Julie Freund-Poulsen won the Readymag Websites of the Year award in the Visual storytelling category with her eye-catching and perfectly-balanced personal website. Julie is a Copenhagen-based graphic designer with formal education in design who currently combines freelance work and an internship at the Kontrapunkt agency.
We asked Julie several questions about the necessity of formal design education, the power of an honest portfolio and the benefits of design contests. Read on to discover how this young designer got two higher education degrees and relevant work experience by the age of 26, found a traineeship in one of the best Danish studios and won Readymag Websites of the Year 2022.
Formal education: A road to success or an unnecessary complication
I work and learn better under a structure that education can provide, but I know successful designers that have developed their own processes and frameworks from scratch.—Julie Freund-Poulsen
Initially, I began studying web development, but fell in love with the design part and slowly moved away from coding. At some point, I decided to spend a semester abroad at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. This quality time became a turning point: during the semester, I realized that I wanted to embrace graphic design and build a career in the field.
In the States, educational processes were different: there you take multiple classes each semester, whereas in Denmark you have just one class for a specific amount of time and then move on to another one. The system of focusing on a single discipline for the entire period definitely has its own advantages, but there are obvious benefits in the American approach: having multiple classes at once sparks inspiration in different fields and stimulates you to use new skills across contexts.
Now I’m finishing my studies in Graphic Design at the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Copenhagen, and I already have one degree in Multimedia Design and Communication from Københavns Erhvervsakademi. In the future, I hope to continue learning from and working alongside design professionals to make the world a better place.
In general, I don’t think formal education is necessary to create a smooth start in design, but it may be a boost for some people: it depends on the domain and the person’s characteristics. For instance, I work and learn better under a structure that education can provide, but I know other successful designers who have developed their own processes and frameworks from scratch. On the other side, schools and colleges introduce you to many different fields within design, so you’ll adapt more quickly. Of course, it takes more than classes to instantly work in 3D or other advanced areas, but structured knowledge might help you understand the basics faster. I’ve noticed that I can use my graphic design skills in neighbouring crafts such as furniture building, tufting and sewing: basic design principles and layouts work great for different ideas.
A perfect portfolio: Take pains to code or focus on design only
I know how to code, but for my personal website I wanted to focus on the design only, which is why I created it in Readymag.—Julie Freund-Poulsen
I discovered Readymag about two years ago and tried it on a small college project, but ultimately began exploring its handy features when working on my portfolio website in 2022. And who knew that I’d win the Readymag Website of the Year 2022 contest with this very project?
The idea behind my website was to create a timeless portfolio and add a vivid personal touch. Actually, I had to create the page to apply for internships last year, but decided to keep it for future freelance or full-time job opportunities. I know how to code, but for my personal website I wanted to focus on the design only, which is why I created it in Readymag. My favourite thing about Readymag is how easy it is to make an interactive page.
I started laying out and designing the page in Figma and used Procreate for my small hand-drawn animations. Once I had all my elements, I assembled the whole thing in Readymag and topped it off with cool features: Shots and Animations. I love the Shots widget and used it on my website to make a jar rotate as you move your mouse from one side to the other. It really engages the audience.
Getting a top-notch internship: Showcasing or networking
I believe designers shouldn’t worry if they don’t have a vast network of contacts. It’s better to shift focus to creating a robust portfolio that will speak louder than words.—Julie Freund-Poulsen
Apart from my freelance job, I’ve worked for Frankly, a Copenhagen-based digital design bureau, for the last year, and am currently doing an internship at a brand experience agency Kontrapunkt. I can definitely tell that my portfolio helped me secure this internship. I applied to some of the best design studios in Denmark and, of course, had a decent network to use in case the portfolio didn’t work well, but I instantly got pleasant and overwhelming responses to my letters. The agencies rated my website highly, as it showed not just confident design skills but also my personality, and noted that the page was entirely custom-made and thus stood out. I believe designers shouldn’t worry if they don’t have a vast network of contacts. It’s better to shift focus to creating a robust portfolio that will speak louder than words.
I guess the strongest case in my own showreel is the ‘WITH /REMESH’ rebranding campaign. It was an exam project I nailed together with Carla, a talented classmate of mine. We created a new name for the brand and used it as a strong communication tool and combined 'WITH /REMESH' with a number of interchangeable words, sentences, statements or descriptors placed inside various designs. We managed to encapsulate the brand's mission, vision and core values while showing dynamic change and emphasising the company’s innovative spirit.
The main benefit of design contests: Participation or nomination
Before anything else, contests are a way for designers to explore outside their comfort zone and receive the recognition they don’t always get.—Julie Freund-Poulsen
I can't tell for sure whether it’s more critical to participate or to win: it depends on the competition itself, the person and their previous experiences, and the professional environment at the moment. Of course, it’s always rewarding for designers to actually win and get recognition for all their hard work, but it’s not always the main point. Before anything else, contests are a way for designers to explore outside their comfort zone and receive the recognition they don’t always get.
If you’re planning to apply to Readymag Websites of the Year or any other contest, my advice would be to have fun while creating your project. That approach often gives the very best result in the end. And if you opt to submit a portfolio website, express your personality through the design so your piece will be recognisable and unique.
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