Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

The erosion of design education

The erosion of design education
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I disliked a large part of my art school experience. At many times, I found it very difficult to slug through. A six hour life-drawing session felt more exhausting than most would believe; furthermore, as a seventeen year old, the level of intimidation I felt during a group critique remains pretty memorable.

Additionally, the experience often felt as though it was slower than necessary. I couldn’t always grasp the importance of the assignments, and really just wanted to get out of there and do the work I so enjoyed; nevertheless, I spent those four years irritable, while growing a great deal.

For the many struggles over those years, I must say that the lessons I learned helped me work through many challenges which arose later in my professional practice. I was lucky to have instructors like Renee Van Halm, Sam Carter, and John Wertschek (alongside a number of others) who challenged me, and ensured that I was actually learning during my time at the Emily Carr Institute.

Today I’m frustrated. No, scratch that… I’m pissed off.

From week to week, I find more resumes in my inbox than I can sort through. Other than the occasional amazing talent (I’d say one in every fifty), I am bombarded by a large number of new designers who are desperately trying to break in to the industry they trained for. Some are just young, and need time to mature and build their portfolio. Others however have been hoodwinked by institutions that had no real means to offer a design program; yet, they chose to offer one anyway. I find that it is particularly difficult to respond to these people.

I would like to tell these applicants to just keep working, and that everything will come together; but, in most instances, this would be a lie. Quite often, they are further behind than they were before they began their (mis)education, armed with a portfolio of tragically misdirected work, having learned almost nothing that can actually be applied to any kind of professional practice.

In the past ten years, the proliferation of Design and New Media programs offered by institutions is both notable and distressing. It exposes the flagrance of these institutions that launch programs intended to leverage industry trends instead of actually educating students. I have to wonder what this mass “sell-out” of higher learning means for the future of education. More immediately however, I worry about a batch of students who are unknowingly squandering years of their life on programs that were stillborn.

The reason that this topic is so ripe for me today, leads back about eight to ten months. At that time, I was contacted by the community college in my hometown, to answer a series of questions regarding the New Media and Design program they were looking to restructure. I advised them to narrow the offering of the program, concentrate on fundamentals, and court a new faculty for the program. I felt that this would help them access the expertise needed to in fact deliver on their mandate.

I was particularly passionate about the topic, as we had turned so many of their past graduates away, due to their remarkably deficient portfolios. These were nice kids who really wanted to work, but frankly, would have to be deprogrammed to just become employable with any substantial firm.

Don’t blame me for this one

This morning, I stumbled upon the College’s redesigned offering. This revamped program was purportedly built around the feedback of people like me. It is a train-wreck. They have forgone the opportunity to carefully build a reputable program, and instead have tried to cram in every skill one might possibly require in a creative shop. It simply lacks any of the focus required to be useful to its future students.

The curriculum is scattered to say the best. In just two years, they will introduce their students to writing, publishing, creativity, illustration, interactive, multimedia design, technology, animation, video, sound, history, professional practices, and oh so much more!

I feel the offering is quite extensive, given that none of the listed faculty actually appear to have any experience in professional practice or background in much of what they are to offer. Certainly, they can infill with sessional staff; however, I ask, given that design is part of their core offering, shouldn’t one of their key faculty members actually have a substantial personal history in that discipline? I’m quite certain that those who do not practice or have a credible background in design quite simply have no right to teach it.

If you would like to peruse the program and offering for yourself, you will find the College of New Caledonia’s New Media Communication + Design program’s website here: www.cnc.bc.ca/nmcd/

Now, I think that we can all agree that a community college should be afforded some latitude in their level of offering. No one expects a small institution like this to compete with the Rhode Island School of Design; however, I feel that they do have a responsibility to those who trust in their ability to deliver a substantial education. The media relating to this particular program notes that they will ensure that graduates are “highly employable”, as a result of their new education model. I am left highly skeptical.

