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The Value of Education in Design

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Education In Design

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey.

I’m all for determined do-it-yourself careers. There is something almost awe inspiring about strapping on your boots and thrusting yourself into a competitive career with only your experiences and the world as your teacher. It really takes courage to take a passion and simply say, “I am going to do this for a living.”

We have software! Who needs skills?

Unfortunately, far too many aspiring designers get caught up in the dreamy ideals of do-it-yourself career building and try to throw themselves into the design world. They spend thousands of dollars on high-end design software and equipment, thinking that only these tools and their determination (and perhaps a little help from blogs and other internet educational resources) will allow them to stand toe to toe with the design giants of the internet.

Then you try your hand at designing. You hit a few brick walls. And then a few more brick walls. And soon you start to wonder, after having spent thousands of dollars on equipment, whether designing is really your innate passion or life skill. Trust me, it takes longer to come to this realization than the period in which you can return all your expensive gear at full price.

Why Education Is the Better Investment

Rather than spending all of your time and money on figuring out how to use your gear or even determining if design is right for you, I recommend putting that time and money into design education. This will help you in so many ways:

  • Opens options, gives advice and direction

While there are a good number of online resources out there for designers, finding and knowing how to use them is another thing. Design courses will save you countless potential hours that you would have spent researching online. More importantly, design courses assure you that you’re researching something that would actually be helpful and practical to your design career.

  • Networks you with other designers

An design educator is a valuable reference for finding work, especially straight after soon. Not to mention, you’ll be attending classes with plenty of other designers who could possibly use your skills for their own projects or network you with some of their previous clients.

  • Finds you more design work

In addition to the networking, taking classes in design will also help you land design jobs, freelance or in a firm. Of course a degree will help you even further, but even just a few courses can go a long way.

  • Helps you decide what equipment you need

It’s definitely possible to buy some design equipment or software that you ultimately don’t need. Design classes will give you an idea of which design tools are most effective for your design style.

  • Qualifies you for discounts on equipment

You only need to be enrolled in a single class at a higher institution of learning to qualify for a great number of education discounts on both design software and hardware. Some discounts cut prices in half, which is huge for equipment ranging in the thousands of dollars. Do be careful of licensing restrictions as many do not allow you to work commercially.

  • Qualifies you for work & Visas abroad

If you love traveling and have the income to support it, you can take design classes abroad with a student visa. Better yet, once you take enough courses to earn a degree, you can qualify for a work visa in countries such as the US, Japan, or the UK.

  • Doesn’t have to break the bank

While you can spend a lot of money for an education in design, you don’t necessarily have to. You can take courses online or at a community college and still receive valuable information about the career. Not to mention you will still be eligible for educational discounts. Some countries are much cheaper than others so do your research to find out what’s best for you.

With all of these benefits, there is no excuse to at least take one or two design courses, so you can at least find out if your heart really is in the skill. If you find out that design is not your life’s calling, at least you didn’t waste any more time and money than you had to.

What’s your opinion on design education? Necessary? Recommended?

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for BestCollegesOnline.com. She welcomes your comments below.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock ( Zadorozhnyi Vikto)



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38 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Odt Ukoge Reply

    I agree with you on a few select point.

    There is no denying that any form of higher education allows a student to network and find opportunities that would otherwise be difficult to find.

    Depending on where you go, whether it be a technically driven school, or a theoretical one, there is something to be said for the environment and the value that is inherit in that.

    I disagree with the rest of what you wrote.

    >> Opens options, gives advice and direction:

    No. No no no. There are two types of design schools that I’ve already skimmed over. Either you’re going to a theoretical (read: out of date) university, or a technical college. The technical colleges just spit out designers who can use the tools but don’t know anything about design, so what’s the point? The designers that come from the theoretical schools have a good sense of things like the grid, typography (maaaybe, probably not), color, etc. But they have no idea how to apply those properly when designing.

