Ask DN: Should I go to a Design School?

over 7 years ago from , Voice of K-2SO

Hello DN,

I'm Bilal, a 22 year old self-taught designer, who studied Computer Science and Engineering. After 4 years of that, I realised I wanted to be a Designer. Because I love it, also because have a natural flair for it.

So after graduation, I've been working as a Interaction Designer for over a year now. You can check out my portfolio at http://bil.al

I've learned a lot by working on lot of projects. But I'm now wondering if I need a formal design education?

Im guessing that in a design school, there'll be - Case Studies - Meeting renowned design thinkers - Having a design-healthy network, etc. As an individual to grow as a designer, I feel these are quite important too.

So, is design education the way forward? If yes, please recommend some good schools. There are ton of schools out there and I don't know where to go.

P.S Thanks for taking the time to read this. A bitcoin each for your thoughts. :P


  • Elmar HaneveldElmar Haneveld, 7 years ago

    Hi Bilal,

    I can only speak as a self-taught designer who hasn't had an education in Design (Theology/Philosophy instead).

    For me it wasn't necessary at all to have a Design education. I had a successful small business for 5 years and now I am part of the great design team at Resoluut in Amsterdam. It does help to have a good education (for thinking processes, general knowledge etc.), but I wouldn't call it a must.

    Loving design, having a natural flair for it is a great start! I would like to add: Being someone who lives to learn + work, work and work.

    Go do it.

    (Btw. I couldn't open your website, got a blank page)

    4 points
    • Jonathan ShariatJonathan Shariat, 7 years ago

      My vote is on this. If you already have a CS degree and are doing design, its better for you to take 1 year and focus on designing many new things, stretch yourself. You will get more experience from doing, learning from other designers, and online articles then you will any school.

      2 points
    • Bilal Mohammed, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

      Thanks Elmar!

      Yes, I agree with you. Learn+work, work and work.

      Blank page? Strange. You wanna try again? Maybe refresh it once? http://bil.al

      0 points
  • James McGevey, 3 years ago

    hi there! It’s great site. so many topics and opinions. I used to read, basically washingtonpost but now your site one of my favorites. Thank you!

    1 point
  • Matthaeus KrennMatthaeus Krenn, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

    What you need at this stage of your "career" are good mentors who help you grow by providing you with shortcuts to the insights they have had over the years, and by inspiring you to do better. If you don't have that, your growth will be very slow and you will be stuck in mediocrity for a long time.

    Good teachers in good courses can be mentors like that. They'll inspire you to do your best work and will help point out the areas in which you need to improve the most.

    The right people at companies can be play those mentor roles for you too. Somebody who feels the responsibility to help you grow and makes sure that you're no just sitting there, doing brainless work.

    Personally, I think you're more likely to learn from mentors while doing real work rather than sitting in school. But you'll have to do one of both. I don't think hanging out at home, freelancing and looking at Dribbble is going to allow you to grow fast enough.

    1 point
  • Ray MartinRay Martin, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

    As someone who went to design school at a public California Uni., I will say that it will be beneficial to go if you've had NO exposure; it will get you to think and expose you to the standard stuff: typography, theory, etc.

    However, that was 2 years ago for me, and I can say that I've learned much, much more just by doing design, researching, and observing work by friends/others.

    Education is education, and you get what you put in regardless of where that education is derived from. Apologies for the cheesy metaphor, but If you've planted a seed for design in your mind, you'll harvest it however you can!

    1 point
  • Ryan RushingRyan Rushing, over 7 years ago

    Only if you can afford it, otherwise no. Working experience is far more valuable than formal schooling.

    1 point
  • Martijn Otter, 7 years ago

    I'd say no. Try to go for internships, you will learn a lot more than in Design School.

    1 point
  • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, 7 years ago

    Hi, Bilal.

    1 point
  • Jon GoldJon Gold, 7 years ago

    Depends - where are you thinking of going? If you go to a top-flight design school I think it will be worth it for all the reasons you mentioned; I wouldn't study design just for the sake of it though - there are lots of shitty courses out there without the connections and great mentoring.

    1 point
  • Arun KP, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

    You should try National Institute of Design being in India and if you are ready to sacrifice 4yrs of your life just for learning.

    1 point
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      1 point
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        0 points
  • Jonathan Wilhoite, over 3 years ago

    Today degree is not always necessary, you can take up editional courses on Web Design and you can find job of your dreams. I have a diploma in economics, but recently took up course at https://essaydune.com/write-my-paper/ and I can work as a writer.

