The most important thing I learned in design school.

Spoiler alert- it wasn’t how to design.

In my mid 30’s I decided to go back to school to explore a long-held desire to get a degree in design.

Being in design school was exciting and it felt like I was finally studying the “right thing” after a futile attempt to finish a degree in the past. To my surprise, there were many other students in my demographic which helped ease any anxieties I had on fitting in or being the oldest student in the class.

I was motivated and inspired semester after semester even though I was working full-time, studying full-time and trying to start a family. I even pumped in the bathroom during breaks when I did eventually become pregnant and gave birth to my daughter mid-way through my degree, (that’s another story for another day).

I learned color theory, principles of design and all the latest software. I arrived early to every class, ever-prepared and open to any information taught. The decision and commitment to go back to school for a design degree had affirmed itself tenfold as it did lead to a successful design career.

Yet the most important thing I learned in design school was not how to be a designer but how to stand behind my designs.

Very early on in the course I realized that all the teachers were actually coaching us on how to speak up, how to present and bring our knowledge to the table with each project presentation. I would observe students showcasing their designs and observe how the teachers would ask questions that uncovered the thought process behind a student’s work.

Some of the questions asked were:

What was your inspiration behind this design?

What sort of research did you do that contributed to your overall vision?

How much time did you spend planning this design vs. actually designing it?

How do you think the client will feel once they experience this design in person?

At the start of the course I assumed only the best designs would score the highest as clearly there were some naturally talented students throughout the entirely of the program. In the beginning I remember feeling intimidated when presenting after such talent.

Yet what I realized was the students who completed the degree with confidence and a killer portfolio to bring to the job market were the students who could truly speak for their work.

It was those who learned over time and practice how to voice their ideas and convince the client (or at that time- teacher) to adopt their vision that moved on to really cool job opportunities once graduated. Some even found work before the course ended.

Even now as I reflect fondly on those memories hunched over the drafting table for hours or stuck untangling components and groups in SketchUp, I know that learning to speak up for my designs has helped me not only as an interior designer but through all the disciplines of design I specialized in afterwards, namely- UX Design, Web Development and Product Design.

So if you are currently in some form of design study or are considering going back to school for design enjoy the process and enjoy learning how to speak up for your work, express your vision and thought process, share with your audience why you are so passionate about your decisions and please- let me know how your design course and career unfolds for you! (you can email me at hello@dianeserra.com)


Diane Serra is a multidisciplinary designer living in San Diego, California and Barcelona, Spain. When she’s not blogging or slanging design files, you can find her navigating motherhood and Instagramming at @dianeserra.