Connie Esavwa

Students & Alumni. Graphic Design.

Connie Esavwa graduated from our BA (Hons) Graphic Design in 2021, and is now hoping to get a job in a design/marketing agency or a publishing house.

What was the highlight of your time on the BA (Hons) Graphic Design course?

My highlight on the course – I have so many highlights – but I think for me on the course particularly was my final major project. It is almost like a passion project for me. An opportunity just arose, and a friend told me about it, like 'Oh Constance, there’s this thing where the government of Kenya is hiring people to design a business showcase journal for a business conference that happens yearly in Kenya.' So, my final major project is my highlight because of what it means to my society basically, and I did put in a lot of work, and I got challenges in so many ways, and to even be paid to do it was even better. But just because of the connections and opportunities I see arising from just that one project. It’s been really good.

I had to design a showcase journal for small businesses, and normally these businesses in Kenya and in Africa as a whole, they’re an informal sector, so the way they do business, and the environments they work in, are a bit ‘unusual’, especially if you’re in the west, they may seem a bit unusual. It was really nice trying to demonstrate a positive image of the people in these business because they contribute so much to the Kenyan economy, but not a lot of people talk about them. I’ve discovered a lot, and it’s challenged me a lot as well, about how I judge people, or how I see people. So that has been great. Also, collaborations - it was me and someone who was working with photography in Kenya. Also working on it during a pandemic was even better.

The businesses were like hawkers, and people who sew shoes, or tailors, or people who sell groceries in a market, basically local farmers who do it on a very small scale. Those were some of the businesses that were highlighted in the magazine, and the reason why the Kenyan government wanted to do that is because obviously during the pandemic most offices, most official businesses, were closed, so the government wasn’t really collecting any revenue because the country, the whole world, was at a standstill. But local farmers, local tailors, people who do business on a small scale, they didn’t close. They contributed a lot. I think the government realised that ‘Oh, these people actually drive our market, and we never really give them the attention they deserve.’ So that was the project, and I was so excited to be chosen, because my father is a small-scale farmer in Kenya, so that’s why it was like a passion project for me. I showcased his farm.

Cover of Vihiga magazine, with photo of plants poking through the ground
Cover of Connie's 'Vihiga' business journal

What kind of challenges did you have to overcome on the project?

I think with this kind of project, you would usually work on it as part of a group, different people tackle different things, but I was doing it mostly by myself other than the photographer. So that was really interesting, and that’s why I said I have learned a lot about myself. You also have to have a lot of patience, you have to consider time differences, when people are not in the office, so sometimes they get back to you late when you want things approved.

I had to almost be like the director of photography, and say 'This is the image I’m trying to go for in the magazine, so could you take these kind of pictures.' Obviously my lecturer did help me quite a lot, but most of it I had to do by myself. Whereas I think if you’re designing a magazine, or a journal, with an agency you’d be doing it as part of a group, so they just give you a portion and you tackle your portion.

Inside page spread of journal on 'Grocery markets' with photos of  fruit on display at stalls

Which aspects of the course helped you the most?

When I started as a graphic designer in the first year, I wasn’t very confident. I knew what I was doing, but I just wasn’t confident in myself as a graphic designer. But I feel like, in the second year and third year, my work has grown tremendously and I’ve been so proud of myself. I kept on pushing myself, and obviously our lecturers kept on pushing us as well, which is nice. All our lecturers, they push us and they give us freedom to explore our areas of interest, and even with our major projects they gave us the choice of what we wanted, obviously with guidance. Just the freedom to explore our various interests. Also they meet you where you are at. They meet you at your level, and they give you guidance at your level in your design journey.

What connections did you make with industry on the course?

As part of our coursework in the second year we did some work with OneSpaceMedia and Penguin, and it would be nice to work for a company like that, but back home in Kenya, I’ve got a couple of friends who are designers and have got their own agencies, and I’ve been working on a couple of projects for them.

Last year, one of my major projects was a paid project, working with Kenyan coffee growers and farmers. They wanted to rebrand their company and make it mainstream. I’ve also worked on event/wedding planning situations.

Designs for coffee brand paper bag, cup and business cards

Did you have many chances to work with other students on the course, particularly during lockdown?

I think our class is very supportive of each other. We have a group chat which is really active. If you have a question, or if you’re struggling, there is always someone who is willing to help on the group chats, and on Slack as well, where you basically share your projects as a group. You can create different rooms and groups where you share your work. In week 8 we had to submit, and show and explain our work, and then people comment and give you advice on the project, and tell you what else you can do to make it more interesting. Just to encourage you really. It’s like a little design community.

Is there any aspect of the course that surprised you?

The course has challenged me to be better, and to not slack. To not just be comfortable at my level. Sometimes when you think you’re so happy with your work, you’ve put in the hours, and you’re like 'I’m so happy with this,' then you look at Slack for example, and you see what other people are producing, and you’re like 'Oh my God. I need to do more, I need to do more.' Some people would say that’s a bad thing, to me that’s a good thing, because it’s not necessarily bad pressure, it’s good pressure. Also just engaging with the software the way I did, especially in the past two years, I think that has challenged me to do more. To do more and be more.

Designs for coffee brand bags and cup

What benefits did you get from studying in Cambridge that you might not have got elsewhere?

Cambridge is like a small bubble, and I’m a very outgoing person. I like to make friends, I like talking to people and discovering them. So wherever I live in Cambridge I have made friends, people who are not even students, even my housemates over the years. I’ve enjoyed living in Cambridge, and I learned how to cycle finally! It took two weeks and I didn’t break any legs. I think if am staying in the UK, Cambridge is a good place to stay for me, just because most people here are quite young, they are on the same path as you, trying to grow and be better. We live close to the science park as well, so there are immense opportunities, and people to meet and make connections with.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m taking on a branding project with a friend of mine who has a design agency in Kenya, and even as I’ve been in uni I’ve been doing some personal freelance work, doing some work for friends, creating little projects, but obviously I’m seriously job hunting now, so it will be nice to see what lies ahead. I’m excited for the new challenge.

Where now