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The graduate’s way

Graduating in 2022: It’s about the journey, not the destination

Illustration: Anat Warshavsky

Whether you’re a student, a graduate, or a self-taught creative, this time of year tends to bring deliberation and soul-searching. As the academic year comes to an end, the atmosphere is heavy with one question: What’s next?

This point in time is special. Not only because of that big, daunting question about the future, but also because you still have a student's mindset. You’re adaptable, hungry, ready to explore, and willing to learn.

What does it mean to graduate in 2022? What are graduates facing in the job market? What opportunities are they looking for? What does it have to do with the nature of education in the creative industry? And how can you cultivate a life that’s forever filled with learning and enrichment, regardless of formal education? We are joined by two industry insiders who know a thing or two about this special point in a creative’s life. They share some truths, debunk some myths, and offer their words of wisdom for students, graduates, and any creative person curious about their next steps.

What design graduates need

What better place to start than by looking at our very own Wix Playground Academy. The Academy might have changed a bit since its inception four years ago but its ultimate goal remains the same: to support design graduates as they embark on their new careers.

Dafna Sharabi, the Academy’s consultant and content curator, has been working with the students from the very beginning. She has a full overview of the content and plays an important role in shaping the Academy’s program. She makes sure the experience for students is balanced and holistic with professional classes, practical tutorials ,experiential classes, inspirational content, and one-on-one mentoring.

Wix Playground (WP): Tell us a bit about how the Academy began.

Dafna Sharabi (DS): “When we started, the program was a 3-month course for young designers, in our space in NYC. We wanted to create something that would be our way of giving back to the design community by sharing the knowledge and experience we have within our company and design teams. We didn’t want to create another internship program like those offered by big companies. Those are usually about students doing something for the company but we wanted to switch the concept around and do something for the students. Our intention behind creating the Playground Academy was for students to learn from us, gain a better knowledge of themselves, and build a portfolio they are proud to share with the world afterwards.”

WP: Why do graduates make the perfect candidates for the academy?

DS: “The majority of them tell us that they learned so much in school but they don’t know what they want to do next. So just holding that space with them - having a moment to gather, take stock, and reflect on what you’ve been through and what it all means is extremely valuable. We ask graduates questions to help point them in their own direction. Questions around what courses they enjoyed most, which project they loved doing and what work they were most proud of. It highlights certain things for them and helps them understand themselves better. I’d say this approach works best with someone who is starting out and who has an open attitude to learning.”

The most important learning is about yourself

WP: What type of learning are you focused on?

DS: “In the current iteration of the academy the students are creating their own portfolio. That means that the focus is on them finding their own identity. It’s all about learning who they are as designers, getting to know themselves and their creative persona, and what they want to do in the near future. We also work on their visual language and values, which they can later apply in any job they choose to take. We basically want them to get to know themselves better to help them become better designers. A portfolio is the best tool to do that because it’s all focused on them.”

WP: What do you offer that’s different from traditional higher education?

DS: “I think one of the things that makes the Academy different and special for the students is they get to experience a real work environment. How we work during the program is how designers have to work in their jobs; communicating through Slack, sticking to a schedule, communicating with people outside of your profession and team, presenting your sketches to other people, and working with a mentor who gives feedback. It can be a lot more practical than school and students love that it prepares them for the future.

There’s also much more emphasis on communication. At school, students rarely need to communicate at all - they work alone at home, present at class, get feedback and that’s it. At the Academy they have the opportunity to dive deeper into communicating their process, progress, and way of thinking as they design. It’s about more than the final result.”

WP: Speaking of process vs. final result, what would you say the Academy is more focused on?

DS: “I think we try to have a balance between the two. Obviously our goal is for them to leave with a finished portfolio but we also put a lot of emphasis on how the design process is making them feel. We want them to pay attention to what methods make them joyful and which practices of design spark joy. We want them to tune in to the act of doing and how it makes them feel because eventually that will influence what type of designer you are.”

Graduating in 2022

WP: What are the challenges today’s graduates face in the job’s market? What are they looking for in their first job?

DS: “At the end of the day, all graduates want to find a workplace where they feel appreciated, and to make a living out of something that feels good and aligns with their values. I think that community is very important to them. They are really looking for somewhere to belong and to meet people they connect with. When they finish school they are suddenly left with no peers, so working alongside other people at the Academy is really valuable to them. They are so happy to meet other designers and people they consider to be their community.”

WP: The creative industry is getting more specialized, geared towards an economy of experts. What do you think about this trend?

DS: “I think that’s good because you can get really granular with your passion. As humans we sometimes have a really specific niche and this trend creates a space for those specific people and talents. It means they will not be forced to do anything else but the very thing that makes them happy, and that’s great.

