On Design Education

Century Tower at University of Florida

Century Tower at University of Florida

Design is a weird industry. Choosing a design school and course of study is important and the options for education are more varied than ever. Some schools have such a competitive acceptance rate that you need to be a designer already just to get into the program. Other education models such as General Assembly or Code Fellows are immersion programs that train you up to the industry’s ever-evolving demands. 

What makes design a difficult industry is it is not regulated like medicine or architecture. What determines success is responsiveness of customers which is often a black swan. Who knew Facebook would be the powerhouse it is today? 

For my own education, I was trained in the basics of photography, the Adobe Suite and basic web design at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida. It was a basic graphic design program that taught me the ropes but certainly did not prepare me for the competitive grind of the job market. I also attended the University of Florida and received a Bachelors in Film and Media Studies. What a fabulous study! I learned to break down films and interpret the meaning of images in 16-page theory essays. This again didn’t land me a job per se. 

So how to make the break into the job market with a design education? While Academia is a wonderful learning ground, it does not bridge into the industry as effectively because of the catch 22 in most job descriptions. Must have 2 years experience! 

Why is this? 

Learning is always behind innovation. The transition from being a student to an employee is to change the mentoring process on its head and take on the attitude that no one is coming. No one is coming to tell you that the paper is due or that you need to write a paper in the first place. You are the one! You are now the teacher who tells yourself your own assignments. You are the leader who says why don’t we try this?! Don’t know how to do it? Discover a way!

When I realized this I became a designer. The designer of my life, my career and it lead me down the path toward merging learning and applying. I had buy-in with clients and employers because I was not dependent on anyone to tell me how to start a project and I stopped being afraid of what I didn't know. It also helped me understand, that for a designer, school is never really over. Learning is not something that stops with a certificate.