Oh Sh*t, What Now?


For those of us who are nearing the end of design school, what comes after graduation is a frightening and daunting experience. A void of uncertainty, many criticise design education establishments for the lack of preparation and knowledge they instil in their students in terms of how to navigate the murky waters of industry. This only seems to be exacerbated by the growing discussion that the university experience should have less of an emphasis on education, and more of an onus on providing employment to its "customers" - turning a place that what was once critical in the shaping of young creative's minds into a degree factory. The fear of student debt and the increasingly competitive and ruthless world that burdens students is now seeping its way into the safe-space of sorts - which is design school, where students were encouraged to make mistakes, experiment and discover their practice.

It comes as no surprise to hear that one in four students suffer from mental health issues, with the rate of dropouts due to these issues trebling. It's all a bit bleak, really, and this blog is in no means intended to perpetuate that nihilistic sense of dread that many graduates feel, myself included, and neither do I wish to discuss the purpose of art school; that's a whole different kettle of fish, and there's already some much needed, vital conversation taking place elsewhere by people such as Hannah Ellis and Jarrett Fuller. 

Nevertheless, that abyss that many of us stare into, degree in hand, with our student loans fading into the distant horizon, we've all probably said, "Oh shit. What now?" Enter Craig Oldham.

His new book, appropriately called "Oh Sh*t, what now?" seeks to be handy comfort blanket, of sorts, to students, graduates and other younger designers who are trying to tame the beast that is the industry. A reflection on his own experience, Oldham uses the book to offer advice to younger creatives on a number of issues that many of us ponder late at night - How do I get a job? How do I impress at an interview? What am I doing with my life? Coated with his straight-talking, Yorkshire charm, Oldham's book is another addition to the ever-growing collection of resources aimed at helping young designers, such as LectureInProgress and Adrian Shaughnessy's seminal text, 'How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul", now ubiquitous on many a young designer's bookshelf. Perhaps this in itself is telling of the predicament many young designers find themselves in. 

My personal experience with the book was of inadvertent contrast with what Oldham would have had in mind when he began writing. Burning through the book in less than 24 hours since opening its cover, I couldn't help but feel like the book was devoid of that holy grail piece of advice that would subsequently let me go and crack the industry. That's not to say this was a bad thing, however. It was quite the contrary, really. To have the realisation that a recognised and established designer like Oldham worked his way into the enviable position of judging work for D&AD and writing his own book without some forbidden-fruit of knowledge that allows for the conquering of the impenetrable, alcatraz-like structure that many young designers perceive the industry to be is reassuring to say the very least. Somewhat poetic, this realisation perhaps reinforces one of the underlying themes that runs throughout the book; the humanisation of the design industry which is something Oldham is passionate about, and this shows in his book.

Rammed with concise, insightful nuggets of wisdom, Oldham's musings are invaluable to any young designer. That's not to say the book is preachy in it's discourse, either. Genuine and down to earth, Oldham is honest and witty as he navigates the complex hurdles that many young designers face, such as whether they should go freelance, or how when do they leave a job. The book is free from the egotistical, narcissistic, pat-on-the-back fluff that so often coincides with graphic designer's books, Oldham's discussions are an intricately curated reading experience, permeating with bright and bold typography, courtesy of Matt Wiley's Timmons typeface. The book has a bit of weight to it, too, which in tandem with the way it's bound allows for the book to openly sit neatly on your desk. 

If you're a young designer and you frequently find yourself internally screaming "Oh Shit, what now?" - you should begin by reading this book. 

Jack Barnes