This is of course just one example; yet, I believe that it represents a systemic challenge faced by our industry. It seems that as a result of these haphazardly offered programs, our profession suffers from a glut of incapable designers who deserved a better indoctrination to the practice.

Now you too can be a graphix deziner!

These programs are everywhere, and the confusion surrounding them is growing. It cheapens our practice, and exhausts young people who could have a good shake at the industry, given the proper support and a sound education.

One of the most consternating thoughts I have heard on this topic was from a seventeen year old who was considering design colleges to attend. He felt that a one or two year program at VFS was in fact the equivalent of a four year program at the Emily Carr Institute. He had been led to believe that by paying five times the tuition, they would simply concentrate that much more learning in to the year.

There are no shortcuts here. Sure, there are intensive programs; however, as a new design student, you simply cannot condense this much learning in to a single year.

Students generally require time to explore, grow, and debate. That process cannot be compressed excessively. The logic is simply flawed. I would compare it to baking a cake faster by setting the oven to “broil”.

Many of these institutions tout the state-of-the-art software that they teach, as a key benefit of their curriculum. I would argue that the applications used in our industry are simply a means to an end, and should remain far from the focus of any design curriculum. An education in design has everything to do with process, craft, and critical thinking. (Photoshop comes pretty easy when you have those first points covered.)

To the trained eye, it’s easy to see the difference between the programs offered by varying institutions; however, the issue is that these new students often lack this critical ability to gauge the difference between programs. Isn’t it then someone’s responsibility to inform them?

Why so grumpy Eric?

I’m sure that the people at CNC’s NMCD program (and many others like it), will think I’m a real Mr. Stinky Pants for saying these less than flattering things about their programs, and I’m almost sorry about that. I suppose that what limits my apology is the number of times I’ve had to explain to one of their students that they picked a program that never should have been offered in its current state.

Firms like ours are the ones who have to let down these new graduates when their work isn’t up to par. More than that however, I find it deceitful to squander the energy and time of people who entrust these institutions with their welfare.

My advice to young students and parents is always the same. Look for the best institutions you can, visit the campuses of interest, discuss the programs with faculty and alumni, and rigorously research the credibility of the program, faculty, and institution.

As much as the responsibility for quality education should rest upon the institution offering the program, the onus sadly lies upon you, the applicant. I encourage you to do your homework. A career in design is rewarding and worthwhile. Don’t allow anyone to compromise your opportunity to do great work in this field.

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Clayton Misura says:

    As an individual who has a B.F.A in visual arts, studied design at Emily Carr and procured a certificate from an “intensive” multi-media program, I have sufficient, first hand knowledge of some the issues you present in “The Erosion of Design Education”. There does seem to be an overall saturation and dilution of design education. It’s easy – perhaps, even fair - for people who are already industry insiders to view these programs, and their graduates as inadequate: some probably are, and some are definitely not. However, I believe that these programs are only systemic symptoms of a greater root problem, one that probably started within the professional design community. These new graphic design programs are a reaction to current industry standards. Design firms actively advertise for people who know all the latest and greatest software – period. There is no mention of the fine arts (drawing, painting…), psychology, anthropology, and the other diverse fields which contribute to the design process. Designers are homogenized and marketed to the general population as a one trick pony. My girlfriend, who is a student in the University of British Columbia’s medical program, constantly asks me to explain what I do, so she can explain it to her fellow class mates, who don’t know. We need to educate others, not just preach to the converted …ourselves.

  2. Ben Arent says:


    I have only just today found your blog, Via DesignBoom. I'm just getting to the reality of this problem from a students perspective. I'm currently studying a BA in Product Design, and currently seeking an internship. I'm just finding that the one thing that is major lacking is the old fashioned "pencil" ... As I'm a designer and doing a BA at that, I need to draw well, and as far as the "industry" is concerned its most important tool. Saying this, I believe I have picked the best Product Design program in the UK, purely on the fact that all the projects we work on are for a client, and all of the work is on a crit basis.
    Another things that get me, is that in my class of 18, there are only 11 who really put in the effort with the work. The other 7 just take it as a joke, and just take a easy ride..

