Jack of all trades, master of none

In school (RISD sophomore), there’s sketching, market research, some graphic design/layout stuff, computer modeling, model-making, wood & metal working for more finished models of products. This leads me to wonder . . .

Is it useful to learn all of these things? How much will eventually be used after graduation? It’s a balance of being versatile vs. being specialized. Personally, I think it is great to devote a lot of time to one thing and to get good at it, but it’s also good to be flexible. I would just hate to be okay at all of those things and have a rounded-out but weak portfolio. I can see the value of learning the basics of all of these initially, and then focusing in junior and senior years.

Does anyone here have any thoughts on whether following a certain thing (especially if it is your favorite aspect of ID) is a good idea? Would it also depend on whether the designer wants to work at a larger company vs. small firm (or even freelance)?

You’ll use it all. You may not necessarily DO all those things, but you will need to be able to communicate well with people who are specialists in those areas. You will need at least a general grasp of engineering, marketing, research, advertising, merchandising, logistics, materials and processes, business principles, and some legal including patents and contracts.

All those things you will need. Even after graduating you will continue to learn and build on the skills learned. You will of course gravitate to what ever you do best. Definitely expect that all the skills and critics you go through will come into play at some point in your career. You will have a moment were you will say to yourself “I never thought I would use that info but I am glad now I learned it”.

Of everything you listed it’s important to learn just about all of them.

In the professional world you’ll probably do very little model making/wood/metal work unless you’re in a specialized area like furniture or something else that means you’re actually building what you make. Appearance model making is almost a worthless skill. You’ll need to be able to make mockups, whether out of foam core, styling foam, etc - but the long hours of bondo’ing, sanding, etc are usually wasted if taught in college IMO.

The answer to your question is don’t be OK at any of those things. Be good at all of them. The best portfolios I see from top students and IDSA merit award winners have all of it. Good initial research and business case, great sketches, mock up prototypes, good 3D renderings (and even animation these days it’s become such a commodity), all tied together in a nicely laid out portfolio.

I think it’s easier to excel in more areas because some areas have become much easier. 3D rendering used to be painfully time consuming. Now students can get the same quality of renders in a few hours for what would take me a week when I was in college.

It doesn’t hurt to focus your efforts to certain areas, but it takes some serious maturity and discipline to lay out all of your skills and try to give yourself a ranking between 1-10. That includes every skill you’re taught in school. You want to be able to say to yourself that you’ve got a 9 or 10 in a few areas by the time you graduate and that you’ve balanced out the rest of your skills to make you a solid candidate for employment.

If you don’t have that maturity to say you want to be the best, you’ll end up with the 2/3rds of students who never land an ID job. You have to decide if that’s what you want or not (I have plenty of classmates who seem perfectly content not being designers).

You can either learn these essential basics or pay someone to do it for you all the time… how deep are your pockets? You may not/will not be a profession in all these fields, but they’re fairly basic essentials for the design field so good to know the basics at a minimum. Some are more important than others lately.

Like in accounting, you’re pretty much required to know some math and some business. If you don’t know one of them then…

If you never make it as a designer you have all these other skills. If I hadn’t made it as an IDer professionally I would be great at bondo work or welding. :slight_smile: Haha.

I believe that one should have the basics good enough in order to master one specific topic. Usually a good understanding of basic principles is far more important than many details, even in a very advanced topic.


I felt the same way when I was in your shoes sophomore year at RISD.

I know how you feel having this wide variety of skills, and thing only get more complicated next year with the advanced studio system.

My advice is to enjoy all whats provided, but understand yourself what you are looking for. Its easy to get stuck in the RISD bubble so check out what kids at other design schools are doing, especially the good ones like DAAP, AC, CCS ect. This way you can see what the current “hot trends” so you know where you stand compared.

RISD offers some pretty unique classes, many that don’t even seem to be relevant to the traditional ID field. However many of these classes actually DO help you in the real world of design. Take Metals II or Cast Iron. Metals II is real world CAD! You get to revolve with your hands, make an analog extrude cut, learn hands on the properties of steel and alu. Cast Iron is hands on injection molding! You learn about flow and gates and actually get to build part tools. Its all how you relate and apply these skills to the real world.

Figure out what you want, and it will help you focus on the skills that will help you get to where u want to be.

Thank you all for the replies, it makes the whole set of skills seem more practical that I originally thought.

@CyberDemon – it’s reassuring that the models don’t have to be the perfectly finished, sanded-for-hours affairs, but instead working mock-ups. I think I was worried because a good number of students seem to be going the “build what you intend to produce” way.

@M3rik – Thanks for the tips. Seeing other sophomores’ computer renderings in portfolios makes me think “wow, I really need to learn that!” I was lucky to take Metals II this past winter, and you’re right that it was a lot of fun. I will try to take up your recommendation on Cast Iron . . . glad to hear that the classes worked for you!