Designers Don’t Need Art School

A formal degree is not as important as your portfolio. While investing in design school may be a good choice for some, it isn’t necessary. Essentially, this business is about “What have you done lately?” Your work is tangible, so you can always show a potential client or employer what you’re capable of by showing them what you’ve done.

If you have the opportunity and resources to attend design school or an art program, and you want that experience, go for it. But with the rising cost of higher education and the serious consideration of taking on student loan debt, this is actually a great field for learning on-the-job rather than in a classroom. There is no need to take out a big student loan or invest lots of money in a degree.

In fact, whether you go to school or not, you’ll essentially learn this trade through apprenticeship: gaining knowledge and skills from the people around you who are better than you or have been doing it longer. Picture the medieval blacksmith, passing the hard-learned lessons of his craft onto an apprentice who works alongside him in the smithy. Learning design is very similar. You’ll acquire insights and skills from those around you, and you’ll have mentors and teachers along the way. As you gain more experience, your skills will improve and your portfolio will grow.

There is plenty of interesting, well-paying work out there for designers with no more than a high school diploma. In fact, I’m living proof: a first-semester college dropout who managed to work my way up to Art Director at the White House. I’m not saying this to boast, just to make the point that you really can go anywhere you want to in this field. It’s not about what degree you have — it’s about continually honing your skills. Two or three years’ experience can put you on the same footing as someone who went to an expensive school.

This is part 2 of the Designer Handbook Series
Previous article: 01
Two Non-Negotiable Skills Every Designer Needs

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