Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Wasted Talent

Too often, I see young designers fresh out of college being tasked with low-level production work instead of being tapped for new creative ideas. It seems the industry is shooting themselves in the foot by not taking advantage of these unseasoned perspectives.

There’s a certain thrill in interviewing junior-level people, especially ones right out of college. They exude a charming cluelessness about the daily grind, and come lalloping out of college with thoughts of cushioned deadlines and creative laxity dancing in their heads. Their portfolios are trimmed tighter than a military haircut, their eyes betray their naivety and nervousness, and their resumes trumpet their new degree in an attempt to disguise the uncomfortable empty space under “previous work experience.”

Most of these designers don’t want to work for an in-house design department. It’s not sexy. My company is usually their contingency plan. The agency life has far more allure — high-profile consumer accounts, coffee-fueled nights of the pitch crafting, and working hand-in-hand with experienced art directors. Not to mention the awards.

But agencies — at least the ones I’ve seen in this town — devour junior talent like giant combines. Unfortunately, I keep witnessing (and hearing about) junior people being used as production-level workers, not creative thinkers, and I find this disturbing.

From my experience, someone fresh out of school has a bucket of ideas to contribute to the creative process. Someone whose edge hasn’t been ground to a dull poke by the millstone of the working life should be tapped constantly for a fresh perspective on campaigns, designs and copy. Their naivety often leads to insight.

Instead, juniors are too often viewed with a fraternity-like dismissal by senior creatives and given shit assignments like menial production for low-profile clients projects. While, yes, everyone has to pitch in on the less desirable work, a young person forced into unthinking tedium 24/7 will quickly lose the appetite for a career in advertising and design.

Am I alone in this observation? Does anyone who work with junior staff experience the same treatment? Are there any junior creatives out there who are being treated as equals, and not production work pack mules?

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Tuesday August 7, 2007

Actually, you are quite correct. I was so aching to work in web design that I hooked up with a temp agency and landed a job that promised web work but only delivered…other stuff. It was a good thing though, cuz it got me going where I am today. I’m a freelancer now, and have never looked back. Still have steady paycheck, but I determine how I use my time and skills, now. It’s great.


wrote the following on Tuesday August 7, 2007

I think it’s hard… because the projects that really require creative thought are often the most critical projects: projects agencies can’t afford to screw up.

So you’ve got a problem of trust: do we give the $700k pitch to a junior level guy right out of college, or do we give it to Bob, who’s won millions of dollars of contracts for us over the years?

However I’ve also watched junior people weasel their way into creative thought positions. They’ll just jump into a conversation or throw a comp at an Art Director. Once they prove themselves, they’re generally given more creative projects.

So yes, I’ve seen junior guys get eaten by The Agency… but I’ve also seen them excel. I can see a bit of both points (how they should be given better projects, and why they shouldn’t).

At the end of the day, agencies are professional services companies looking to bill hours. I think a lot of college grads are very misinformed as to the difference between in-house teams and agencies. I wish school didn’t portray in-house teams and agencies like they did.


wrote the following on Tuesday August 7, 2007

I am a recent college graduate in graphic design. I am aware of the pressing deadline issues and other real world experience because of jobs and internships. But Ive noticed that it doesn’t matter, I still wont get hired, besides internships. Until I gain more experience in physical years outside the educational years. What more does the design world expect from us? Shouldn’t I be given more credit for being able to handle jobs graphic and other on top of a more than full time school schedule? We were told it was in bad form to send our transcripts along with the rest of our information. But how else are they going to get an understanding of work effort without that added background information?

Alex Polson

wrote the following on Wednesday August 8, 2007

I’m not a fresh young pup, but I wasn’t long ago and I know exactly what you are describing. Grunt work would get passed on to me and when I did attempt to add something it was generally dismissed. Luckily — before I became completely disgusted — a senior level at my company took it upon herself to pass some of her work to me, and take a portion of my grunt work on to her own plate.


wrote the following on Wednesday August 8, 2007

This is absolutely true, even in web design, which I found surprising. A couple years out of college I went to work at a small agency. In this short period of time I had some good experience under my belt (had already had an in house job, and years of freelance work.)

Yet, I found myself doing mostly production. They’d even have a print designer with no knowledge of HTML design PSDs and hand them off to me to produce. It was infinitely frustrating, especially when you’re trying to learn about things like usability.

I was beginning to take it personal until they got some other new hires, some with similar experience level but also just out of college, and it was the same routine.

As unglamorous as it may be, in-house work really is a great fit for a junior level designer. Since you’ll probably be working with a small team, you’ll have a lot of opportunities to show off your creativity and innovate. If you pick the right place you still have the opportunity to learn from a great art director or senior designer.

P.S. I’m a little late on this but I’m loving the redesign.


wrote the following on Thursday August 9, 2007

Great comments, everyone; thank you. Kyle, you have a great point — sometimes, agencies just can’t afford to hand valuable pitches over to the newb. My thought was more of a contributive level — not make the young creative solely responsible, but have them involved in conversations in order to pick their brains.

Kelly, all I can advise is patience. I freelanced around misc agencies and studios for six months out of school (at $15/hour) before I landed my first 9-5 job at a criminally low rate. It just takes tenacity.

Beth -- thank you for the compliment. I also am liking the redesign.

I have to say I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that my observations are not isolated.


wrote the following on Friday August 10, 2007

It’s funny you bring this topic up because it is exactly what I deal with or have dealt with within my year and a half out of school. Some senior designers will basically baby the junior designers like they can’t have creative ideas and etc. I know it's about the team and everyone gets their fair share of production work and lower level work, but if you hired this person to be a Designer try including them in everything because they can teach the higher level designers a thing or two because of the fresh ideas and etc.


wrote the following on Wednesday August 15, 2007

Nat — you just commented on this post, but I accidentally deleted it. For everyone else, his comment was explaining the juniors often need to experience the grunt of production because, in the end, it makes them better designers because they understand how and why things are done. He was coming from a decidedly print perspective, but the idea is completely applicable to the web. Nat, I’m sorry if I am cannibalizing your original comment, but I wanted your voice to be heard.