    Bottom line: very few designers graduating today are ready to enter the workforce. They simply are lacking essential core skills required for the job. I didn’t even mention pricing practices, managing client relations, etc. None of this is covered in schools.

    >> Finds you more design work

    Depends on the kind of work you’re looking for. Want spec work? Universities and colleges often pass outside requests onto their students. Hell, the school I attended printed spec work inquiries on a newsletter, and the Dean of education sent mass emails to Design students. Then there is “community work”, or to be clear, spec work done en mass. This is not the sort of thing new designers should be taking part in, but if it’s part of your education, you can’t put up a stink and recite AIGA guidelines.

    >> Helps you decide what equipment you need

    How do classes do this? The more work you do the more refined your needs become. In schools they tend to require or ask students to work in a variety of programs they’ll never use in their professional careers.

    >> Qualifies you for discounts on equipment

    Yes, let’s pay 10K a year or more for discounts. Wait…

    >> Qualifies you for work & Visas abroad

    Now this is actually a major benefit, I have to agree here. Studying abroad for design is a huge benefit that a school provides. Not going to fight you on this one.

    >> Doesn’t have to break the bank

    Doesn’t have to, but a good school is also a good business. Meaning it’ll break your bank. You’ll be getting kind letters from the enforcers, I mean, student loan offices, for a while.

    I’m not saying high education is wasted for designers, but in a field like, say, web design, you’ll never be able to effectively teach that in a school environment. Few teachers are relevant as it is, it would require a highly active working professional to teach web design competently, and I’ve yet to see that happen. Even seasoned design educations can agree they haven’t figured out how to teach design effectively yet. There is no “proven” method of design education. The few schools that do well and turn out incredible designers tend to have more than just a good education system.

    That’s my two cents at least.

  • Jason Vana Reply

    I don’t have a typical design education myself. Most of what I’ve learned in way of design, I learned from other designers who were doing it and taught me what they know. I am considering taking a few classes to learn what they might not have shown me, and this post comes just at the time when I’m getting serious about pursuing some classes. While I know a lot, I think a few classes would help round out my knowledge and help in the long run.

  • Wes McDowell Reply

    I believe that its a question for each designer on an individual basis. Some people have the ability to teach themselves things that even the best art schools don’t really cover. Some people don’t possess that internal “motor” and thus would greatly benefit from the rigidity offered by going to a brick and mortar university. In my case, I did not finish school. Instead, I taught myself by simply doing, and learning things on my own as I went. My sister did go to a 4 year school, majoring in graphic design. There were many times that she called me to ask how to do something, because they never taught it to her. This is just my experience, but while I think it can be beneficial to most, I don’t think that a formal education is mandatory for everyone.

  • Wayne Reply

    Education is useful. Training and practice is more important.

    Becoming a designer is somewhat like learning to play the guitar. You can read hundreds of books about how to play a guitar, but that’s won’t make you a good guitar player. Nothing beats hands on experience.

    Years ago, I went to Savannah College of Art & Design to get my formal design education. I enjoyed my time there immensely. However, I have to be honest and say that I learned more on my own than I did in a classroom. At the time, the web was in its infancy. In today’s world there is an abundance of information online.

    My advice to anyone who wants to become a designer is to forgo a formal education until you have some basic skills. Make things. Complete one design tutorial per week for a few months. Find things you think look cool and practice by recreating them. Find someone who is a good designer and ask them to mentor you. Read a book or two on design.

    Sure, you’ll face obstacles and get frustrated. But the experience of trying to overcome those obstacles will make you better than anything you can learn in a classroom.

