The choice to not go to university helped founder of Authentic Style, Will Smith build his own web design studio and win Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the Blackmore Vale Business Awards in 2013. The following is a guest blog by Will outlining his experiences.
Stepping back to my early teenage years and the age of dial-up internet, (stand-by, it gets geeky!) a friend introduced me to an online PC game. The game had a good online community, with various forums and clans and after countless hours of play, I joined a clan who had a forum, where the members chatted and posted messages.
Under each member’s post they had graphics (called signatures, or sigs) consisting of their gamer tag and a background image with some interesting effects and textures. Intrigued, I asked some questions and discovered these were created in Adobe Photoshop, so, I got a copy and started to try to create a sig for myself.
From there, the enjoyment of creating these images in Photoshop started, and, a few months down the line, I decided to create my own website (Sigsource), which had a team of volunteers (people I'd met through playing this game online) creating sigs for people who joined the forum, free of charge. We ran monthly contests, promoted the site and grew the forum to a pretty impressive 5,000 members. I spent a lot of time populating the Sigsource website with tutorials for specific design techniques, and the website flourished getting a high volume of monthly traffic.
Over time I grew out of online gaming, and my interest moved on to web design and learning HTML. Eventually, I decided to sell the Sigsource website, forum and content when I was doing my AS Levels.
I left college expecting to go to University to study web design, but I saw a job advertised locally to me for a full time web designer, which I was lucky enough to get after putting together a portfolio of examples of my work.
I worked there for some time, and then moved to a much larger agency, only to find out that there was little design work to be done. The bits of design I did get to do were pretty mundane and there was no chance to get stuck into an entire project or have any kind of contact with clients.
From there I moved to a mid-size agency and after a year left to go freelance in April 2009. The cue to leave for me was the recognition and enquiries I received through my own portfolio website when I redesigned it and it was published in MacUser magazine.
Since then my company Authentic Style has grown quite a bit and we are now a team of four - two designers / front-end developers, one PHP developer and a project manager.
We’re lucky enough to work with some amazing clients in the UK and all over the world, building beautiful responsive websites and offering help with conversion optimisation too.
Going to Uni isn’t for everyone, and although some careers do require a degree (medicine as an obvious example), if you know your passion and have the determination and drive to succeed, I believe you can make it in your industry without going to University.