New graduates often speak of the challenge of getting their first job, when employers ask for professional experience that is difficult to get whilst studying.

Culture Forum North’s New Vision aims to support the HE/FE and cultural sector to work in partnership to smooth the transition from study to workplace or a freelance career, and the creation of the new vision provided the opportunity to get the ball rolling when we commissioned new design graduate Holly Carter to create our interim and final new vision brochures. Holly told us more when we interviewed her.

Tell us a bit about your studies at Liverpool John Moores University
I studied Graphic Design and Illustration. I enjoyed the freedom to discover my talents and techniques, whilst creating long-term friendships – with both students and lecturers! Previously I studied at UCA, in Canterbury, doing an Extended Diploma in Art and Design, and this is where I discovered that I enjoyed composition and layout. This skill was then applied at Uni, within editorial and publication design specifically. I loved, and still do, turning a standard document into a publication that showcases the client’s core values and beliefs. Tutors and lecturers supported my interests wholeheartedly, whilst also helping me to develop my skillset in graphics as a whole!

What is it like for a new graduate thinking about a freelance career?
My career ambitions were originally to work within a publishing house. Despite good feedback and a first-class degree, I wasn’t particularly confident and was uncertain that I’d progress within the field, as it’s so competitive. Shortly after finishing Uni, I worked as an in-house designer around my part-time hospitality job. However, Culture Forum North gave me my first ‘freelance gig’. Despite initially feeling inexperienced, they treated me as if I had worked within the industry for years and respected my opinions and approach – which skyrocketed my confidence. This pushed me to pursue additional freelance work in all mediums. I worked at Ditto Coffee within the Baltic Triangle, which is located next to a multitude of Design Studios. From here, I began to build relationships which resulted in an internship, and multiple freelance projects. My journey hasn’t necessarily been easy, but I’ve found that yes… your design skills are important, but how personable you are is just as! Networking is extremely important. For anyone thinking of a freelance career GOB Liverpool, which is organised by Redefine Studio, is a great opportunity to meet like-minded individuals within the creative community.

What have you found useful about working with Culture Forum North?
I’ve worked on Culture Forum North’s interim and final document for the new vision for partnership – in 2021 and 2022, alongside some web design.

It has been extremely beneficial – I improved, both in skill and confidence, as the initial project progressed, and am grateful that an established company wanted to work with me. It felt like they had opened the door! During University, I created multiple projects that spoke about diversity and inclusivity. With Caribbean heritage myself, it is important to me. Therefore, it was great for me to work on a project connected to the cultural sector. Initial challenges included being able to juggle a part-time job, an in-house design job and freelance work. However, this essentially pushed me to make the decision to work as a freelancer full-time.

What advice would you give to students thinking about becoming a freelance designer?
I would network and take time to develop skills outside your practice! Once graduating, I believed I wanted to work with publications and publications only. However, I’ve developed my skillset massively and now specialise in branding, social media marketing, and publication design. At Uni I would take advantage of all resources, you’ll miss them when you leave!

What advice would you give cultural organisations when engaging with new graduates as freelancers?
My experience with Culture Forum North was positive because I was treated as a freelancer rather than a university student. It’s very difficult to get junior design roles when the company are wanting at least 2-3 years’ worth of experience, and so just by giving graduates the opportunity to work for themselves and making them feel valued make’s all the difference. The experience is useful for graduates because by working on a live brief and towards timelines alongside responding to client’s feedback is completely different to a university