What’s it like to do a placement during a pandemic? Can you really get to know people, soak up the atmosphere of Studio life and learn about the industry? We caught up with Gurleen Raj, who is coming to the end of a month-long placement with the Design Bridge London team, to find out all about it…
Hi Gurleen! First up, tell us a bit about yourself…
Well, I’ve just hit my 9th year in the UK and my background is quite complicated, so I’ll keep it super brief: born and bred in New Delhi, moved to the UK in 2012 with my brother when we reunited with our mum.
I come from a typical Indian household, surrounded by powerful women who have guided me through absolutely everything. I started out following in my mum’s footsteps, wanting to become a doctor, but when I arrived in the UK as a teenager I picked up a paintbrush on one of my first days of school and I haven’t been able to get the art bug out of me since! I was still learning the language, and art enabled me to express myself and connect with others.
I ended up doing a foundation diploma and then joined Plymouth College of Art to study Surface Pattern Design. Halfway through my second year I found Graphic Design and everything changed. My work had always been quite graphical, but I went on a steep learning curve when I switched courses. It’s been a rollercoaster 9 years but here I am, hopefully the next Paula Scher!
Since leaving university I have been working towards launching my fashion company Kalee, an ethical womenswear brand created to empower and shine a spotlight on women of colour whilst being an ethically transparent business. It started out as my third-year project, but I knew I wanted to develop it further. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic things took a bit of a break, but I am hoping to launch it properly next year.
How did you end up on placement with Design Bridge London?
This placement is something I pestered a lot of DB designers for the past year! I met Fahud Ahmed, who was then working at Design Bridge, through a portfolio review last year with my university and we instantly clicked. It was also the first time in two months of constant portfolio reviews and agency visits that I saw a person of colour within this industry. I was just so excited and kind of flustered, but I knew I had to keep in touch.
He connected me with the lovely and super-talented Chloé Templeman who took me under her wing and, after a couple of months of mentoring, offered me a placement for 1 month, which then got extended for an extra week.
I love people and one thing I’ve always been good at is making friends. Between them, Fahud and Chloé have taught me lots – everything from my language struggles and culture clashes, to understanding how the industry works and how to develop my portfolio and myself to be the best designer I aspire to be.
And what have been up to during your placement?
Where do I even start, it has been so different and new for me! In my first week I met lots of different people (virtually, as we are all still working remotely) and I joined one of the Studio teams who involved me in team meetings, project briefings, project reviews and client meetings, which was such a cool experience. I’ve been able to contribute to live projects and it’s incredible to know that my ideas are just as valid as the more experienced designers – I’ve felt a real sense of collaboration and encouragement to share my ideas and inspiration.
Last week I was lucky to visit the Studio where I met some people in real life. I got to see the creative space (I really enjoyed a tour of the workshop and 3D machines), and I assisted on a product model photoshoot. It was an amazing experience.
What has surprised you most?
Apart from the work side of things, I’ve been surprised by how fun it is to be part of the Design Bridge Studio. This week my team did a virtual escape room with drinks, and I’ve had the opportunity to share my Kalee project with another team, too.
I’ve been teaching for the past year, which had cut me off from the creative world on a day-to-day basis, so this experience has been even more exhilarating and a reminder of what I do (and love) best. I came with no experience of working in a design agency and no expectations of what it might be like, and I think that has enabled me to be my most authentic self.
Also, the Studio is SO cool! It brought back a wave of nostalgia from university and I think the bookshelf corner could easily become my official lunchtime spot!
What have you learnt on your placement?
Oh, a lot. I’ve learnt how to work in an agency and how design works in the commercial world, which is the most important lesson of all.
I’ve learnt how to present myself as a designer and found a new confidence in my abilities. I’ve also learnt some really practical new skills working with two new pieces of software, which is incredibly useful for my future career.
I think it’s hard to name exact things because I’m always constantly learning, and I never want to stop learning!
If you could give one piece of advice to other young creatives starting out in their careers, what would it be?
Get on LinkedIn right now! Follow every career-based social media profile you can find and, once Covid allows, start attending networking events to meet people, and go to exhibitions of your favourite artists for inspiration.
Start submitting your work into competitions and connect with your art and design idols to ask for advice and guidance. The worst that will happen is they “no”, but luckily we have 7 billion people on our planet so it’s likely that some will also say “yes”.
These are all the things I started doing just after university to help establish myself as a designer. No one will come to you because they don’t know you, so you have to put in the effort to make yourself known.
What’s next for you?
I want to run Kalee successfully so that’s my immediate plan, and my dream job is to become a Creative Director.
And finally, tell us one thing about yourself that nobody at DB knows (yet)?
Ahh, well I don’t usually talk about this but it will be fun to surprise some of the people I’ve met and worked with at Design Bridge. In the early 2000s, my family and I fled Libya (during Gaddafi) in the middle of the night in an Indian army jet. My mum was one of the first women to own a medical practice there and our family stayed for about 8 months until we were forced to flee back to India. I actually didn’t know any of this until last year when my mum and I were just casually chatting, but now I have a crazy story for gatherings and surprising people!
Thanks Gurleen, it’s been a pleasure having you and we can’t wait to see what you do next!
Inspired by Gurleen’s story? We’re taking applications for The Start, a new junior programme in our London Studio that is open to anyone at the start of their creative, design, client management or strategy career in the brand design industry. For those of you not in the UK, we also have internship opportunities and junior roles across our other Studios – check our Careers page for the latest.