I stumbled upon this link today. The thing I wanted to point out from this post is that regarding my previous post about worrying that I might be disappointed this around-the-world trip would be underwhelming and less life-changing than I expected, it won’t matter as long as I’m still seeking out new experiences. By taking this trip, at least I know what it feels like to take this trip. I may do this trip again someday, but differently, or I might find something else to do for the rest of my life. I just need to do it.
I don’t know if anyone else has seriously thought about this, but for those who are just starting out in the working world and adult life, have you ever wonder what people who are older than you wish they knew when they were our age?
The expression “Youth is wasted on the young.” is often mentioned to make the point that older people (whom I’ll refer to as “Wiser People”) know what life is all about (at least more so than us youngins). I, at the same time, often look back and wish I could redo some things in my teenage and college years, had I known what I know now, so no doubt the Wiser People wish they could do the same for when they were in their twenties.
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.
With my alma mater beginning a new school year this week, I want to give the students at the Design Program there two more advice to continue from the list I started last November.
Have a Life Outside of Design
Don’t let design be your life. I’m not talking about doing all-nighters in the final two or three weeks of each quarter/term and declining invitations to parties. You may love design, but it’s not everything. I have quoted Michael Bierut before that “design is about everything,” but that doesn’t mean design is everything; it’s about everything else.
Have a separate passion: music, the environment, politics, sports, love, whatever. That way, 1) you have an escape if you get frustrated with design or have a designer’s block, and 2) you have a topic on which to base your next design project.
That’s partly why I chose to go to UC Davis instead of an art school; I got to be around people of different interests: Bio-chem majors, Engineering majors, Sociology majors, etc., and I got to take different types of classes, and learn about nutrition and grammar and neuroscience and exercise and acting and a bunch of other non-design topics. Take advantage of college, especially since you’re paying so much for it.
It’s not that they’re not doing a good job, but our professors and faculty are there to give you information and guide you with their knowledge about the subject; you have to use that information for what you want to do. Just because it’s a class on ActionScript doesn’t mean that you just need to complete the bare minimum of the assignments and you’ll be an AS expert. You know that one student who’s exceptionally good with it? Yeah, he/she didn’t learn it from a class, it’s from self-teaching.
So do yourself a favor, and teach yourself what you don’t know but want to, be it a programming language or the history of printing. You can take a class if you don’t know where to start, but in the end you are the one who’s going to have to do it; no one can live your life and learn ActionScript for you.
“Work your ass off, but do it for something you care about.” —Stefan Bucher
This was his advice for students (and probably to designers and people in general) on the Reflex Blue Show Episode 2.
- 344 Design, Stefan Bucher
- Daily Monsters by Stefan Bucher
- The Reflex Blue Show at 36point.com
- The Reflex Blue Show—Episode #2
Now that I’ve posted a couple introductory entries to the blog, I can start talking about real stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of design podcasts by experienced designers, like Be a Design Cast and Design Matters with Debbie Millman, and from time to time, the topic of design students come up and they talk about any advice that they would give to students. I’m not saying that I can’t benefit from their advice just because I’m not an institutional design student anymore, but there are some things that I myself wish I had learned about and had applied when I was still in school.
With Be a Design Cast and Design Matters being produced by people at different levels of experience, their advice differ a little in terms of what’s important to be a good designer. And I wonder if my advice now would be different as I get more experience in my career. So here are my advice to design students. And maybe I’ll do this every year to see how much more I’ve learned about the profession and wish design students had been exposed to this while they are still in school.
1. Check your GEs and all graduation requirements.
This is a special, bitter one from me. Even though I’m currently enjoying the make-up class of Astronomy this fall and becoming inspired by science and jazz (from the radio on my drive to and from campus), I wish that I was done done when I thought that I was done done. It’s just not worth all the trouble of emailing and registering and freaking out for not taking care of something the first time around. So check with your advisors, both from your major and from the university, because sometimes your major advisor doesn’t check the university requirements (wink wink, my undergrad school).
Action for advice: Talk to all your academic advisors.
2. Learn about history
You should be taught that design is not about making things look pretty. Design should have a reason, and that reason comes from history. History is boring, I know, but it’s still important. If you want, pick the part of history that fascinates you, and learn about that. I went through a phase of being obsessed with the Bauhaus after learning about it in my design history class, and it turns out that a lot of design today derives one way or another from the Bauhaus aesthetics. That’s only one case of history, but without any knowledge in design history, we would not be any more different from the typical individual who uses Gotham or Optima just because “it looks cool.”