  • Rommel Castro A Reply

    1. Really ???
    2. you can use social network to do this
    3. not at all
    4. you can google it this
    5. i had worked with international companies and i have not a college degree

    i think this is something personal, personally i am really fine as autodidact learning from home
    but others ppl can’t learn alone, so they go to the college

  • Tsem Reply

    I think, it depends really on your location. In some countries, the webdesign industry is not yet something that professional.
    I live and work in Vienna, Austria. The word “Designer” is something, that is associated in German with “decoration; making beautifull”.
    That means, you can either be highgly technical educated, or making graphics. Being inbetween is ALLWAYS a self-chosen path. Because there is no international qualified education.
    And don’t forget, that there is no better learning, than learning because you really want it, from the bottom of your heart!

  • Bogdan Reply

    This is more or less chaos theory in my opinion. The success of a designer is influenced by many factors. Like it was said before, location is one of them. I had the same problem, in Romania there is no higher education in the field of web/graphic design, so I had to go abroad(Denmark) for a degree in this field. But even so, you rely on the experience of your teachers, and if they are just that, and have no presence in the real business, you won’t get too far.

    Even more importantly, talent plays a big part. Of course theory and design principles have their role, but some people just feel it, and get it even if they never took a class. If you don’t have passion, you can’t really break out of “safe” designs.

  • Yasmine Reply

    Having recently finished an MA in Graphic Design I would say that getting a proper design education is very valuable, not only in learning some key basics you just cant learn online but also to give you a more solid foundation when you do feel ready to go out an start applying for big design jobs. It really annoys me when these pretentious graphic designers (mostly uni dropouts) with no education in the field come and say that education is bullcrap. They might have learned all they know from reading online articles and doing online tutorials but the people behind their resources have an education, which is probably why they can offer these online services in the first place.

  • Alejandro Reply

    I love academics. Learning in general is beautiful to me. I actually went to school for two years to get an audio / music tech degree. By the end of it, I had learned tons about audio, signal processing etc. Great stuff, except that upon completion I promptly decided that audio was not for me. I don’t regret it though: I actually took some design and web development classes on the side and those classes are the ones that stuck with me, ultimately leading me to noodles my way into an ad agency, then a games company, then 18 glorious months of working from home (glorious but rigorous) and finally, 3000 miles away across the country, a music company!

    I might never have had the exposure to design without being in an academic environment. But key for me was exploring other avenues and broadening my education. So if you think you want to be a designer, even if you’re brimming with confidence, give school some real thought. It could confirm your love for design, or open you up to something you hadn’t considered, but night fall in love with.

  • Lauren Bailey Reply

    Hey Everyone,

    Thanks so much for your opinions and feedback. I think perhaps my article concluded a little more strongly than intended: “With all of these benefits, there is no excuse to at least take one or two design courses.” This was more intended for those who have not established themselves in any sort of design career and are just trying to get a general grasp of what design entails and whether it is right for them. Education is by no means a requirement to become a great designer, and there are definitely plenty of potentially bad/money wasting educational design experiences out there. That being said, education can be helpful, and I’ve seen countless cases of design and career advancement that seemed accelerated by a quality education. Previous educational experiences are not always the best cases of proof as the design educational industry is constantly maturing as the design industry itself is.

    @Odt Ukoge – I never meant to say that education was the most essential component of a design career. Of course work experience is a huge part of it, and anyone who expects to become a professional designer just with a degree and theoretical background would be sadly mistaken. I do disagree with your assessment on theoretical design schools, as many that I’ve observed were not out of date, provided relevant work opportunities for their students (not just spec work), and made practical demands that left graduates with impressive portfolios that display not only a good knowledge of design theory but a great sense of practical application. Of course not all educational institutions can guarantee these experiences, but you might be surprised how many can. Of course, there is still lots of room for growth and improvement in the design education industry itself; it is, after all, a fairly young and still developing branch of education.

    @Jason Vana – I’m glad my post may have helped you! It sounds like you are off to a great start in a design career, and I hope you find some relevant courses that improve your skills. Do as much research as you can; even ask to observe a class before enrolling if you can.

    @Wes McDowell – I couldn’t agree more! It really does depend on the designer. I mainly advocate it for those who feel lost or unsure of how or where to start in their design careers.

