The Design Kids Interview

This is an interview from March 2015 originally featured here on The Design Kids


Please tell us a little background about DesignGel and why graduates and students should be a part of it.

DesignGel was founded with the mission of small helping small. In 2011 DesignGel’s founder Debbie Paterson realised that students and recent graduates of design needed a platform to get paid work experience, and set up DesignGel as a socially minded business to provide these opportunities. We work with young creatives on live briefs, providing for small businesses, community organisations and not-for-profits who need affordable design. We minimise the risks that can come with inexperience, so that young creatives can feel comfortable with the processes of a live brief.

How did you become a part of the team and what do you love about your job?

Co-director Laura and I never dreamed that we could be directors of an enterprise in our first year out of study, so when the opportunity was offered to us we took it. It was daunting, but we were both passionate about how designers could help further a good cause with their skills, and working with DesignGel was the perfect way for us to push this. It’s been a learn-as-you-go process, but I’ve loved learning how to run a business, which has been made possible with the support of our mentors, a fantastic community of creative folk and a selection of lovely clients.

What’s the big goal for DesignGel in the next five years?

The most important goal for us at the moment is to grow. The more projects we take on, the more we are able to support our community of young creatives. Expanding DesignGel outside of Wellington could be the next step, as well as finding ways to support creatives in other areas such as industrial design or fashion.

In the same way that we inherited the DesignGel directorship positions, we will at some point mentor a new generation of entrepreneurs who want to take up the opportunity to grow a community for young creatives. I can’t imagine not being involved with the future of DesignGel, and I’m looking forward to seeing it help other creatives start their own careers.

What are five standout characteristics of a good portfolio?

A selection of quality work wins out over quantity any time. Show the work that you enjoyed creating the most, it will more likely attract the type of work that you want. Put in the personal work and side projects that show your individual interests. I love seeing team projects in portfolios, if the work produced by a group looks cohesive it’s usually an indicator that the creative is a team player. Always credit your co-creators, and define what your role in the team was.  

What advice can you give students and grads entering industry?

Following from the last question, a good portfolio has to be accompanied by a good introduction. Put effort into the correspondence that accompanies your portfolio to convey what your passions are and what you would want to learn from working with someone.

However, working for someone else doesn’t necessarily have to be your first step in industry, establishing your own design practice as a freelancer or creating your own products to sell can be a viable option. Investing in a space to work is a good motivator, a co-working space is the best way to build your network and prevent cabin fever. Even if you aren’t earning money from design just yet, stay productive and keep learning new skills.

Do you have any side projects you would like to share?

While my main focus is running DesignGel, I can’t resist taking on the odd pro-bono project for a cause that I think is deserving. I’m currently working with Volunteer Wellington on their website redesign, which is making good progress. I’m having to improve my coding abilities which is a good challenge. There are some mixed views on pro-bono design that I’ve attempted to sum up in this article here.