If I Knew Then What I Know (Advice to students)

Advice is cheap, and hindsight is 20-20, but whether you had a great school experience or a crappy one, there’s no way that you can come out of a design education without a few bits of advice for those just starting out.

Things like: “Sit in on classes early this semester to find out what courses to register for next semester;” “Go to museums and galleries–fill your brain with with art part to complement the design part;” “If you can afford it, do a semester abroad—you’ll remember it more than all your design classes combined.”

So, if you knew then what you know now, what piece of critical advice would you give to design students as they enter the 2004 Fall school year? This is a discussion board for designers who have been out of school for awhile. It’s is your gift to the incoming class, so be wise, be truthful, believe.

My best advice is to “live” in your studio. So much of what you learn in design school is from other students. If you literally live and breath the design process you will learn so much from each other. You will learn at least as much from each other than from ANY teacher. Also, it’s impossible to do great work at your desk in your dorm. :sunglasses:

One of the great joys of teaching is seeing the relationships that develop between students in the learning environment. These are the people that you will potentially know and work with for a lifetime. Be as generous as you possibly can with your time, expertise, opinions and understanding and don’t be timid about asking for the same for yourself. It just doesn’t make any sense to see your peers as the not-to-be-trusted competition.

Be careful of gossip, which by its very nature can dilute and distort the truth as it spreads. It creates a culture that will self perpetuate failure and undermine individuals and/or classes who are not necessarily deserving of their reputation. Find out first hand by talking with the person/s and form your own opinions. If the gossip is true, demand change. A design program will only be as good as all parties involved are willing to make it.

My advice:

If I knew then, what I know now, I would have sketched, sketched, and sketched some more. Not that I didn’t sketch alot, but there’s always room for more. And remember, you’re not sketching to impress your peers, you’re sketching to uncover ideas. The quicker and more accurately you can do this, the more effective a designer you can become. Oh, and of course, don’t sweat the small stuff while you’re in school, there will be plenty of time for that later. :slight_smile:

-Take full advantage of the facilities your tuition is paying for. You may not have access to anything anywhere near as up to date or available when you graduate. Learn all of those computer programs on your spare time (even if not required by any classes).

-Buy your computer equipment and programs senior year. Student discounts are amazing compared to what you’ll have to pay after you graduate. You’ll have a good headstart if you want to start freelancing or wait until you grad to do your portf.

-Look for internships as early as possible, even if not paid. Invaluable experience. School won’t teach you what’s needed on the job, only the job will. Getting a chance to sneak a peak when it doesn’t cost the company anything is still a good investment that will pay off tremendously when you get out.

-Take out whatever loans you need, don’t spend your studio/ learning/ practicing time flippin burgers for workstudy.

-Like everyone else says, sketch, sketch, sketch. I wouldn’t spend too much time in the model shop unless necessary for a functional model. A lot of jobs don’t spend the time making photo models, they’ll shop it out to dedicated model-makers and sculptors. ID guys draw, it’s the fastest, companies want fast results. Get good at it.

-Focus on the quality of your concepts, not the quality of your computer model. If you spend 20 hrs on the computer modelling up a bad concept, you wasted 19 hrs. You could have thumbnailed more and refined your concept to something stellar with that time. If you’re just doing something quick to practice your 3-d modelling, then that’s okay. But don’t put it in your portfolio if you want design work.

-I’ll come back with some more when I think of them. Good luck to all, I wish I could go back to school knowing what I know now.

Take education in your own hands

Don’t expect knowledge be handed to you on a silver platter (even though you’d think you would have bought a few platters with all the $ you are spending)

Intern. You will not only learn more by supplementing you’re education with experience, you will find what you are missing in school, what you like, and hopefully a bit of what you want to avoid.

Demand quality from your instructors, you pay them for it. As a part time instuctor myself I can say students than engage get them most out of it.

