5 Design Lessons Your Tutor Won’t Teach You

Sometimes I wish I had a real time machine, just like in Back to the Future. I would go back to 1999 when I started university and tell myself some of the key things I’ve learnt during my 10+ years of creating and designing products. Unfortunately there is no Delorean here for me to do that, so instead I’m giving that advice to aspiring designers who are still students. Here are five things that your tutor probably won’t teach you about design.

Sometimes I wish I had a real time machine, just like in Back to the Future. I would go back to 1999 when I started university and tell myself some of the key things I’ve learnt during my 10+ years of creating and designing products. Unfortunately there is no DeLorean here for me to do that, so instead I’m giving that advice to aspiring designers who are still students. Here are five things that your tutor probably won’t teach you about design.

1. Design is a business

No matter which way you swing it, the purpose of design is to solve a problem or communicate a message.. usually for money. Some tutors seem to leave the business side of things out of the equation, and when a student leaves university they are shocked when their beautiful trendy designs are torn to pieces by clients.
Lesson: The client is always right, no matter how cool or trendy your design is. Learn to take criticism and suggest alternative solutions or talk them out of their decisions.

2. Experience outweighs education

Nothing compares to hands on experience. Pure and simple. Some courses may provide internships which definitely help, but they can’t compare to the graft and pressure of a real design job at an agency. This is where experience trumps education every time, and your university portfolio may not be enough to guarantee a job once you leave university.
Lesson: Freelance on the side while in university so you have a portfolio of real client work when looking for jobs.

3. Assignments and the ‘curriculum’ don’t actually matter

Your tutor may have you believe that getting your assignments done is the most important thing. What is actually more important is your own personal development as a designer and creative and that the assignments just give you the basic foundation. So when you turn in that assignment, just remember it takes a lot more to get into the design industry.
Lesson: Create side projects and explore your own personal creativity.

4. Show more than one option

Some assignments or projects may only require you to come up with one solution to a problem. However this approach can be restrictive and at a real design job it’s very rare that one solution is all that is required.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to experiment and show alternative solutions. Real clients usually expect to see at least 2 options in the initial stages of the design process.

5. Competition is fierce

While getting a degree is definitely a plus when trying to get a job in design, don’t assume that piece of paper they give you is a golden ticket to getting a job. There’s a whole lot of competition out there and you need to stand out from the crowd.
Lesson: Network at events and build up your contacts before leaving university.
Whether you are a student or seasoned designer, what do you think about the state of design education?