    I guess like you said,, I’m just going to have too keep practicing!

    But its interesting too see that there are quite a lot of establishments getting it wrong.

    p.s. Any comments on my portfolio will be welcome!

  3. Design education is a hot topic for me, as well. As someone who came to be an interactive designer from outside art school (I have a BA in English), dealing with BFA and other design programs has been quite frustrating.

    Many BFA programs focus too much on traditional fine arts, and turn out "art" designers who have a difficult time creating commercial work for clients rather than expressing their personal design styles. They complain about brand guidelines, "sell-out" work, and lack the basic ability to work within a development team.

    Many continuing education programs focus on technology rather than critical thinking and building design skills. You can take a Photoshop class, or a Flash class, or a Dreamweaver class, but this doesn't make you a designer. Being an interactive designer isn't just a matter of learning to make a web page, but that's how many CE programs treat it. Just add some software training to a basic design curriculum and call it good!

    Having recently looked in to graduate school, I can also say that many MFA and MA programs are just continuations of the BFA experience. They purport to "prepare" students for a career as a designer. What about experienced designers who want to improve their craft and explore new ideas in the discipline? Why are we left behind? One of the few programs of interest I have found is at Simon Fraser, actually. It's research-focused, and highly interdisciplinary. Moving to BC from Oregon might just be worth it...

    There's a significant failing within design academia, and it's going to bite us one day soon. We're treating design like a trade, or like and art, but not like a practice. New media design is going through some serious growing pains. I think that the best thing we can do for ourselves right now is keep the discussion about design education going, and spread our ideas to would-be designers.

    I could go on and on, but I won't...

  4. Clayton Misura says:

    Design is art. Design is design. Stefan Sagmeister, Milton Glaser and Saul Bass – just to name a few – are part and parcel of both the design community and the art world. Design history is art history (think Bauhaus movement). Why bother splitting hairs: designers can be many things, learn in many ways and absorb a number of different disciplines. That’s why I love design. As long as the work is well produced, inspired, and effective, who cares if you have a B.F.A or a Bsc or nothing at all.

  5. This is defintely an issue for myself, as a sophomore at Parsons.

    I second the claim that design education is more akin to a plumber ( aka trade school) I would go even one more step in the case of Parsons.

    Parsons produces "good" designers. "Good" in the sense of status quo that is.

    Stacy's issue of "too much fine arts" certainly is not an issue here at parsons. In fact I would say the oppiste here- there's not enough of the exploration, risk taking and soul searching that the fine arts offer in design here at parsons.

    and as a result you get is a education in decoration.
    decoration in the sense of pretty/"cool"/"clean"/ "professional" stuff that has no substance.
    Bahuas and Tschold had substance and authenticy to them- today their innovations are now just co-op'ed by no hack "designers" to make stuff look "clean", "professional", etc.

    forget innovation, all you get is repettion.

    of course to be fair, with a tuttion now at 45,000/year Parsons indirectly forces students into postion that requires the current systems and society. gotta sell the soul to make the dough.

    in that atmosphere innovation and avant-garde design is not something the students have in mind or is an issue to them since they just want to get there tuttion paid off.

    Now if we want to talk about the business world, in fact business needs innovation, risk taking, new prespectives more than ever ( ipod, blackberry, etc. anyone?)!

    If we're just being trained to learn our photoshop CS2 and how to make preaty lil' grids how the hell is that innovation?

    design education is in serious need of a total revolution- otherwise the blah stangantion of the design world for the past 10 years is going to only contiue.