    @Wayne – I appreciate your perspective and your advice to other designers. Although I also think that the quality of art and design education has improved vastly since the internet’s infancy. There is definitely still room for maturation and relevancy in many programs, but others will save people lots of time and could potentially add depth and refinement to one’s work (good criticism is hard to come by for those self-taught).

    @Tsem – That is an exceptional point! Location is such a huge factor and could definitely come into play (or become a necessity) if you consider studying abroad.

    @Bogdan – Elegantly written. There is definitely a combination of factors that lead to the success of a designer, and a formal education is not a requirement. I also agree that it can even be detrimental if you use it as a crutch. You have to support your education with plenty of work and career experiences to make it as a designer.

  • Lauren Bailey Reply

    @Alejandro – Those were supposed to be hearts but the comments didn’t allow it. But seriously, I do love your whole-hearted value of academic education. <3

  • Shavanna Reply

    College isn’t for everyone, but going to college doesn’t determine whether or not you have talent. If you have the talent, the drive, and maintain a positive attitude you’ll succeed either way (that’s my theory), although without the degree it may be harder.

    I have a Bach. in Architecture, but decided to switch to Graphic Design, so really I’m self taught. Because of my major I did have some exposure to design elements, but after spending five years in college I’m not necessarily eager (or have the funds) to return. I’ve talked to other designers who’ve encouraged me to go for an internship (which I’m doing), but I do know that when I get one, I’m going to have to work twice as hard to figure out things that a formal education would have taught me.

    All in all, I’m for education but I do know that there are exceptions to every rule.

  • Mary Phillips Reply

    There is definitely value in a formal education, but I disagree that it’s a better investment. Whether or not you choose to learn in a classroom, or home/work setting, is a personal decision and dependent on individual circumstances.

    I am currently teaching myself Web Design, and made my decision based on the following factors:

    * Experience – I have three years experience working as a Webmaster. I trained myself on-the-job, understand the basics, and know what skills I lack.
    * Learning style – I’m a kinesthetic learner and am easily bored in a classroom setting.
    * Personality – I’m an introvert and learn much faster through individual study.
    * Budget – It’s necessary for any design student to invest in the “toys” of the trade. I am spending far less on books, video tutorials, and other development tools combined, than I would have on college tuition, plus textbooks, commuting, housing, etc.
    * Time – I don’t have to commute, take exams, or sit through unnecessary instruction. I am also not dependent on current course offerings – I can learn whatever I choose, at my convenience.
    * Life stage – I’m a middle-aged wife and mother of two teenagers. I felt that it was a little late in life, and selfish for me to pursue a formal education.
    * Motivation – I’m pursuing my passion. I know what I want and what I need to do to achieve my goals.
    * Qualified instructors – The quality of instruction online is far better than any I would receive locally.
    * Social Media allows me to network with others in my field. I’m confident that it won’t take long for me to find other web designers/developers in my area.

    I don’t have any desire to stand toe-to-toe with any design giants, but if I did, it wouldn’t be a battle over educational qualifications. A great designer must have talent, skills, and experience and should not be judged on their educational background.

  • Steve Hagerman Reply

    I loved your article.
    It is so dead on the point about what is wrong with the design market today.
    What is so funny is these people on here trying to talk down about the importance of a formal education yet they don’t have one to speak of.
    The huge problem is that the customer does not have the knowledge to know a good designer from a bad one unless it is blaringly obvious to them. Sometimes it is what you can’t see that causes the biggest problem to the customer and the success of their site.

    All they seem to know about design is that if you buy Adobe CS it can do this, or that for you, and how impressive all that is. That makes Adobe CS suite a great product for a great designer to use. It should not be a crutch for the uneducated.

  • Kaitlyn Reply

    When education and talent go together, I’m certain it will produce awesome results. While practice makes one perfect, you also need education to enhance and acquire new skills to become competitive.

