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Startup Design vs. Agency Design
I’ve been speaking with a lot of designers recently as we look to build out our team. Some of these designers are soon to graduate from college and are looking to land their first job; a fair share of them are leaning towards joining an agency to kick off their careers. I felt it would be helpful to put a post together to shed some light on what a startup offers graduates at a time when many are making this decision.
First things first, I get the agency choice. In 2004 when I graduated from the mighty Huddersfield it was the move for me: the opportunity to create professional work was a big attraction. Eight years later, things have changed. There is another play that needs some serious consideration – joining a Technology Startup.
This post is not a death match between Agency and Startup. Think of it more as a Summer Slam or Royal Rumble when we throw a few things around, there is some light entertainment and no one gets hurt.
The truth is after working at two great agencies for nearly 7 years I’m going to tell you good things about working at one. The agency experience was awesome. I’m also going to lay out why I think joining a startup is the right choice for some of today’s design graduates.
Here are the rules. This post is set up to give advice to digital-focussed design graduates looking for their first job. You’re excited about designing interfaces for mobile and web and enjoy a healthy portion of graphic design and branding.
Another thing you should know is these thoughts are based on my experience of working at digital agencies with 15-150 people creating websites, online advertising and games, and more recently working at a startup building publishing software with a team that has grown from 6 people to 13 in the last 9 months.
Let’s begin, let’s go 5 for 5.
Working at an Agency
You’re going to do a broad range of work across industries, from charity to fashion, entertainment, telecommunications, media and beyond. Some of your work will get made, other pieces won’t make it.
You’ll meet some very talented people and learn a lot from them. You’ll get to work on projects that allow you to improve your craft and learn new skills.
Your ability to solve problems and identify insights will evolve quickly as you work across a range of projects.
You’ll help the agency pitch for new work. In the beginning, you’ll be creating design comps, and in time progress to more strategic contributions. Then there is the art of pitch theater (learning to sell work is invaluable).
There is a strong community around you hosting events for you to learn from and meet your peers. If you’re lucky you’ll go to award shows (recognition for your team and clients is great).
With all that said, I believe as a design graduate you will get these opportunities and more at a startup like Percolate.
Working at a Startup
It’s true what they say, working at a startup allows you to wear many hats from day one. As a designer, it’s open for you to contribute writing, code and strategy across the company – all contributions outside of your design training.
Your interface designs get built and you’ll see them being used week in week out. The pace of the product development cycle that comes with this encourages greater risk taking.
Continuous invention. At a startup you’re focused on creating new services which are all about disrupting industries and markets, from this comes very few guidelines and predefined design challenges.
Technology is pretty insane. It’s really exciting to be close to the web technologies that are changing the infrastructure of the internet. Your mind will be blown everyday.
You’ll learn how to build a company. With such a small team the first hand experience you get in seeing how the founders grow is transparent and inspiring.
It’s all about what’s right for you
So that’s how I see it, they’re both great choices. Ultimately it comes down to what you want to learn next, and what style of mentorship you are looking for. Remember though, this isn’t about committing to one path over the other: your first job out of college doesn’t sign you up to a path for the rest of your career.
We all want to find a place where we can thrive and get the right opportunities. For me it’s always been about finding somewhere that is much more than a job; after all you’re going to be spending some quality time wherever you land.
This just leaves me with two things to say, firstly, good luck to all the graduates this summer in landing your first job. Secondly, we’re looking for a designer to join our team, you should come work with us, it’s awesome.