Sunday, July 1, 2007

Do I really need a graphic design degree?

Ok George, so you want to get into graphic design?

You probably fit in one of two categories:
1. you're a great artist (illustrator, painter, etc.) or
2. you have no clue about art

This is a common question for people who are about to graduate from high school. They have an interest in a graphic design career and wonder if they need to get formal training. Often times, students think that, just because they learned the basics of a couple design programs like Photoshop or Flash, they can take that skillset and get a job without going back for specialized training.

Do you want the truth? You can have a graphic design career without training. I am proof. I am a self-taught graphic designer and, although I have a double bachelor degree (advertising, corporate communications), I have never had exclusive training for graphic design. After about 6 years of doing graphic design, I found myself teaching it at a local college. So yes, the possibility is out there. HOWEVER, this is a very strange thing that has happened, because it's all about the timing of things. There are no guarantees. You'd be taking a risk.

Yes, I believe you should continue your education. Do this to learn the technique, history, theories and best practices. And, unless you invest in your personal graphic design library, chances are you won't learn this, or you'll just assume you know it already. This is the value of getting a certificate or degree in graphic design. It's also a way to learn from other people, other thinking/problem solving styles and by asking questions and getting critiqued. You will grow and mature much faster and better in this type of learning environment.

Keep in mind, graphic design is not just about being creative or learning software, it's about visual problem solving and learning practical, client expectations. If you're choosing graphic design just because you want to make things look "cool," you're not going to succeed in this business.

Graphic designers are specialist in visual communication. You will be using design, layout, typography and color to communicate and have your audience think, feel or do something. You are selling ideas, you are selling emotion. By going to school, you will understand how these elements fit together and understand the psychology behind it. You will be able to clearly identify the difference between good design and bad design.

Colleges with design programs have built relationships with local businesses and employers in the industry and, will often times, have job placement opportunities.

All good graphic design programs will be geared toward building your portfolio to present to potential employers. You will work on a variety of projects for you to experience the process of concept to completion on a variety of media.

What do employers look for?
Employers prefer you have a degree or certificate in graphic design. They will choose someone who does before they choose someone who doesn't. It's very competitive, and you have to be on top of your game.

An employer will quiz your ability to problem solve by asking what you would do in certain scenarios. They will ask you specific questions to know if you know the program -- what are the steps to achieve this or that?

They want to know if you have a nice personality (non-egotistical, boastful, full of it, cocky, got the point?) and will be able to work and take directions from others. They are looking for your thorough knowledge of design principles and theory and your ability to use typography and color very well. Can you sell an idea? They may ask indirect questions to find this out.

What have been your experiences (challenges and/or advice)? Select the "comments" link below to post your response.

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