Many get their start in the graphic design industry by heading right to design school. It gives you a leg up by adding to the resume and provides you some knowledge of design.

I never specifically went to design school. Pre-college I took numerous art and design after-school classes (including going to ID Tech Camp for 2 summers), but in college I largely studied journalism, media, psychology, and sociology. I was the go-to photographer / designer for the college newspaper’s graphics for 2 years, so there’s that at least.

Post-college I learned via online communities. Also through my full-time job I learned several things as issues popped in and out. I watched YouTube tutorials on CSS or After Effects, read design blogs, followed popular designers on Twitter and Instagram, contributed to discussions on Reddit, and other online-based material.

David Carson entered graphic design late in his life pre-internet, and had barely any training in graphic designing before diving right into it and building a name for himself.

I have two issues with job interviewers focusing on design degrees rather than the applicant’s portfolio:

1. Design trends are constantly changing

Depending on culture and time, the rules are different. Skeuomorphism dictated how early phone screens displayed their buttons, but with changing times flat UI took over. Color theory might say red is the color of passion and love, but in parts of Africa love is symbolized by the color blue.

2. Learning how to deal with clients

Design school (from what I understand from friends in design school, so please correct me if I’m wrong), doesn’t do a great job with showing how to deal with clients & employers. I learned much of that through experience or listening to other designers share their stories on social media. How to interpret a client asking to “make it pop” or “make the logo bigger” or how to ask for fair prices is important.

I came to realize is that I seemed to know everything that was being taught to my friends in design school, along with several other techniques that my design school friends hadn’t been taught. In fact they asked me for help on their homework.

I had several interviews for full-time jobs after I left my other full-time job in 2018 but they almost always went with the person who had been to design school (I didn’t get an explanation for 2 of my rejections).

That being said, design school is great for many people. Getting a basic handle of design through either school or online communities is critical to selling yourself. But it’s also more important (IMO) – whether you’re in design school or not – to surround yourself with a design community that will push you to explore new trends and ideas.

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