    Good idea of bringing this topic up.

  • Virtual Agent Reply

    To determine yourself in design career is really interesting. For me formal education is important to have a better foundation, on how to put your knowledge into a practice and to master it. I totally agree, the techniques you’ve learned is applicable in your natural talent. Do you think there is another way on how to pursue your goal in webdesign career?

  • Courtney Reply

    I would say that education is good from a certain standpoint, but I am a self taught graphic designer and website designer with absolutely no schooling. Being the best at what you do is a matter of opinion.

    The one thing that school is good for is taking some snack money and steaks off the table for some time to come. No career is easy and you have to start somewhere. I have spent hours learning, listening, and performing tutorials that were offered online free to me. I did spend my money purchasing books for learning but nothing near a financial loan i have to payback.
    The one thing I did do was go to school for business, so I could learn marketing techniques and other business essentials.
    You can go to school but I don’t feel it is neccessary.

  • Alicia Reply

    I got a creative writing degree but spent high school and college learning web design/front-end development as a hobby, and because of my web design work I was able to get a job as a web developer at a nonprofit after graduation (in December 2010).

    It’s not where I expected to end up but I love the industry and I’m currently working on improving my design skills to transition to more of a web design/graphic design path. I spend tons of time reading blogs and have started reading graphic design textbooks. I have had a pretty decent stream of freelance work (web design, book layouts, magazine spreads) through referrals. I would love to be able to get formal classroom training but I definitely can’t afford the time or the money, so I plan on continuing to learn on my own! With enough practice and patience anything is possible!

  • Brian Purkiss Reply

    She has some valid points, but I think a lot of them are… romanticized? If that fits. Those points are great in theory, but rarely work out in real life.

    I tried going down the education route – and it didn’t work, for many reasons. I’ll start by going down Lauren’s points with my experience on how they worked out.

    Idea 1: Opens options, gives advice and direction
    Reality: The US college education system is pretty messed up right now, and this shows particularly in the technology realm. Most college teachers are at least 4 years behind in technology. My Web professor was teaching very dated web strategies encouraging students to learn flash, and use dreamweaver – saying that learning how to use content management systems (like WordPress/Drupal/Magento) is a waste of time.

    Idea 2: Networks you with other designers
    Reality: Nope. I only had 1 teacher that was truly great at design and helped further my design/web career. The other teachers, if I had listened to them, would have hurt my carrer because I would be designing websites like I was living in 2005. Most of the students in all of my classes listened to the teachers, and subsequently were building dated websites in the first year of their design education. And that’s only if the students actually cared about what they were doing.

    Idea 3: Finds you more design work
    Reality: The chances of your school helping you get a /good/ job varies greatly depending on the quality school you go to and the school’s location. Both of which greatly increase the cost of education, pushing you further and further into debt before you ever start with a job.
    Also, nowadays, design/web firms seem to care less and less about your diploma and more and more about what you have actually done. Furthermore, if you have done something for a real client, it carries many many times more weight than if you had done it for a class project.

    Idea 4: Helps you decide what equipment you need
    Reality: True. But, so does research on programs, current technology, etc. John Doe doesn’t need to pay a college thousands and thousands of dollars for them to tell him what equipment he needs. All they ever say is the Adobe Creative Suite anyways. John can ask me the same question for free and I’ll give him a very detailed response on which programs I believe to be the best and why — and I know most/all of my colleagues are the same way.

    Idea 5: Qualifies you for discounts on equipment
    Reality: Yay? I spend thousands and thousands of dollars to save a few hundred dollars! That’s more of a perk of going to college, not a reason to go to college. And as the author pointed out, all you need to do is enroll in one class, may not even have to attend a single class, and then buy all of the programs/hardware. But everyone already has a computer, and I don’t recommend using the Adobe Creative Suite anyways, aside from Photoshop and Illustrator. So enrolling in a single class for the discount wouldn’t be cost effective anyways.

