INTRODUCING 2023’s IDI GRADUATE AWARD GRAND PRIX WINNER!

My name is Sorcha and I studied Visual Communication Design at IADT (Institute of Art, Design and Technology) Dún Laoghaire, graduating in November 2023. When I finished secondary school, I studied history and politics in UCD for a year before realising what I really wanted was to pursue something creative, and that’s how I ended up in Vis Comm!

While we studied a broad and varied curriculum of design, I often found myself steering my work in the direction of social and cultural topics. I think all of my projects have had a lasting impact on me in one way or another, and for a variety of reasons. I loved my first-year work because it was all very curious and unafraid. We didn’t use computers for the first four or five months, and I loved the freedom of just making things with my hands (and still do!). A project from second year that I still love, was one where we had to design an exhibition and book based on an essay we had written that year. It was the first time that the academic side of our course was integrated into the studio side, and as someone who loves research, it made the design experience really fulfilling. In third year, we had our first client brief working with DLR County Council on a project called “Love our Laneways” which aimed to engage residents of Pearse Drive, Sallynoggin to re-imagine their area. I always remember this project because it was the first time that we had to really consider how design impacts people outside of ourselves in a real world context.

A project from the IDI Graduate awards that I was particularly proud of was my opera poster, which was from a client brief in fourth year working with RIAM (Royal Irish Academy of Music) to design artwork for a double bill opera. Towards the end of third year, I was feeling a bit stuck and unhappy with my work, often underwhelmed with the end result. When I brought this up to one of my lecturers, they told me I needed to make more time for risk and play in my process. I had been playing it safe, doing things I sort of knew would work out, and the experience of designing had become kind of flat. It made a lot of sense when they framed it that way, and I really kept that advice in mind throughout all of fourth year. This poster represented a kind of full circle moment, as it brought me back to the playfulness of first year that made me fall in love with design in the first place. To see it acknowledged with an award was a really special moment!

WHAT KIND OF DESIGNER ARE YOU?

I would consider myself a multidisciplinary designer with a strong interest in editorial and experiential design. I work in equal measure with my head and heart, combining a systematic approach with trusting my instincts. Research and strategy are at the centre of my process and this allows me to be experimental with image-making while remaining concept-focused. I love to tell stories by searching for unique perspectives and communicating uplifting solutions. I really believe that design can create positive change in the world, and this is something I aim to achieve in my own work! My typical design process, from concept to completion is not linear, but it always begins in my notebook. I think there’s a lot to be said for sticking with pen and paper at the beginning of a project! I always feel that I can think more freely when I’m working in my notebook versus on screen. The beginning of the project is my favourite because there are no rules yet, so I can let my ideas be as loud and out there as they want. To enjoy the process, I need to care about what I’m making, so finding the hook that makes me invested is one of the most important steps.

Often when I face a challenge in the design process, if I have hit a wall and can’t seem to crack something, it’s because I have lost sight of why I am doing it. It’s those times that I’m most grateful for my notebooks, because more often than not, I’ll go back and find the answer there, in random scribbles and mind maps from the very beginning. Of course, as the process goes on, you have to narrow things down and make decisions, but keeping track of the development work that brought you along that journey is important.

ON COLLABORATION & COMMUNITY

I’ve always found collaboration and connection essential, not only for making good work, but for enjoying the process. Being part of a community that helps you grow as a designer is a key part of this, and studying Vis Comm at IADT was my first and most formative experience of this. All of my lecturers were instrumental in guiding my design journey and my classmates were a constant source of inspiration and support. This community also extends to the wider Vis Comm network, with past graduates coming in at certain points within a project to talk to us about their process. Other times there were guest lecturers working alongside the lecturers for the duration of a project. These experiences of interacting with people who were only a few years ahead of us, or designers who have been practicing for decades brought us different insights and perspectives, new ways of thinking and tools to develop our skills. I think that being exposed to these diverse experiences has been crucial to my own development. An example of a project I worked on where collaboration was essential to its success was the identity for the IADT Vis Comm graduate exhibition, “Collective 2023”. Myself and a number of my classmates worked on this together and despite all being extremely busy working on our individual final projects, we produced something that we were all really proud of and which really reflected the ethos of our class, both as people and designers.

WHAT ABOUT DESIGN AWARDS?

