Life on Placement by Ciara McLaughlin


I came to AV Browne, tanned and tired, the very day after returning from three months working at a summer camp in America. The year would be an opportunity for me to learn about the design industry, as part of my Graphic Design and Illustration degree at Ulster University, and I was excited to experience working in an agency as a creative placement student. As I climbed the spiral staircase on my first day I was jet-lagged, nervous, and so far from ready to enter a design studio full of talented professionals. The first few days were a blur of matching names to faces and learning my way around the quirky office landscape. Then it was time to plunge into the crazy world of advertising.

My year with AV Browne has largely involved work for the BBC, particularly the GCSE Learning for Life and Work section of the BBC Bitesize website. I was then assigned the task of illustrating a suite of characters to star in animations for each of the course chapters. The project allowed me to collaborate with different people in the studio such as art directors and animators. Initially, I would receive a scamp of the frames which I would then illustrate, ready to be brought to life by the animators. The stories would be wacky, witty and wonderful and this lateral thinking inspired me so I was soon ready to tackle some of the storyboard scenarios alone. Initially this terrified me, but I could always look to other creatives for advice, which is one of the things I have loved most about the studio environment. I enjoyed the challenge of adding humor to help the students engage with the content, and felt a great sense of satisfaction when my little jelly-bean style characters sprung to life in the animations. Projects like this helped me to establish my place in AV Browne as they made me feel like an essential cog in the busy conveyor belt and gave me invaluable experience working with a globally renowned client.

Alongside this I was involved in work for the Hastings Hotels Group. It's very easy to love your job when your day is spent designing collateral featuring playful illustrations or stylish patterns and elegant fonts. With my love of illustration, I could easily get swept away creating environments for serene summer spa days or enchanting Christmas cocktail evenings and always looked forward to seeing this client on my schedule. Through my work for Hastings I have been lucky enough to see my designs hanging from the Europa hotel in the centre of the city, or decorating the reception area of Ballygally Castle. As part of a project to illustrate the Culloden Estate and Spa, I got the chance to talk to the clients and take a tour of the hotel grounds which was a fantastic experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed the range of material that I have been challenged to design, ranging from gift cards and flyers, to banners and menus and this experience, for an aspiring designer like myself, has given me knowledge and confidence that I could never have gained from my university lessons.

One highlight of my placement year has been working on the NI4Kids magazine for National Trust, due to my inherent love of nature. My first encounter with this client involved an autumnal spread, where my inner childhood–self was let loose as I got to design, illustrate and write the activities. This really made the work feel like my own. One of my favourite pieces for this magazine was an illustrated map, laden with woodland animals which was printed in the Easter issue. The pride that came when I hunted down the paper to see my design spread across the flimsy pages of newsprint showed me how worthwhile the job of a designer can be. The subject of the work for National Trust has really suited my interests and illustration style and I feel grateful to have worked for a cause which I care about.

So far, my placement year has been a blur of jelly-bean people and luxury hotels – a blend that justifies few complaints. I have gained an important insight into the advertising industry and worked alongside some of the most creative professionals in the city. The main thing I have learned is that the pace of the world of advertising is like that of a sprinted marathon, but keeping up with the rapid flow of the agency has pushed the boundaries of my creative thinking and forced me into a much quicker decision making process. I am lucky to have familiarised myself with people in such an innovative and successful local studio where I have been given the perfect blend of independence and support. I am grateful to have had such a rewarding placement year and I hope to continually develop in my remaining months at AV Browne as I work towards a career in the creative industry.

Ciara is a budding creative currently on her placement year at AV Browne. If you would like to get in touch with Ciara, you can contact her at