Not Going To Design School Shouldn’t Affect Your Design Career

What should you do make sure you will have the design career you are hoping for? Basically, learning the skills discussed in this article will help you achieve that goal. Where you decide to learn them is another challenge.

One of the particularities of this domain is how varied the study programs are. They vary in terms of their length, their curriculum, the diploma they provide, the quality of their internships and so on. There is absolutely no standard when it comes to providing training in design.

Design programs are not easy to evaluate from a student point of view and it is very hard to be confident that the studies you go through will allow you to get the career you wish. In this field, a lot of the best young designers don’t even take formal classes and yet they succeed.

Self-learning is an acceptable alternative to design school. As this is an industry where everything moves quite quickly, curriculum and teachers from formal programs are not always in touch with the latest and trendy areas of design, and where the jobs will be. An advantage of being a self taught designer is you can focus on those areas.

The problem with design programs

Not Going To Design School Shouldn't Affect Your Design Career

All the different design programs provide a lot of graduates in a market where there are not that many contracts available. Short programs often produce students that are not ready for professional work because they lack the required experience. The companies that want to hire a designer are lost in the swarm of designers of unequal competencies available. Even with a portfolio, it is hard to determine who is a good designer that can fulfill their specific needs and who is not.

A lot of design programs accept pretty much anyone that is willing to pay the fees they charge, which creates another problem. Just like surgeons need some basic fine motor skills before they even start studying in order to develop their abilities at a great level, not everyone can be a designer. Anyone can go to school and learn the technical skills, but only those with an inner sense of design will truly be able to create great work.

Most design programs also have a strong weakness when it comes to giving real experience to their students. A homework, where the student can use his own personal tastes on many levels, cannot provide an experience that is real enough to ensure that the student will then be able to answer his clients’ needs.

In order to truly learn designing, everyone needs to live a real experience: real clients, with their specifications and their peculiar requests and providing real feedback. Some schools have internships, which is a good starting point for students that find a great learning environment.

The basis of a capable designer

An employable designer needs to have some basics skills that are not necessarily taught in school. He should be able to express his ideas properly and clearly to a client, so that the client can understand the concept that is being shown in order to choose if he likes it or not. That implies being able to use a pen to draw the main components of his idea while being able to actually design afterwards what has been drawn, as well as great communication skills.

A capable designer should be able to plan methodically and to think critically. In order to respect the deadline while having a truly finished project, a designer needs to have planning skills that will include enough time to solve problems he might encounter and any unforeseen event. Strategic thinking is what will allow the designer to deliver a solid project based on logic rather than something purely based on his personal preferences.

A good designer is able to build a strategy for the project

A good designer is able to build a strategy for the project, based on design basics, knowledge from his experience and industry standards. Then, he needs to be able to turn his ideas into a conceptual development.

How to teach yourself design

Acquiring the skill set mentioned is not an easy thing to do. Design is a profession where it is possible to learn by yourself but be aware that it does not imply that you have nothing to learn anymore once you are an established designer.

  • Anyone that wants to become a self taught designer should understand that design is about fulfilling a need or solving a problem. Understand your client’s goal and the end user’s interaction with what you are designing is vital to becoming a good designer. Basic communication and project management skills should be learned.

design is about fulfilling a need or solving a problem

  • Some technical skills are also required to become a competent designer. Anyone that wants to do this kind of artistic work needs to understand the basics of art like composition theory and color theory, since those basic principles will impact your designs. This theory will teach you how to highlight areas of your designs and how to make other areas blend into the background.

understand the basics of art like composition theory and color theory

  • Designers need to learn everything about design: its history as well as the theory and the practical application. Understanding the designing process from its beginning to its end, and being able to comprehend every stage of it is crucial. A good designer needs to be able to do research, to create appropriate sketches and visual solutions. Once you understand every step of the process, it becomes possible to work on getting better in one area at the time, until you master them all. Of course, any designer will learn practical applications throughout his whole career, so be prepared to never stop learning.
  • Self taught designers should also learn everything there is to know about typography, including how to apply this knowledge into their designs. Grid theory, or understanding advanced principles of flow, rhythm and spacing is knowledge that every designer should have. Once the theory is acquired, it is necessary to learn how to apply it in their work.

Self taught designers should also learn everything there is to know about typography

  • In almost every profession, people specialize in something. If you want to truly become great at something, you need to focus your efforts in that field. A designer should do the same. Once he has chosen his area of expertise, analyze everything you can from that field and learn the details of professional work. Then you can truly become great and fulfill as much as possible all your clients’ needs.

What happens if you don’t agree with this article

If you still think that schooling is the best option for you to become a designer and a fulfilling career in that field, I would suggest doing extended research on the various schools and programs available before deciding your best course of action. But remember, designing is a field were going to college is not a prerequisite to success. Getting a good job and career will be based mostly on your stills rather than your education.

A design school can certainly help you acquire some of the skills required to be a designer. However, you need to be truly passionate about design, whether you go to school or not and be ready to acquire new skills, or improve the ones that you already have, for the rest of your life. Another alternative to formal design school are online professional programs, which are more flexible in terms of schedule, so they might allow you to gain experience while you are learning.

If you decide that schooling is really the pathway for you, really spend time before deciding where you will go and don’t be fooled by the promises every school makes. Try to find the school that will truly help you achieve your goals; so know what it is you need to learn from formal schooling. Budget is also an important factor in deciding where you will perform your studies. If nothing really fulfill your needs, know that you always have the option of self-learning at least some of the skills that you will need.

If you are not willing to learn, no one will help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you

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  • Tyson Kingsbury

    While I absolutely agree with you that all the necessary disciplines of design are available to be learned outside of a formal design education (read – design school or college etc) I have yet to see very many people either use them effectively or get to a high level in the design field without some kind of formal education.

    You are right in saying that whether it be typography, composition or colour theory, you can learn it online, but how many are actively doing this?

    Most of the people over the years that I’ve spoken to that are ‘self trained’ have shown little understanding of the field…their only real skills have been a rudimentary understanding of a few tools like photoshop or illustrator.

    Anyone can learn to use some of the tools we have in the trade, as is shown by how often Adobe products are pirated, but the breadth of learning in school is really not to be equaled in self-study.

    In college you are often put outside your comfort zone and forced to work on projects or in classes that aren’t necessarily in your wheelhouse. You get exposed to different teachers with different perspectives on design. You get a chance to work with other students that can challenge you. You can shore up weaknesses in your own work by being exposed (on a daily basis) to those around you that have mastered something you haven’t. None of these things are really possible to someone that is sitting alone in their house or apartment and going it alone.

    It’s not that it’s impossible. Certainly it’s possible.

    We live in a time now when just about everything one would want to know is freely available somewhere online. tutorials, explanations, showcase studies etc etc.

    So, of course it’s possible.

    It’s just that, without timetables, marks, expectations from parents that are footing the bill, other students looking at you like you are possible competition or possible collaborators….
    well…it’s still possible…

    Just a bit unlikely.