D&AD chairman Dick Powell

Graduates should "work for nothing" says D&AD chairman

News: young people wanting to start a career in design should offer to work for free, according to Dick Powell, chairman of design charity D&AD.

"Offer anything, do anything," said Powell. "Work for nothing, make tea, carry bags, and learn, learn, learn."

Powell, who is also co-founder and CEO of leading industrial design studio Seymourpowell, made the comments in a speech to graduates at the New Designers exhibition in London earlier this month.

"Your goal may be to get a job, but your first task is to crack open the door," he told the audience attending the preview of New Designers Part 2. "And you should stop at nothing to achieve that. Be prepared to do anything, anything at all to get into a business."

He continued: "Offer anything, do anything, call in every contact you have, get on LinkedIn and let it take you everywhere, work for nothing, make tea, carry bags, and learn, learn, learn."

Speaking to Dezeen after his speech, Powell said that doing an unpaid internship is "the easiest way to get a job".

"You've got to invest [in yourself]," he said. "It depends on the industry. In advertising it's normal - you don't get paid. Other businesses will pay for lunch, travel, that kind of thing."

Seymourpowell pays its interns, he said, but felt that the company would be able to help more young designers if it offered unpaid internships instead. "We always try to pay a basic wage but it would clearly be better for them if we took on six that are unpaid than two that are paid, but we choose to pay them."

Unpaid internships in the creative industries have caused controversy this year, with the RIBA calling for students to report companies offering unpaid architecture internships and Tokyo architect Sou Fujimoto defending the Japanese "open desk" practice, whereby foreign staff work for nothing to gain experience.

Fujimoto provoked a furious backlash when he told Dezeen that unpaid internships are "a nice opportunity" for both employers and interns.

D&AD is a British charity working to promote and inspire best practice in design and advertising.

The organisation have launched a guide to getting into the industry, called The Creative Notebook. "People wanting to get internships should get a copy of that," said Powell. "It's full of advice on how to get internships." The guide is free for D&AD student and graduate members.

Photograph by James Champion.

Here's the full speech Dick Powell gave at New Designers:


When I graduated from the RCA, I had an unshakable, cast iron, rock-solid self-belief that I could make a difference; that I could make things better. Better for People. Better for Business. And Better too for the World. That I could make things Better by Design.

And while much has changed since, I still have that rock-solid self-belief ... making things Better by Design remains my credo, my rallying cry, my philosophy.

That rock-solid self-belief was born from a combination of arrogance, ambition, passion and naivety, but there was something else too. Something which I believe, irrespective of the field of creative endeavour or the design discipline, characterises outstanding creativity and innovation. I had no fear of failure... because I had nothing to lose - no mortgage, no big costs, no family to support and, unlike most of you, no big debts. I could not have been any poorer.

And today, all of you are at the same point in your life - graduating from education and out into the real world of our creative industries, with little to lose and the prospect of a career in the Creative Industries, which are hugely important to the UK, financially, practically and culturally.

So here are 6 tips for breaking into those industries:

1. Design is fabulously rewarding. We do it because we love it. We do it because we can make a difference. And the chance to work at something you love is so much more important than just working for money. If you are motivated by the need to make money, you’re in the wrong business! If you are talented, ambitious and prepared to work hard, to go beyond expectations, you will have a rewarding and satisfying career - and money will follow.

2. Never stop learning! Your courses have been very focused around a single discipline, but our industries need designers with bandwidth: a hunger for a wide view of the world and a deep understanding of people, markets, business and technologies from which they can build a point of view. Today, you’re probably thinking you’re done with education! Wrong! For those of you who will ultimately succeed, the learning starts today!

3. Your goal may be to get a job, but your first task is to crack open the door... and you should stop at nothing to achieve that . Be prepared to do anything, anything at all to get into a business. Offer anything, do anything, call in every contact you have, get on LinkedIn and let it take you everywhere, work for nothing, make tea, carry bags and learn, learn, learn.

4. Be really really good at one thing. Be a star at one thing. Be an expert at one thing. Your courses have had to focus on equipping you as best they can to be a great all rounder - research, creativity, execution, trends, markets, and equipped with extensive knowledge of design and its practise. But that makes you all more the same than different, so it’s hard to stand out. But every business needs dedicated skills of different kinds - skills with tools, like Alias or Pro-Engineer, or skills at drawing, research, film editing, animating, budgeting, selling or whatever. Being a star at one thing can get you in, maybe not in the role you want, but at least you will be in and learning - after that, it’s up to you.

5. Scale your ambition. Of course, you’d like to work for Apple - we all would!. Don’t abandon that ambition. Just be prepared to spend time building experience and making yourself useful in a thousand ways to small companies of any kind or discipline. Which brings me around to where I started...

6. Fear of failure. In business, as in life, failure is part of learning. Every failure, every rejection letter is a process of learning and improving. And the best way to scrape yourself off the floor and get your head into the right place is to never stop designing. The golfer, Gary Player, was accosted by a journalist having just won a tournament. The journalist observed that he had been a bit lucky with one or two shots. Player responded “You know what? The more I practice, the luckier I seem to get!”. The more you use your skills, the better you become. The graduate who is out of college a year and is still hawking round the same college portfolio is doomed ... For every opening you have, ahead of every interview, ahead of every letter you write or phone call you make - discipline yourself to use every second to fill your portfolio with fresh thinking, and new ideas which are tightly focused and highly relevant to the person or business you want to see. Find out what they do and do some of that. That way, you’ll pique their interest and you’ll develop the informed point of view they want to hear.

And finally, this week at New Designers is a major opportunity to make those first valuable contacts and build a network which might one day lead to a job. That’s what all this is about. Today, you join that network, an embryonic designer with a future. Welcome to our world!