- Gaha K
France and UK graduate Art & Design student speaks to Nirali Advisory about her journey!
Foundation Diploma in Art and Design: Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London (UAL)
Undergrad- BA (Hons) Graphic Design: Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (UAL)
Postgrad- Postgraduate Diploma in Type Design: École Supérieure Art et Design (Ésad), Amiens
But a piece of advice - whichever course you are in, you need to push yourself to gain as much as you can from it. Ask questions, take part in events, visit lectures. All of these things add to your learning.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your Educational and Professional
Background? Which college, company and role did you work in to get you where you are
today? Also, tell us a little bit about your current job profile and work.
I’m a type and graphic designer. I started on this path straight after school as art was
something I was always interested in and thoroughly enjoyed. I did my Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts, London. During this course, we were exposed to all different kinds of pathways such as interiors, fashion, textiles and fine art. I specialised in Visual Communication as I loved the challenge of working toward answering a brief. This led me to apply for undergraduate courses in Graphic Design.
I did my BA (Hons) Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins, another college which is a part of the University of the Arts, London. During this course, I specialised in Design and Interaction which covered a lot of different aspects such as editorial design, branding and typography (just to name a few). During my summer holidays, I used to intern at graphic design and advertising companies. This was a really good move to understand how design works in the real world.
Post my undergraduate course, I went on to work as a Graphic Designer at Umbrella Design in Mumbai. I only worked here for a year before I went on to do freelance work, primarily focusing on branding and packaging design. Through my projects, I discovered that I loved to do custom lettering for the logotype and playing around with the customisation of letters. As this was something that I wanted to explore further, I put a hold on my freelance and joined Mota Italic, a type foundry, as a type design intern (which later turned into a position of a junior type designer). During this time, I increasingly felt that I wanted to pursue the subject in more detail and learn about it in a postgraduate course.
I looked at a few different courses before applying and receiving an offer for the Postgraduate diploma in Type Design at Ésad, Amiens, France. The course was a one and half year-long one, and it covered various aspects of type design. It ultimately culminated into the design and presentation of a typeface family based on a personal research proposal. I’ve just in fact finished this course last week, and I’m excited about my next steps.
2. When and why did you decide to study abroad?
For my undergraduate course, I decided to study abroad for a number of reasons. One - I really like the course structure that was being offered by UAL. Second, It was in London, which is one of the design capitals of the world. Besides receiving a good education from very experienced and well-renowned tutors, I would have the chance to be in a city which always had something happening with regard to design - be it festivals, exhibitions or conferences - and I also might add in here - access to different design resources. And thirdly (this was on a more personal note) my brother was also in London and additionally, I had family there. This for me made the transition of shifting abroad much easier.
For my postgraduate, It was more a matter of necessity. There aren’t any specialist type design courses in India. Therefore I had to turn towards a course abroad. Of course, I also decided on the course, again, based on the course structures and faculty. I think that’s a good thing to research before you apply to a particular course - to be able to understand what exactly you’d be able to gain or learn from the experience.
3. Did you receive a scholarship? Do you recommend any good organisations/institutions that provide scholarships or financial aid?
For UAL, at the time there weren’t any scholarships, so I couldn’t apply of course. They did
however offer student work opportunities that I took up to cover some of my living expenses. My postgraduate course at Ésad, on the other hand, was completely funded by the French Government.
You’d have to look at the colleges that you're applying to - to see if they have any scholarship opportunities for international students. Many times they are country and college-specific.
There are a few scholarships that you could apply for in India that fund you for studies abroad. One of them for art and design is from the Inlaks Foundation.
4. Why did you choose that particular course in this particular university/college for your
studies abroad? What was the process you went through while choosing the university/
For both of my courses, the structure of the course, and what subjects it will cover were
important. For my undergraduate, it was also the city of London which I felt would be an exciting place to live in. I had much fewer options for my postgraduate course as it was a fairly specialised subject.
I was a bit hesitant to apply to France because of language issues, but the course was entirely in English and financially too, it was more sensible for me. It was also a good change and something new to look forward to in terms of the place. This course was a small French university town which was a completely different experience from studying in London.
5. Any particular advice you would like to give for the application process from SOP
Writing to Academic GPA to other things which you thought were important that helped you
get into that course at that university?
For art and design we had to submit a personal statement and a portfolio in addition to a C.V. For me, I made my statement about my own personal journey. I think it’s important to show where you’re coming from, why the course stands out for you, and what you think it’ll teach you.
The portfolio is a very important part of the application. This depends on the type of design or art course you’re applying to, but it should showcase your different skill and interests, and I also guess your potential for growth. For both, I also included sketches and process images. This helps the viewer to understand your design process and how you came to the final stage.
6. Were you satisfied with your choice of university? What is your most and least
favourite thing about the university experience?
Yes, I really liked them! Both experiences were very different. For UAL I loved the fact that their teaching method encouraged us to be self-directed and independent. Coming from an ICSE and ISC school where all subjects had to be pretty much mugged up, and art was essentially still life and nature drawing, this was a pleasant change. It was challenging at first, but through practice, it really changed the way you’d think and work. They encouraged a lot of experimentation. The only drawback to me personally was that I felt they could have some more theory courses. However, each project did have a dedicated research list.
At Ésad, a smaller class of 6 enabled more one on one time with the tutors and a different kind of bonding experience. I like the range of projects and again here, the time to experiment and develop your final project was generous. An additional point was that in addition to type design they also emphasised the use of the font that you would create in actual context (typography) and that was something that was very much a part of your process and final submissions. The only suggestion I’d make is to learn French. I didn’t know French besides some basic sentences, and it was enough to get around and especially with the course being in English. But to be able to gain the most from your experience here, it's advisable to learn the language.
