Donna Wearmouth: Graphic Designer

by Kate Andrews | March 24, 2011

UK based Graphic Designer, Donna Wearmouth left University with a First Class Honors degree in Visual Communication and an award from the prestigious International Society of Typographic Designers (ISTD), and with such a well executed and beautiful body of work, it’s not difficult to see why. Straight after graduating Donna landed a job working as a Junior Graphic Designer for award-winning marketing agency Gardiner Richardson. We caught up with Donna this month to find out more about her journey, career experiences and portfolio of work.

Notes on Design: Can you tell us a little about yourself, what you do and your professional journey to date?

Donna: I’m a Junior Graphic Designer. I graduated last summer from Northumbria University School of Design with a BA First Class Honors in Visual Communication. Just prior to graduating I went to London to exhibit at the D&AD New Blood Exhibition, and to receive my award from the prestigious International Society of Typographic Designers (ISTD). On my return trip home I was offered an interview for a 1 month placement at Gardiner Richardson in Newcastle upon Tyne. That was back in July 2010 and I’ve been working here ever since. Apart from the full time job I’m also doing a little bit of freelance design work, and running a blog called Graphitas.

Although I went to University to do a degree in Graphic Design, it never started that way. When I was in high school I studied Resistant Materials and Art & Design. When I finished school at 16, I went straight to college, only to find they didn’t do a Product Design course. So, I chose the nearest thing that sounded the same …Graphic Design. I ended up staying at college for 3 years, initially doing a National Diploma in Graphic Design, alongside A-level Photography and Critical & Historical Studies. After completing this 2 year course with triple Distinctions, I went on to do a 1 year Foundation Diploma in Graphic Design, also completing with a Distinction. I never thought I would ever do, let alone complete a degree. I really never thought a degree was for me or that I’d fit into the culture. However, I met some great people during my degree.

Notes on Design: Who, or what, are you most inspired by?

Donna: To be honest, I’m not really inspired by anyone or anything in particular. I love trawling design sites, blogs and books for inspiration. I like the minimalist work of Josef Müller-Brockmann and Fraser Muggeridge. I like grids and simple, uncluttered layouts. Although simple is never that easy to achieve!

One book I always seem to repeatedly return to for inspiration is ColourMania by Victionary, which frankly is weird because I tend to think in black and white! I also like having a read through a few magazines including Process Journal, Eight:48, and Grafik.

Notes on Design: What is it about Graphic Design that motivates you?

Donna: With design, I’m creating something where I can get a reaction. I like receiving feedback on what I do, so I can do it better next time. Design can make you feel good and although there is the odd occasion when you want to tear your hair out, the end results can be great. Design is a subject that everyone has had a conversation over.

Notes on Design: Did you feel prepared as you began the transition from graduate to professional?

Donna: I thought I was. The real world of design, compared to University is very different… quite simply, you have real clients. At University you have quite a lot of freedom on what or how you produce a piece of design. As a professional, it’s about what’s right for the client and their target audience. Saying that, I still try to bring in that something extra, something special, to make the solutions differ from competitors.

Notes on Design: Could you tell us more about your graduate journey?

Donna: Just before I graduated I did a month placement at Gardiner Richardson and have since been taken on as a junior designer. I think for most graduates, it’s a difficult time. Although I’m employed I still feel the pressure of being a recent graduate in the design industry. I’m having to put aside what I started to specialise in during my 3rd and final year at Uni and develop my skills in all areas of design. Times are hard for a lot of design studios at the moment, so sometimes it’s hard to bring in my own style. That doesn’t mean to say I haven’t worked on some good projects and developed some good solutions, it just takes longer to persuade clients it’s right for them.

Being in the design industry does have its perks though. I’m enjoying the fact we get a lot of freebies from various suppliers. I also attended the GF Smith touring exhibition recently, which I probably wouldn’t have attended if I wasn’t working in a design studio.

Notes on Design: How do you facilitate development of your understanding and awareness of your practice?

Donna: It’s a lot of work to keep up to speed of what is going on in design when you’re working full time. I think that’s why I joined twitter and started a small blog. The blog is a great way of keeping others up to date on designers and their work, and it’s an easy way for me to gather everything I like in one place.

I also follow other blogs and buy magazines whether they’re big or small publications. I’ve found that platforms like twitter make it much easier to keep up to date with other design studios and independent designers.

Notes on Design: What are you currently working on?

Donna: I’m working on mainly identity projects right now. I’ve recently completed our studio’s 2011 Calendar called ‘Twenty-Six’, based around the 26 letters of the alphabet. I’m also developing an identity system for a brand consultant who likes all things mystical! It’s turning into quite an interesting project as I’m looking into archetypes and symbology — which means a lot of abstract and unusual thinking!

Notes on Design: Based on your experiences and insights, how do you think the role of the graphic designer is changing?

Donna: As a designer at University, your designing for a target audience but not for a real client. This allows you to design in your own unique style and put your own twist on it, and to use materials and finishes you probably wouldn’t be able to use for the majority of client briefs due to budget.

Whilst working in a professional design studio, I’ve found that creating unique styles can sometimes be harder to develop when your designing for a client who already have their own unique visual language.

What I’ve noticed in the transition from student to professional designer is that I’m having to develop skills to suit all areas of design. Whilst working in my current job, I’ve noticed how designers are having to work a lot harder to get jobs out the door. Clients aren’t really wanting to spend a lot of money at the moment, so we’re having to put in just that bit more to make the work stand out. For me personally, I’m having to do a lot of varied design work compared to what I started to specialise in when I was studying.

Notes on Design: So what’s next for you?

Donna: Gaining more experience as a professional and not as a student. In my current job I can do this with the varied clients. However, I also like working on my own self-initiated and freelance projects. In the studio I can be quite restricted sometimes. Doing some projects alone (or as a collaboration) allows me to use my skills to my best ability as I can choose the type of work I want to explore.

Notes on Design: Based on your experience do you have any advice for graphic design students/graduates?

Donna: Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to have an opinion. If you don’t have an opinion then it will appear you’re not passionate enough. Getting annoyed at yourself can be good too! It means you’re going to work a bit harder to get a better solution.

Work experience is another thing, try and do more of it. That’s where I missed out. I did a 1 week placement between my 2nd and 3rd year… it really wasn’t long enough to gain any experience. So, my advice — get as much experience as you can fit in!

If you’re going to University, you have to be passionate and bothered about why you are there. I saw too many students at University for all the wrong reasons. You really have to be interested in it all — it’s not just what your studying, it’s your a career and basically your future.

See more of Donna’s design work on her online portfolio, read her blog Graphitas and follow her on Twitter @donnawearmouth.


Designer and writer Kate Andrews was the original editor of Notes on Design blog, founded in 2007.


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