Tips On Surviving Design School

Tips On Surviving Design School

If you're new to my blog, chances are you have no idea what course I took in college, what my major was or any of those things. Quick heads up, I graduated from design school, majoring in Interactive Digital Media which isn't entirely graphics design but isn't completely different either — which I'll explain later. As such, I have a few suggestions (or tips and tricks, if you must) on what to expect or how to handle things like assignments and deadlines when you're currently enrolled in or are thinking about pursuing arts and design in college.

For starters, in my college, there are two streaming programs under the arts and design major. The first is Graphics Design (alternatively known as Visual Communications Design), a program where the syllabus revolves around prints, branding and packaging — basically anything and everything print related. Meanwhile, Interactive Digital Media refers to a program where students learn how to be, well, a digital multimedia designer; we learned about web and mobile apps, user interface and experience, augmented reality, etc. Like I said, the two programs may be different but they may also compliment each other at times.

Now that we're done with that, let's go back to what this post is all about. Keep in mind that these tips are based on my four years of experience in design school. While I understand that not all design schools behave the same way, I still try to keep this list as general as possible.
  • Teach yourself some basic graphics design tools (I highly recommend the basic two: Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator) few weeks or months before you started your first day. For instance, I taught myself Adobe Photoshop when I was still in high school. This will save you some time, I promise.
  • Get organized. Use sticky notes, notepad or journal — anything to keep you updated.
  • Invest in progress. Do your assignment bit by bit on daily basis so you have more time to unwind and less marathon game with deadlines.
  • Ideas and concepts are not free. Do not give them to your friends. A helping hand and free ideas are not the same thing. 
  • First and second semesters can be tough.
  • Survive your foundation courses. Yeah, I hated doing manual, fine art assignments but I survived because I wanted to move on from cutting triangles and drawing lines.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practice your eyes (this is not a joke), practice your analytical and critical thinking, practice your sketches, design, illustration, etc.
  • Always keep your sketches. You don't know when you will need them again.
  • Always, always save in the middle of designing just in case your software decides to bail on you *knock wood*
  • Always come up with alternative designs; for e.g 10-20 design for a 'Home' page. 
  • Play around with design elements such as lines, shapes and especially, colors.
  • Build a strong concept. A great concept is the key to great design.
  • Just like sketches, backup your work(s) and keep them in an external hard drive.
  • Over estimate the time you think one assignment needs. If you managed to complete the task faster, you will have extra time to do other things.
  • Do beta testing. If you're a UI / UX Designer, do beta testing with prototyping tools. If you're a graphics designer, do several print tests a few days BEFORE your deadline.
  • Stay inspired. If you're experiencing designer's block, instead of sitting down and waiting for ideas to come, browse for some creativity. Try Pinterest, Behance or Dribbble for references.
  • Research and explore, don't expect your professor to teach you completely about how to use a software you've never tried before. Browse some tutorials, there are plenty of them.
  • Don't worry about not finding your niche. The design industry is vast and broad. You will find a specific field that you want to focus on later and that's alright.
  • Design is subjective. Your friend may not like what you do but others may think differently. Just because someone doesn't like your work doesn't mean it's garbage.
  • There is always room for improvement.
  • Build your online portfolio early. It will help you be one or two steps ahead.
  • Attend workshop and seminars. They may inspire your creative side.
  • Experiment with different visual styles before finding one that fits your forte.
  • Don't be cocky. Trust me, I've seen a classmate grew and now he's all about underestimating others and sees himself as a prodigy. No, don't go down this path. There will always be a better designer than you, always. That should aspire you to grow your skills, not grow your head a thousand times bigger.

I might have missed some tips but I think I've pretty much listed some, if not most, important ones. If you're a design graduate or currently enrolled in design school and have more advises to add, feel free to do so in the comments below!

This post is written and meant to connect with a guest post I wrote for Missing Wanderer which will be published on April 7, 2017 so be sure to check it out once it's there.