Advice for (Design) Students 2009

Thus begins another school year for my alma mater. For the past two years, I gave some advice to design students (2007, 2008), whether they just started, or that they’re one year from graduating. I reviewed the previous entries recently and noticed that they still all apply. Whether you should follow what I say based on my current career status is another thing.

Nonetheless, I will add onto the list, though since I sort of ran out of design-related tips for design students, I’m going to instead offer advice from my post-graduation experience to all students.

Never Stop Learning

I mentioned variations of this in the previous lists, but it’s important to be explicit about this one, especially since I really believe in it. Schooling may end after graduation, but you never stop learning. As a side advice, don’t assume you know everything, because you don’t. Be humble and ask the right questions when you don’t know. I’ve never actually seen recent graduates get cocky in jobs, but I’ve heard that it happens quite frequently.

Another reason to never stop learning, especially in the design profession, is that you need keep up with the culture and technology. If you have an interest in something, learn it. I currently have no use for Processing, the programming language, but I played with it this past summer just because I was intrigued by it. And because it partially resembles C and ActionScript, I may find real use for it somewhere down the road. Someday, that’ll pay off.

Be Ready for Anything

This is one of those advices that the person who gives the advice doesn’t necessarily follow it, not because I don’t believe it’s true, but because I still haven’t completely mastered it.

Personally, I’m mentally preparing myself to “be ready.” I’m currently moving along that path, but I still haven’t completely arrived. But when I do, I imagine that I would be completely open for opportunities that come my way and that I seek out.

Experience is Experience

This is similar to the “never stop learning” thing. Whether you’re doing a design project that is not exactly related to your preferred field of design, or that you’re making cappuccinos for patrons while you’re scoping out for any design gig, you build experience. Everything is experience, even doing nothing (It’s just that doing something gives you a wider, richer range of experience than doing nothing).

I would say that half the time, it’s not about the actual tasks from which you build experience; it’s the environment in which you perform these tasks. It’s about the people, the dynamic, the politics, the business side of your job. It could be answering to your customers, or to your clients, or to your superiors. There’s a special type of experience that can be learned from each of these situations. They are all valuable.

Have (Some Realistic) Dreams

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. (Or at least I hope I’m not the only one.) I believe that there’s nothing wrong with having dreams. What I’ve come to realize in the past two years, though, is that it’s important to have at least some realistic dreams.

You can dream big like “end poverty” or “stop global warming.” That’s great, but you should have some dreams that you know can be accomplished, that you have the tools for, and that all you need to do is put A, B, and C together, and voila! You’ve made your dream come true. It may not be big, but you did it.

If you want your dreams to come true (keyword “if”), whatever kinds they are, realistic or not, you need to know how you’re getting it done. If you don’t know, find out. You can dream to bring world peace, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you actually do it. To put it another way, I’d like to close out this post by quoting one of my favorite designers, essentially about the difference between what we think about and what we do with what we think about,

“The ideas themselves are nothing but thoughts brought down on paper in my sketchbook and as such of little value to me. I will only like them after their execution and publication.” —Stefan Sagmeister

Honestly, I have trouble applying this one to my life. I still have these precious ideas in my head of how things should be, in regards to design, my career, and my life. But I will never know if these are good ideas if I don’t get them out of my head and try them out. Maybe I won’t like them, and I would have wasted my time, not from executing those ideas, but from keeping those ideas in my head for so long and wasting brain-space for potentially better ideas.

Sagmeister quote (you’d have to dig through the Q & A’s):


(“Dreamer” quote from Lennon, of course)

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