Ayrshire Connects' Girls with Grit: Dani Horton

14 August, 2023

By Danielle Horton

As the Senior Graphic Designer for Microtech Digital I was asked to provide an interview-style blog detailing how my STEM related career has progressed. This followed the inspiring 'Girls with Grit' event organised by Ayrshire College's female STEM network - Ayrshire Connects.

Where did your career start?

My intention after graduating was to get a job within a graphic design agency, however during my graduate exhibition I was approached by the Editor and Co-Creator of the comic book "˜Who on Earth was Thaddeus Mist' who offered me my first paid freelance contract. For the next year I kept this momentum by working as a Freelance Designer for Cumbria County Council as well as establishing my own clients, some of whom I still work with today.

After moving back to Scotland, I set myself the goal of becoming a Senior Designer of an agency within five years. Out of 100 candidates applying, I was taken on as a Junior Graphic Designer at Paligap Brands. Thrown in at the deep end, I learned on the job how to design websites and within four months was managing my own clients.

Two years later Microtech offered the Paligap team an opportunity to merge their clients and become the newly formed Microtech Digital - letting me achieve my goal three years early.

Did you attend College/University?

My passion for art, design and communications has always been very focused. Knowing that this is what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go, I only applied for one course and left school at 17 to study for my BA (Hons) in Graphic Design at the University of Cumbria, Carlisle. To achieve the points I needed to apply, I took on Higher Drama and Portfolio Prep night classes at Ayrshire College as well as sitting some of my qualifications a year early.

Is there equality in this industry?

One of my degree modules was based upon social aspects of design, and we had several talks on feminism and its role in the graphic design community. The web and design industry is still male dominated (even more so for developers) but this is something I chose to disregard quite early on. I have never understood how or why my skillset, work ethic or the ability to collaborate with others would ever be defined by my gender.

When applying for a design job you are judged on your portfolio of work before anything else. This is a fair, genderless process and a main motivator for my career path.

Although it is a fact that there are fewer women in my industry, my attitude towards this will never change. I set the goals I want to achieve in my life and it is only myself who can achieve them.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

Always be motivated and proactive in your industry - actions speak louder than gender. When applying for design jobs be sure to always put your work first. Knowing what you want to do is easy, standing out from the crowd of 100+ applicants takes the right work ethic.

You will learn more in those first few months on the job than you have your entire education. Make sure you aren't getting paid in "˜exposure' and set clear contract terms for yourself and your client to agree upon before starting work. It is easy to get tempted by developing work for your portfolio but you also need to value your time, education and expertise. However, it is just as important to do work "˜just for you'. Getting bogged down in the corporate world of design can be tedious and unimaginative. Negative feedback, nightmare clients and unrealistic deadlines come with the job, so a thick skin is key.

I was once told to find the smartest person in the room and befriend them. Finding a mentor or surrounding yourself with people within the same industry will only make you better. Competition, stress and conflicting opinions can be a stimulating influence to improve yourself and your work. Be patient, open minded and take advantage of every opportunity presented to you!

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