What You Discover After Finishing Design School

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I went to design school, and if you did as well, you may be wondering if you made the right decision, especially when the bills start piling up and the debts keep pouring in. It is important to invest in education but in truth, design school does relatively little to prepare you for the working world in the cutthroat design industry (actually almost all industries are cutthroat – it is a competitive world out there).

What you learn in school may have taken years to master, but at the end of the day, it contributes only a small part to your “real design education”. In reality, the things you will learn out of school will dwarf anything you learned in school.

But you will eventually realize that upon leaving school, along with a few other things, which include:

Design school was just for learning

In design schools, you learn the skills that help you enter the job market but to survive and thrive in your job is a different story altogether. That’s right: you’re not learning the things you really need in order to have a successful career, or even how to figure out how to get your foot in the door for an entry-level job.

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Sure, you learn the basics of design, but that’s usually not enough to ensure that you can perform whatever tasks you will be asked to do by clients or art directors. Design schools are not at fault though. It’s hard to cut 10 different designs from the same cloth unless you have the specifics in mind on how to make each cut.

Until you know what sort of career you want to have, no amount of schooling will be able to help prepare you for it. So far, in school, you basically learn how to learn and even then the problems are pretty textbook and predictable, hardly a good representation on how things work in real life, which brings us to…

Real training starts with the job

You learn more in your first year out of school than in the past 4-6 years you spend in school. In school, your biggest worry is probably if you could get the assignment done in time, or if your presentation will take off without a hitch.

When you are working, however, you have to deal with demanding bosses or clients, deadlines that don’t get readjusted at your will, difficulties in retrieving payments in time for you to pay the rent and keeping up with changing trends in web design.

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Even if you worked your way through school, there’s a difference between having a “job” to pay the bills, and actually working to build a career that will last the rest of your life. The only way you are going to learn this difference and be able to ride the waves of the real design industry, whether in-house at a firm, or on your own as a freelancer, is if you actually leap in and start working.

Designers need to write as well

At some point, you’re going to be asked to write copy, especially if your client has a small budget. Designers don’t just make things look pretty, after all, so don’t fill up design mockups with lorem ipsum text. You are expected to communicate with your target users, and that takes writing. Improving your writing skills allows you to write not only for computers or code but for human eyes.

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The good news is when you write, you don’t have to be an expert. All you have to do is write in a natural tone, similar to how you would speak to your users, just not too casual either. So long as you don’t try to be too academic or dry, a simple, straightforward voice that is helpful and engaging will get your point across far more easily.

Try not to ramble or use too many big words that are intended to impress but could only confuse people.

You’re gonna have to kill your designs

Your designs may be precious for you but if they don’t work or the project gets canceled, you’ll be asked to go all ninja on your work and kill it. Unfortunately, in school, there’s way less emphasis on this than there should be. Everything you make as a student is praised post-scrutiny. However, that’s not the way it works in the real world.

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You need to develop a thick skin and be willing to kill any design you create, no matter how much you love it. If something isn’t working, then it’s not working, no matter how many hours you put into it or how much sleep you missed out on. The sooner you accept and embrace the ‘kill your darlings’ mentality, the quicker you will adapt to the demands of the industry.

There are, however, many other ways you can use your rejected or shelved designs and make them work for you. As the saying goes, the road to success is paved with failure. If you don’t fail at anything, you will never succeed at anything either.

What do you think?

Education doesn’t end with graduation; it starts there. What do you think about the things you learn in design school? Is there too much emphasis on academics and not enough on real education? Tell us what you think in the comments.

For more on the paradox of learning:



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