Top 10 Design Questions from Students

Top 10 Design Questions from Students

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Top 10

A current discussion on Speak Up at the moment is on the top 10 design questions that design students ask. I would love to hear the answers to these questions from Just Creative Design readers.

To read what others have already answered check out the discussion on SpeakUp.

  1. I can’t draw at all, so will that hurt my chances of succeeding as a designer?
  2. Why do I have to know the differences between Helvetica, Arial, and Univers?
  3. Is it true that I have to know Quark?
  4. What’s wrong with downloading illegal copies of software because I can’t afford to buy them as a student?
  5. How long should my resume be?
  6. Should I work for free just to get some experience?
  7. Will I have to leave (the city where I live) in order to get a job?
  8. How do I get work as a freelancer right out of school?
  9. What if a job description asks for print and interactive design experience, but I don’t have interactive experience?
  10. Can I get a job working in the video game industry by learning about graphic design?

Some other questions that I always hear from students:

  1. How much does a graphic designer earn?
  2. Should Designers design their resume?
  3. What’s the difference between an art director and a creative director? Check out Designer Job Definitions.
  4. Where can I get design inspiration?
  5. How do you price a graphic design job?
  6. What advice would you give to a starting graphic designer?

My favourite reply reply to the first 10 questions above was by Greg Scraper.

1. I can’t draw at all, so will that hurt my chances of succeeding as a designer?
I don’t think it hurts, but it certainly helps. You don’t necessarily need to be able to produce Rembrandts, but being able to draw helps frame an idea, and keeps you from having to flesh out the whole thing on the computer to find out it doesn’t work as well as you hoped. In my experience, being able to visualize what you want and drawing it are two really similar things, so it may turn out that you can draw, and just lack the patience for it.

2. Why do I have to know the differences between Helvetica, Arial, and Univers?
Knowing letterforms is what we do. Especially if you “can’t draw,” you have to be able to at least appreciate differences in letterforms. A designer who can’t draw and doesn’t know type doesn’t have many marketable skills left to fall back on.

3. Is it true that I have to know Quark?
Having at least a rote knowledge of Quark is good; knowing InDesign, however, is key. Your first job isn’t likely to have you drawing in Illustrator all day or only retouching photos. Most likely, you’re going to end up doing prepress or resizing ads or typesetting, all of which requires InDesign (for at least the foreseeable future).

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4. What’s wrong with downloading illegal copies of software because I can’t afford to buy them as a student?
That is a moral issue that is up to the individual, however, I feel like charging kids an extra $1000 on top of classes, books, printing and lab fees is patently ridiculous. Adobe ought to figure out something that keeps kids from having to resort to file-sharing software just to make it through school. Maybe some sort of program not unlike a student loan, where the fees aren’t charged until after the student’s out of school.

5. How long should my resume be?
How many places have you worked? What’s the format? I made my first resume 4C, front and back, 5″x5″, diecut, and trifold just to be different. Screw the 8.5″x11″ white paper. But it is nice to have one of those on hand too.

6. Should I work for free just to get some experience?
No. Any place that will take your work for free to make a profit will take it for at least a nominal fee. Don’t get in the habit of devaluing design. Pro-bono is a different matter.

7. Will I have to leave (the city where I live) in order to get a job?
Take a good hard look at the ratio of design graduates per year vs. viable job opportunities. Decide if you have all the necessary skills to compete in whatever market you’re in. If you’re in a town with an average of eight new positions per year with fifty new graduates per semester from three different colleges, them ain’t good odds. Go look elsewhere, or get involved with someplace like Aquent that will help build your skills to make you more competitive.

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8. How do I get work as a freelancer right out of school?
Know anyone who needs a good designer? Or get involved with someplace like Aquent, that will help build your… wait, I’ve said this before. Though Aquent does take a fair chunk, so getting your own work is preferred.

9. What if a job description asks for print and interactive design experience, but I don’t have interactive experience?
Don’t lie. Though sometimes, the “Fake it ’til you make it” mantra will work, since generally the place asking for both doesn’t know much about either. For the most part, however, the two have grown apart so much that it’s not really possible to be good at both.

