I remember how excited I was when I first decided that I was going to go to school for Design. I had it all planned out, I was going to ace all of my classes, get my degree, land a job straight out of school, and take the Design world by storm. While I actually am still trying to take the Design world by storm my plans didn’t exactly work out the way I wanted them to. These are 5 things that I wish I had known when I first entered Design School.
Disclaimer: Some of this may sound a little harsh, but bear with me, I promise it’s worth it.
- Don’t rely on anyone else but yourself to get the most out of your education.
So you’re in school now, you’re eager to learn, you have your dreams set, and your teachers are going to show you everything you need to know to be prepared for the real world. Right? Well, not exactly. While your teachers will give you a lot of valuable information and do their best to provide you with the know-how of Design, they simply can’t prepare you for life after college. No one else but yourself can truly prepare you for what comes after graduation. Use the time while you’re in school to soak up every bit of knowledge you can about Design, Marketing, Business, and any other skill you might find valuable to your future career. Read books, study blogs, reverse engineer others success in those areas. Do anything you possibly can to teach yourself about your career because that’s the only way you’ll be even remotely be prepared by putting in the work to teach yourself the craft.
- Create a Network with your peers
I can’t even begin to explain how important it is to network and develop relationships with your peers while you’re in school. Some of the best decisions I’ve made in my career so far has been making relationships with individuals that I had the pleasure of working with in school. You might ask, why is it so important that I have a network of people who are essentially competing with me? Well, even though they might technically be “competing” with you in the Design field I’m sure you probably have different strengths. Maybe your specialty is Branding and Logo Design, while they’re more of a Print Layout specialist. It’s important to help support each other, and I’ve always tried to make it a point to keep my fellow designers in mind in the case that I receive a request for a project I’m not strong in or that I don’t have time for. This goes both ways, and I think it’s important to help support each other. Think of it like this, if you go to the doctor and they say that you have an inner ear problem, what are they going to do? They’re going to give you a recommendation for a good Ears Nose Throat Doctor. Well, being a designer works the same way. If I have a client who wants some Video Production done, since that’s now what I do I’m more likely to refer them over to a friend of mine who specializes in that. So, it’s important to build these relationships because you never know when someone might send a client your way.
- Don’t wait to start Freelancing
This is what I consider one of my biggest mistakes while I was attending college. For some reason I was under the impression that I needed to wait until I graduated to start Freelancing, and looking back at that now I realize how stupid that mindset was. So, the best advice I can give those of you who are in college right now is to start Freelancing now. Don’t wait for permission, don’t think you need a degree to start, and don’t be afraid to fail. The best way to learn the business is to simply jump in. As John Wooden said, “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts”. You’ll probably hear me refer to this quote a lot, but that’s simply because it is so true. Don’t be afraid to fail because whenever you do something you either get it right and succeed, or you learn from the mistake and keep going. It’s a win/win, so what are you waiting for?
- Focus on your strengths
Now this point may cause a little bit of debate. Some people are under the impression that you should be a “Jack of all Trades”, but I think otherwise. As a Designer I think it’s important that you go all in on your strengths because you can either be truly exceptional in one field, or you can be mediocre in several. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’re strong in Logo Design and Web Design then go all in on those. What I’m saying is that it is most often counter-productive to spend time and effort trying to master several different areas because you can never designate all of your time to master that many disciplines. It’s like finding a niche market that you can conquer and become the expert. Find what your strengths are and focus all of your effort on becoming an expert in that. Even though being a “Jack of all Trades” may open you up to a broader audience, you’re less likely to get work if you can’t show that you’re a master in all of those respective areas.
- A degree doesn’t guarantee you anything
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true and I think it’s important that you hear it. This is how this works. If you’re looking to work in some type of agency setting a Degree is one of those things where you absolutely have to have (unless your portfolio is just truly astounding and exceptional), but just because you have it, it doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed anything. When it comes down to it, a Degree is just a piece of paper and if you don’t have the hustle to build your Brand, network, and get your name out there then it’s most likely not going to do anything for you. Again, I know this sounds harsh, and I’m certainly not trying to knock formal education because I have a BFA myself, but I don’t want someone to be under the impression, like I was, that just because you have a degree you’re almost guaranteed a spot in the professional world because you’re not. It’s all about being able to hustle and work hard to be where you want to be, and a Degree doesn’t do that for you.
I’m writing all of this because I want to use my experience to help Designers who may be following the same path I was. Don’t use your time in college to coast through. Focus, hustle, get out there, and don’t let your inexperience or fear hold you back. You can do this.
What were some things you would have done differently in school or at the beginning of your career?
Are you in school now, and if so what challenges are you facing?
Let me know in the comments below!