  6. jamie says:

    I have only one request for design education and that is to teach problem solving. I am nearly finished the long trail of education and although my previous university ad an excellent name, with superb staff and good facilities i found myself wanting more problem solving advice. Generally speaking you are given a nudge here and there but what i think is lacking is super quick problem solving exercises, say two three day projects all sketch based, perhaps team projects whereby students are encouraged to actually identify the problems and conceptualise with a little more pace. Dont get me wrong i appreciate longer projects with more research and development but without the skill of identifying problems students create projects that have no real usp. I would also appreciate some more projects based on user groups and there market preferences. I love design education to bits but i feel it needs to change, students need to be pushed closer to business.
    Most students can use a computer very well these days, that may be what the industry wants at a ground level i.e cad monkey's but if people want to progress they need to learn that ideas are there real product not the abilty to use a sky light on a poly model.

  7. Matt says:

    I agree that there should be more quick projects in design classes that focus more on how quickly you can problem solve, and within a budget. Most of my design projects were dragged out for weeks if not months, and most critiques focused on aesthetic choices instead of whether the problem was solved. I rarely got bad critiques or made to feel that my work was not up to snuff; I think I just needed a professor to say that I sucked, throw all my work in the garbage and tell me to start over.
    I say this because one of my first interviews after graduating consisted of being put in front of a G3 Mac and design three posters for one of the firm's real-life clients to choose from. Needless to say, my design education did not prepare me at all for that situation. What I needed in school were small assignments that stressed problem solving and speed.

  8. Robert Young says:

    Graphic design is always in movement, today to be a graphic designer you must understand culture reference and symbol, you have to see it has a language not like a beautiful drawing. We speak with images; we are visual communicator, not a programmer or a skilled mouse controller. We must understand the power of icon and symbol. We need to develop our visual grammar and not the latest software. To be a good graphic designer we need to practice our skill with a pen and a sheet of paper and develop concept and theory.Learn how to associate different symbol together to create a complete visual phrase.

    Most of the design institution should include more history, sociology and psychology class and less Photoshop class.

  9. Clayton says:

    Nice Robert!!

  10. Lara Mc says:

    I can so relate to your post Eric.

    Currently I am a first year in the MFA design program at SVA. Prior to this I was the program director at a small college that offered a '2yr. intensive graphic design program'. It wasn't as bad as the community college's program you referenced, but it certainly wasn't up to par.

    There were always those star pupils who were so talented they'd have succeeded wherever college they went to, but the others graduated with portfolios that were seriously lacking. I won't mention the college (which was private), but what it boiled down to for them was money. They had the flashy technology to entice students and parents, claimed to teach them everything they'd need to know in just 2 yrs, but as you mentioned, none of the instructors were known (or even good) designers.

    Having no undergrad design degree myself, I felt underqualified to run an effective design program and left after 8 months. So, I am now at an institution I feel ranks at the top, where I can learn from teachers like Glaser and Sagmeister. Then, I can confidently go back into education armed with the knowledge needed to craft an effective curriculum.

    This topic is close to my heart, thanks for the post.

  11. Maynard Winter says:

    This post hits so close to home.

    I went to a 'technical' design school in 1996. I was told that 15 months was all I needed to either enter the industry as a designer, or do freelance work. It wasn't until near graduation that I discovered that no firm or employer would touch any graduate from the school I was attending, but I would need a BFA to even get my foot in the door (I know, it's all about portfolio, but I know a lot of places won't take anyone who doesn't have a BFA.) To make matters worse, the credits I earned at this school would not transfer to a 4-year institution.

    After graduation, I struggled. My portfolio was seriously lacking and tried going to community college to earn credits and did what I could to learn about graphic design in the true sense (process, cirtical thinking, etc.) ...I've also had to battle with self-esteem and confidence issues, but I worked hard, and have made a career for myself as a professional for five years. It's not a 'prime' design job, but it's full time, semi-creative, and I am learning.

    It's still a struggle, though. There are times where I don't feel my work is up to par. I don't feel like my design friends highly regard me or my work. Although I read books written by Bob Gill, Pentagram (even had a tour of their NY offices a couple of years ago), Sagmeister... I still feel inadequate. I don't feel I could compete if I had to apply to a firm or company seeking a designer.

    I can't help but think that I wouldn't have these problems had I gone to a school like Tyler, Parsons or RISD... if I had that BFA, and that solid, proper training.

