Why I took a year off from university (and you can too)

Hello blog readers !


Another Wednesday and another post. I’m really enjoying getting back into regular writing. I don’t write nearly enough these days, and I miss the mental effort. So the blog is the perfect outlet ! It’s hardly ever hard to think of stuff to write about - my brain is always packed. For everyone who voted for an article about my favorite books on my Instagram poll : I haven’t forgotten you ! It’s simply quite lengthy and I want to make it perfect as it’s a special subject. So, for this week’s post, as I was looking for an article subject, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that my studies are over awfully soon. A mere half-year at most. It’s practically February, classes end in April, with graduation in the not-so-distant future in June. 


What a ride it has been. I will be able to reflect some more when school is actually out (scream and shout) forever but I can’t help feeling very nostalgic these days. I can’t believe when I first went to university I was only 17 ! (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

As you may know from real life or previous blog posts, the journey first started with a Linguistics BA at University College London. So, quite a stretch from my current career choice as a Type Designer. Well… Not really. I’ve come full circle : from analyzing word structures to drawing the letters in them. And the full circle is what I’m getting at with this post : without the one-year break I took in 2016, it would have been more of a tired, jagged line. 

Do the words “Phonological derivation” spark any joy when I see them ? No. Does knowing that I drew those letters myself spark any joy? YES. The typeface is called Aligre and I have yet to publish it on the website !

Do the words “Phonological derivation” spark any joy when I see them ? No. Does knowing that I drew those letters myself spark any joy? YES.
The typeface is called Aligre and I have yet to publish it on the website !

See, further educating sounds very exciting when you’re just out of school. And it is, in many regards. But it’s a long road and it’s tough to know what you’re doing even though you might have clear preferences for subjects or fields. It’s tough to figure it all out, and I think the education system makes it very hard to accept mistakes, or detours as I prefer to call them in this case. Mind you, this varies hugely from country to country and I think France is worst than most on that matter. The system is just not built for pauses. Even though courses are harmonized with other EU countries, people certainly expect you to breeze through 3,4 5 (or more) years of study without question. Now, things are slowly changing, but it’s still tough.

Which brings me to the exact subject of this post. Apologies if you’ve heard or read all of this before. I won’t go into too much detail, but I feel like the fact that I’m almost done with studying makes for an interesting take on the matter. So, as most of you know, I dropped out of UCL after my first year, which I passed with a high 2:1 might I add. I’m not bragging, but just stating I didn’t just ragequit the course. I gave it my best shot and I wasn’t happy.

Now, almost six years later, I am absolutely sure I would have crashed mid-course had I continued straight through. Just the thought of applying for MAs sucked any joy out of me. See, this is what this post is getting at. That was when I knew I had to pull the plug. I work HARD. I always have. To things I love and believe in I give everything. And I don’t just mean I’m a perfectionist (that would be too easy), I need to be thorough and passionate in everything I do. And when I was in that black hole of no motivation, I momentarily lost myself. Don’t get me wrong - I may be hard-working but I am also a normal person. Sometimes I don’t feel like working. But as I reflected on my four years of study I saw that I hadn’t suddenly stopped working. I’d let myself enter a gradual decline, to the point where I just wasn’t happy with who I was anymore. 


Three years from that point, I am finally reunited with my truest self. I worked seriously hard in the past months, and it seriously paid off. Last semester I presented a typography thesis as part of my MA. Now, if you know me in real life you cannot have escaped my complaints about this beast. If you don’t, you may have caught glimpses of the actual book on Instagram. I don’t want to give away too much because I haven’t made a proper post about it (or even a project page yet, GASP), but I have further plans for it. Watch this space.

The thesis got full marks for all the criteria : concept, design, content, presentation. The mark doesn’t even matter per se. But I’m writing it here because it was the first time in a very, very long time where I smashed my own goals. I always set them impossibly high in the first place, but that time was different. I worked hard, I felt good, surrounded myself with good energy and the right people and I knew I could do it. And I did. Sometimes it all works out. During the same time, I did a LOT of work on my mindset. Positive wording, the law of attraction, visualizing : you name it, I did it all. And all that strength and that attitude change came with the fact that I knew why I was doing this MA, because I knew what I was gaining from it, and what I’d left behind to pursue it.

BLOG-ILLO-1-BW.jpg


I have definitely blogged about this before, and I don’t want to just mindlessly write the same stuff over and over again. I’m writing this post today because I’m coming out from the other side. I can see everything I’ve gained : confidence, a stronger style, more experience, countless encounters with great people.

