Before I begin, I want to welcome you to my new website and design blog. I have been contemplating a blog for quite some time and between working full time, just getting married and starting a freelance career, it was always far down on the totem pole. My name is David Nieves and I am a graphic and website designer. I graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) with a bachelors degree in graphic design. Why am I telling you this? Because recently I was contacted by someone whom I thought was an undergrad looking for some information about becoming a designer.
This person who we will call Sally, said she had been researching online for art/design education and came across an article I had shared on my previous website. She was hoping to get some more information and I felt it was mighty brave of her to reach out. Not going to lie but it was also the first time someone asked me “The Professional” for some advice and I kind of liked it.
I replied and after some time received a new message asking me to read her article and give some notes. The article was for bestcolleges.com and was promoting the idea of skipping out the traditional college experience for an online graphic degree that will offer the same clout as the old standard. I could not disagree more with what they were promoting.
Now before you rip me apart, I understand that people may not have the time, money, or resources to attend a traditional college and online degree programs might be right for you. But after experiencing a traditional college classroom first hand and watching John Oliver describe the horrors of for-profit schools on Last Week Tonight; responded with something I don’t think she was expecting.
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I had a chance to read the article and think its a very well written article for people searching for an online degree however I believe online courses are far better for people who already have a degree and are looking to continue education. While online courses seem great because they work with your schedule they do not offer any of the real struggles of being a graphic designer. Going to a college and having hands on experience with a teacher, having your work torn off the wall and criticized is vital to the real cut throat industry. As a designer you need to be able to handle someone hating your work, you must be able to adapt quickly to an opinion that you may or may not agree with in order to deliver the product that your client or boss wants. Without a real critique, like ones that you receive in a traditional classroom, you are being mailed a piece of paper without really being challenged the way the real world works. With a surplus of people claiming to be graphic designers, the industry is quickly becoming saturated with under-qualified individuals who only know how to cut out a photo in Photoshop and pass it off as design. They will apply for the same jobs as real professionals and be willing to take a pay cut, causing the average salary to drop, forcing professionals to have to work full-time and freelance to make ends meet.
I’m sure this was not the response you were hoping for, however as a professional designer with a Bachelors Degree from RIT’s graphic design program and over 8 years experience in the field I have seen my fair share of people who claim to be a designer and don’t even know the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts. They were cheated out of a real education, given a bachelors degree, and have no actual skills in the real world.
Best of luck with the article,
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If you are someone who is interested in a career in graphic or website design, take it from me, you need a real education. There are plenty of state schools and art/design schools that can work with your financial situation to make it work. Having hands on experience working with teachers who will not pull back is probably the most important education I ever received. I can’t tell you the names of the courses I took, and to be honest it doesn’t matter. The first day of my internship after graduation I realized just how right my teachers were. I was terrible. And so were you!
I left school thinking I was hot shit and I had the paper to prove it. Except I was dead wrong. In fact, I am pretty sure I was laughed out of a number of interviews showing off the mock project I had made during my senior year. The one thing that gave me an edge over other designers was that I could take criticism and adapt. I could sit there after 10 grueling hours of working on what I considered to be the greatest thing since the FedEx logo only to discover that the client talked to their 3rd cousins ex wife the other day, and she knows a guy who likes “designy” stuff, and they said my work was crap. They want to go in a different direction and the logo I created was too simple and wanted something closer to clip art they found in their last google search. Things like this happen every single day as a professional graphic designer. The client changes their mind, your boss has an epiphany, and the worst thing about it, is it’s all opinion based. Your creation could be perfect for the next guy but that doesn’t matter. What you have to do is pick up the pieces and start again, and again, and again until you find the right fit for them.
You do not get that kind of training at an online college course. You will not stand in front of 20 other people, talk about your work only to hear them nitpick and destroy each tiny piece in front of you. Hell, I’ve witnessed teachers walk up to the board and physically rip someones final project off the wall, tear it up in front of them, and tell them to do it again by tomorrow. It’s horrible to watch, but dammit am I happy to have experienced it in college instead of a paying client.
So please, if you really want to be a designer, a good designer, go to college. You will thank me once you finish.
I’d love to hear what other designers have to say about the subject and encourage you to comment below.