New Designers is the biggest and best graduate show that gives universities and students a unique opportunity to meet professionals and industry experts. I just wish I'd had a heads up before I went there.
New Designers was 30 years old when I exhibited so here's a list of 30 things I learned during my time there:
1. You Should 100% Do It- For all the money it'll eat out of your bank and for all the time you'll spend on it and all the energy you'll lose working there, it is so worthwhile. It really is an experience second to none and I don't know anywhere else that gives you access to such a range of people and professionals. It is invaluable to starting your career.
2. Visit In 2nd Year- Each university is sent out complementary tickets so try and persuade tutors to give them to the second years. It is expensive to get in otherwise, especially when you factor in a day ticket to London from where ever you are so try and wangle the free tickets for your own. Make sure you visit the year before you go, I really wish I had known I could do this because it will give you a better idea of the level of competition, different ways of displaying your work and how to make the best of the space you have.
3. Fundraise- If you aren't lucky enough to belong to a big university with a massive budget who pay the fee for you, you are very likely going to have to pay for all of the total or at best for a portion. The stands range in sizes depending on how many people you have exhibiting but generally are a minimum of £3000.00. Start fundraising in at the beginning of first year if you can but certainly in second year. Put aside some student loan each term if you can, do cake sakes, seasonal card sales, easter and christmas hampers, caricatures, anything that will make you a couple of quid because believe me, fundraising in the last term of third year with finals approaching is a headache you do not need.
4. Pull Your Weight- During the preparation there will inevitably be a few people who ride along the backs of everyone else's success. You know the types, the people who haven't bothered to show all year, somehow finish with a first and do nothing to help fundraise the money. Try not to let it aggravate you, everyone has someone like it in their class and if you don't think you do, it's probably you- buck up your ideas.
5. Be A Bit Selfish- This is the time of year when your best friends in your class become your competition and you have to be a little pushy, without falling out with everyone. There is no point taking a back seat, having no direction and then not ending up with the exhibition you want. Make sure your voice is heard.
6. Be Organised- This is absolutely vital. Don't leave it until a fortnight before when everyone has moved back home to try and call a meeting on how you want it to look. Organise it way in advance and make sure you have everything in place beforehand. We definitely could have organised ours better and it would have made a massive difference to the experience.
7. Research- The best type of research is going to ND the year before you exhibit but if you can't do that then research online. Speak to people in your university who have been in previous years, pick the brains of your tutors, google it and make use of the handbooks and downloads that are available on the show's website.
8. Don't Leave It Up To Your Tutors- Your tutors will be invaluable for experience but this is your show and it needs to be done the way you want. Use them for resource but if they try and push the exhibit in a direction you aren't happy with then make sure you say something. If you aren't excited by the stand you've put together it will show.
9. Plan Your Trip To London In Advance- You have enough to worry about with your work, you don't need to be worrying about accommodation and trains with a week to go either. Stay with your friends, make the most of hostels and book in advance when it's cheaper. You can check out my top tips for staying in the city here.
10. Sort Out Transportation For Your Work- We were lucky enough to have our work transported from Wrexham to London and back in a van driven by some staff from the university. They took our work, our portfolios and the furniture we needed for displaying plus the DIY tools we needed to hang the exhibition and helped us put up and take down the stand. It is a massive weight off your mind not having to consider how you'll get a 4ft frame down on the train.
11. Make The Most Of The Stand- There will inevitably be universities with a lot more money than you that will have the cash the splash on an impressive stand. You don't need thousands to make the stand look professional and eye catching but you certainly need a few quid leftover from your fundraising. Allow for some more dollar to spend on making the stand look as eye catching as possible so you can compete with the big guns too.
12. Hang Your Work Appropriately- It doesn't have to be fancy, clips on a white wall can look just as classy as spending thousands but it needs to be appropriate to the work. Don't squash it all up, don't hang similar pieces next to each other and keep a consistent layout.
13. Be Super Selective- When choosing work for the wall, keep in mind you want the whole show to look consistent but show off your individual talents. The piece you like the most might not be the most eye catching or show off your talents. Always think you get hired on the work you're producing so if you put up something you don't like, you're probably going to end up doing it for the next 20 years.
14. Take Your Portfolio- Make sure your portfolio is professional in itself, keep it consistent, keep it clean and include lots of varied work that isn't on the wall. People look at your portfolio to see what else you can do so make sure you show off the range of talents you have.
15. Display Your Portfolio- When we got to ND we realised only 2 portfolio stands had been packed for 12 people. We put the portfolios underneath our display case for the first morning, rotating what two were out on the stands every 30 minutes or so but people just ignored them-they didn't realised they could touch and take them out. In the afternoon we took the portfolios out and put them open underneath our work and people were instantly attracted to them and the show seemed much busier.
16. Take Tactile Work- If you have tactile work like books, gifts, boxes etc then take them with you. Display them in such a way that people can pick them up, read them and engage with them. You might want to take a few copies in case some get broken or grubby but people really like to interact with the work. We displayed our books in a display case and when people asked to look through them we had to go through the embarrassing routine of prizing the glass open with scissors. Not ideal.
