Ciara McDonald, studying a Foundation Degree in Product and Graphic Design, talks to Way out West about her time at South West College and what she hopes to do next. Watch the video interview with Ciara, and read below to find out even more about her story.

Foundation Degree in Product and Graphic Design

Ciara McDonald studied the two year Foundation Degree in Product and Graphic Design, which entailed a twelve week placement in her second year. She explains, ‘When it came up in second year that we had to apply to places for work based learning, I started sending e-mails to different companies and different places where I thought I could fit in.

‘I worked part time in Harry Corry’s at the time, and had the opportunity to go up to their head office in Belfast, to work in the graphic design team there. It was work placed learning, so it really came as an advantage, because instead of being in the classroom, you got to go and learn in the actual workplace, so it was great to develop as a designer in that way. It was great to see the other end of things, to see your designs going from on screen to print, and being distributed all over the country. It was really great to see that aspect of things.'

Looking further afield

‘Meanwhile, as that was coming about, I’d sent a few emails to places like boohoo, the online fashion retailer, just to broaden my horizons, and they actually got back to me and invited me over for an interview for a digital marketing internship. So I flew over to Manchester for an interview there as well.’

It was really exciting, a great experience. The whole day was a bit of a whirlwind.

‘I went over originally just to get a bit of experience, and to say that i'd done it, but they ended up offering me a full time position as a junior designer, based in Manchester. That was really exciting, a great experience.

‘The whole day was a bit of a whirlwind. In an interview situation you’re always a bit nervous, but I was really calm, and then near the end of the interview they actually took me away from the rest of the people and said “do you want the good news or the bad news?” I said “I’d like the bad news first,” because I was so nervous, and they said I just wasn’t right for the position. I thought the good news was just going to be at least you got to come over here, you got to meet us etc., but they turned around and said “we’d like to offer you a full time position as a junior designer.” So they brought the rest of the team over so I could do my presentation again for them, and they got to ask me a few questions about what software I use, and where my design inspiration came from.'

Pressure Presentation

Ciara admits that it was a unique presentation to have to give, and although exciting, was also nerve-wracking.

‘I was beaming I was so happy, but then obviously I started to overthink it, because these are actual designers listening to me, so I got a bit nervous once they started asking questions. One of the guys asked me to bring up the boohoo website on the screen and said “I designed this, what would you change about it?” That was his work, and I had to say things like I don’t really like that colour scheme, or I would change this, or that’s not very readable. I was so nervous because he was the head designer for that company, and I had to tell him what was wrong with his design, but it was really cool and he was really nice about it. It was a great learning experience.'

Continuing in Education

Having finished her time at South West College, Ciara intends to interview for a position at NCAD, Dublin.

‘It would be to go into the second year of Graphic Design, so I’d have the chance to finish my degree in Dublin. It’s obviously very competitive, because people will be interviewing from their first year up there, so I’m just going to go up and show them what I’ve done and talk about everything I’ve learned here [at South West College]. I was up there for their open day and I think our work here is on par with theirs. Their still students and there’s a lot of experimentation, but I think that our work is finished to a more professional standard, a standard that could be put into production straight away. So I’m going to go in confident, with the knowledge of everything I’ve learnt here, and to try and portray that in the interview.'

Because I had such a life changing experience, I feel like I want to go full steam ahead and do something amazing with my life. If anything it gave me more of a drive.

Overcoming hurdles

‘When I was in my last year at school I’d got an offer up in Belfast from Ulster University to do interaction design, then I received a medical diagnosis in February that meant I couldn’t finish seventh year. The treatment lasted until November, but I was put into remission the following year, which was great. But obviously life sort of stopped then, I wasn’t really thinking about university offers, to be honest, I just wanted to focus on getting better. Then as soon as I went into remission I was like, ok Ciara, get life back to normal now, you need to be heading somewhere now. Because I had such a life changing experience, I feel like I want to go full steam ahead and do something amazing with my life. If anything it gave me more of a drive.

‘I deferred the offer from Ulster University, I felt that [South West College] was a better fit for me. I was closer to home, and obviously I was still very reliant on my parents throughout that tough time, so I felt here was the best fit for me. It’s a nice, relaxed environment, the tutors really tailor to your needs, and care about you, and they were so understanding of everything, so I’m definitely very glad I decided to come here and take this different route.

Reflections on South West College

‘To be honest, I didn’t really know much about South West College, but I was shocked by how much everyone is on one level. In school there are teachers, and you’re the student, but here it feels like everyone is a unique individual; they cater to your needs, so I was treated as a designer, not just someone that had to be taught these certain things. My tutor could come to me, knowing exactly what my project was about, and knowing what I could do to take more from it. I’ve been happily surprised by the amazing experience I’ve had here.’

Looking to the future

‘It’s so exciting, even if it can be a wee bit overwhelming. If I talk to people to get a bit of advice, some people say, definitely, go down the education route, others say, no, throw yourself into working. I’m just going to play it by ear, take this summer to develop while doing my freelance work as a designer, and see how things go.’

To find out what South West College can do for you, visit the college website or read more on Way out West.

To find out more about studying Product & Graphic Design at SWC, check out the website.