Posted 03 October 2018
Written by Simoul Alva

How to go after what you want: NID student and graphic designer Simoul Alva

Currently a student at the National Institute of Design, India, graphic designer Simoul Alva has already garnered an impressive design repertoire. Despite not having yet graduated, in the last four years alone she has interned and worked for the likes of CoDesign, Vogue, Wieden+Kennedy, Sagmeister and Walsh, and most recently completed an internship at Pentagram in New York as part of Michael Bierut’s team. Her relentless drive, refreshing openness and acute sense of motivation has also seen her win a range of scholarships and awards – a testament to her determination to seek out and apply for opportunities. Here, Simoul talks to us about some of the secrets that have led to her success – from rethinking her portfolio to gathering up the courage to reach out to design veterans.

Aside from factors like rejection and self-doubt, I feel like people can be afraid to come across as someone who blatantly goes after what they want. Towards the end of last year, I applied to intern with Michael [Bierut]’s team at Pentagram in New York. After an interview with members from his team, we figured out when I could start. Finding out I had even been selected felt extremely surreal, as was my first day there. But the last six months have been a wonderful learning experience, and I am very grateful for it.

As someone who has been freelancing from a very young age, I think it’s challenging for people to take you seriously or look at you as anyone who can think strategically and go beyond visual design. The only way you can overcome that is by standing your ground and setting a context for anyone you’re presenting to – try to leave as little to the imagination as you can. Here are some of the lessons I have learned to help you do the same.

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'Vixen', a display typeface designed by Simoul

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'Vixen', a display typeface designed by Simoul

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'Vixen', a display typeface designed by Simoul

Tell the world where you’re at
Post about your progress. It takes away all the preciousness associated with your work, and opens you up to a world of feedback. Today, social media has increased the visibility available to anyone’s work; each platform is an opportunity to talk about your process, progress and interests. More than just self-promotion, Instagram in particular has become the new portfolio – simply because of how much time we spend on our phones.

The best advice I was given was to make my own website. It reflects the effort you are willing to put into making a website, writing copy, curating and designing it. I didnt know how to code, so it also forced me think at my work in a different way and really consider what people look at when they come to a portfolio site. Make sure people can access your work easily and find your contact information in the first 30 seconds.

“Instead of including ten projects you are unsure of, five really great ones saves everyone a lot of time.”

Show the work you’d like to do more of in future
Because of how things are changing, the lines are blurring between 3D designers, graphic designers, motion designers and art directors, which means graduates are pushed to develop a skill set that goes way beyond what they’re taught at school. There isn’t a lot of room for being rigid anymore.

But while a range of skills is always sought-after, don’t include something you have no interest in or don't like doing at all. It may get you in the door, but it will show eventually. Whether a digital or physical portfolio, try to create a body of work that is characteristic of who you are as a designer. The people looking at portfolios are extremely busy and receive a lot of emails like yours. So instead of including ten projects you are unsure of, five really great ones saves everyone a lot of time.

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Simoul's website

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Simoul's Website

Reach out
Other than having a great portfolio and resume, as an emerging creative, it’s extremely important to reach out to people you look up to, or are interested in working with. It is intimidating to contact design veterans and legends, and ask to work with them, but be patient and send emails that are short, yet polite at the same time. I have been very fortunate to interact with extremely humble, helpful and supportive designers who gave me their time. Sometimes it was purely luck, other times it was just me being as courageous as I could be and reaching out.

Apply, apply, apply
Reading about other people and their trajectories encouraged me to research into awards or scholarships that were relevant, and that I could apply for. Applying for these kinds of opportunities can certainly be daunting. It’s the fear of pitting yourself against the unknown, not knowing who your competition is, or, sometimes, who the panel is.

“[Awards] teach you to face rejection. I learned more from the awards I didn’t win.”

As a designer, you are taught to face rejection from your first day at design school, but applying for awards teaches you to how to respond and recover from it. I learned more from the awards I didn’t win. And if you do win, it can open up a whole new world and community to you. Last year I was the South Asia Pacific recipient for the Helen Landsowne Resor Scholarship and won the Patrick Kelly Scholarship this year. When I was in New York, I was able to meet with both the teams and designers at J. Walter Thompson and attend design events at The One Club for Creativity. I would have never met so many people if not because of this.

Sometimes, applying for these kinds of opportunities is like buying a lottery ticket; you have as good a chance as anyone else. I say this because most awards attract some of the best talent. But regardless, going through this process leaves you with much to gain. My work is a reflection of my personal story. Applying for these awards made me reassess my work and what I stand for; it taught me to present myself within a particular context.

Designs to promote the National Institute of Design's Poster Archive
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3D design experiments

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3D design experiments

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3D design experiments

Written by Simoul Alva
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