    Don't get me wrong. This is my fault. I chose that other school in 1996. I'm to blame. I'm reminded every month because I'm STILL paying student loans on that non-transferable degree.

    Rest assured, this is a serious problem in the industry.

    Thank you for your post.


  12. Robert Young says:

    This is probably the best design school (HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd (All.)http://www.hfg-gmuenignd.de/index_en.html, but it in Germany .If you you want to stay in Canada, you should go to the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).UQAM is rated in one of the top design school in America. And I am not saying that because I want to that school.

    Bonne nuit.
    Je vous embrasse tous!!!

  13. Clayton Misura says:

    What truly matters is passion. Challenge yourself. Take artistic risks. Fail. Learn.

    I do every day.

  14. Tom Muller says:

    Very interesting topic, and I have to agree with some replies that its a situation forced upon schools from the "industry". I graduated at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts in Antwerp/Belgium in 1998 with a masters degree in graphic & advertising design. Now, when I started looking for a job, I quickly realised that I had very little technical know-how. Sure I could work with all the required applications one would expect to be used in a design agency, but back, if you asked me to separate colours or design a site I wouldn't have known. But I could design. I had the creative "experience" if you will, from life drawing, typography classes, painting, colour theory etc, complimented with computer classes (so I could work on a Mac). I got hired on my first job, not because I could handcode HTML, but because they saw I had a good foundation understood design and they said that "the rest" (i.e. the technical/production part of the job) will be learned through the job. You can learn that easily. Design insight is something that takes longer. What I see now in some instances is that schools/student place too much emphasis on the technical side. Its almost like it doesn't matter if you're a good designer, as long as you know Flash 8 Professional, you'll get a job asap! I think thats wrong. I (and I bet hundreds of others) learned stuff like Flash on the job. Those are technical things, and it doesn't take much to hire a great designer and give him or her a little push learning software. It takes a lot more time to teach an average designer who knows Flash inside and out to be a good designer.

  15. Mike Huynh says:

    I will be commencing University soon studying Visual Communication. I agree with many of what has said and I would particularly be focused on the foundation of design. However, I also think it is the industry's problem. I have seen many job offers by large or "reknowned" agencies who require people who know software programs. I think that isn't the point of working for someone like them. To be able to conceptualise and work out what should happen using simple paper and pencil should be embraced. What I dislike is individuals working in this field who have big egos, especially some on forums. Sure you can see they always design cool stuff to show but I would like to mention that talent isn't so important, but passion and the determination to work hard will prevail in your work. I would also like to say that the issue of design education should be looked geographically. Speaking from your school may not be applicable to a school somewhere overseas. I also agree in saying that you need to visit all the schools around your area to find out what they offer.

  16. Cameron says:

    Thanks for your link on the gdc blog. I appreciate your point-of-view. In the GDC case we have two stakeholders we need to adequately address - schools, and students. Currently we don't have the resources to assess schools thoroughly and objectively, so is it unfair to exclude a school based on our current length of program criteria. Not really. At the same time, is it responsible to afford a student membership (condoning the education by association) to students that take programs that offer them little hope in the marketplace. Not really. Its more complicated even than this, but ulimately, I have to side with the ethics of not misleading people over unfairly excluding a capable short program.

  17. Cameron says:

    sorry, I meant, it is really unfair to exclude schools.

  18. clare says:

    hi, i got to your site because i was searching for information about the Emily Carr Institute ... thanks for the post and to all those who replied, very helpful...)

    i don't think the schools set out to mislead people, maybe it's just that they cater to different needs?
    eg. some people need to focus more on thinking skills, some need to brush up on the technical...(although, perhaps, a crash couse on design software would serve this purpose)

    i think part of htis is due to the marketplace, some people just want to get a job, so if they have style and can master a software it is enough to get them a well-paying job.

    because after all, in consumer culture most design is for disposable products with very short life-cycles, so as long as you can make it look good, it's considered enough.

    much of design now is from the outside in, not the inside out, because of $$. fierce & fast competition, so maybe technical skills-oriented schools are catering to ppl who want to enter this line of work.

    that said, perhaps those aspiring to do design seriously should be a bit more motivated to develop his/her own sort of thinking skills?
    but i agree that having classes that push you to think is very helpful & important.

