From education to employment

Students inspired to design their own career paths

Ben Walker is pictured with Visual Communications students and lecturer Tracey Scott.

A former Art & Design student recently revisited Borders College to talk to current Visual Communications students about the design industry, sharing with them his own impressive career progression from being employed to a self-employed freelancer to now being Owner and Creative Director of Firefly Design Agency in Edinburgh.

Ben Walker, originally from Melrose, completed his foundation Art and Design course at Borders College in Hawick in 2001. Discovering a passion for Graphic Design whilst completing a module of the same title at the College, Ben went on to complete his Higher National Diploma (HND) in Graphic Design at Cumbria Institute of the Arts in Carlisle.

Following 11 years spent working full-time or as a freelancer for a number of Edinburgh agencies including involvement with well-known brands Scottish Power, The Co-op and Highland Spring, Ben made the exciting move of setting up his own branding and digital design agency – Firefly – in 2014.

Talking to the year two HND Visual Communications students, Ben drove home the important message that the design industry can be a difficult one to break into, with approximately 35% of his own Cumbria course mates successfully making it happen, saying:

“I can’t emphasise enough how difficult it is to break into the design industry and if you haven’t already done so I’d strongly recommend you source an internship or any form of relevant work experience. It will really help to set you apart from any other applicants and those graduating with similar degrees.”

Visual Communications Lecturer Tracey Scott, who, as a senior designer, supported Ben during his work placement at Mortonward, invited him to talk to the students and describes him as a great example to our students of how university isn’t always the best route:

“It was a bit of an eye-opener for them to hear someone who employs designers tell them how competitive the field is, and how getting experience and freelance work is virtually essential to give you an advantage over other applicants when job-hunting.”

One of the students agreed with this, commenting:

“It was very interesting and useful to find out how important work experience and internships are, and how big an advantage that is when trying to find a job.”

Acknowledging the value of a college education, Ben admits that this can only take a designer so far – his top tips for the group included understanding how best to engage with design agencies, how to prepare for an interview and the importance of a diverse portfolio that showcases a range of projects and styles.

The students then had the opportunity to ask Ben questions, as well as share their CVs and examples of their work for his comments to help ensure they have the best chance of breaking into the competitive industry of design. Ben intends to return later in the year to give the students guidance on their final portfolios.

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