Architecture and Design students at BCU have the exciting opportunity to undertake a work placement as part of their studies. Work placements are a great way of gaining real industry experience before graduating and making you stand out in the job market. We caught up with BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design student, Beth Martin, who told us all about her placement at Meridian Speciality Packaging in Malvern.
Can you tell us a bit about your placement, how you found it and what it involved?
I did my placement at a company called Meridian Speciality Packaging. As their name suggests, they specialise in bespoke and custom packaging for all sorts of products including confectionary, alcoholic drinks, tea, soaps and even chess sets. I have a friend who works in the Graphic Design department there who recommended I approached the company as it’d be a good fit with my course.
They were keen to find creative uses for their cardboard offcuts so asked if I’d like to work on a project to design a small range of desktop products using their in-house machinery and offcut cardboard pieces. They wanted to explore things that could be used by their team or sent out as promotional items.
I worked alongside the design team and was given a heap of cardboard and asked to play with it and come up with some ideas! I collaborated closely with Naomi, their CAD specialist, who taught me how to use their software and got me thinking about all the things I didn’t realise I needed to know about cardboard, for example, how thin pieces can be cut and how much strength it has.
Did you face any significant challenges during your placement?
I started my placement in the Meridian office in Malvern but then, as the pandemic began to unfold and we were put into lockdown, I had continue working from home. I’d never worked in an office before so I had just started to get used to that and then had to adjust again. We had to meet over Microsoft Teams or Zoom which all felt brand new at that point!
I do wish I could have spent more time in the office as I was keen to gain experience of working in that environment and mixing with the team but I also learnt a lot about how to collaborate with a company from home. That’s how a lot of product designers work, they’ll be based in their home office and potentially work with companies all over the world, so actually it was really valuable experience.
What was the most valuable thing you learned?
How collaboration works in a professional environment and how that’s different from university. At university, I often throw around rough ideas with friends on the course whereas on my placement there was a more formal process, I had to work up more fully formed ideas before presenting them. I also learned how to pitch ideas and discuss design concepts over video calls and emails, and how to interpret and implement the feedback I was given.
What was the highlight of your placement?
Using the cardboard offcuts, I came up with various ideas for desktop items: a magazine holder, a clock, a pen pot, and a post-it note holder. I also designed a range of pop-out characters that could be sent out to clients as promotional items and they could have fun assembling them. There were cars and dinosaurs, as well as seasonal items such as a Christmas tree or an Easter bunny.
The highlight of the placement was when I made that first prototype and I got to watch it on the machine. It was really satisfying to see what I’d designed being made in this big company!
What are you looking to do after graduation and how do you feel this placement has informed your plans?
I’d like to go into product design and I want to work for a company rather than setting up my own business. In my time at university I’ve designed various lighting pieces and am also currently working on a range of kitchen products. I’m really enjoying that because it’s very analogue and I like finding out how they all work. So I’d be keen to work in either of those areas but I like working on all kinds of products.
This placement has helped me focus my ideas and think more about the kind of working environment that suits me. I want to work for a creative company where I can share ideas and collaborate with other designers.
Do you have any advice for students considering a work placement as part of their course?
I’d say to design students to create your portfolio as soon as possible because, when you’re approaching companies for a placement, that’s much more interesting to them than a CV. They want to see your design ideas and what you can do, so use that to showcase your best work.
Also, my top tip is: don’t be shy! Don’t worry about what people are going to think about you, just contact as many people as possible. I feel like I held back because I was nervous that they wouldn’t like me, but that’s not what it’s about. You need experience from a company where it’ll help you the most, so just do it!