    Idea 6: Qualifies you for work & Visas abroad
    Reality: That is a very valid point, but is only valid if you want to move out of the country which I’d imagine the vast majority of people don’t want to. I certainly don’t.

    Idea 7: Doesn’t have to break the bank
    Reality: If you have to get a loan and go into debt, then you’ve broken the bank. If you can get scholarships or financial aid to the equivalent of a full ride, then more power to you, and college is a more viable option to you then the rest of us commoners. Although I still don’t know how viable it is.
    4 years (or even 2 years) of interning for free at a web firm would be better for your carrer than paying college professors to teach you. First off, you wouldn’t be paying anyone at an internship, and you’ll likely have to get a side job if you go to college or intern. An internship would give you a real world portfolio as well as real world experience, which college gives you neither. And, an internship would be teaching you current technology and practices, not the dated practices and technologies they teach in most/all colleges.

    Another thing to consider.
    The design world is very competitive, student portfolios are a dime a dozen. Colleges make 4 designers for every 1 design job out there. (please don’t quote me on that last stat, I only vaguely remember it and can’t back up the actual numbers, just the principal.)

    Conclusion.
    I think college educations are counter productive if you wish to pursue a job in the design field and more specifically, the web field. You’re much better off being an unpaid intern at a well established firm for 4 years.

  • Steve Hagerman Reply

    They do not roll out a new version of HTML every year.
    Nor do they reinvent CSS that often either.
    Most users do not upgrade their browser that often either as well.

    The technology does not change that rapidly so the college you attended and education you obtained does have a good shelf life.

    You are mixing up the idea of marketing with that of design technology. Yes peoples perceptions and expectations change all the time. No design is timeless. A college degree won’t stop social change.
    It will give you a solid foundation and papers to prove that you deserve the job versus the person that is full of themselves that thinks they know enough.

    College is there to be the asset so that you don’t have to try and figure out how to reinvent the wheel. Instead of spending countless hours trying to figuring things out you get to learn how it is so supposed to be done from the get go.

    As for getting knowledge on what to get. Yes you can do your own research. That does not equate to someone that has actually used the technology hands on to tell you how to use it and what to expect and look out for. Most schools even provide you with the technology to use so you actually get to experience it for yourself.

    In college you can’t get away with ignorance. You have to be able to pass test and make decent enough grades, or you fail. When you are teaching yourself you decide alone what you think you should know.

    The reason you need college is that a good business will require it. They are not going to pay you to learn on their time clock.

    I actually did a job back three weeks ago where it was a site that needed a programmer to fix their site because of problems they were having.
    The project was being lead by someone that most likely was self taught. She was not very professional and didn’t know how to work with a programmer.
    I know don’t about every college but at mine you don’t get a degree unless you know something about programming. Everyone had to take introduction to computer logic.

    What you think things should be is different than the way things need to be.
    That is one of the problems the industry of web development is suffering from now. Anyone that gets the money to buy Adobe CS thinks they have what it takes to be a designer, and make web sites.

    College emphasises making designs that work and that people can understand.
    Self taught people tend to be too accepting of bleeding edge technology and new techniques and put the user experience last.
    What might impress other designers might not work well, or at all with the consumers.
    I had someone call me up for advice on how to use a site. The problem was not that they didn’t know how a form works. The problem was that the designer had replaced the submit button with a lengthy phrase with a non standard background Instead of a short and to the point button. No telling how many other consumers failed to complete the form because this designer was more interested in trying to impress themselves than produce a product that is guaranteed to work.

    I personally have done it both ways. I taught myself well before I went to school. While I could design websites. The knowledge I gained in college took me from being a good designer to a great designer able to accomplish any task within reason.