Don’t be satisfied, if you think you are not getting enough from your school, don’t whine, no one will listen. Set up a meeting with the head of your department and try to find a way to get what you need. If they can’t help, transfer. It’s not that hard. I did an exchange semester with another school. I learned a lot and felt I had a better grasp on how varried the feild is.

If your cockey, try not to let it show while you are interning. It’s a small world, and you don’t want to build a negative reputation (like I did) with visiting professionals, and other designers at your internship. Keep your ego out of it and you will learn faster.

Know what you want to get out of your school. Do you want to learn how to sketch, learn anylitical thinking techniques, modelling, a bit of everything? Direct your own path or others will do it for you and you might not like where you end up.

That said, take the time to have some fun. You will be building bonds with friends you will keep for life, and together you will be the future of design. Of the people I went to school with: my roomate designed the olympic caldron for the Salt Lake games, my old TA designed the Jeep Willy’s concept and now is at VW advanced design, the guy I enveyed has done several concept cars for GMC, another friend, she is at New Ballance and is in charge of Advanced Design there, several friends are at Samsonite and Michael Graves Product Studio… I could go on. Be a good friend, you are more than each others’ competition, you are peers.

Before you start studying, get some work experience within the industry. Failing that apply for your ideal job. Your rejection will give you purpose and a realisation as to what you should concentrate on at college. Get to know the industry yourself. Do not fully rely on your tutors point of view.

Design is a calling - not a vocation.
If you cannot live it - see the world through it, then you should probably sell mutual funds.
Working hard is the only option - but then again, if it is truly your calling, it won’t seem like work - but rather something like fulfillment.

If I knew then what I know now…

the ability to draw, model and think is sooooooo much more important than you can ever imagine.

Please don’t think CAD is the be all and end all - its not!

learn to draw as you talk

pitch your work in your own way

create a cv to be proud of

get to know what design agencies are doing what

pay a keen interest in how things are made - it helps!

design job interviews do not require you to wear a suit

Train to become super analytical, always question everything - twice!!

design is a passion - if your not passionate please don’t take the college place of someone that is

seeing your work in the highstreet really is a fantastic feeling

I agree with most of the comments above, however I was disappointed to see 2 main things…

-don’t “live” in your studio, most of your inspiration is not going to come from staring at the pinholes in the wall of your studio when your sapped of energy and ideas. Go for a beer, leave town for the weekend, go to the art gallery, have a coffee and read popular science. So much more than your studio will playa role in how much you know about the world around you. It sucks spending a couple weeks to develop an idea that you think is revolutionary only to find something identical was done in the 50’s…(not me, but I’ve seen it)

-also, enter competitons as much as possible. almost all competitions open to students are free and you get to compete mostly against only students, you get more portfolio work (probaly the stuff you’ll actually use), hone your skills more, make contacts, and get more text to put on you cv than you would have otherwise had. I entered over a dozen compeitoons in my 4 years of school and ended up with some extra money in my pocket, national and international recognition (big perk for studios to say they have award winning staff) and my entire portfolio (which got me a good job) was composed entirely of competition work with only 1 school project (I graduated with distinction so my work was there). I can’t stress this enough.


There’s alot of great advice here, the only thing I’d add is don’t forget about verbal skills.

language is a great tool for exploring ideas. Great design begins with asking the right question - getting at the heart of the problem your setting out to solve. Refining your design will start with discussions with other students - learn to be articulate, you’ll be amazed at how simply saying out loud what your thinking can cause a quantum leap in your understanding of your work.

And probably most importantly, great projects can be ruined by poor verbal presentation. I’ve often seen students mumble while staring at their feet or become defensive responding to criticisisms. Remember not to make excuses! The ‘if I’d had more time…’ is the worst, your work is what it is - not a reflection of what it could’ve been.

The one thing I wish everyone would take is a public speaking course, you have to be a salesman for your work and yourself - get in practice now.

Keep an eye on what is going on in the world and get used to scanning the magazine racks every month. Getting familar with design magazines is obvious but more importantly look at what is happening in the areas of lifestyle, technology, art and fashion.

