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Design life for me - Part 1

Written By: Bridget Gail Green

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That question that everyone gets asked when they are growing up seems like a simple question, but in fact it is a fully loaded one. Looking back to when I was asked that, it seems like I was one of the few who had a certain path that I wanted to be on. It was either Interior Design or Archaeology. I know completely different fields but they were in line with what I am interested in and I was always told do something that interests you. So after a lot of consideration, Interior Design it was.

At the end of Grade 9, you have to fill in that piece of paper that practically sets out the rest of your life. What subjects will you take that will be the starting point for your future career. So Art and Technical Drawing where non-negotiable. Luckily for me, these where subjects that I actually liked and did well in, so after 2 years of being on this path, many of my friends are running around trying to figure out what they want to do and seeing if they can swop subjects because the ones they are doing don’t help in anyway with the hourly changes in what they want to do. Fortunately for me, the only thing I was worried about was which Universities and Colleges offer the best Design course, and then applying to them.

When in Matric, all the Universities and Colleges come to your school and tell you why you must apply with them and then they give you all these free things, like pens etc. At this point I had narrowed it down to a couple of Design Colleges and applied to all of them. My first “interview” that I went to, was at the Design School Southern Africa, which I eventually ended up going to. So the day started out with all the applicants being put in a lecture room that had tables set in a U shape with a huge table in the middle full of items that ranged from vases of flowers to toy robots and anything else you can imagine. We were given a piece of A1 paper and pencils and told to draw something. One of the things I will remember forever was in our third year we were asked, what do we remember from our interview day and one of my friends mentioned that when we had to pick an item to draw, she was sitting next to this girl who was drawing a statue of a knight and it was really good, making her drawing skills look bad. So yes that was me and that knight statue was one of the first things I drew at Design School. Two weeks later I got a phone call, and I was accepted into Design School Southern Africa. And that was me sorted, half way through matric, already been accepted into Design School, didn’t have to worry about a thing.

Then the next three years of my life, or lack thereof, started. Any design student can tell you that in the three years you study design, you have no life. It is literally wake up before the sun comes up, lectures all day, work on projects till the early hours in the morning, get a few hours of sleep, then repeat. This is your life 24/7. Needless to say, I made it through in relatively one piece, surviving on minimal sleep, junk food deluxe and the occasional moment of getting high on Copic Markers while rendering.

When you think about design, one of the first things that comes to mind is a glamourous job where you get to make all the cool designs for places and you get world recognition and paid big bucks to do it. To all the future designers out there … IT IS NOT LIKE THAT! Okay granted there are the few designers that do lead this life but in general NOPE!

Design colleges teach you 2 things. One: How to think like a designer, and Two: To be creative as possible. Okay yes there are some relevant things that they do teach you that you will use once you are in the work field but once you have studied this course for three years and then go out into the big bad world thinking you are going to make your mark on the world, you realize that you don’t actually know anything. That’s why when you apply for a job in the Design Industry, they are always asking for 3-5 years’ experience. And to get that experience, is hard work and you need to be willing to do anything and work hard doing it.

Luckily for me I knew some people in the Design Industry that helped me out with some work experience, not only in the compulsory 80 hours of Work experience you need to do in college, which you end up do the most stupid things like organizing fabric samples, but also with my first year out of college. In that time I worked on some simple projects but the big thing was to get exposure to the Design Industry and see what and how things were done.

This was a huge help to me in that it allowed me to see in what direction of design I wanted to focus on, what is expected of a designer and all the aspects you will need to be involved in when doing a project. And also to keep myself busy while finding a more permeant setting, which I might add is quite daunting. Sending your CV out to a million places and only getting responses from 1% of them and usually the response is, Thank you for sending us your CV but unfortunately we do not have any positions available, can be quite hard. In that year, I had 3 interviews of which I managed to get a temporary month long job helping out a Residential Decorator with some plans and design ideas. Then in the beginning of 2012, I managed to get an interview and land the job for a Junior Design position at Sharson Shopfitters. And that is where my real training as a designer started.

In the design industry, you get 3 types of designers. Type A is an Aesthetic designer. These are people who are have wild and creative imaginations and can design the hell out of something and make it look good but they don’t really know the technical side on how things work, so usually it’s up to others to figure out how to do what needs to be done. Type B is a Technical Designer. These are people who design things that fit the function it will be used for and so that it can actually be made in real life and in some ways make it look good but not to the extent of Type A. Then there is Type C, which is a Type A and Type B Designer combined up into one little neat package. These Type C Designers are very rare to come by so if you are one, which many people believe they are but actually aren’t, or have one in your employ then you have struck gold.

I am a Type B Designer, I am more about Function rather than Aesthetics. But this helps in the shop fitting industry in many ways. Knowing how something is manufactured and built helps you design within reason in that it can actually be done as well as the materials that will be used and what their limits are. I have seen some designs of things where you think to yourself, “How in the hell …!” I am also very detail orientated, especially in my drawing work. Not as far as having every single screw that will be used on the drawings but enough to know what is going on so that someone who doesn’t know what is going on, and who can at least figure it out.

I have worked at Sharson Shopfitters for the past 3 and a bit years and I have learnt so much, ranging from the very beginning of a project, meeting with clients, discussing what they want. Doing working drawings for whole shops to the smallest cabinet. Being involved in the factory manufacturing of units. Measuring up sites and being on site to mark out what goes where. Sorting out issues that arise that can delay the schedule. I have been on site where we were a week ahead of schedule and everything is running smoothly, then something happens and it sets us back to being one or two days off schedule.

I have definitely learnt loads but I still have a lot to learn. I am super glad to be part of the Sharson Team, the things that this team has accomplished in the time I have been here, boarders on the epic. When it comes to complements verse criticism, I tend to deal with criticism a lot better than with complements as I feel that I am being told what I am doing wrong therefore I can fix it and do the right thing in the future. When it comes to complements, the biggest one and most gratifying one for me, is to overhear someone saying “WOW that looks amazing, I love it, I wonder who did it?” And on the inside I am smiling because I was part of the team that did that. If you think about it, it’s like a movie or theatre production, yes the Actors are to stars but without the set designers, costume & makeup artists and the countless other behind the scenes teams, the movie or production wouldn’t be anything. And for me that is what design is about, being part of a team that works in the background making something spectacular, that excites and amazes.

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