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Nick Handson

Alumni Profile: Nik Handson - BA Visual Communication and DesignNik HandsonSenior Graphic Designer, Academia

BA Visual Communication & Design (Graphics), 2003

What made you choose Middlesex University?

The location immediately drew me to Middlesex. At the time the Art and Design courses were based at the old Cat Hill campus. I had my sights set on attending a university in London and I'd looked at others around the capital, but I liked Cat Hill, how close it was to Oakwood/Cockfosters tube station, the bus links and the surrounding area. Taking a tour of the campus, seeing the facilities and hearing what the course had to offer also sounded impressive. Middlesex University felt like the right match.

What attracted you to your course and made you apply?

I knew I wanted to study Graphic Design, and the course offered the chance to work on projects for both print and web and gain knowledge and expertise in various other subjects around design. Other courses didn't seem as multi-dimensional, so I opted for the VCD course at Middlesex University as I felt this would be the most beneficial for my future career.

What aspects of your course did you enjoy most?

I probably enjoyed the range of projects I was able to work on and the challenging briefs that trained me to think outside the box the most.

What is your fondest memory of life at Middlesex?

Meeting my missus in the 3rd year is probably my fondest memory of Middlesex. Although she attended a different campus and course, we wouldn't have met had she not studied at Middlesex University and worked in the area.

What one piece of advice would you give to a prospective student interested in studying at Middlesex?

Talk to students currently studying the course that you're looking to apply to, they'll give you the best insight as to what it's like with respect to an educational and social experience. I'm sure things have changed a bit since I graduated in 2003.

How did your course and time at Middlesex help you to get where you are professionally today?

First and foremost, the course trained me to be a Graphic Designer. There were times it almost felt like being in the military in terms of being broken down and rebuilt into a real creative thinker. Every stage of my creative education, from A-Levels to College to University, I've gotten better at what I do, and that's down to the tutors, taking on their advice and applying it. The degree helped give me the foundations to enter the real world and succeed.

What made you choose the industry you work in and what are its pros and cons?

I've always been a creative, from a very young age. Over the years I've adapted this creativity which, through an evolution, has ended up being focussed on Graphic Design - as opposed to say illustration, fine art, or photography; all of which I've tried my hand at at some stage. Migrating towards Graphic Design as a career came very naturally, probably due to the mix of technical knowledge needed in using software and coding, and being generally artistic with the use of a computer.

The pros are definitely getting paid to do something I love doing. Most of the time it doesn't feel like work when I'm sat in front of a screen making stuff look pretty.

When going freelance, the cons were chasing up money from clients. Some people don't feel that Graphic Design is a skilled trade, even though they'd be perfectly happy to pay a plumber, builder or electrician hundreds of pounds for work as they deal with physical objects. When the objects are digital, some see them as having less value.

Other cons can be that you're often fighting against short deadlines and 11th hour requests, which can mean keeping unsociable hours just to keep people happy, get the job done and get paid.

How did you get your foot on the career ladder post university?

Working freelance. It's difficult for graduates to find work with no industry experience, and after a load of failed applications to companies/agencies who were looking to recruit a designer I left London and moved back in with my parents in West Sussex.

I was literally knocking on the doors of local companies, visiting forums online to get projects and gradually the amount of work I had coming in picked up. I would then often supply the print projects to a local print and design company and after three years of this, during which time I was able to make enough money to support myself, the print company asked if I'd like to work for them full time due to a position becoming available.

I jumped at the chance as, at the time, I was spending more time chasing invoices than I was on design work! They gave me a chance to have actual industry experience on my CV and work with some fairly big clients including STA Travel, Rail Europe, Club Med, Haven and Butlins. It was hard work combined with irregular sleeping patterns initially, but worth it in the end when I got that break.

What has been your defining career break or highlight to date?

There have been a few, but my biggest break was as mentioned above, getting to work for a professional printers in their design studio and the chance to work with some big clients.

Having work published in the national press and in glossy magazines has also been a highlight.

What does the future hold for you?

I can see myself staying at Academia (where I'm currently working in Enfield) for a good few years yet. I'm enjoying the work that I do and it's close to home, but when the time is right I can see myself going back to work in the city for a boutique agency.

What are the top three career tips you would give to current students and recent graduates?

Work hard, really hard. Often it's your work ethic that will separate you from your peers and help you to stand out to employers and clients.

Network. The more industry people you get to meet, the greater the chance you'll have of being employed, so take advantage of everything from LinkedIn to Trade Shows to online forums to meeting random people and having conversations in pubs.

Be confident in your ability, but keep your feet on the ground. Confidence will always shine through when meeting people, especially when you're talking about what you do/can do and you show enthusiasm and knowledge. But also know that you're not going to be the best out there, so have a passion for learning more.

What one piece of advice would you give to the 17/18 year old you?

I don't think I'd give any advice. I'm happy with the journey that's gotten me to this point and I like the way my life has panned out, so I feel I've done something right! Maybe I'd advise to save more money rather than being so frivolous in those early days, but life's for enjoying, right? I wouldn't alter my path one bit. Being happy is the most important thing!

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