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7 Things They Don't Teach in Design School​

A college degree in design is important, make no mistake. We learn so much in art school like composition, color theory, typography, and hierarchy. But what about the things that we don’t learn in college. Here are a few things that I learned as a designer outside of graduating.​


7 Things They Don't Teach in Design School


1. It’s your operational excellence, not your diploma.

When a potential employer is interviewing you for a design job, they must assume that you know design and how to use the proper programs. They are really interviewing you for your operational excellence. They really want to know if you will be able to operative at a level that will meet their expectations: create work that meets their standards, get along with co-workers, meet tight deadlines, etc. Employers don’t know design, that is why they are hiring you. It requires you to be able to talk about and explain your work in a way that makes them understand. You need to be able to defend your work and explain the decisions that you make in the design. That diploma won’t automatically get you the job, you still have to earn it.


2. It’s okay to NOT know.

It’s important not to lie about something you truly don’t know. It’s pretty embarrassing for you to claim that you know how to do something, and then when the time comes to perform, you can’t follow through. So do not claim that you know how to edit videos if you’ve never touched a video editing program. And just know, that when you are graduating straight from college, it’s expected that you really don’t know anything. They understand that you are fresh off the assembly line, so don’t worry about saying “I don’t know, but I would love to learn.”


3. Be prepared for rejection.

Many times designers get so used to hearing clients praise their work, that the client that unexpectedly hates our work abruptly stops us in our tracks. We are so taken aback that it causes us to rethink ourselves and our work. Don’t let this discourage you. Be prepared to ask questions like why they don’t like it, and take this as an opportunity to grow and improve. While it’s important to be able to defend your work and explain your design decisions, it’s even more crucial to realize that if a client truly doesn’t like the work, no matter how much defending you do, you are not going to change their mind. And if you keep fighting for it, they are going to lose all trust in you and you may have just lost a client. Just calmly and professionally ask what it is they don’t like, offer some suggestions for revisions, (agree with them on a couple of flaws), and ask if they are willing to let you do a re-design. Usually, they will, and you just gained even more trust.


4. A designer is more than a designer.

As a designer we need to not only know how to design, we need to understand so many things in order to create a design that resonates with the target market. Our designs are strongly impacted by the world around us. We are actually business artists. We strategize and conceptualize in a way that the client or employer may not have understood before. It turns out that we need an encyclopedic knowledge of EVERYTHING. Ideas are easy, but strategies are the true challenge when it comes to designing. 


5. Graphic design is not always glamorous.

If you were to think about everything in your world that you touch on a daily basis, chances are most of those things were touched by a designer at some point. That toothbrush with the brand pasted on the handle, that box of oatmeal that you ate for breakfast, that cell phone bill that is now past due, and the planner you hold in your hand as you review your day, the instruction manual that came with your new blender, the stamp that you mailed your bill with, and Chinese menu that you are ordering dinner from. All of these things were created by a graphic designer, and I can assure you that the designer that is out there creating the quickstart guide for printers didn’t think that he/she would be doing that for a career. Many times those boring design jobs pay more than the fun ones do. Just understand that graphic designers are needed for many more products than just logos and websites.


6. It’s okay to turn down clients.

As a freelance designer, I can tell you that not every job that comes your way is worth doing. I’ll get calls every so often from a prospect needing something done that I didn’t have much or any experience in. Sometimes I would take the job, learn what I didn’t know, and get the job done easy-peasy. Other times, I would realize that taking the job was a mistake as it was way over my head. Those are the jobs that I wish I had turned down. If I had turned down that client, I would have been able to say ‘yes’ to another client that I knew I could please. It’s true that when you are straight out of college, you may not have that luxury. You take as many of those paying jobs as possible (regardless of what they are) being that you are now a grown-up with those annoying grown-up bills. But as you develop and gain credibility, you’ll eventually be able to start picking your clients and jobs as you choose.


7. You are responsible for following copyright laws.

In college, we are thrown projects at us made up by our professors and teachers, and it’s generally acceptable to use any graphic available on the internet. But once you leave the comfort of the University’s seal, the rules change. Because you are no longer designing for educational purposes, you are limited in what you are allowed to use. Be sure to check copyright restrictions on any image, clipart, illustration, video, audio, ANYTHING before you use them in your client’s work. And be sure to start accounts with online stock graphic sites for resources such as photos and clipart. Yes, they cost a little money, but it’s worth paying a little for an image now, then those copyright fees later.