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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.

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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 !



Why I don't use Pinterest

 

Controversial article title ! Clickbait ! Fake news !

Right, no, not that extreme I know. However I feel like I’m making an actual confession. Please forgive me for I have sinned…

My position on this is clear, and it isn't a statement - I'm not protesting anything. Just questioning something which does not work for me. I must however admit that I did a bit of research prior to writing this post and there are so many articles and academic studies on how it's growing to be the most valuable network for brands etc. When Instagram introduced its "collections" feature I could definitely see it was inspired from Pinterest. So, I'm not questioning the reason for its existence, or the fact that some people and brands make an astonishing amount of money out of it. I just don't find it useful for inspiration, and will attempt to explain why below.

Rewind to first year of Graphic Design BA. First assignment, everyone is excited, let’s make mood boards. Now, at this point I was discovering graphic design and Pinterest all at the same time. Everything looked pretty. Everything looked cool, inspiring and beautiful, and Pinterest was all about all the things I wanted to have and never could. I spent ages collecting pictures on Pinterest for that first project, as well as more traditional inspiration sources : books, films, my imagination and memories. Now, you probably know where this is going. Everyone had seen the same images from Pinterest and it was depressing as hell. Meanwhile, I don’t think anyone had the same images as the screenshots of the films I’d thought about. Not saying that made me particularly special, but it just showed how I’d reacted to the subject, how it resonated personally with me. This is where Pinterest stops working for me, and even gets a little dangerous. It's so easy to just type words and get lured by pretty things and not actually question the material you are given in an assignment/project. 

That was my relationship with the network ended. I didn’t like what it offered me. It didn’t feel in tune with my way of thinking, of pulling strings of memories, of rummaging through exhibition notes and sketches. I found it completely overwhelming. Disclaimer: I still have an account. Sure, it can be useful and you get completely different results using the ‘search’ function in Pinterest. Maybe I have a hidden wedding dress board too... But short of that, I feel like there is too much on there. It makes you forget where to look for things. There are so many incredible design books and magazines. A good design library is a real-life Pinterest, only it makes you question what you are looking for. And it doesn’t stop you from a nice surprise. Second disclaimer : I am very aware that Pinterest saves time and is a useful tool. I also appreciate boards put together by brands or agencies which are very high-quality. I’m just saying it’s not for me, and there’s something a little sad in seeing an entire class of design students just scrolling desperately for hours trying to « get inspired » . I find the actual design of the web page visually distracting as well. So, altogether not great conditions for inspiration.

Rounded corners ? So much text ? Different sizes ? Impossible to actually find the image source ? Millennial pink sofas ? GOD HELP ME

Rounded corners ? So much text ? Different sizes ? Impossible to actually find the image source ? Millennial pink sofas ? GOD HELP ME

Pinterest has definitely contributed to create an aesthetic. That, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. A form, a function, after all, how is it different from any other style which has ever emerged ? (side reading, this very very insightful piece on the AirBnb aesthetic, shared by my friend Louis on Facebook)
Images have to stand out through feeds, stand the test of hours of scrolling time. They have to be bright, colourful, high-end. That’s for their form. As for their function, people put them in boards for inspiration. They are generally stored with dozens (or hundreds) of other images. This means that a lot of an image’s intrinsic impact is lost, I think. But then again, images have been stored alongside one another for hundreds of years, in books and galleries.

I’m not bashing Pinterest just because I can. I just feel like there are so many better and stronger sources of inspiration. Lots of blogs I follow keep an eye out for new talents, publish weekly interviews with artists. I am lucky enough to live in a city where culture is everywhere, and a lot of it is free or really cheap. I can go to the museum for free, to concerts for five euros, go to the theatre for ten. I can get old design books for a few cents in garage sales, or invest in beautiful ones to treat myself. Which makes me think: the other day I actually won a Facebook contest by Phaidon Paris to win a signed copy of the new Yves Saint Laurent book.. Always take three seconds of your time to take part in social media competitions, folks !

Something else that got me thinking : when I attended the floral workshop I wrote about in my last post, Clémentine Lévy said her two main sources of inspiration were Instagram and Pinterest. Not a particularly controversial statement I know, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. I can definitely see why: these are handy tools, they save time and are accessible. I feel like Instagram is actually very underrated: there are amazing accounts on there. I love the diversity of things you can see in your feed and spend a lot of time on it. Sure, you get rich girls selling bloody flat-tummy tea but you also get incredible street style, conceptual photography, and a whole lot of nonsense. Pinterest just doesn’t have that versatility.. There’s no space for the « nonsense » part on there. Would love to see someone with a « random shit » board. (I just tried typing random shit into Pinterest and died).

One last point and I promise I'm done. Story time : I have a publishing module this semester. Our assignment was to redesign M, Le Monde's weekend supplement. I talked to my teacher about what I wanted to do, what kind of layout I wanted to go for, what inspired me. Started putting together a few pages. He understood what I meant, and came back the following week with magazines from 1989, because they had something which reminded him of my idea. How cool is that ? How much more valuable is that kind of exchange? To me that is irreplaceable. I don't see boards and pins coming close to that : to real talk, real objects, real observation. To sketching that layout, taking pictures of it. I feel like Pinterest is almost like an external hard drive to our brain.. We don't actually store, process or question information ; we just know it's on there somewhere, on some virtual board.