I’m writing this post for everyone out there contemplating taking a year out. Or a little time out. Feeling sick at the thought of pursuing studies. Don’t choose the exhausted, jagged line route. Go full circle. DO IT. By all means, do it.
Here are my ten tips for before, during and after your break :

BEFORE

  • Assess your motivation. Sometimes it can be hard to be honest to ourselves about what we can or cannot do. If the thought of studying makes you cry, then it might be wise to at least postpone it.

  • Talk to people who have done it before. Sadly I didn’t know anyone who was in the same case as me, but I’m completely sure everything would have seemed less daunting. Information can be hard to find, especially if it’s not common where you are, but even career advisors at university can help. Talk to your family and your support network.

  • Remember that studying is not the be all end all of life. There are many, many things learned outside of university. However, if it’s important to you then education deserves to be great. Not just about livable. I felt like I had worked too hard to end on a bittersweet note and deserved better than feeling ‘meh’ about the whole thing.

DURING THE BREAK

  • Make a list of all the pathways you’re contemplating. Carrying on with your studies, changing courses: write it all down, with the name of the universities and courses you’re considering. Come back to it regularly during your break. Does everything still look as appealing? I know it certainly wasn’t the case for me, and I gradually eliminated all the courses bar Type Design. Of course, you can’t always choose where you are accepted. I was rejected from my first choice, but after the initial shock wore off I realised my determination was still there and I simply applied to another school.

  • Do some serious introspective work. A few months in, are you missing anything ? Think about how going back to education makes you feel.

  • Reflect on the work you have produced so far. Looking back, do you feel like you’ve done everything you wanted to do or do you fill like you could still learn a lot ? I know for me, everything felt unfinished and I know I needed to deepen my design knowledge to do things I would be really proud of. Honestly, I looked at most of my projects feeling unfulfilled and like I could do so much better. And I did !

AFTER

  • Don’t underestimate how hard it can be coming back to university. You may have gone travelling, started full-time employment… Either way, you don’t really get to just slide back like nothing has happened.

  • Keep track of your progress. Even though I was really happy about my choice, it felt like I was going backwards. I mean, if I’d carried on working I would be in a more senior position, making good progress in the industry. But I would have missed out on so much. My market value is now much higher (and I’m not just talking about salary here, even though it’s part of it). I aimed for particularly desirable skills because I noticed that a lot of ads for my goal jobs required “impeccable typography skills” or something similar. And even though I was pretty happy with what I had, I didn’t feel like it was impeccable yet. So I didn’t go backwards, I just gained momentum to take a bigger leap.

  • Spread the word and don’t be shy. Be proud of what you did, and don’t hesitate to put it forward during interviews. I know for sure this helped me immensely to get my dream internship. Well, I had one interview with people who where absolutely unphased by it but it turned out we weren’t right for each other, so there goes.


Have you ever taken a study break ? How did it go ? Or did I convince you ? Let me know in the comments !



What it's (really) like working in publishing

Hello hello, friends ! 

Thank you for helping me choose which article to post on Instagram ! Sticking to my resolutions real good and keeping the writing weekly for now, can I get an amen in here ?

One thing I love more than writing is talking. I talk. A LOT. Shoutout to my SO Léo for his patience. So I talk to lots of people, and when I meet someone new and tell them a bit more about myself I’m always met with mild amazement when I say I used to work in publishing for Quarto Brighton. I mean, this is a biased impression because a lot of the people around me love books, so the game is rigged. But still, I feel like publishing sounds both very glamorous and mysterious to a lot of people. So I thought it might be worth to condense all the usual questions and my answers in a blog format. This is going to look like I’m interviewing myself but never mind…

Mini disclaimer : all views are my own and this post is in no way associated with Quarto.



Starting with the most common question : How did you get the job ? 

Well folks, no big surprise or magical story here : I saw a job listing on It’s Nice That (suggested by a Facebook friend) and I applied. It was a listing for a Junior Designer at Quarto Brighton. I actually have no idea how many people applied in the end. The interview process was quite thorough, after a first interview which went well, I was invited for another one to meet my future manager and colleagues. I then had to complete a little design test to see if I was really the woman for the job : I got sent a brief to design a book cover about British Rock. Sent that along a few days later, and boom, I received an offer letter and a contract !

I was moving to Brighton and needed to find a job, so I wasn’t necessarily looking in my industry, but when this listing came along I knew it was the one for me. The subject of finding design jobs deserves a post of its own, but I spent a lot of time trying to make it right, polishing my portfolio and cover letter, researching the company, and it happened !


