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What I Wish I Had Learned In Design School

design | fun | December 13, 2010 | 0 Comments

designschoolI had a great time in college and value the education I received from the Northern Arizona University School of Communication. We learned about color, typography, computer software, the value of starting with paper and pencil, and design fundamentals. I had a great foundation to build upon. Now, I realize they can’t teach you everything while in school, there are many things that you just have to learn on your own, in the real world. You can’t teach what it’s like to work with real clients. But there are a few things that I do wish I had learned in school, a few life lessons that I hope today’s graduates will learn too.

Designing requires you to do some teaching.

This was a lesson I learned pretty quickly once I started working one on one with people. Many people don’t know how to articulate what they are looking for in a design, and it’s important that designers know how to ask the right questions in order to figure it out with them. I’ve found that educating clients is a great way to help them understand why certain things aren’t in their best interest or what dark colors might say about their company.

Designing for the client doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it.

In school, it seemed we painted a picture of what working with real clients would be like. They wouldn’t let us do cool things, we weren’t going to be able to push the envelope, etc. These aren’t true at all. Every client is different, but I find that you can still learn with every project as well as try new things that will fit in with what they are looking for. Some clients want really different and cool designs, while others may want something more classic and minimalist. However most still appreciate good design and want something that represents them well.

The design world is ever-changing and involves lots of continual education.

I learned much more in the first 2 years out of school than I did in the 4 years I was there. Learning by doing is much more powerful than just hearing about it. Web standards are always changing, there are new javascript languages to learn, new techniques to try. The design world isn’t boring and certainly doesn’t slow down once you leave college.

There are so many different types of design, you don’t have to stick with just 1 genre.

I’ve added many skills to my repertoire over the years, offering more services to my clients. In school, we had to specialize in one area or at least focus on one thing at a time. These days, on any given day I will work on a website design, do some sketches for a logo, and code an HTML email template. It’s the variety that makes it fun and interesting.

Design projects in the real world can’t take months, clients usually only have days or weeks.

We had so much time to complete projects in school, but this isn’t practical for a real client. Multiple projects are going on at the same time and they all need to be completed quickly. Balance is something that’s learned over time, but most people want things just as quick as you can do them. Coming up with fresh and new ideas quickly is a great and necessary skill to have.

The best advice I received from a professional while I was in school was that you can’t learn everything you need while in class. You need to subscribe to design magazines, read blogs online, get involved in clubs, seek out professionals to learn from, do an internship. Don’t just do the minimum requirements, but strive to learn more, be better than your peers.

My advice to any design students out there is to learn as much as you can and do as much designing as you can. Also, find some real clients and start doing some freelance work on the side. That is the best way to learn and the best experience you’re going to get, through actually working with real clients. When you’re done with college, you’re not just competing with your classmates anymore, but you’re competing to win the approval of your clients and colleagues. The more experience you have, the better prepared you’ll be.


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