The benefits of a graphic design apprenticeship

Last checked and updated on November 25, 2020

Taaryn Brench is a Sheffield based designer and illustrator with a love of geometric shapes and bright colours. After working in marketing and client services, she decided on a career change and embarked upon a graphic design apprenticeship which she recently completed. 

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Way back in Autumn 2014, I was working in digital marketing. I’d just started a new role and to be honest, the work just wasn’t fulfilling. My boss and colleagues were great, but the work didn’t mean anything to me and I needed a creative outlet. Previously, I’d looked into going to college part time to study graphic design, but the nature of my job just wasn’t compatible with part time hours.

So instead, I decided to teach myself how to use Illustrator with online tutorials. If I had the money, I would have loved to have gone back to university or enrolled with Shillington. There didn’t seem to be much choice for a broke 25 year old wanting to study again. And then I found out about apprenticeships.


At school, there didn’t seem to be any other option than university. My peers were all signing up for academic degrees and the same was expected of me. I was pushed towards Law which ended disastrously. It had just never occurred to me that it was possible to have a creative career.

It seems increasingly difficult to get your foot in the door without years and years of experience, so being able to get a relevant paid job whilst studying for a qualification sounded like the perfect option for me. I was initially a bit nervous about setting foot in the classroom after so long and being a lot older than other students. However, my class was made up of six students which created an intimate working environment plus it meant a lot more one on one time with my tutors.

Without a doubt, the most important and valuable things I learnt were creative thinking and the business aspects of design. Whilst we were working away on our briefs, our tutor would also be working on his own client projects. The way we were taught how to pitch an idea to a client was the same way the tutor was doing it with his clients and I was able to see it in action.

My law course at university had around 300 students on it and contact time with tutors was scarce. I felt like a number, not a person. On my design course, my tutors actually knew my name and my interests. Because of the small class size, my tutors had time for me and were always available to contact. I quickly realised that I had the freedom to learn anything I wanted to and that all I had to do was be vocal about it. After expressing how cool Robin Davey’s work is, one of my tutors offered to have a one on one session on the absolute basics of animation.

When I had a potential commission come in, I was able to have an in depth discussion with another tutor about the finer points of pricing, contracts and asking for a deposit. I found an opportunity during Sheffield Design Week to rent out a pop up shop. I didn’t have enough work to fill it myself so I got talking to other apprentices to see if they fancied getting involved. My course tutors were so supportive by funding the shop and helping to get it set up. It was a great opportunity for us to show off the kind of work a graphic design apprentice is capable of plus the added bonus of selling a few prints.

Whilst having months to complete a brief on my course and being encouraged to experiment outside your comfort zone, simultaneously having a full time design job at an educational publisher made me aware of how to work in the real world. Working to tight deadlines and targets and having an awareness of brand guidelines weren’t things I would have come across through study alone.

My time as a graphic design apprentice has instilled a really great work ethic. I realised soon enough that opportunities aren’t just going to land in my lap, I need to get out there and make it happen for myself. More importantly, success isn’t going to happen overnight. During my course, I realised I sought inspiration from illustrators rather than designers and my own work started taking an illustrative approach. I quickly set up my own portfolio website and as soon as I got home from work, I’d spend time working on personal projects to improve my work and to be able to constantly replace the old work on my site. Briefbox, Red Lemon Club and Andy J Miller’s Creative Pep Talk Podcast have all been invaluable resources in honing my skills, in particular the business side of things.

I’ve recently finished my apprenticeship with a design qualification and 18 months experience working as a Junior Designer. Work is slowly trickling in, there’s so much more for me to learn and I’m pretty excited about my next steps!

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