I don’t know about you, but any art classes or design classes that I took in college were amazing yet unsatisfying at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong: I could never have made it without beginning design classes where we learned about alignment, repetition, font-choice, etc.
And (on most days) I wouldn’t trade my upper-level classes where the professors heavily critiqued your work almost to the breaking point all in hopes to make you a better designer.
But after I graduated from the University, I learned that there were some key things I wish I had known about the business of design.
Lessons my design professors almost never mentioned.
And important skills I’ve noticed a lot of designers struggle with.
So today, I’d like to discuss 10 critical lessons your design professor never taught you. (PS, if I’m totally off the mark and you had a completely different college experience, please leave a comment and let me know. PPS: I should also mention that I had an excellent college experience and learned billions of great life lessons. Here I’m referring exclusively to my design classes. And I’d love to hear what you have to say too.)
5 critical lessons your design professors never taught you
Lesson 1: Clients pay the bills, but the customer’s not always right.
When I started out as a designer, I thought that the client had the final say on any work you do.
And in some cases, that’s true.
But I quickly learned that our entire existence is not solely for the purpose of designing what the client thinks is best. In fact, I think it’s one of the biggest myths of graphic and web design.
If you position yourself correctly, you can establish a partnership with your client where they will respect your decisions and opinion. At that point, you become more than just a monkey with a Wacom tablet. You become a true designer.
Lesson 2: You don’t have to present your design process when presenting your designs.
This was a lesson that took me a little time to learn. In many of my classes we all sat around discussing the “why” behind our design before we ever revealed the final result.
I’ve since learned that this provides a false experience both for you and for your viewers. I won’t rant long here since I just wrote a whole post on this topic. Read it here:
Lesson 3: You don’t have to have decades of experience to land some great design gigs.
I always got the impression from many of my design professors that I would have to suffer through many years of low-paying design jobs before I really “made it” and got to start working on fun, lucrative projects.
That’s simply not true.
You are the owner of your own destiny.
And you can make things happen now if you want them bad enough.
Clients aren’t always looking for designers with decades of projects under the belt. Here’s the truth about what clients look for in a designer.
Lesson 4: Your elevator pitch is as important (or more important) than your design portfolio.
Finding new clients can be really hard. In fact, it’s one of the most requested topics here at GDB.
And one thing that got hammered into my head as a design student was the importance of polishing my design portfolio on a regular basis.
But no one ever told me that I needed to prepare an elevator pitch (PS, master your elevator pitch here.) No one ever taught me that I needed to be able to explain my business in 15 seconds or less in order to survive in the business world.
But that’s how it goes. When you’re working on finding clients, you have very little time to make a great impression and capture their business.
So, yes, polish up your portfolio. Put your best foot forward at all times.
And then be ready to explain what you do and why someone should hire you in less time than it takes to ride the elevator to your hotel room.
Lesson 5: Great designers steal.
You don’t have to be a puritan all the time.
You don’t have to have all the great ideas.
And you don’t have to build everything from scratch every day of your working life.
As Cameron Moll put it (ironically, stealing this quote from Picasso sort of): “Great Designers Steal.”
No doubt, clients are going to ask you at least once in your career to copy another designer’s work. (PS: Here’s how to handle that.)
Taking inspiration from other designers is ok. Using templates now and again? Also ok.
As long as you’re not blatantly stealing without giving proper credit (a very unfulfilling way to live life as a designer), then you’re fine.
Mimmick in an effort to improve.
Soon, you’ll find other designers are copying your work. And you know what they say: imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Did I get it right?
How did I do? Did I get pretty close?
What other key lessons did you fail to learn while you were a design student in college? Leave a comment and grow this list with me!
Great photo from katiewWritten by Preston D Lee Preston is the founder of GDB, a designer, programmer, marketer, and entrepreneur.