The graphic design course blog for
HND Visual Communication at Edinburgh College

Summer Placement : Q&A

12 August 2014

During the summer break,  HND Graphic Design student Stephanie Dalzell was lucky enough to secure a 2-week work placement with one of Scotland's top creative agencies, the Union.  Steph formed a creative pairing with one of our 2014 graduates, Ross Turnbull, and talks here about her experience at the agency under the watchful eye of Union Direct's Creative Director, Dawn Kermani.

Was this your first student placement?
I had worked with two other agencies, RAPP and Whitespace, as part of the 'One Week' projects at College. So this was my first independent placement, but having some prior experience gave me a bit more confidence and meant I had a vague idea of what to expect.

What did you know about the agency beforehand?
I knew a few people from the course who had completed placements there. My first impression was that they were primarily focused on digital design, but after some research I learned that their work was much more varied. While I was in the office I became aware of some of their successful campaigns for clients ranging from Vladivar Vodka to VisitScotland.

Your thoughts on the first day?
The building was very impressive and the whole office had a friendly and welcoming attitude. The departments were quite spread out and it seemed like there was a lot going on, which meant plenty to get involved with. I was keen to learn abut the various facets of the company, and particularly where design could take me. Dawn gave us a tour and there were plenty of introductions which made it much easier to settle in and get started. There were a few students from other Colleges and Universities and it was obvious that the agency was very involved with placements. The rest of the staff seemed quite comfortable having us there which put me at ease.

Who gave you the brief and what was that like?
We were invited to a meeting where the creative team were discussing their plans for the brief. We were given a copy and listened to their initial thoughts and ideas. This was a great way of easing us into it, and gave us an impression of how they had approached the task in the past. The brief involved refreshing a recruitment brand for a large public sector client, and was particularly focused on bringing young professionals to the area. We felt we could contribute some fresh ideas for the target market and were eager to get started. We researched the work that Union had previously produced for the client in order to understand what they were looking for. Our deadline was the end of the following week, when the placement was due to finish.

You were one half of a placement pairing, how did that work out?
I enjoyed being one half of a creative duo and I felt that Ross and I worked well together. We had a lot of interesting conversations which turned into great ideas, and were supportive of each other’s suggestions. It was occasionally a struggle to organise the work as we were both somewhat reluctant to take charge for fear of stepping on the other’s toes. We would usually make a list of tasks and then divide them up, checking in with each other throughout the day to make sure we were on the same page. We also had a regular morning meeting which helped us to stay on track. Combining our two visual styles was sometimes difficult but the feedback from the creative team helped us to identify the best parts of our work. They were keen to emphasise the importance of defining the roles within a team, in our case the writer and the art director. This wasn’t easy but has encouraged me to consider my own strengths and how I can best put them to use.

How did the agency manage the project?
Dawn checked in with us regularly but generally we were given a lot of freedom. We were allowed to choose when our progress would be reviewed and so planned our own schedule. We gave an initial informal presentation during the first week and received some great feedback. It was really helpful to see the project from a more experienced point of view, since there were a few factors we hadn’t taken into consideration. Everyone was very encouraging and we felt our contributions were appreciated. Our final presentation took place within the creative team’s office and again went well. It wasn’t overwhelming, mainly due to our experience of presenting to large groups and real clients on course projects. We felt confident and were proud of our ideas, which were well received.

What skills did you draw upon during the placement? 
One of the main challenges of the placement was determining each other’s strengths and dividing the work accordingly. During my time I built upon my organisational skills, striving to make decisions and lay out a plan as quickly as possible. The step-by-step design process taught at College was invaluable, particularly because we were primarily working independently. Having a structure to stick to prevented us from getting lost in the brief. Brainstorming also played a key role. Taking plenty of time to explore our ideas meant that our final concept had a strong foundation and we could argue it convincingly. We had considered various options before we arrived at the final conclusion. The team at the agency encouraged this process and allowed us plenty of creative freedom.

What will you take into your final year of study from this experience?
This placement has definitely built up my confidence and made me aware of my ability to work well within this environment. Having some industry experience will hopefully help to focus my work, and the feedback I have received will stay with me as I develop new projects. The Union in particular highlighted the importance of honing your digital skills, and I’ll be dedicating a lot more time to this in the following year. The creative industries are highly competitive but I now feel I have a better idea of what will be expected from me.