If you are so fortunate to to attending an art school, definetly take fine art classes and spend time with other sculpture and painting students. Fine art will give you the opportunity to develop your artistic voice and soul. It also will allow you to focus on the core elements of color, form, and emotion with out all the added constratints of a design project brief.

Excellent thread!
Some personal mantras that have worked for me over the years:

It’s easier to obtain forgiveness than permission. Don’t ask to take charge–have faith in yourself and do what you think is right. I still remember the day I put this into practice as a professional and the rewards that came with it.

Invest in yourself You’re paying a lot for school–it’s no time to skimp on everything else. Keep up on your IDSA dues, attend the conferences and tradeshows, buy nice clothes, travel to Europe or Asia, build your design-library, contribute to Core, buy a PC and get the design tools you’ll use etc.

Give your Ideas away Ideas are cheap, implementation is hard. Particularly in school be honest and open with your classmates–you have the rest of your professional life for your brain to be owned by corporate IP lawyers :wink:

Be user-centric Don’t lose sight of what it’s all about: ie. the “users” not your ego.

i like this

“Go ahead and do it. It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”…Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

i was lucky. learned some lessons from my first degree. hard ones as i was a top high school academic thrown in with top students from across the nation - and became average. then after when i went back to school. jobs were hard to find. even tho my resume was stellar. you learn humility fast in the real world. i’d learned.

but for many of my classmates, ego and arrogance were still hurdles. not just of themselves but of the profession. ID is no better than ANY other profession. develop some humility and keep the ego in check. respect others. you’ll learn so much more in the long run. and you’ll develop better relationships. as most here have realized, its usually Who you know that gets you in the door.

also. during my first degree, i learned something i remember to this day. class valedictorian lived across the hall. super brilliant guy. nationally ranked math whiz. the works. one day a pre-med stops in. needs help. now he was an EE. what did he know? what he knew was How to ask questions. i sat eavesdropping for about 1/2 hour. amazed. never encountered anything like it. he didnt know the answers but knew how to step the person through questions to get to the answer. that ability to ask questions goes well with ID. we are trained to question, but not to question Effectively. find someone who does it well and study them. it will do wonders.

teachers love teaching… soak up every drop of knowledge, experience and opportunity your teachers have to offer. the good ones will give it gladly. don’t mind personalities; forge long-lasting relationships with even the most mercurial teachers.

BUT, don’t be naîve either. it’s true what they say… it’s all in the connections you make along the way that helps get you where you want to go. that also includes your classmates. the design world is awfully small, and you’re bound to run into someone soon enough, or better, to collaborate on a fulfilling project.

Dont’ burn bridges, classmates or teachers. 5 yrs down the road you might be interviewing at a place one of them works. Learn a professional attitude/ interaction skills early. And don’t take criticism personally, they’re not personal attacks on you. If it is directed at you, that person is unprofessional, thicken up the skin and learn how to deal with it /them in a calm and rational manner.

teachers love teaching…

Not necessarily since some just do it for the health insurance. Sad but true.

Having an enjoyable career being artistic is not just limited to creating “works of art.”
Everything around us needs to be designed.
Everything around us can be improved by an innovative thinker or creative artist.

Study as many different types of artistic methods, mediums and styles as you can.
Do not limit yourself in your friends and contacts, but be open to give and receive from all people.
TRAVEL. Become a sponge to your environment.

Create something that “makes a statement.”
Keep challenging your art and work at improving.
Seek out your purpose in life and your place in this world.
Once you get a vision, pursue it with all of your heart.

Wilson Smith III
Design Director. Nike Tenis

If i knew then what i know now…

  1. Learn from your professors as much as u can. After all they have some experience in the field. Develop good relations with them and demand for their extra time.
  2. Participate in the discussions (any sort) and let that be a healthy one.
  3. Browse browse and browse…there is so much information available on net.
  4. Lastly do participate in the competitions…it not only adds to ur portfolio but also gives u a good learning.