Self-education is always a good investment. by John Robinson | November, 2022

Success in the design industry, like any other, requires a strong curiosity

A woman with a tablet and laptop, looking at several design inspirations and drawing something on a table.
Photo by Antoni Shakraba

If I find myself on your operating table, or at the mercy of your defense in the courtroom, I hope you go to college especially to do those things. And the better the school, the better I probably feel about it.

But if I’m interviewing you for a design position, I’m less concerned with where that diploma came from – where that education took place – or if it represents a BA, BS, BFA, or WTF. . We are not making life or death decisions in this profession.

Don’t get me wrong: a good education is a must in the design world,

Design is everything I’ve ever done, and I’ve really wanted to do ever since I took my first design course. But I was only formally trained as a print designer. Since then, my career has been diverse, following a path that has taken me in many different directions. I’ve worked in everything from human-centered, agile product design to customer experience design to service design.

And I didn’t study any of these special abilities in class.

But I’ve continued to train my eye and my brain throughout my career where I can lean into things and stretch myself to pick up new skills.

As the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA famously said, “Whether I went to school or not, I would always read.”

I often tell my students that today when someone asks me to design a logo, or consumer packaging, or even a website, I don’t get as excited about it as I used to be. I’ve been there, done that. But the day I get an email that says, “Can you design a chair for me?” The day will come when I will insist: “Yes, I can!”

Why? Because this is something new. it’s a challenge. And I have confidence in my ability to apply my skills, and I need it, to run it well.

No matter where you are reading this, you are living at the height of the information age. thinking about him. You can find everything you want to know with a quick Google search, and there’s a bottomless amount of information available to you at all times. Information like: how to write solid SEO for a website, how to create screen transition animations for an app, and maybe even how to design a sleek-ass chair.

I hate to burst your bubble – especially if you just wrote a rough check to a university – but there is so much design knowledge that it can be found online as easily as in the classroom. A quick search for any tutorial topic on YouTube will return hundreds of results, displaying a variety of opinions and perspectives. Educational platforms like Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning offer thousands of deep-dive courses in specialized subjects, and at a much more affordable cost than typical college tuition.

Many people are reading books inside a library
And don’t forget your local library. Photo by Pixabay.

It’s probably safe to say that there is an e-learning course for everything. And, in my opinion, design teachers should be inclined to supplement coursework on those resources (even outside the classroom). That way, they can spend more time with students developing analytical problem-solving skills, and less time focusing on technology.

Because in case you haven’t figured it out by now: Photoshop prowess doesn’t equal design prowess.

No matter where you are reading this, you are living at the height of the information age. thinking about him. You can find everything you want to know with a quick Google search, and there’s a bottomless amount of information available to you at all times.

But it is not logical to rely on the Internet as your only source of design knowledge. Hanging out at the dribble all day won’t give you the skills you need to make it or the equipment to help you develop your career in a valuable way.

There is a fine line between the things you have to be taught and the things you can learn quickly on your own.

If you know – for a fact – that you want to pursue a career in design, you should 100% go to design school. Duration. As long as you can afford it. That way, you’ll gain fundamental practical training and begin building a portfolio – the essentials if you want to get your foot in the door.

Design school will push you out of your comfort zone to try new things and help you understand what you like and don’t like; What works and what doesn’t. More importantly, you will learn how to work with other people and start building networks. And, hopefully, you’ll learn to manage deadlines.

Your design school of choice should provide you with an excellent overview of design history. Knowing what people have done, what they are doing now and what they are referencing is an important step towards making sense of design. If you plan on breaking the rules one day, you need to at least know what they are and why they exist.

Post-it Notes With Sketches On Them
Continue to build practices and habits outside of the classroom. Photo by Pixabay.

In my opinion, instructor-led education is priceless. It will help you sharpen your mind and teach you how to approach problems. However, any school is only capable of equipping you with the basic skills before sending you into the real world. It’s up to you to continue building those skills once you get there.

Good teachers can motivate you, but they should also encourage you to learn independently. And it also helps to have excellent trainers and sponsors who are willing to give you access to everything you’ve learned about your career.

Finally, suppose you view learning as merely a passive process that depends on the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student. In that case, it is unlikely that you will continue important learning habits even after you leave school.

Newton said, β€œAn object of rest tends to remain at rest.” So the path to new knowledge often begins with getting your ass off the couch and exploring it.

The truth is that many people come naturally to all of these things. Some are better able to learn by doing independently, researching, and observing. These are the people who can be their own gurus; his own professor.

As the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA famously said, “Whether I went to school or not, I would always read.” If this sounds like you, you’re probably already on your way to developing your skills and knowledge about design (and other things) on your own time, without the need for encouragement or direction.

So, as much as I am “pro-design school”, I am even more “pro-education”. I believe that everyone needs to constantly feed their mind and strive to learn new things regardless of profession or personal interests. And luckily, most self-directed learning today can be done when you want it, how you want it.

We hear – more and more – that those diplomas are not as valuable today as they used to be. But that doesn’t negate the fact that being successful in design requires a ton of education.

Either way, learning in this field should never stop, and you should never be satisfied that no matter how much knowledge is enough.

There is always more to discover: new devices, new digital habits, new consumer expectations. Without a constant dedication to learning, the pace of change in the design industry will leave you behind. Just ask anyone studying paste-up and phototypesetting techniques in design school, right before computers fundamentally change the industry and turn those fundamentals into relics.

Design school is not the only way to become a designer or stay relevant in the design profession. Whatever you study in school (or whether you went to school, such as RZA), the most valuable skill you can acquire is the ability to engage with new subjects and apply that knowledge to a variety of problems. desire. With a mindset to tackle problems that draw from multiple disciplines. The sooner you can do it, the better.

Either way, learning in this field should never stop, and you should never be satisfied that no matter how much knowledge is enough.

Understanding the concept of “learning to learn” may be the most important outcome of your design education. It is a more valuable tool than technical proficiency or a strong portfolio. A coworker of mine often says, “You never learn something you don’t want to learn.”

So it is up to you to become a self-learner. Make this skill a priority, and you’ll have a long (and hopefully successful) career.

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