There’s also a lot of benefits to being a designer who does many different things and who is able to. I guess it’s good to have the option to be either, and to have that diversity in positions. I think it’s the industry’s responsibility to reflect that and show that diversity and multitude of options.”

Learners for life

WP: Do you think lifelong learning and enrichment is something that’s particularly important for creatives?

DS: “I think with every profession if we keep doing the same thing over and over we get bored and it stops being exciting. But if we incorporate learning into our lives it will bring newness and excitement and passion - that’s important for everyone! Design is an industry where learning is much more accessible because the industry itself keeps growing and developing. It naturally has more newness and opportunities to learn.”

WP: What would you recommend to graduates who want to get to know themselves better and find the right path after school?

DS: “The most important thing is to always check back to your past experiences so you can learn from your own history and life. Every experience you had in school (and beyond!) is a valuable resource to pull information from. Anything fun and good you got to experience - think back to it, it holds a lot of the answers. Think about who you worked with, what you did, why you did it. Usually, when you answer those questions it can help you structure something similar in your future and help you understand what you’re looking for and what makes you happy.”

Making it through the industry’s paradox

Bringing in another point of view is Alec Dudson. He founded Intern Mag to empower the next generation of creatives to build their dream careers. Alec has been working with this audience - young creatives and fresh graduates - for the past nine years, and can shed more light on the experience of graduation in 2022.

Wix Playground: What made you focus on this audience when you founded Intern Mag?

Alec Dudson: “For me, the motivation has always been focused on the social and political aspect of the creative industry. In spite of its insistence that it’s a very open, liberal, collaborative, wonderful place to be, it remains an exclusive industry to work in. A lot of that comes down to the refusal to pay people in their first jobs which locks people out systematically.

I think that creativity in its purest form is the most transcendent and powerful social tool. It can be so important and meaningful for people regardless of language, level of education, health, or wealth. It can provide an opportunity to reflect on and better understand the world you live in. It has tremendous social value. So I find it deeply unnerving that only a very small section of society gets to participate in it and set the tone for the whole industry. At Intern Mag we try to help people out - guide them, provide them with reassurance that these things don't happen overnight and help them navigate this in-between phase which can feel especially frustrating.”

WP: Has the industry changed much in that regard? What does the market look like for graduates now?

AD: “I think it's becoming more of an issue from a PR point of view for companies to advertise and openly recruit for unpaid internships. So that's a positive change, as this does increase the number of paid opportunities. There has been a shift and heightened awareness because of social media and the kind of call-out culture it perpetuates (which I have to say I’m not personally fond of).

In terms of shifting challenges in the market, I think the creative industry will always be a tricky one. Whether you graduate into a market that is thriving or that is going through a recession, it will still always be fluctuating, and the arts are the first things to get aggressively cut. So to a degree, you’ll always have to adjust to the circumstances of the world. Not much has changed in the way that graduates still leave school and find themselves completely unprepared for the industry itself, unequipped with basic skills for the business.”

WP: How much of that is the school’s responsibility?

AD: “They have a huge responsibility. I remain baffled as to why every single design and art program doesn't properly prepare people for the industry. Understanding and developing your practice is great but very few institutions spend time on actually teaching students what to do in real life situations. They leave people with no idea of how to translate the stuff they've been learning and doing for three years, particularly how to put a value on your work and how to pitch that value to a potential employer. It’s like there's an industry-wide reluctance to talk to people directly about the business of design. You have to have something built into the modules and curriculums to address that, and unfortunately, most schools don’t.”

WP: What advice would you give today’s graduates?

AD: “First of all, remember it's completely normal to not know what you want to do. Most students and graduates haven't got a clue. And I think at that age, it makes perfect sense that this is the case. In your early 20’s you’re still learning so much about yourself, so who’s gonna get that right?

There’s also far less societal expectation now to pick one thing and stick with it, so enjoy that. It's also a lot more natural for people to have interesting careers that veer through different kinds of specialism, so that's good to remember if you’re feeling unsure.

And embrace the fact that learning goes far beyond the university environment. In fact, most graduates say that in the year following their graduation they have learnt way more than they have in all those years in university. I’d encourage graduates to keep engaging with any opportunity to go and learn something - anything that is accessible in terms of location and price. Take a crack at any free resource out there, you never know what you might pick up!

And lastly, don’t buy into the unrealistic expectations that social media presents - that success will be instant and that you need to be a creative director of a global brand by the age of 24. It's very easy to get caught up in that. If you've been to art school and have not been in a relevant role within a year, you might be inclined to feel like a total failure, and that’s absolutely not the case.”

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