It’s around that time of the year when design students go back to school, getting set for another year of honing their craft, discovering the processes they love and the ones they hate, and probably a bit of partying thrown in there too.
Leaving art school and starting in professional practice might mean that late nights out turn into late nights at work, but it shouldn’t mean experimentation, collaboration, or any of the other wonderful things art school offers, should fall by the wayside. We spoke to some design industry professionals about how the things they learned as students are still vital to their work today.
“At Rhode Island School of Design in your first year of college you don’t go directly into your major. Instead you must take a mix of painting, woodworking, drawing, and sculpture classes. When I went into my design major sophomore year I started applying some of these tactile and handmade techniques into my design work, combining them with digital techniques to bring my work somewhere new and interesting. That is one of the biggest things I learned in college, the value of getting off the computer and just making shit.”
Jessica Walsh, partner at Sagmeister & Walsh, New York
“Originality and conceptual thinking were the formal things drummed into us at Glasgow School of Art’s visual communications course almost 20 years ago. One of the tutors once told us not to look for inspiration in design books as that’s where millions of other designers will be looking, and our work would end up looking just like everyone else’s. Another one of his stable lines was ‘…throw away the top card’ (the most obvious solution) and work on other ideas first. In this age of technology making design so much easier to implement, and internet sites like Pinterest making inspiration easy, originality in design is even more valuable.
“Another skill that I still cherish is sketching—the ability to get an idea down on paper instantly. We even look for this skill in the designers we hire. If you rely solely on a computer in the early formative stages of an idea, then naturally it is going to shape it in a more generic direction. Another piece of advice our tutor gave us: ‘A good idea on a post-it note (jotted down on your way to a presentation) is better than a mediocre idea on the flashiest set of mocked up visuals.’”
David Freer, founding partner at O Street, Glasgow
“When we were students, we really thought that art school was a place for experiments or a space of cross-disciplinary learning. But in fact, in our school, the art department and graphic department were clearly separate sections. Unfortunately, this situation was motivated by teachers. Our current work is a rejection of that separateness. We both hate gender concepts. We love being multidisciplinary. This opens the mind.
“To be more positive, art school taught us to think about things, to argue our ideas. Some teachers were good educators because they taught us to be ourselves, not just a disciple or follower. That is what we are doing during workshops; trying to ensure students work to their strengths to find their own way of thinking. A good designer can also be a good person.”
Carole Gautier and Eugénie Favre, co-founders of My Name Is Wendy, Paris
“No one will help your career unless you help yourself. When I was a student my course revolved more around learning programs rather than the style or substance of the work we were producing. I just wanted to do collages and develop my illustration and design style further and had naively hoped that lecturers would be sympathetic to my exploration. I definitely think it’s necessary to learn these programs, but to focus courses like this entirely on knowing keyboard shortcuts is pretty bogus and pisses all over the rich design history we have behind us. I spent a lot of time in the library actually swotting up on all of those amazing movements and practitioners.
“One of the biggest things I learned was how to present my work. The people in my class were the hardest crowd I’ve had to win over when speaking, so it taught me a lot about how to get people on your side and engaged. I also learned the importance of making friends with the right people, so instead of dicking about with other students (although I did do a lot of that) I made sure I knew what I was talking about when speaking to the lecturers. I’m pretty sure I would have failed all together if I hadn’t had won those guys over.”
Gordon Reid/Middle Boop, graphic designer and illustrator, London
“As a student you can be influenced by so much around you. I was lucky enough to have a lecturer and mentor, Guy Mirabella, that taught me essential values when it came to design that I still practice today. First, show your personality and have some fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right. And second, design is subjective and can be and will be scrutinized, however great design that is concept-driven, simple and intuitive is always rejoiced in—good design will only ever look good. When working today it’s so easy to jump onto a computer and whack out a design, but I find that it is extremely valuable, then and now, to just pick up a pencil and write down your thoughts, sketch out some ideas, and talk things out together. It’s a fluid way of thinking that doesn’t get stifled by ‘taps’ and ‘clicks’.”
Jake Post, director of operations, Base Design, New York