Educating Design

I feel that I should start this post with a disclaimer. I dont profess to knowing all the ins and out of each universities curriculum in England, nor whether my views on the matter are shared by my peers who have taken the same or similiar journey into the design industry as I. All I can go on, are my experiences and my take outs from the education that I received.

More and more, the question is being asked, “Do you need to go to University to get a job in Design?”

There seems to be a very pre-defined and accepted path you should take on the way to a career and it is the route that I myself took. You start off at school, you do your GCSEs, followed by A Levels, you go onto university in your chosen subject, you graduate, you get a job. You can almost sense the government ticking off each box, “Well done you’ve passed the stage, on you go…!”

It’s a process that’s drilled into the heads of many and this way of progressing works for a majority of careers. In the creative industry however, i’m not convinced it need be as prescribed as this.


Graphic Design only really got introduced to me in school, around Year 8. It was a mix of isometric drawings and designing album covers for your favourite bands and although looking back at it now, wasn’t hugely relevant, I loved it. I was never really that academic, I couldn’t get my head around Chemistry, Maths confused me and I once started speaking Spanish in my German oral exam, despite never taking Spanish. I ended up focusing on both Art and Graphic Design at A level, receiving an A* in both.

My passion was there, but despite this, I still wasn’t really sure I wanted to study at University, which I was told, was the must go route in order to get yourself a job. My Art Teacher however introduced me to a Foundation degree, a stepping stone between A Level and University. So I went on to do this and I can honestly say it was the most rewarding period of my time in education. A one year course, where you were dipped into lots of different aspects of Art and Design, from Fine Art, Fashion, Photography to Web Design and even Pottery. In this one year, I found myself trying out so much more than I had ever tried before. Your end marks weren’t a box ticking exercise but genuine feedback on your style and approach. The tutors respected that each and every student had their own way of working and that going about things in a pre-regimented way wasn’t going to cut it for everybody.

Thinking that this was what University would also be like, it got me excited. I decided I wanted to work within digital design. The closest course to what I wanted to do was, ‘Visual Communication’, where I would be able to explore, graphic communication, illustration, animation and advertising. The web design aspect of this course was minimal, when I say minimal, I mean it was pretty none existent and involved working a lot with Flash. The box ticking exercises that were none existent on my Foundation degree, quicky returned too. Creativity was encouraged, yes, but regimented, in a way in which would get you the marks. The enthusiasm I received from my Foundation degree tutors seemed missing from those now teaching me.

I came out with a 1st, to which I was very proud of, a lot of hard work and time was spent to receive that grade, but, contrary to what I was frequently told by my Tutors, in not one Interview I had since graduating was I ever asked, “So, what grade did you get at Uni?” On top of this, I don’t feel as though I really even learnt anything that I didn’t already have an understanding of. What the Industry did want to see, was examples of my work, my solutions to problems and how I tackled these. I of course had this, but my portfolio was very much that of a University student.

Jump forward to 2016 and this is still the only course available at both of my local Universities and the course that I find so difficult to recommend to future designers.

Upon getting my first real job and where I still work 6 years on, I very quickly started to learn much more in my first few months alone. Things that actually benefitted me in the Industry that I wanted to be in. From new people skills, methods of working to getting a proper understanding of time management. Even to this day, with introductions of new ways of working, new team members or advancements in the modern web, i’m learning something different everyday and it’s exciting!

During my time at University, we weren’t encouraged to seek out work placements within an agency, nor did the University bring in people to speak to us. Both of these things do now happen…to a degree…but is it really enough? I have spoken to various fellow colleagues who all agree that their course could have been better. That they were being taught outdated methods or things that simply weren’t relevant in the real world. They felt let down.

I believe that a Foundation degree to figure out the industry that you want to be a part of is hugely beneficial, but from then, With hindsight I would consider seeking out internships within agencies instead of going down the University route, learn from the best, gain some valuable experience and build upon your portfolio, it’s this after all that every agency wants to see. Straight away you will be building up a network of contacts and experiencing work life in different studios. Yes, you may have to work for free a lot of the time, maybe with just your travel expenses taken care of, hello cruel real world, but what you gain could be a whole lot more beneficial than what you’d pick up at University, without the student debt to boot.

Currently, a few agencies do offer internship programs, or allow students to come and work with them for a week or two, setting up mini briefs or sometimes letting them loose on client work. Though I do think more of this mindset could help.

But should it be solely put on agencies to help educate the next generation of designers? Of course not, the mentality of going through the education process will always be there as to those who help influence what you should do will always see this as the correct route. Therefore, it’s down to Universities to step up their game and offer an education that we pay good money for. I don’t have the answers, but I have some thoughts on what I think would be a good start. Tutors need to keep more up to date with the latest technologies and advancements in web and app design, they are, afterall teaching the future generation and more often or not in my experience using outdated methods. Agency placements ought to be encouraged from your first year as part of the curriculum and mentors within the industry should be established with a student as someone who can give help and advice. Realistic time frames should be set on projects, at University you would have months and months working on one idea, coming into agency life and discovering i’d only have a week, two if I was lucky on some projects was a shock to the system. Introduce fake deadlines, bring these deadlines forward last minute without notice and encourage more collaboration with other students, not just those on the same course.

I would love to hear other peoples thoughts and experiences on this, so please share and leave a comment.


Thank you for reading, you can see some of my work on my Dribbble and follow me on Twitter.

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