  19. clare says:

    but of course, i am speaking from a product design point of view.

    now that i want to study for a BA, i am facing a difficult choice -

    choose a school that focuses more on thinking skills, or technical skills?

    because it is important that i communicate my design well, visually and verbally.

    granted, i like to put a lot of thought into my projects, but will it matter if i can't communicate them effectively enough to sell my product/ idea?

    so now i am trying to decide whether do do a more visual communications, skills oriented course or one that involves more industrial design and thinking skills.

    any input will be greatly appreciated.


  20. B:) says:

    Hi all, hope you're still plugged into this blog...just found it after doing some research on multimedia.

    Just thought I would throw this at you. I grew up in a small, northern, sheltered town. But, oddly as it may sound, I was raised keeping world history, art and culture in mind, largely through a western lense, admittedly, but aware of the greater world beyond none the less.

    I've travelled. Degree History in Art. Degree Interior Design. and lately added Multimedia.

    Lets just say I understand the language of Art & Design. I know how different schools approach the "curriculum" dire-lemma from first hand experience. All of you have made valid points. But let's face it. The market is a hungry beast and it loves to feast on Pop culture. And it's a narrow genre. Think about it. There is already sooo much of it out there. How narrow is the gap to come up with something original, that still fits the pop need?

    If you are a student going into the arts/design...you better know that you can produce & be comfortable with popular culture. That's what the market wants.

    Curriculums don't shape students towards what the market wants. They don't tell you what it's actually like out there, what the demand is. That's for each individual student to figure out on their own. The earlier they figure that out the better. If you've got that sorted before you enter the program...GREAT! But let's be realistic...who does? Probably just those students who ease their way through, not needing any particular guidance to begin with. (as mentioned above)

    If you grew up in the city, have a relative in the field, or just happened to love MTV since you could walk, I think you may have a chance...if you really work hard, have the passion & can think critically & creatively, well then you might have a chance...but it's a narrow one at best.

    You can have all the passion in the world. You can go to the "right" school. But at the end of the day, if the preliminary formation years & having the right connections...not to forget being in the "pop culture" loop aren't there...well then, "working hard" and "having passion" take on a whole new meaning! And the pitty is, employers aren't ever going to know about it, because they can't see it in your portfolio. Investing in a person, shapping them on pure desire? Not likely. Today, the expectation is, we don't want to have to teach you much, because to be honest, we don't have the time & the bottom line is what counts, so we won't be investing in you. You better have what it takes when we hire you.

    So there in lies the gap. I feel for young people today. Getting stuck in the gap. No one there really to help them out of it. We've had discussions in school how come today, there is no Michelangelo or Leonardo equivalent? My guess is this discussion has got something to do with it!

    I've read a few books on the great designers of the world. They're personal take on what the path to success looks like? You know what most of them said? Failure and never really getting comfortable with it. Ya! And most of us fail a lot of the time...eventually you're going to have to pay some bills.

    But if I were to lay all the cards out on the table? I think it has more to do with a lost sense of the greater good & contributing to that vision...teacher, student, employer...no matter who you are. $$ is a lousy substitution.

    How do you like them apples??

  21. Mike Rutherford says:

    I have to say as a recent graduate from the New Media Communications and Design Program, you are absolutely right. I've learned nothing that will transfer to any design job from that course. The only thing I took from it was a group of friends that all wanted to get into the design field.

    Everything that I show in my portfolio are things I taught myself. I have no idea what the quality of these pieces are anymore and now I rarely ever show my portfolio.

    The course is trying to run with the big boys like Emily Carr, but it's a diploma -- 2 years. There's far too much being thrown at you to learn any of it any of it. If the course was 4 years, then maybe there would be something to take away from it but unfortunately it just leaves you high and dry with $6000 missing from your pocket.