10. Can I get a job working in the video game industry by learning about graphic design?
I don’t know, can you get a job as an airline pilot by learning about cruise ships? I do, however, work down the street from EA and know a little about how they hire, and they have a fairly rigorous training method that involves taking classes in their internal school and being a video game tester (not in the fun way) for a period before you can even think about getting in on the design aspects of the games. And even those jobs are competitive.

Please leave your answers to some or all of the above 15 questions.

23 thoughts on “Top 10 Design Questions from Students”

  1. 1. I can’t draw at all, so will that hurt my chances of succeeding as a designer?

    I believe it will. I am a strong believer that if you do not have the artistic ability to draw, then you do not have the artistic ability to design. It’s all about having that natural ability and using the correct side of your brain! I am sure there are designers that are successful and cannot draw a stick figure, but I imagine the number of those that can draw greatly out number those that can’t.

    Art is art. It’s as simple as that. Graphic Design is the modern day charcoal on paper. If you’re a guitarist and can’t play Hendrix, then you probably aren’t great with Nirvana.

    Brian Yerkes’s last blog post..Leading Logo Designers All In One Book – LogoLounge 4

    • I want to disagree with you; but the question is stated in a bit over-the-top manner, which means you might not be saying what I think you are. Are we talking about drawing logo thumbnails, or drawing illustrative works that can stand alone as artwork?

      At any rate I believe an artist is not the same as a graphic designer. An artists creates works of art on different mediums. Graphic designers at the core, solve problems. The artistic ability to draw doesn’t effect ones ability to solve problems. Graphic designers take and arrange various unrelated objects into a cohesive whole, which in most cases includes works of art from traditional artists.

      Based on the notion that not having the artistic ability to draw means you do not have the “artistic” ability to design is like saying a person cannot be a room decorator and have the ability to arrange, or design if you will, a room if they do not have the ability to manufacture the various elements they have to work with; tables, chairs, pictures, rugs, and so on.

      So while I do think artistic ability can help depending on what you want to do, lack of artistic ability in no way hinders a graphic designer.

  2. Harrison,
    Yes the software is a bit out of hand however there are alternatives out there for students that are under the $100 mark. Adobe also offers a small discount for students (hardly enough though).

    Hi Brian,I would have to mostly disagree with you there, . I know it is a key part in illustration but in general graphic design who says you need to be able to draw? People can have the natural ability of design but not drawing.In regards to your Hendrix comment…If you’re a designer and can’t draw, your probably aren’t great with illustrating 😛

  3. These are some great questions and I’m going to pick up your tag on this. Greg had some good answers too.

    One thing I do have to say is the cost of software is out of control, even for those of us who are not students. I’ve been thinking of ditching my PC for a Mac, but with all the graphics software I’d be spending as much as I would on the computer as I would on the software (if not more).

    Harrison McLeod – Men with Pens’s last blog post..How to be Cool with Your Network Contacts

  4. I am often surprised when people say they can’t draw. Pick up a pencil, a mouse or whatever and start drawing – the more you do it the better you will get at it. Keep looking at few tips and techniques – no matter how good you get there always seems to be something new to learn.

    I think what people who say they can’t draw are really saying is that they feel they can’t draw in the same style as or as good as [place artist name here] but I think the key thing is to find your own style and practice practice practice.


    Jason Slater’s last blog post..Windows XP SP3 is on the way

  5. Jacob,

    I am glad you too found this article interesting, particularly the comments. Thanks for the link as well!

    Zinni’s last blog post..Should Graphic Designers Design their Resume?

  6. Of course not! I look forward to it. I have been enjoying those articles and I have just done my 2nd ever illustration for my uni class this year. I will be posting my work up this week some time but be warned its nothing special 😛

  7. Is it too late to answer these questions on my blog? 😀 Look for mine next Wednesday! (Esben is still hogging my Monday spot with his Illustrator articles! Hehe)

    LaurenMarie – Creative Curio’s last blog post..Can’t Afford Photoshop? Try The GIMP! It’s Free!

  8. hello…

    this is a 19 yr old girl callled ashwini… i hav taken advertising & graphic designing as my career… i hav just finished my first sem.

    your articles are very helpful to me… it made me to think in the right direction….

    but i would like to learn more about basics of designing… so would like to know more about
    concepts and sites which are useful.. & some good link which might help me to develop my designing sense…

    and i am very new to this blogging n postin comments.. this is my first post..

    hope u get time to reply to my post….

    thank u….

