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.