    I honestly hope that the course changes but with 25 more kids coming next year, it doesn't look like anything will. :'(

  22. Kristi says:

    As a newly graduated member of the New Media program i completely agree with you on this one. Although there were one or two teachers who could be of assistance, the majority were vastly underqualified, and didnt seem to have any real interest in teaching us what we needed to know. I talked to the woman who organized the program and told her that I ( as well of the rest of our classmates) felt that the program needed to be longer. Her response was that people wouldn't take the course if it was longer than two years.

    Right now I am currently trying to create a new portfolio for finding work in this field.

    I know I am no where near qualified to get a job in the design industry (as I was so promised), but I figure that if I can even try to get a job a copy center or printing center then I can learn at least a little bit more.

    I wonder if you have any advice for the students that have already made the mistake of going to a school that "mis-educated"? Is there hope for us still?

  23. There are plenty of options. The fact is: many designers have taken non-traditional paths in their careers.

    Here's what I suggest:

    1. Decide specifically what kind of work you want to do
    2. Find a way to make *a little* money
    3. Do whatever you can to work with great people
    4. Learn

    The first point is the most important. Do you want to be an interaction designer, developer, communication designer, or something else? You need to figure this out, so that you can reduce the amount of information you need to absorb. Meanwhile, this will allow you the time to gain relevant experience.

    Money, of course, is sort of a big deal. Ultimately, you need a little in order to pay the rent. Everyone's situation is different though and you have to weigh money versus experience. If you can find a way to keep costs low, you might be able to take on an amazing internship somewhere. (That may be more valuable than a better-paying job.) Whatever you take on though – be it copy-center or internship – spend as much time learning as you can. Even seemingly boring production work can make you a better designer.

    If you really love the work, and will bust your ass to improve your skill set, you might find someone who'll take you under their wing. Great people can make a huge difference in your growth as a designer. Another possibility, on this note, is to apply to a longer program. I'm alumni, so I'm biased; but, I think Emily Carr's four year programs give designers a lot of time to mature.

    The last point is one that lasts forever. Buy (or borrow) design books and absorb them; "google" terms you don't understand; familiarize yourself with designers relevant to your area of interest and get to know what their stories are. Personally, I think this point is the one that makes/breaks designers. I've met people with great promise whose careers fizzle-out because they just aren't that interested. On the other hand, I've met ones with weak portfolios, who knock everyone's socks off a few years later. If you love doing this and you practice enough, you can rock.

    Working as a designer is sometimes hard, but it can be equally rewarding. Don't see your current situation as anything more than a temporary setback. Determine what you want and simply go get it. Don't let anything stand in your way.

  24. Rondal Scott says:

    Curious how the New Caledonia site is no longer live. Having spread my academic experience between collegiate pursuit and on-the-job training (so much of it unfortunately unpaid) I can attest to the ill-refined response of "higher education" to offer advertising/design programs. Unfortunately many students must find it within themselves to exceed to boundaries of their typical assignments and seek out opportunities on their own time. This is bothering as the cost of many programs far outweighs the potential benefit as those hours would be better spent in the industry as an intern.

    The biggest problem seems to stem from the rate at which this medium is constantly changing and evolving which can make it hard to develop curriculum for (but not impossible as Rhode Island attests). Its a tough industry to work in and one that is perhaps least understood by those who you will work for/with (clients and managers), but if you're the type who can't stop creating, drawing, thinking, and producing then is no greater feeling than when a good idea finally breaks through and can be shared by the world.

  25. Wow, this looks like it has been unattended for a while and now it's picked up traction again!

    Having graduated from a good school about 5 years ago, my view is that no matter what school you go to you will only take away what you put in. Granted, if the people leading the way aren't as skilled as they should be this posses a problem. But even if they are skilled one needs to take it upon themselves to push the limits of their capabilities.

    Good post though.