7. How was the overall campus diversity?
The undergraduate course was much bigger. There were over 150 people I believe. And they were from different parts of the world. The entire college was very diverse. On my course in my year, there was only one other Indian from India, but there were some more in the senior and junior years. The postgraduate was very different. It was a very very small course of just 6 people. 3 from France, one from Israel, Another from Korea, And me!
8. Tell us something about the on-campus faculty and resources
Both my colleges offered really good design and printing facilities. There were letterpress studios, screen printing, bookbinding and woodwork facilities. Ésad was a college that was graphic design-oriented. CSM, on the other hand, was a bigger college and catered to all kinds of art and design, they also had photography and recording studios, laser printing and 3D to name a few. And of course, both had good collections of books in their libraries. I really do miss having access to these facilities! Though CSM allows alumni to have continued access to libraries. And Ésad had allowed us to use facilities after the course is over - till the summer.
9. Tell us about your journey from the first semester to the last both academically and non-
academically? What was campus life like? What were the extracurricular activities on campus?
Both my colleges were in buildings and didn’t have a campus per se. Though the surrounding areas were beautiful. Both somehow had their entrances facing canals. CSM was built in an old granary house I believe. And with recent constructions, the entire neighbourhood is filled with exciting places to eat! There were not as many student clubs as other colleges, but there were quite a fair few. I was a member of the life drawing society, Indian society and the typography special interest group.
The college always had special lectures, events and parties that were spread out throughout the course year. And in addition to that, staying in London allowed me to do so many different things. Educationally there was a lot to learn through museums and exhibitions and also the infamous London Design Festival. And non-academically there was a lot to explore including restaurants, bars and incredible nightlife. If you're a theatre fan, you will not be disappointed. Also, you can take many day trips from London.
Ésad, on the other hand, is a much smaller college in a much smaller town and hence the experience was quite different. There was a lot more interaction with the administrative team and on the whole a much more personal experience. For me, at this stage studying a masters, I preferred a relaxed, quiet surrounding which I got in Amiens. It was a beautiful French town with lots of canals and cobbled streets. Unfortunately, due to covid, I was unable to make the most out of it as many of our classes became online because of lockdowns. In college, there were fewer societies as such, but the college did hold student events and offered discounts for visiting the theatre, for instance, in the city. There were a number of workshops organised for my course from sign painting to Arabic calligraphy. I think I faced the challenge of staying in a new place for both, though they were of different natures.
For the UK it was the first time leaving my home, while for France, the language challenge did play a role, but cover proved to be a bigger challenge. However with time, you settle into the cities and routines, and you end up have a great experience.
10. What did you learn and what were your most dear experiences?
I think for both the courses, I picked up and learnt a lot about design from some incredible tutors. And also I met some incredible classmates, some of whom I’m still in touch with today. You learn a lot from them during the journey of your course and you end up making some lifelong friends. The opportunities of staying in the UK and France really opened a lot of doors for me to learn more about the world of design on an international level.
11. How is the quality of education compared to Indian institutes? What were the gaps in
both systems? How did you manage to cope?
I can’t say much about this for design as colleges have changed what they teach in courses over the years. For me, the course and college were as important as the place where I would be studying. For me, I like the method of teaching at CSM (and Chelsea) which was taught me to think independently. I think that was really important from me coming from a background where you’re pretty much spoon-fed in school. For type design though there was no dedicated year-long postgraduate course in India which is why I had to turn to study abroad.
But a piece of advice - whichever course you are in, you need to push yourself to gain as much as you can from it. Ask questions, take part in events, visit lectures. All of these things add to your learning. Additionally, especially today, when there are so many resources online, it's good to take advantage of this.
12. What were the career opportunities available? How does one manage to grab them?
Depending on which country you are studying in, you are allowed to work for a number of hours every week. In addition, you can work or intern during holidays. For me, I couldn’t stay back in the UK after my course ended, but the rules have changed I think, and you can stay for two years. In France too, after a post-graduate course, you can get a two-year work permit to be employed by a company in France. It’s good to explore these options and get some work experience abroad as it's quite different from India.
Generally, design colleges have many events and end of the year exhibitions. It's good to network at these to get in touch with some people in the industry. Also, apply to a lot of different places. One thing that you should keep in mind is that different design studios have different working styles or even different types of work that they release. So look at places where you’d think it’d be a good fit for you and communicate this in a cover letter while you apply. Additionally, it’s good to send a more personalised and curated pdf portfolio to each company that you apply to. Quality is better than quantity. And you can always add a link (such as a website/Behance profile) for the company to see more of your projects if they are interested.
13. Any other suggestions or advice you would like to give fresher’s starting out.
Do a lot of research on colleges and courses before you apply. And also branch out to different countries and colleges which are not the obvious choice. You never know what you might find. Be open to new experiences, and push yourself outside your comfort zone.
It’s the best time to grow personally and to take advantage of being young and independent. Also, if you get the chance, in addition to studying, travel during your holidays with friends. It’s a great way to bond, to have new experiences and to explore the world.
Also for design, don’t be afraid to experiment with your work. You have the opportunity of not playing it too safe in college, so just enjoy and have fun. You will gain more confidence in your work as you get more experience trying out different things.
14. How did a study abroad help you?
The studies are definitely the major point of learning and the exposure to different kinds of design and experimentation possibilities was incredible. In addition to that, meeting and interacting with my classmates as mentioned previously was great. Also, on a non-academic level, I think just being abroad and having to manage living by yourself such as taking care of bills, managing a bank account, and planning things by yourself - it really helps you become more mature and independent, and there is a steep level of self-growth.
We hope that you have found this interview insightful. Do let us know how in the comments section below!
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