17. Sell Your Work- A lot of stands were selling work they had produced like cards, gifts and books. It is a really clever way of promoting yourself and making a few extra quid and makes you look super professional and like you have your business hat firmly on. I wish we had thought of it!
18. Take Promotional Postcards- I saw a few stands that displayed their postcards in really fun ways. Some stands had their cards on actual rotating postcard racks which looked super professional and others had them on numbered stands which corresponded with numbers on the walls next to all the work which made it much easier to find someone you were looking for.
19. Take A LOT Of Business Cards- You might not think that many people would be interested in taking a card and looking at your work but you'll be surprised how quickly the stash goes down. Some people ran out on day 2 because they weren't prepared and nothing is good about a client being interested and having to say you have no cards left. I'd take around 200 because on the Friday the school trips arrived and they'll clean you out.
20. Make Press Packs- You can read about what was in my press packs here and they are a really great way of promoting yourself a bit differently. Don't make too many because they cost a fortune and keep them for the people who are likely to hire you, don't hand them out as freebies to any old Joe.
21. Make It Clear To People What You Have- There was a lot of dithering and dilly dallying at stands when I was at the show about whether postcards were for people to pick up or not. Make sure everything is labeled clearly with 'please don't touch' or 'please put back' and 'please take one' if you want something handed out. It just clears up so much confusion.
22. Label Your Work- Each stand has a sign for what university it is but make sure your individual work is labelled clearly. If you have work on the wall, label it with your name and website. If you have work in a display cabinet label that in the same way. Always label your portfolio in case it goes walkabout in the sea of black cases and make sure you include your stand number so someone can bring it back to you. I saw some great ways of labelling from numbered systems to photos next to each piece of work so you could put a face to a name when you wanted to speak to someone.
23. Don't Be Overwhelmed- The Business Design Centre where the show is held is massive and is super easy to get lost in. The maps make no sense if you don't know there are rooms off the main hall and the labelling system is at times, dodgy. If you're lost trying to find your space take the time to enjoy looking around and take the standard ND 'WE'RE HERE" photo.
24. Don't Be Disheartened- It is literally the worst feeling when someone walks past your stand without even looking at it and you really question why your work isn't good enough, why your stand isn't eye catching enough and why you even kidded yourself you were good enough to exhibit in London. Don't be disheartened, it will pick up even if it's under the influence of cocktails in the evening do and you will have some interest. When the judges were going round they didn't even second glance at our stand so it was quite obvious we weren't winning any prizes, it's rude but rise above it and go talk to someone friendly instead.
25. Talk To People- People will approach your stand and will look at your work so make sure you speak to them. Nobody likes public speaking or approaching strangers but having a chat is the best way to get yourself noticed and remembered. The best way to gage someone is to say something like "Hi, how're you". That way if they aren't interested in speaking and just want to browse they'll palm you off with a one word answer and if they want a bit of a natter they'll ask a question back. If someone is looking at your work, taking photos of your pieces or your details, approach them, take them a business card and just ask "Hi, are you alright there?"- they're looking specifically at your work for a reason, be a little forward. Don't jump the guns and don't be pushy over your friends and steal a potential client, if they're looking at someone else on your stands work then yours just isn't their deal. Make sure you are professional and pleasant to everyone- I approached and chatted to a woman I thought had just wandered in as a member of the public and she turned out to be from Hallmark.
26. Talk To The People On The Stands Around You- You are going to end up looking at the stands around you for up to 12 hours a day and you will inevitably make awkward eye contact with the people running them. Man up and approach them and get chatting on the first day, it just makes things a little less awkward and the ones opposite us had sweets so you might get a freebie too.
27. Network With Other Exhibitors- Hand out your business cards, take other exhibitors business cards- they are your competition now and you might find in the future you need to work with someone exactly like them. If you admire their work, tell them and take a postcard, it'll inspire you to up your game and at the end of the week you might have made some new besties.
28. Take Some Time Off- The shifts are long at ND and during the summer can often be a little gross. Take some time off to do something touristy and cool down, take some time off to make sure you're eating properly and work shifts on the stand, covering for someone else in return for a break yourself. Most importantly make sure you wander round the whole show yourself looking at what everyone else has got.
29. Utilise Social Network- ND has a hashtag running on all social media platforms for the run up and the duration of the show. Utilise it to the max, hashtag everything, tweet every few hours, Instagram your work and your show, find a selling point to make sure people want to see you (ours was the air con in 36 degree heat), find other people exhibiting on social media and try and get yourself noticed by the organisers. A few of my tweets were retweeted by the official ND account and a fortnight after the event I am still getting hits on one- it's on 3000 views and counting.
30. Have A Good Time- It's such a crazy week it's hard to remember to enjoy it. Have a blast, it's a lot of fun and a really great experience and if you do it successfully they might ask you back to exhibit in one year on.