Wow ! Publishing ! That must have been really cool right ? 

Yes. Working in publishing is hugely rewarding when you have loved books since forever. There’s something magical about making books. I think it also helps to think of yourself as doing something useful when so many of us feel like our jobs and meaningless and full of crap. I mean, no one’s going to argue against making books? Who are you, the fire brigade in Fahrenheit 451 ? — fun fact, I had to look up the exact number as I’d written 482. THAT’s a book I have not opened in a while… But I digress.

How I felt when everyone wanted to print covers at the same time

How I felt when everyone wanted to print covers at the same time

So yes, the idea of making books is enough to get you out of bed on most mornings. However, it’s also really tough. It’s hard out here for printed media. Though it’s interesting to note that e-book sales have stagnated for a while, seemingly not threatening paper book sales as much as was once feared. There is a lot of pressure to profit, always more competition, which can make it quite stressful.

What were your exact role and responsibilities ?


My title was Junior Designer, under the responsibility of the in-house Art Director, part of a small design team. I was also the main POC with the Production department. Although I did have a fair amount of designing to do, my role was also hugely based on coordinating projects and liaising with freelancers. Initially this scared me, but when I left I was starting to really appreciate that part of the job, and it’s something I felt very happy doing at my last internship. I think this is the case with most design roles today : freelancers are almost always involved and you’re always going to have some degree of project management. We also had other duties like coming up with book ideas for meetings, researching current design trends, keeping on top of the industry in general. 
The Production part taught me so much about my job, and being a designer. It was really tough and I was thrown in at the deep end from the very start but I’m very grateful I was entrusted with so much responsibility. 

So, my exact role ? Laying out books, arranging meetings with teams, finding the perfect illustrator for a book idea, coming up with book cover concepts, making sure the files were print-ready, building dummies to take to book fairs… You name it.



Describe a typical work day.

There is no such thing as a typical work day for a designer in publishing... Some days I went to London to take photos of book covers in book shops, some days I art directed a photoshoot for a book about male hairstyling. Never a dull moment. Well one too many meetings sometimes, but you know. The days were packed with lots and lots of things. I think what I liked the most about the job is that it kept me on my feet at all times. You have to keep questioning yourself, researching your choices, comparing yourself to what’s already out there. Which is a double-edged sword because that can get to your head, but the price to pay is worth it. I can’t stress how much I learnt in the short time I worked there.
The year also has cycles, with major book fairs being pressure points in everyone’s schedule, so that directly influences what you do on a day-to-day basis. If London book fair is next week and you still have pending spreads and unmade dummies then you are in for a lonely and sorry time at the production department, desperately printing, cutting and sticking things down cries in publishing. If you’re in between book fairs and you need to get going with a live title and book freelancers then you might spend a week in meetings and phone calls, negotiating contracts cries in publishing. If, for some odd reason it’s a slow week… No, a slow day. A slow half-day ? You might find some time to wander in Waterstones and take some pictures for inspiration happy cries in publishing.


What are the people like ? 

As is often the case, the people were the best part. Don’t get me wrong, every company has its difficult (ahem) ones, but overall I felt extremely lucky regarding my colleagues and my teams. Different people taught me very different things and I think it’s a consensus in the industry that the people are great. I think it does help that it’s a field where people are generally very passionate about what they do. You couldn’t possibly be in publishing for the money (ha ha…), so you might as well love the goddamn books. I’m still in touch with some of the people there and I hope to be for a long time. 


What is the book industry like ? 

I think the answer to that question varies hugely depending on what kind of publisher you work for. Quarto is a big company, with offices all over the world and thousands of titles, so you do get a rather big-picture impression in the industry, in terms of numbers and trends. Things change very fast, so I’m not even sure anything I could write to answer that question would still be accurate. 



What were the hardest things about working in publishing? 

Deadlines and stress, easy one there. This isn’t hugely specific as I’m sure that answer would come up for a number of people but as I’ve mentioned before, the competition does push you to your limits. 

In terms of things more specific to my position, I would say it could get a little bit frustrating getting no design work done sometimes, in favour of things relating more to management or planning. It is also the reality of publishing nowadays that the vast majority of design work is done by freelancers, as in-house teams couldn’t possibly handle the amount of work that entails. So, although we did come up with concepts and brainstorm about design, it could be frustrating to give work to someone when really you’d love to do it yourself. Outsourcing is mostly a satisfying thing to do, but your designer heart does get a little sad sometimes. 



Would you do it again ?