So, anyone have thoughts on Pinterest? Using or not using it ?

A week in the life #1

 

Hi all ! Time sure does fly by when you’re enjoying it. And I must say the last few weeks, although extremely full, have been more than pleasant for me.

Cautiously going back to studying for my MA was an endless source of anguish. Had I made the right decision? Was I crazy to leave a job that could have led me to bigger and better opportunities? Well, six weeks in, I think I’m at my peak happiness point (so far). 

During the final year of my BA, I had absolutely no conscience of how deflated I was, for various reasons. I mean, I could feel it, but I had kind of forgotten what my natural character was like by that point. And it’s been a pleasure to greet that person back into my life. I have so much motivation. Extremely cliché I know, but taking that step back, moving abroad, going into work and taking the time to nurture my inspirations was the best investment in myself. It’s giving me back so much and I can feel it every day. While being in a full-time job, I didn’t really have the time to work on personal projects; now that I’m a student again I’m cherishing that extra bit of time and making as much stuff as I can. 

Time at university is so productive too. I can (sadly) remember sitting for eight hours in a classroom without actually doing anything. At all. Entire weekends too. I can’t say I made the most of Paris either. Of course there were things that I enjoyed, I still went to lots of concerts and spent a lot of time with my boyfriend and friends. I’m still quite happy about how my final major project turned out. However, this time is completely different. Because I actually feel like I can do it all and enjoy it too. My sleep pattern has completely changed as well. I wake up so much earlier than I used to, feeling much more rested, all while doing approximately 100 times as many things.

So, moving on to this actual blog post. Since coming back to Paris I’ve really been able to go to events and conferences around design, and I just wanted to share a week of my life from that angle. Partly doing this to keep track of what I actually do with my time, partly to share cool events, memories and inspiration with you all ! So, this week spans Wednesday 11th oct - Wednesday 18th (October).

 

Wednesday October 11th 

Went to Juliette Armanet’s concert at La Cigale in Paris.
Now, I absolutely adore her and I bought my ticket about three months ago (I think the show sold out in about half an hour). I challenged myself to go alone (first time!). When the day came I actually felt extremely anxious and almost didn’t go, especially as this clashed with a conference I really really wanted to attend by a designer I admire a lot. 

I pulled myself together and went anyway. And I’m so glad I did. Not even talking about the music itself (which was absolutely exquisite), the whole experience was really incredible. The lighting, the sound design, the set design. It was visually inspiring and actually gave me ideas for a UX project at school. Yeah, I’m using those fancy words now that I’m actually learning about web design…

Anyways, I thought it was the first time in a long time that I really felt like every part of a show had been orchestrated perfectly. Definitely fell into the « inspiration » category, so that’s why I’m mentioning it here.

From Juliette Armanet's Facebook page, uncredited.

From Juliette Armanet's Facebook page, uncredited.

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Photos from Juliette Armanet's Facebook page, uncredited.

Photos from Juliette Armanet's Facebook page, uncredited.

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Saturday October 14th

Went to a floral design workshop with Clémentine Lévy, CEO and founder of Peonies Café. The event sold out super quickly as well, so another lucky time !

I adore that place (you would know that already if you follow me on Instagram). The event was organized to celebrate Peonies’ first anniversary, and took place at The Hoxton Paris which has just recently opened. Cute flower biscuits, delicious flower-based drinks and bunches of wildflowers, all in a beautiful location: it was a good day. However, it was much more than a Pinterest Paradise. The most valuable thing I took home with me that day was what she told us about her project, entrepreneurship and how to keep on learning. Too much for me to write about here, but I don’t think you ever stop needing to be reminded about all those things. 

Her actual bouquet composition tips were very helpful as well for a flower addict like me. I met cool people too: a woman who used to work as a chemist in the cosmetic industry and was about to start a new life and train as a florist. Enjoy the pictures of that peace haven. 

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Tuesday October 17th 

Now, this was the coolest event of this week. A free conference by Emilie Rigaud (ANRT member, A is for.. founder) with a … title: A-t-on encore besoin de nouveaux caractères ? (Do we still need new characters?)

It was mostly a presentation of her work, with a small opening on the title question. She turned it around as « A quoi sert la création de caractères? » I’m only just realizing that there’s no real translation for that.. For what is type design useful ? How is type design useful/needed ? Anyways, one of her answers was : it’s not. I loved that. Remembering that we’re doing something useless, dans l’absolu. 

Her work and working processes were both equally inspiring. I took away lovely specimens of her fonts (especially Tongari which I’ve had a crush on for a long time) and so much determination.

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All photos from the A is for ... website

All photos from the A is for ... website

 

I hope this was interesting for you all to read. Really want to do more of these posts, possibly even make it a regular thing ! Hope you all had a fun week too ✨

Marie