After graduating from Leeds Arts University, Helen Mackay's eagerness to break into the design world quickly landed her the role of Designer at UK Greetings. Here she reflects on her journey so far.

What did you study at university (if at all) and why?

I studied Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design at Leeds Arts University. I chose the course after completing a foundation diploma, where I found my interests lie in Illustration and Textiles, so this degree felt like the perfect fit for me to explore both.

I was able to develop my drawing skills, explore printmaking, ceramics, and digital techniques. I always praise this course as I believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today without it, and would highly recommend the University as an excellent place to study.

Did you have any particular career path in mind on graduating? What did you really want to do?

All I really wanted to do post graduation was continue to design and to make sure that I could gain as much industry experience as possible. I was open to placements, internships or a design role, just as long as I could continue being creative! Gaining a Masters degree was another option, and that would have been my likely route if I didn't go straight into industry.

"I actually began to search for design roles a few months before finishing my degree...I think this really gave me a head start"

Helen Mackay 1
Helen's card designs

And after graduating, was there a particular step that helped you at the start of your career?

I actually began to search for design roles a few months before finishing my degree, with the intention of gaining experience in the application process, interviews and generally getting my CV and digital portfolio out there. I think this really gave me a head start as other graduates would apply once their course was completed.

How did this lead to your job as a Designer at UK Greetings?

It was during my job search that I came across an advert for Watermark Publishing, part of UK Greetings, for a design role within their studio. I attended an interview and was fortunate enough to be offered a role designing for Clinton Cards and Paperchase.

This was the perfect opportunity to gain a years experience in a lovely studio, covering a maternity leave. As I was on a temporary contract, I was then able to be transferred to the head office at UK Greetings and start my current position as a Designer within the Brand studio.

"Versatility is important to me as a designer to ensure that I am always developing new skills"

Helen Mackay 2
Helen's card designs

What does a typical working day at UK Greetings look like?

A typical day at UK Greetings involves working on design briefs, whether that means creating mood boards, concepting, illustrating, formatting, or playing with colour and finishes for the card.

It can vary day to day, and with the range of seasons, ages, and design styles, it means that the job is always different. This versatility is important to me as a designer to ensure that I am always learning and developing new skills and techniques.

Looking back, what’s been your biggest challenge, and what did you learn from that experience?

My biggest challenge would definitely be the transition from university to work life. I came from a typical shared student house in Leeds, living with friends, to living alone in a new town hours away from home, so I definitely found that change to be the most challenging. But I learnt a lot from the experience, from working to live design briefs, communicating with managers and seeing the progression from an initial brief through to a finished product.

Although a huge learning experience, I am so proud that I took the opportunity to move away for my first design role, as it has led me to my position today, plus the added bonus of returning to Leeds.

Helen Mackay 4
Helen's card designs

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