  9. Hi! Great post, as always, keeping the high level of the site.
    Regarding the questions by themselves…
    1- I feel that you need to draw as much as you need to comunicate. If you need to explain a stand for an exhibition, a poster, a flyer, a site, the main idea needs to be explained first to you and then to the costumer. No need for Rembrandts! (Go tell that to my teachers!) However I don’t understand design as a form of art. For me design follows a function, a goal.

    2- Type! I like type, a lot. However those fonts are all sans-serifs, you need to know a little better than that. You need to know how to «mingle» (hope it makes sense this word) them in the work in order to achieve your goal.

    3- Although I don’t know Quark either, it isn’t teached in my school, just InDesign, I also believe, never asked my schoolmates their opinion, that you should know as much as possible. I think that I will learn Quark for myself, just to be able to understand more software, an, who knows, to work for someone that says «You need to know Quark to work here!».

    4- Since this is more and more a monopoly situation, by Adobe, and since for the cost of life here in Portugal, I must admit that illegal copies, for students (just for students) are a comon form of having the software quite cheaply. I have an original copy of Photoshop 6, but can’t upgrade nowadays because so many versions came up since then, and can’t, yet, afford to buy them. However free software, like GIMP and others, are a good way to solve this problem. Must also admit that I didn’t installed none on my machine since they appeared, and you understand why… If I go to work, as a freelance, and need to develop work and don’t have legal copies, you can bet with me that I will certainly use free software!

    5- For the resume, don’t really know yet, I am developing my portfolio right now, didn’t considered it yet. But some lines, at least, a curriculum with your experience, both professional and academic, never including social numbers, like national insurance number, etc., only providing them when getting the job itself.

    6- Told from several teachers, in the beggining, unfortunatelly, you will probably will work for free some times. Not for an employer. 8Thats «unpaied overtime! Ehehe) But some work for friends, etc., however, nowadays, you can access some sites, like 99designs, and I don’t earn nothing promoting them, just competition, participating in contests, etc. and creating a bigger and completer folio, wether or not you win any of them.

    7- Most likely you will need to leave. Often people want to get a job «at the end of their home street» and that is probably unlikely. If you are able to create your own job, you might get lucky, but even then the market may be flooded with competition. Good advice on the topic answer.

    8- Network. It is the best option, to get to know people, and to check sites like I mentioned above and the topic itself.

    9- I never considered to lie in a job. It is only bad for you. If you get caught you might not get good perspective in getting jobs in other places… Keep up learning other stuff if you really want to say you can do both. Some good offers might slip, but your conscience will profit, I think…

    10- Never considered that point of view… I always thought that I would really would be able to work in the gaming business with my skills, ehehhehe! But I believe it can be that hard, or even more.

    Sorry for the long post, this was just a small point of view of each question…

    Márcio Guerra

    P.s.- Thanks for the free type book, I think I have never answered you! Quite good!

  10. I know it’s been a long time since this article as been put online/updated, but I’m pretty sure that readers actually come and read it pretty often.
    I have been working as a Graphic Designer/Design manager for the past 5 years and I’m currently puting together all the online elements to launch myself in the freelance business. As I came across those questions/answers I wanted to give my feedback on this particular one:

    1.I can’t draw at all, so will that hurt my chances of succeeding as a designer?

    If today you are trying to pursue the carreer as a designer, it is most likely that you have some creative skills. Drawing like everything else is something you can learn. I started with very very knowledge of drawing and as I practiced and learned through fashion design school I got better. I even remember a fellow student of mine who didn’t draw better than a stick figure at the very beginning of the program but who had great ideas to express. By the end of our Bachelor, her drawing skills had tremendously improved, and in the mean while she had found other way to express her creativity (collage mostly).
    So if you want to have a successful carreer as a designer, first question you should ask yourself, is why? and how passionate you are about it? Passion is the very FIRST thing you need! Drawing skills yes are important, but if you are really passionate about working as a designer, passion will get through a drawing class (whichever form it takes, online class, school courses, there are so many ways to learn how to draw nowadays. Find which ever way is more appropriate for you!)

    • I agree Marjorie – I personally would say that I can’t “draw” like an illustrator but I can still get the ideas across and execute them. It won’t hinder you if you “can’t draw”.

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