Back to School: My Shillington Experience

4th Jan 2015 | Design, Freelancing, Reviews

Edit: So I’ve recently condensed this article from the 3000+ word behemoth that it was originally when I wrote it in 2015! Now it is more to-the-point with less rambling.

Bear in mind it was January 2014 when I studied and the course has most likely changed a lot in terms of course-content now.

I hope this article will be useful both for people considering studying at Shillington as well as those who are feeling like their design career maybe needs a bit of a refresh, and need a bit of inspiration to do something about it.

Throughout the post, I’ve included some samples of student work by myself and my classmates. I’ve also included answers to a lot of the things I was wondering about Shillington before I signed up!

Starting at Shillo

I was originally unsure if I should study at Shillington as I already had some experience as a designer. But I was, at the time, more of a self-taught, jack-of-all-trades designer / frontend-dev and wasn’t capable of getting a design job that I’d enjoy (the same goes for freelance work). The only design course I’d studied before Shillington was art & design in college… and that was a long time ago!

Evoken by Angela Jayatissa

Evoken by Angela Jayatissa

After some research, I realised Shillo was exactly what I needed to get me on the right track…

In January 2014 I was strolling into Shillington’s Manchester campus for my first day (pretty much exactly one year after I’d visited for the open night)… which felt really surreal as it was like there’d been a *massive* build up to it.

We had a casual morning of ice-breaking and introductions as well as generally getting to know each other.

HipHop ChipShop by Ben Hutchinson

HipHop ChipShop by Ben Hutchinson

For those wondering the age range of Shillington students, I was probably about average with me being 27 when I started it. Those on the course tended to range from about 20 to around their mid 30’s or so. I found a lot of my coursemates, myself included, already had a degree in one thing or another.

Some came from creative backgrounds such as fine art and product design, others had degrees that were completely unrelated… but we were all there for the same thing.

Porthleven Artisan Bakery by Ed Clarke

Porthleven Artisan Bakery by Ed Clarke

Next, we got talking about what we’d be covering over the next few months. It became clear that we were in for a very busy 3 months!

The tutors made a point that the course is well structured and has been very finely tuned over the years, and we didn’t have to wait long for this to become noticeable. It was a very different learning environment to when I was in college and university all those years ago, it is very fast paced but works well as it is ran so efficiently.

About the course

The briefs you work on at Shillington are very realistic and industry-relevant (although one ‘dream brief’ after the next 😉 ), mainly down to the tight deadlines and the commercial element to each project.

Wes Anderson Film Festival Flyer by Susannah Garfit

Wes Anderson Film Festival Flyer by Susannah Garfit

Tackling each brief always starts off in your sketchpad and there is a real ethos of not simply going with the first decent idea you come up with. You need to come up with as many good ideas as possible before jumping onto your Mac, and even then you’ll be working up more than more than one idea as well as numerous revisions.

High City Lights Poster by Hannah Tyson

High City Lights Poster by Hannah Tyson

So I’ve found that my work has improved partly down to this approach of forcing myself to come up with more ideas regardless of how good my first few are. Shillington do a good job of drilling this process into their students.

There are a lot of smaller details about their course which also do a good job of getting their students to work as efficiently as possible, such as getting them to stick to best-practices like using keyboard shortcuts. Learning to use design software is just one small part of the course, with tuition on Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and finally Photoshop.

BFI Anime Film Festival by Rebecca Lay

BFI Anime Film Festival by Rebecca Lay

I find there seems to be a common misconception amongst a lot of people that being a good graphic designer is all about being good with the software. Whereas the ‘good designer’ bit comes mainly from the more theory-side aspects of the course as well as the research process for every brief… this was my main reason for choosing to study. If all you want to do is learn how to use design software, maybe save yourself a load of money and just do some online tutorials instead!

The earlier briefs started off small with the deadlines ranging from a couple of hours to half a day’s work or so. There were restrictions at this point in the course in terms of what we could and couldn’t include in our designs. This made perfect sense as it basically forced everyone to master the fundamentals before moving onto anything else.

Nike ID by Ritesh Maisuria

Nike ID by Ritesh Maisuria

Further into the course is where the briefs got longer (around 1–2 days) and a whole lot cooler to work on, with more opportunities to exercise our creativity by working on projects geared around the arts and festivals etc. Shillington is probably the only place I’ve ever studied where the students are genuinely excited to crack on with the work, we would all be raring to go and I’d find myself amused by the sound of mouse buttons clicking in the background before the tutors even had chance to finish telling us what the brief was.

Sound Art Festival Campaign by Matt Pealing

Sound Art Festival Campaign by Matt Pealing

Shillington’s design course isn’t just all about the projects you work on. There is a big focus on inspiration too, both on and offline. We would regularly be encouraged to share and critique what we’d found.