Yes, in a heartbeat, although I think I would like to try something very different if I were to work in publishing again. Possibly in much smaller teams, or with a whole other type of content : maybe fiction books or art books.


I hope this was useful or at least interesting, let me know if you’ve worked in publishing or would like to in the comments !

 

New beginnings

Hello blog, hello readers, we meet again and it’s now 2019.

blog-carte.jpg

A few weeks ago, I did a 2018 roundup on Instagram, full of lovely colourful pictures. And in many ways, it was a lovely, colourful year. But there are in fact many times where it was neither of those things.

In 2018 I suffered with depression. Why does it still feel weird to say it, like a big bad word? I know the road to safe conversations about mental health is still way, way off, but me fearfully putting this out in the open is both my own admission of guilt to that charge and my personal step towards changing that. I will not get into the details but will just say that I am now much, much better. It turns out that all the pain and sadness I felt were exclusively caused by my contraceptive implant. A few of you might remember a furious rant on Instagram about this. Ladies, CHOOSE YOUR CONTRACEPTION WISELY. Change your doctor if you need to and trust your body. But, even though the whole ordeal hijacked a good chunk of my year, it will not hijack this blog post.

So now the cat is out of the bag, let’s go back to 2019. With the former paragraph in mind, it might be more obvious why 2019 is set to be special for me. It will be the first year in ages where I don’t have an evil bit of plastic in my upper arm dictating my behaviour and distilling awful dark thoughts in my mind, yay ! So yes, I am quite excited about this year.

2019 is also the year where I finally graduate, almost seven years (don’t) after getting my European Baccalaureate. Now, those of you who know me or who have been following for a long time know that I’ve already worked for a year (at Quarto Brighton). I’ve already been through the terrible pain of looking for internships not once, not twice, but thrice ! And the terrible, terrible pain of looking for a permanent job once. And somehow they all turned out pretty good ! So, I don’t want to stress too much about my job prospects. My new 2019 mindset and I remain very much positive. 

The big question for me is not whether I will find a job. It is more along the lines of WHAT DO I ACTUALLY WANT TO DO ? Because, here’s one for you friends, I do not know. There are so many things I like, even love, and I can’t choose because they’re all so deeply part of who I am that it feels like I would lose out either way. I chose to study Type Design at MA level rather than illustration or food design (which were both real possibilities) because that’s what drove me above everything else at the time, but the other things are very much still there. 2019 is also the year where I am paying dust to impostor syndrome (ain’t nobody got time for that) so I have lots of illustration coming up. I want to pursue it, perhaps more than ever before. But I also adore type design more than ever, I have made huge progress this year. And I still love food, cooking it, styling it, taking photos of it, eating it (not necessarily my order of preference). 

So, after many sleepless nights, there is no way I can possibly choose. So I am not choosing. I embrace it, all of it, and feel immensely lucky for having so many things that spark joy in my life. Yes, that is a half-ironic Marie Kondo reference. Jokes aside, I really do feel lucky. 

I tried to encapsulate this messy ball of feelings into my greeting cards for this year. I made a little still life, a little still of my life, in fact. With my kitchen, my walls, my fruit bowl, my old antique shop coffee pot, my framed letters, a vase I stupidly didn’t buy at a boot sale last summer (still counts), letters, textures and shapes, type and illustration. The card isn’t folded, it’s an A5 format and doubles up as a little print which lucky recipients may frame or stick on a wall. I didn’t want it to look like a greeting card straight away so I went with a « mise en abîme » : there is a tiny greeting card stuck on the kitchen wall on the picture. Why do I still send greeting cards even though it costs a fortune and no one writes back ? Don’t ask me, I don’t know. Well, I do know. Because it’s a very important tradition to me, because I love making things and planning projects and feeling under pressure juggling print shop appointments, school, life, relationships. It’s funny how something that used to be so normal is now so odd, almost eccentric. I mean, in the design world it’s not really. A lot of us use greeting cards as an occasion to showcase work, but when I went to post them the man at the counter of the post office was genuinely surprised at the sight of my huge stack of pink envelopes. I do it for the ritual, the addresses, the calligraphy, the stationery. But I also do it because it makes me so damn happy to write to friends, loved ones, colleagues, everyone I’m grateful for, and to get something back that says : Wow, thank you for thinking of me and taking the time to do this. Even if it’s on Whatsapp rather than in my postbox.

Dear reader, I hope your 2019 sparks joy like no other year. 

P.S: I have a few cards left from my print run. Let me know if you would like one by emailing me !