    I had the same worn out baseless arguments that have been hashed out here. You here them no matter what subject you’re talking about. You have those that didn’t attend a college talking down about how unimportant it is. Easy to say that when you didn’t go, or couldn’t make it to get your degree. Without the degree I can tell you that you’re only fooling yourself when you undervalue the importance of an education.
    It is not about what you can learn without going to college it is about how much more you learned because you did.

  • Bruno Moura Reply

    Amazing article here.
    Design is only a hobbie for me and articles are my books and teachers.
    This is a great contribute for newbies :)

    Thanks,
    Bruno Moura

  • tristan Reply

    I Agree and Disagree. Formal education CAN be very worthwhile, however some educators and courses are a complete and utter waste of time.

    Just like the designers who spend thousands on equipment and think they are ready to go, there are designers who spend thousands (or tens of thousands) on education and come out the other end with no clue what they are doing.

    it comes down to the individual, their drive and passion, and the way that THEY as individuals need to learn.

    While formal education is great for theory, nothing can beat hands on experience. As a designer you should NEVER stop learning. You will always be soaking up what you can from every resource.

    I would recommend any budding designer get some sort of formal education, IF it is available to them, and if it is from a reputable source. But I don’t think it is necessary to succeed as a designer. It’s just one of many resources you will be learning from in your career.

    Sidenote: “heldry metodológico” is one hell of a captcha. I had to open character map just to submit a comment!

  • Diana Hernandez Reply

    Design education is helpful and if you have the oportunity (go to a good design school) then that´s a plus. Design schools are not the same in every country as mine, so many designers are self taught, but no everyone care about quality design, using typesetting, colors, design process…

    I went to design school years ago and I learned the fundamentals of design, photography, visual communication and more, but I´ve learned more at work and working as freelancer too; reading books, practice and networking and having a decent portfolio is a must, also learning from the masters. But if I have the oportunity of back to desing college that would be great.

    Diana

  • Morgan & Me Creative Reply

    Well, education does equip you with the basics but sometimes it becomes easy to fall into the trap of ‘safe’ design. This happens when students continuously see easy to accept and fashionable design that everyone simply loves without question.

    I believe the whole journey as student is to not only equip yourself with the basics and at the same time, see how far you can push your creativity , rationalize and totally piss your lecturers off. In reality, if you were to be be an expert at copying fashionable work, it becomes very tiring since fads come and go real fast. You might eventually burn out and leave altogether.

  • Peter Hellers Reply

    As someone who’s looking to make a career change into web design, I’m going to speak specifically from that standpoint. From my own experience, going to a technical school, Odt Ukoge’s assessment is spot on. I learned applications, not concepts. I learned mockup, not advanced creative thinking. I didn’t even get to learn about the business of design, how one creates a creative brief for everything, etc. Because of that, I don’t think my school prepared me for the working world, and I’ve been stuck in a packaging production design job for the last 7+ years to pay the bills.

    I graduated in 2003, but my first experience with web design was with Dreamweaver and Flash 4 in 2001-2002. There was no such thing as a class that taught code or CSS where I went. Framesets and non-semantic markup abound. I cringe thinking about it. Moreover, the professor who taught the web design class, then vaguely titled Computer Graphics 3, was a 3-D specialist who just got the newest rapid prototyping machine of that time, so he was already preoccupied to the point he wasn’t doing his job properly, and when it came to learning Flash, you know what his teaching consisted of? Learning the tutorials that the program provided. That was the extent of my education regarding web design.

    I couldn’t afford to go back to school even a year after I graduated, and to be honest I can’t afford it now. So maybe I’m the hard luck case here, but being self-taught right now is the only solution I have. Incidentally I picked up on learning HTML and CSS on my own and have built a few websites on a freelance basis. The point about finding someone who you look up to and asking them to mentor you is a good one, probably the best option I have at this juncture. Case in point, I had my co-worker, our resident web designer, take a look at my site to see how I was doing. He said my code was solid, but it was lacking in the way of visuals, not enough graphics, etc. While that was exactly the response I was expecting, the reaffirmation that my school did not prepare me properly for effective design principles really disturbs me to no end.