Action for advice: Take history courses and learn about specific topics in history that interests you on your own time.
3. Learn about design and the world today
Speaking of history, current events is history. I believe it’s important to look at what’s out there today, what people are doing that are both related and not related to design. Go beyond the MP3 player TV commercials and the blockbuster movie posters and look at architecture, product design, interior design, fashion design, the arts, music, and film from all over the country and the world. Stay in touch with non-design current events, too: economy, politics, social issues, etc. Art and design partly responds to life, and without life, art and design has no direction. When I was still in school, it bothered me a little when some of my classmates were so in their own little bubble that they clearly designed something based on what they personally like or what they think is “cute” or “cool.”
Nowadays there are so many blogs on so many topics; the community of design blogs alone is so huge that I can’t possibly subscribe to and read all of them. With online tools like Twitter (which I use to share interesting sites and info with people), del.icio.us, Digg, and RSS readers, it is now possible to quickly access so many great designs out there and draw inspirations from them. So there should not be any reason to not know about current events and trends to use as an influence in your designs.
Action for advice: Subscribe to blogs and podcasts, read about what well-known designers today are doing, and use del.icio.us to collect things you like.
4. Learn about the business side of design.
This is an advice that I wish I had gotten when I was in school. It’s also an advice that was repeated from both Be a Design Cast and Design Matters. I certainly don’t have a lot of business experience, coming from design. My two-and-a-half cases of experience with the business side of design are 0.5) working with the publishing company representative for my high school yearbook as the Design Editor, 1) designing, printing, and selling Naps Shirts by myself with anyone who wanted a Naps Shirt, and 2) working for a year with on-campus clients at Creative Media as a graphic artist. Even though my last point dealt with clients, I somehow think that that experience is insufficient for real-world business. With my academic schedule in college, I definitely had time to learn about business near the end of my senior year, but I didn’t know that was so important in the real world, so I wasted that time and opportunity to learn about food.
Action for advice: If possible, minor in Business, or at least take one or two classes on anything related to business, just so you know something about business.
5. Get an internship
This is another one that I didn’t get to do. To be honest, I don’t think I had time to take on an internship with my situation because I couldn’t really travel anywhere outside of campus without bumming rides. But I really think that it’s valuable if you have the chance to do it, because once you’re out of college, you’re expected (I assume) to be ready to work with people as if you know what they know about working in a real company. I’m still glad that I had some experience working at Creative Media, but somehow I think that an internship at a “real” company is more valuable to your experience.
Also, it’s better to get an internship in college than after because half of the internships I’ve looked at only offer payment in college credit. What would I do with college credit after I’ve graduated?
Action for advice: Get an internship in the real world if you have your own mode of transportation.
I am glad that I was fortunate enough to have had an instructor who openly values experimentation. He even had a class dedicated to that. There were not defined products in the curriculum, as long as we explored our creativity. I am happy to have had the chance to take a course like that; now, I wish I could have taken it earlier in my undergrad, because before, almost everything I designed had straight lines with everything aligned, very boxy and very boring. I know that the design of this blog (at the time of this post) is very boxy. But simple, accessible web design is a little different from physical design. And besides, the concept of Flush fits the design. Nonetheless, I’m still experimenting on a couple little things in this blog where I would not have done if I hadn’t developed the heart for experimentation.
Action for advice: When you have the chance with your class assignments, experiment with different approaches to your usual process, and when you have spare time, start your own projects where you explore ideas and perspective other than your own.
7. Enjoy college
This is probably just me, but I always use the excuse of having to finish design projects for not going out and socializing. Every start of the year or quarter, when I had very little schoolwork, I always promised myself to make time to hang out. Then the projects started pouring in, and by the time finals come, I’m stuck at my desk on my computer, perfecting the kerning on a project that’s due right after I get off the bus which is coming in two minutes. Maybe it’s a design major thing, where you can’t really stop. And it’s funny how your non-design friends think design is “fun” and “easy” when in fact it stresses you out because of the fact that design is judged on a color-wheel continuum instead of a black-and-white-solve-for-x answer key, which means you could practically spend all available time making your design better and better until it’s time to print, crop, spray-mount, pin-up, and BS-ly present your reasons for your design decisions. But again, that’s probably just me.
Action for advice: Party.
8. Enjoy your summer(s)
I certainly am enjoying my five-months-and-counting summer vacation. Let’s hope that it doesn’t continue indefinitely.
Action for advice: Enjoy your summers, especially the one after graduation, unless you plan on becoming a teacher.