try to be 'whacky' just to get attention—and that includes not coming in fancy dress or in a big chicken costume.

About Planning Unit

Est. Feb 2011, founded by Nick Hard and Jeff Knowles. In the short time since setting up, we have had the opportunity to work for a great range of clients including: BBC, Knoll, Design Museum, D&AD, Bonfire Snowboarding, Salomon, Twin Magazine, pq Eyewear (Ron Arad), Paris Saint-Germain F.C. and Xindao amongst others.

www.planningunit.co.uk

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