  26. Your "rant" on design education is certainly justifiable.

    It upsets me as well when I see advertisements on television that claim "you can be a graphic designer," and the ad is for a technical school. Why can't these schools say "you can be a production artist"? If you only have technical training then you will (most likely) not become a designer (or a good one anyway).

    The jobs that suit technical graduates best are Pre-press or art assistant. Which are great occupations. So why do these schools mislead in their ads? Does they get more students or do they think people don't get what a pre-press technician does? Either way it's wrong.

    It would be like a nursing school telling people that they too could become doctors.

    Maybe the industry itself needs to start making clearer distinctions between a graphic technician and a graphic designer. Both are needed to create quality work.

  27. You have said it quite well. I was just having yet another conversation on the same subject w/a fellow designer this past week.

    "Many of these institutions tout the state-of-the-art software that they teach, as a key benefit of their curriculum. I would argue that the applications used in our industry are simply a means to an end, and should remain far from the focus of any design curriculum. An education in design has everything to do with process, craft, and critical thinking. (Photoshop comes pretty easy when you have those first points covered.)

    To the trained eye, it’s easy to see the difference between the programs offered by varying institutions; however, the issue is that these new students often lack this critical ability to gauge the difference between programs. Isn’t it then someone’s responsibility to inform them?"

    As you have stated, the biggest injustice is that these institutions promise the world to this young audience. This is the same audience who is coming out of an extremely sheltered environment -- manufactured by both well-meaning parents and public education system that have worked very hard to paint a picture of the world that is entirely false; one in which everyone is a winner and everyone else has their best interests in mind. Instead of helping, it sets these wide-eyed deers in the headlights up for broken hearts and dreams.

    Sadly, the outright usury of these institutions is the first rude awakening for an entire generation. They only realize shortly after investing a large sum of time and $$ into a shallow-at-best degree that the world is not what it seems and that they have been taken advantage of (to the point of it being criminal).

    I have worked in my own little ways to deter high school students from going straight into technical design schools who promise them the world. I urge them to invest the time for a more useful and well-rounded 4 year bachelors degree at an accredited university. At the very least, such a degree/program provides them with more options for the future. If they ever want to transfer schools, change majors or go back to school for graduate work, the degree that they will posses (often at a 1/4 of the cost of the technical schools) will be much more accommodating. Plus, it will serve them much more in developing the critical thinking and problem solving skills needed for many areas of their lives -- both professionally and personally. I personally went to a state school and participated in and graduated from the honors program from said university. I'm still discovering the value of such an education that emphasized exploration, questioning, thinking and discovering.

    There's lots of talk for design advocacy for our profession in the now. I also think this design advocacy needs to stand-up and fight for those who are just beginning their journeys and seeking educational options in design.

    I have spoken to far too many recent grad who realize that they have been used. Far too many institutions (I use the term loosely) have made far too much money off of their naivete.

  28. Peter says:

    Hi All,

    I have recently discovered this website which I must say has a number of very interesting articles to read.

    Coming from a Mediterranean country with a professional background in Visual Communication, I must agree that these institutions don't exactly offer what they're promising.

    Having said that I do identify two reasons; one, they consider their programs as a financial investment in order for their institutions to survive in the world we're living thus, producing "professionals" with a series lack of intellectual abilities and skills which are a significant part of our profession and two, because from their experience they have verified that what the job market really needs is a number of art workers and not a number of professional designers who are equipped with both tangible and intangible competences.

    Furthermore, this is also true for a number of Asian countries who have both public and private institutions offering a two-years course; promising that their graduates will be "successful and highly educated professionals". More specifically, about two years ago I had an offer from a private institution in Singapore, to work there as a tutor for one of their two-years intense visual communication course. In the interview conducted, I had the opportunity to ask them if they believed that their program running in only two years was successful as also, if they felt that their students were - could fully absorbed-accumulate this huge load of knowledge offered in just two years. Their answer was, "we've been doing this for the past 20 years successfully".

    Thank you for your time.

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