    But instead of wallowing in self-pity, I’m trying to re-learn what I learned in college. Books and blogs such as this one have helped me immensely in trying to find my way. I know I’m not the typical case and given the opportunity I’d have done things very differently, but if the technical schools haven’t changed their way of thinking nearly ten years later, then the way the college system looks at art and design is in need of drastic change.

  • adam Reply

    awesome topic and diff for everyone hey!

    my belief is that a basic level of education is always great but hard core study is a waste of time 99% of the time because like Wayne said, you can only play the guitar by putting your hands on it. although im not a designer i’ve qualifications in IT, electrical trade, electronic engineering and also extensive $$ vocal coaching (that was a serious waste of money). in all cases understanding the fundamentals and working on that myself would have been better and save me lots of time and money….actually that’s essentially what a trade course is, 1 day a week in a class room, 4 in the field with a mentor / footy farting tradesman (and it works a treat: )

    saying that, i wish i did a proper business course before learning that aspect in the field, some serious hard lessons there if you’re unprepared.

  • Flyers Reply

    Firstly really nice article and interesting read with some nice points. I do believe that education is critical in any industry and even though there is lots of technology out there and learning steps online, I think education gives you not only the skills but more importantly the mindframe and real business/creative stratgeic thinking and approach. i also think that it is down to the person as well and a level of natural talent.

  • business coach Reply

    I totally agree with Printpac. I do feel there is a level of natural talent but one who knows a little about training and education, I think it is crucial and it does help develop not only your skills but you outlook, work ethic, approach and expectations. It allows you to have a greater level of organisation and control over your approach.

  • Courtney Reply

    But experience is the greatest teacher!

  • htmlcut Reply

    Agree with the author and Flyers, Business Coach and many others (thanks for informative and insightful comments!). “They spend thousands of dollars on high-end design software and equipment, thinking that only these tools and their determination (and perhaps a little help from blogs and other internet educational resources) will allow them to stand toe to toe with the design giants of the internet” – absolutely true. Recently we’ve tried to consider a similar issue in our post “PSD to HTML Tutorials – What Is Wrong With Them?” ( http://www.htmlcut.com/blog/psd-to-html-tutorials.html ) because for companies like our one this is to some extent a problem when hiring coders and designers. Your article supplements our arguments and adds new important points. Thank you!

  • Joe Kithome Reply

    I agree at some point,the formal education is important, but I would say the utmost important thing in creative designing is passion. I’ve seen many graduates who are awful designers and some extremely talented design works by people who never stepped into the college classroom. there is no creative if there is no passion.
    There is infinite potential in designing careers but it should be something that you love to do and also suited to do. The two are not the same

  • tishag Reply

    To me, going to school is so important . . . it doesn’t matter what field you want to work in, I think education is valued. I do believe that student need to do research into which school they attend to get “more bang for your buck” in a way. I have friends who graduated from FIDM and I’ve seen projects from the graphic design students and it’s super impressive what they teach the students! From creating movie posters to magazine covers. They really help students develop that designing eye that is super important in the real world.

  • Confidential Waste Disposal Reply

    Firstly very nice article, I agree with many of the comments but I also believe as mentioned that experience is key. Without experience you cant gain the skills required, you can learn them but as we all know theory is quite different to practice

  • Web Design Taiwan Reply

    Education isn’t just limited to institutions such as universities though –

    I’m pretty sure most of us who design / run design companies are on a continuous path of education whether we like it or not ;-)

    Thanks,
    David

  • EPOS Reply

    nice article,I believe experience is key. Without experience you cant gain the skills required, you can learn them but as we all know theory is quite different to practice

  • custom logo designer Reply

    Now this is actually a major benefit, I have to agree here. Studying abroad for design is a huge benefit that a school provides. Not going to fight you on this one.

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