I noticed there were a couple of nice little touches throughout the course too which kept things interesting. Nothing major, but let’s just say they were a great way to mix things up a bit.

Mixed opinions

When I was researching Shillington before signing up, I found a mixture of both positive and negative opinions. I found the negative opinions I read on it were often written with little to no understanding of what Shillington is about. I told a few people in person (who hadn’t heard of it) and they were very critical about it being only 3 months long.

 Cerise - Bakery Packaging by Alexandra Lewis

Cerise – Bakery Packaging by Alexandra Lewis

I think some people struggle to take Shillington seriously due to just how short the course is (much like myself originally) but if they took the time to research it a little more, looked at the standard of the work produced as well as what knowledge the students leave with, then maybe they would see how studying at Shillington can be a worthy investment for anyone wanting to work as a designer.

Milo's Kitchen, Boutique Packaging by Kathryn Kyne

Milo’s Kitchen, Boutique Packaging by Kathryn Kyne

One thing a lot of people probably don’t realise is just how much content is actually covered during those 3 months. That’s not to say Shillington can magically turn you into a graphic designer, you have to be genuinely passionate about design and put a lot of work in.

I’ve heard some people say that they think Shillington students’ work often all looks the same. But I can safely say this isn’t something I’ve noticed myself, even though it’s often clear that the students have been working to the same brief. One of the interesting things I found about studying there is that you’ll all be set the same briefs but everyone will come up with their own unique, very different, responses.

Finishing the course

The last couple of weeks of the course (the busiest part) were quite frantic but having extra tutors in the room during this time made things more manageable.

Then we had the grad show right towards the end of the course, it was amazing to finally see everyone’s finished portfolios. Plenty of us had our family and friends there who we’d barely had time to see in months, and there were industry-folk there to view the work too. All this, combined with a stereo and lots of free drinks, made for a great way to end the course with a bang.

Damou Coffee Packaging by Mufudzi Leo Pswarayi

Damou Coffee Packaging by Mufudzi Leo Pswarayi

We still had one day left after the grad show, which was mainly about us preparing ourselves for life after Shillo as well as some pretty entertaining graduation antics. We were all sad that everything was coming to an end but, at the same time, excited to move onto the next thing.

All in all, Shillington certainly lived up to my expectations. I now feel a much more confident designer with a more versatile skillset.

If you’re considering studying at Shillington and are wondering anything that isn’t covered in my post, feel free to comment or contact me directly. If you too are a Shillington graduate, it would be great if you would share your experiences in the comments section!

PITCH - Sound Art Campaign by Debbie Swanepoel

PITCH – Sound Art Campaign by Debbie Swanepoel

4 reader comments

  1. Hello there!
    I'm considering doing the 3 month course. I too come from a creative visual art background from a more 'hands on' (ceramics, old fashioned printmaking, drawing ,etc)approach working with teenagers.
    I have had a tendency to avoid computers! I have the visual art/ graphic theory but feel like I need to 'catch up' with technology and do something less physically demanding and with less teenagers!
    Would this course suit?
    Vicki

  2. I could relate to almost everything you said on the "Why I Wanted/Needed To Study" and for that, I'm really thankful that I came across your article about Shillington.

    I do have one question, though. What happens after?
    For you, I guess, it's easier because you've established yourself as a freelancer before enrolling. So you probably have a list of clients to possibly work with. But how about the other students, particularly the ones who are not from the U.K.?

  3. Thanks for taking the time Matt. After looking into Shillington ten years ago in Aus and shelving it to move to the UK, I've recently had an epiphany; it's a creative career or bust for me now!
    It's been so incredibly helpful finding posts like this from former students to temper all that ignorant negativity from the fine arts and design degree grads!

  4. Hey there 😀 I loved your review of Shillington. My dad just mentioned it to me today, and I started searching it right away, and to my surprise, I was struck by the way the course was laid out. Having previously done two years of architecture, when we were pretty much left to our own to understand the basics of inDesign, I really do appreciate that the tutors/lecturers at this college will be teaching the students from the basics.

    I just had a question: I have been in architecture school, so I do understand how time can be a pressure. But I wanted to ask you, if designing, reconstructing and playing around with the softwares is all one pretty much would focus on during the three months, would you say it's worth the hassle? Because for me, architecture school was extremely pressurising, although I'd point out that in those circumstances, it was a number of things that had to be juggled: the design of the model, the portfolio, and the drawings. Which in this school, is different, as I understand, as it only focuses on the design process from start to end.

    I look forward to hearing your answer, thank you so much for your review!

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