My biggest achievement as a designer so far is winning the Grand Prix award at the IDI graduate awards in October 2023, as well as being named the ‘Design for Print’ winner. I was thrilled to have received commendations in Design Research for my undergraduate thesis and Design for Digital. My major project from fourth year, a speculative non-alcoholic nightlife experience called ‘Catharsis’ was also shortlisted in two separate categories. This was really exciting as this was such an important part of our final year, and a project we had only completed a few weeks before the IDI submissions!

When it comes to submitting to design awards, I think it’s definitely worthwhile for a few different reasons. Winning an award, or being shortlisted is a mark of recognition for your work and shows that people see the value in what you have created. It’s a chance to show off everything you’ve worked so hard on, and you owe it to yourself to at least throw your hat in the ring and see what happens! It can feel like a burdensome task, especially when the submission dates come around shortly after the end of your final year. At this point, if you’re like me, you’d rather put everything in a drawer and not look at it for the next three to six months. My advice would be to make submitting your work as easy for yourself as possible by using what you already have! Don’t let the thought of having to go back and rework all of your projects put you off – often the way you have curated a final submission for a college project is more than good enough. And on that note, don’t stress over making something perfect – you’re always going to be your own biggest critic and in reality, nothing is ever ‘finished’. You could be fixing a project forever, but submitting something is better than not submitting at all!

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE SINCE GRADUATING?

When I was in college, I didn’t think too much about the wider design industry or my place in it. Since graduating, I’ve seen that there are so many different ways to be actively engaged with the design community in Ireland, whether it’s through attending events and talks or being a member of organisations. I think that using social media is the most effective way to keep up to date with what’s going on; I follow the main design organisations and sign up to mailing lists so I’m in the loop. During Design Week 2023,  I went to the launch of IDI’s Design Declares which was amazing and something I would love to become more involved in if there were opportunities to do so! More recently, I attended a talk organised by The Design Kids and got to hear three very passionate people discuss their journey in a very honest and inspiring way. I think it’s also really good to look beyond your own discipline and broaden the scope of what you are seeing and who you are listening to. I attended an event run by the Irish Architecture Foundation called ‘New Now Next’. I don’t know much about architecture, so it was really cool to have a window into the ideas and perspectives of a different design community than I am used to. It’s definitely worthwhile going to these things if you are a new grad because they are all opportunities to meet new people, become inspired and gain new ways of thinking.

Right now, I’m am finishing the Threex3 internship programme, where myself and two other graduates (both friends of mine!) spend three months each in three different studios in Dublin on a rotating basis; Unthink, Detail and Red&Grey. I spent my first three months before Christmas in Unthink where I had an amazing experience and worked on some really cool projects. Currently, I am in Red&Grey and can’t wait to see what the next few months bring! The programme is a really unique opportunity and something I would definitely recommend to people graduating in the coming year. I am currently part of the New Now Graduate Panel and am really looking forward to everything we will be working on in the coming year. I am also designing the 2024 New Now Poster, which will be displayed in colleges across Ireland, so it’s a very exciting project to be working on!

WHAT’S NEXT?

There can be a lot of pressure when you graduate to have everything sorted out straight away, to know the type of designer you want to be and how you’re going to get there, but I don’t think that’s how it goes for most people. I’m not sure what my ‘long-term’ career goals as a designer are right now or where I see myself in five years, and I think that’s ok!  I definitely want to travel and see what the design scene looks like in other countries. I can also see myself exploring design in many different capacities and don’t want to limit myself to one thing. Overall I’m pretty open to exploring any opportunities that seem interesting and exciting! At some point down the line, I think I would like to do a masters in design for change, so I am better educated on how to incorporate sustainability into my practice.

There are loads of studios and designers who I admire, but there are two whose work I have been really enjoying recently. Julia Schimautz is a German designer whose work is very unique because her process combines risoprinting her designs and then using those pieces to create motion graphics. I also love the work of Canadian studio DUoC. Christopher Pandolfi, the co-founder and creative director, visited IADT when I was in fourth year and I was really inspired by the work they were doing. Something that I would love in the future is the chance to collaborate with some of my friends and classmates. I don’t know about setting up a studio or anything that concrete, but the energy and excitement of working together in college and the trust that you develop with each other was really special and I would love to re-capture that somehow now that we have all graduated.

If I had one piece of advice that might be helpful for soon-to-be-graduates or recent grads, it would be to trust your instincts, and to not let the fear of imperfection stop you from taking action. Whether it’s sending off your portfolio, taking on freelance work or beginning a personal project, starting is half the battle and you are always more capable than you think!

________

If you would like to contact Sorcha you can reach her as follows:
Insta: @sorchafitzdesign
Email: sorcha395@gmail.com