Traits of Highly Successful Design Students

Hi everyone,

So I was on these forums back in 2012 as ‘esaress’ and even started a thread this thread"First Semester Sketching (Woes) w/ pics, Need help. - #24 by esaress called First Semester Sketching (Woes) w/ pics, Need help. Thankfully, my sketches are A LOT better than it was before transferring into my school.

As a junior in furniture design, I’ve quickly discovered that sketches aren’t enough. I’m currently finding it hard to find time to practice technique, bring in deliverables, and attend every single meeting and event that my program offers. The first thing to drop is time to practice technique. My work is always done on time and I live by Google calendar in regards to plotting out my time. I have made a lot of personal accomplishments and have fulfilled my ultimate dream of presenting work overseas, but that still doesn’t seem good enough. I don’t compete-- but I compare myself with others and try to follow in their footsteps. But at the end of the day I’m still not them. I’d like to render designs that are ruminating in my head, but I can scarcely find the time.

So what I would like to know is how to be successful taking 4 studio classes, working 20 hours a week, and having lots of room to improve on technique without scheduled all-nighters and adderall. My passion is there. My willingness is there, but, in the words of da Vinci, willingness isn’t enough. Apart from resolving that the proof in my capability lies in your having done the same, if someone could explain how they managed to do it or things they would have done differently to achieve even higher success I would really appreciate it.

Thanks a million.

I listened to this a lot of Eric Thomas speeches in college. Got me hyped up to work all night.

(ill write something a bit more detailed when I get down time from work)

The most successful co-student of mine, today,- is a guy who treated the
exhaustive and demanding program of our faculty as a Bus and the Professors
as busdrivers. It was just a vehicle to get him were he strived to be.

He always delivered mediocre but tolerable project work on time, didn’t take
too much workload in teams and had a nearly cynical approach to the broader
education, offered.

On the other hand he sketched, sketched, sketched and honed the skills that
make u a sure placement for junior designer in the field he wanted to find
a place in. Very focused and goal driven.

I have no questions about why he is today where he is.

Might be one answer to your question…


Video doesn’t seem to be working, but I’ll Youtube that later on tonight. Can’t wait to see it.

He sounds awesome. I feel my losing time to sketch, sketch, sketch, will definitely come back to bite me if I keep it up. I’ve asked a peer of mine for a 1-on-1 sketching shadowing session tomorrow. (Correct) practice makes perfect.

Please keep the tips/tricks/experiences coming! That was a great answer mo-i.

Updated the Link

This is pretty much how I felt as a student, but to push the POV further, I looked at my professors as my employees, and I let them know that. I paid their salaries. I needed them to work for me. Not to give me good grades, to push me! I was super clear as to what my goals were, and where I needed their help. I would set up meetings with instructors in some of my elective classes and let them know their class was not my priority but I needed the credit so please let me know the minimum I can do to pass so I can focus on my goals. Most of them reacted positively, one even gave me a packet of assignments and said if I could turn it in within two weeks I didn’t have to come to class anymore! Most of my senior year was spent on independent study.

I worked super hard, but on what I felt I needed, not on the assignments given to fill time. Not everyone has that sense of direction, so a bit of advice, only embark on this path if you know what you are doing and you know you can pull it off. It is not a friend maker. I almost got kicked out of school my sophomore year… ironically I graduated with the faculty award so they got it after a few semesters :slight_smile:

I didn’t have a good GPA, but no one cares about that in design. Potential employers care about what you can do, not about a number.

This is some very sound advice. Advice I could have used during my time in school. Found out what my weaknesses were after I graduated and had to work on them before I could get where I am today. If I had someone telling me in school what my weaknesses were I would have worked on them then…

Look at the top portfolios thread for an idea of what your skill level should be and who your competition is. Strive to get your work to that level and above. If the project being assigned in school aren’t the type of work you want to be doing, make up your own projects on the side that pertain to that field. From my experience in school, professors were always willing and interested in any side project so you could use them for input on those as well.

I had a good GPA out of school, but as YO said, it isn’t the number that matters in this field.

I think that is another good piece of advice, Taftos. Always bench mark and compare yourself against the best portfolios out there. That is your competition, if you want an interview, you have to be solidly within the competitive set if not at the top.

Interesting advice above…Eman that’s a sweet video!

I personally always approached a project given to me in studio with the mentality of “does this have the potential to go in my portfolio or not?” If not (and they usually came from elective courses, but not always), then I would spend a lot of my off hours on core skill practicing - sketching, cad, rendering, etc that I could apply to a project with “potential”. If it had potential, then I would crank 120% on that project, make sure the story was there, the process was solid, and the final result made sense and was aesthetically sensible so that I would be setup to easily transfer that into a portfolio format.

I would also say to spend your summers doing side projects that will build your core skills. To be honest, I probably made the biggest leaps with these skill-sets over summer break than I did during the school year.

This is the best advice I’ve seen lately about getting the “right” things done. Cal Newport:


I think this guy has a couple of books or strategies that follow the “time blocking” theory of productivity but I like how he connects that with “more time getting good at something….leading to a rare and valuable skill (such as sketching)…leading to passion…leading to success in that field”. Worth watching.

Another thing is to get a small clique of dedicated students that you can learn from/compete with. Having that definitely pushed me. We used to have weekly sketch sessions, critique each other’s work, pull all nighters together… and celebrate after crit days.

Awesome videos and nuggets of wisdom guys! These answers have really refined my focus.

I’ve been steadily trying to build up that circle, yo. Our smallish program makes for a great support group.

I live pretty close to the studio so I’ll make a habit of staying there until the last bus rolls out of the lot. I spent about three hours there after class and had a peer give me helpful feedback on a lamp I’ve been working on. I think it’s working I’m excited about heading back there tomorrow to spend my only day off. :mrgreen:

This is key in my opinion. Mediocrity thrives in ID schools, so find some people you can get excited about stuff with and learn from/teach. My core group was a handful of us, all very good at very different things and always willing to lend a hand. Even in the professional world, if I get stuck on some CAD or thinking about a mechanism or render, etc. —I’ve got the same core group of guys who can help me out.

Besides that, honestly, the best design students are just the ones who truly want it the most, and invest everything they can into whatever dream they have. No shortcuts, no easy way to the finish line—just a lot of sweat and hard work while trying to make cool shit.


You need to continue to dream larger than the dreams you leveraged to get into your program. Part of being a successful student is stretching your imagination of yourself beyond what it was in the past and balancing your capabilities with your perceived level of proficiency. Learning to set audacious unachievable goals is part of being a design student. Going too far (in the abstract world) and then scaling back ( in the physical world) with care and objectivity is what the best design students do and do well.

The google time management bit is a very good discipline to learn, but eventually you will be able to raise your work load, quality and productivity levels without the need for digital scheduling tools. Look for this milestone when it arrives. Be prepared to let go of methods and techniques you have used to get to a certain level, and then jettison them from your radar in favor of newer higher goals and more sophisticated techniques.

Sometimes those around you can indeed hold you back as mentioned above. This is where you can bring in something from the outside and challenge everyone to raise their game. There may be challenges and emotional spears thrown at you, but if it is something better than before, then you force your fellow students to see you in a new light. That is where you want to be focusing your energies and skill proficiency. Each new project you take on as a student is an opportunity to raise your game and reposition your brand within the tribe.

Good luck…