Design Is About Motivation, Not Education

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When I first started working as a graphic designer I had no real educational experience with design. I had studied a general media course, but I have no degree. I found myself an apprenticeship which I got more through passion than a portfolio, and I worked hard and taught myself everything I needed to know. I consider myself self taught.

Usually I find that is only the older generation of graphic designers who can say the same. The vast majority of people now have been told that education is the only way to a good career. I disagree. University is a useful way to learn about a career, but only through working and experiencing the real scenarios can you see that no perfect university project can set you up for a picky, indecisive client who wants what they want because they think its best.

I’m not saying that there is any easy way to learn this, but there is so much that nobody can prepare you for. The problem with university is that the graphic design industry is such a fast moving industry that no technology, processes or methods are here to stay. The problem with an ever-evolving industry is that it’s the opposite of what university is for. University is a platform from which to develop a good basis from which to use as the foundations for a career. It is sad to see that so many graduates have to resort to free work and internships to get by – it seems employers understand that education is not equal to experience. No designer should have to work for free.

So what knowledge and foundations can university provide? The answer here is simple; design principles and a good understanding of the history of design. I can’t fault that. I can however point out that all of this information is readily available on the internet, in books, and from other designers, all you have to do is search for it.

Perhaps it just takes a certain type of person to sit down and teach themselves something, but with the right drive there is nothing stopping you from learning everything yourself. I find it quite surprising that university fees, which have rocketed in the UK particularly of late, could be completely avoided if the person just found the time to teach them self. At the end of the day it’s not about education, it’s not about experience, it’s about motivation. Education can be gained (whether formally or informally), experience can be found (whether through practice, or roles obtained through passion), but motivation is what drives you to make something of yourself.

So next time you think about your design career, regardless of if you’ve been to university, taught yourself or are deciding what to do with your life, the responsibility is on your shoulders. There is nothing you cannot achieve if you want it enough.

5 Comments

  1. romicagawon says:

    Hi Arron, I saw the title of this post and just thought “Yes, that’s true for me”. I saw you started following me and you read my intro post so, you know a little bit about me. So far I’m completely self-taught. I know of other people who have become successful in design without any official education and I considered this for some time. However, I found it difficult to get honest feedback of people with let’s say an experienced eye for design. Furthermore, I found it hard to develop and try something out of my comfort zone. I also felt that I’d like to work and learn from and with other people. So for these and quite a few other reasons I decided to go to uni. How did you get good feedback and what helped you to push yourself?

    • Hi Romica, thanks for taking a look at my blog. There are a lot of ways I like to try and improve, but feedback is always helpful if you can get it. For me, I had my apprenticeship to fall back on, during which I was working alongside more experienced designers. This was great for asking for feedback on work for the company, but also sometimes personal work too. More importantly though, and something which might be more helpful to you, it showed me the importance of watching how somebody else does something. By seeing how other people carry out a certain task allows you to spot where you’re going wrong. Look out for people who achieve the effect you want to achieve, and try and spot what they’re doing that you arent. Or -better – ask them.

      However if you arent working alongside other more experienced people, there are other things I find helpful for development and experimentation.
      I use Twitter a lot, as there’s a thriving design community, where many people share their work, so some good feedback has come from there. I know other people use Behance and Dribbble for showcasing work and receiving feedback.
      I’ve also seen experienced designers offering ‘mentoring’ opportunities, where they’re happy to meet up, discuss work and generally help you out. I’ve had a Skype call along these lines before and it was really helpful to hear somebody else’s thoughts.
      Speaking to people who are clueless in design can also be helpful sometimes. It’s wrong to expect detailed feedback, but everyone knows if they think something looks good or bad. Sometimes the trick here is to give people a choice between two options, and ask which they prefer.
      Tutorials are also a lifesaver, even if you think you know how to do something, a good tutorial can still teach you something you didn’t realise. Tutorials are everywhere on the internet, and also in graphic design magazines (which I also love), and following tutorials can make you feel more confident trying something completely new, or outside of your comfort zone.
      One last thing I personally like to do is look at the work of amateur designers, who are still learning themselves and ask yourself what you think you could improve on. Sometimes seeing other people’s mistakes can make you realise your own! Also, it can be quite nice giving feedback to these people too (provided it’s constructive and not patronising).

      I feel like my response should be a blog post of its own!

    • romicagawon says:

      Thank you, Arron. ^^ it could be a blog post of its own, yeah. I didn’t expect such a detailed answer. I didn’t know about those mentoring opportunities. I haven’t really tried twitter, behance or dribbble yet but I’ll give it a try. You mentioned graphic design magazines. I have thought of subscribing to one recently. Do you have any recommendations?

    • I figured I may as well give you a proper response! Haha.
      Yeah I came across the mentoring opportunities more by accident than anything, but I’ve seen a few in the past.
      As for magazines, I get Computer Arts Magazine delivered to me. It’s produced by http://www.creativebloq.com . Focuses more on articles than tutorials though if that’s what you’re looking for.

    • romicagawon says:

      That’s great, thank you. I’m still at the very beginning so I’m grateful for any piece of advice. I’ll check it out.

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