    0 points
  • Stof BernaertStof Bernaert, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

    Hello Bilal,

    Everything I learned on school was a really really basic to get started in what I'm doing now (combining IT and Graphics). In my early 20, I was often thinking on the fact I would regret a lot I decided not to continue higher studies in 1 or another direction. Just to learn 'special things'.

    Actually, more than 10 years later, I regret not at all I decided to start working. Cause, with this time of working I would never have learned the same amount schoolwise. I don't blame school. It helps in a way to discover your interests ... but if you really have some natural flair ... you discover on school quickly that the learning curve is very slow ... and frustrating.

    Seeing your website ... you don't need school. Instead, DO surround you with interesting people to get influenced. Do conferences, become speaker ... there you'll find the real school to evolve, to make progression.

    Good luck with your natural flair. Having one is awesome. You just need to deepen it. This happens not on a school, but in the school of life you organise yourself. Ciaoo, Stof

    0 points
  • Vamsi Sai TVamsi Sai T, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

    I'm told that in India there is a lot of potential for budding designers. I realise there is no real design school here at India. NID is a great place, but not comparable to other options abroad.

    There are two immediate options.

    1. Make some plans on the funding to get to a good design school abroad, to interact with great designers and have a good faculty, or
    2. stay back in the homeland self teaching oneself.

    Would love to connect with you. I'm also thinking of taking design as my profession. We can meetup sometime as I see even you stay in Bangalore.

    0 points
  • Eliot SlevinEliot Slevin, 7 years ago

    I'm currently in the middle of a design degree, and I would suggest it, but don't treat it as the start and end of your design education.

    Treat it as time to develop and focus on design, each project is an opportunity to improve your craft. The formal qualification is secondary, shit maybe even third.

    You'll end up having to take things which you don't think you'll like, but ultimately will be helpful. I for one wasn't interested in design history at all until I had to take a course about it.

    I'm not sure how much it would cost in India, but where I live it's affordable. How much would you be looking per year?

    0 points
  • jj moijj moi, 7 years ago

    You should go, but you don't need to finish it if you don't care about the degree. You can learn more than 50% of the whole 4-year program by just taking 3-5 courses. Master degree is usually a good choice.

    0 points
  • Catalin CimpanuCatalin Cimpanu, over 7 years ago

    I would advise against it. Unless your local design school comes highly recommended.

    0 points
  • Justin EdmundJustin Edmund, 7 years ago


    0 points
  • Phil RauPhil Rau, 7 years ago

    So you're asking for our 2 cents, but you're paying a bitcoin for it? How generous!

    I took a hybrid approach, went for two years to a community college that actually had a really great design program, then two years to a private art school. No one can justify the full 4 years of private school for design, its simply too pricey. I think the value of what I got from 2 years of school there mostly justified the cost, but since you've already got a job doing interaction design, it might be less worth it.

    0 points
  • Weston VierreggerWeston Vierregger, 7 years ago (edited 7 years ago )

    My 2¢:

    I went to design school and, like some people say here, there are pros and cons. The upside is that you spend 4 years surrounded by young designers and brilliant instructors (if you pick the right school) which gives you a huge opportunity to try, fail, succeed, experiment, question, critique, and develop. As a learning environment, for a designer, the college setting is as good a place as any. By far the most important thing I believe about design school isn't necessarily the proper education you receive, it's the experience of being completely immersed in a world of artists and designers.

    Not to mention the reputation aspect of schools. I've been given lots of opportunities that I otherwise wouldn't have had without my design school's reputation and connections, both as a student and as an alum. That aspect alone has been worth every minute and penny I spent on my education.

    The cons are obvious. Usually expensive, sometimes a time-suck, sometimes lots of bullshit you need to tolerate... Often you may find that it feels like school is not for you. Or maybe you will feel advanced beyond your classmates. Or, maybe, you will even feel advanced beyond your instructors— which is pure arrogance, but it happens. Some people don't get anything out of it, and with the wealth of information and huge community of designers available to you via the internet, it might not be necessary. Sorry to be vague... I guess the answer is just different for everyone.

    I thoroughly enjoyed design school for many reasons. I don't think I'll ever be in an environment again in my life which will be so potently inspiring as a knowledge center, an incubator, a social setting, a design lab, just a place to freely consume and create with hardly any real repercussions. Maybe I'm just waxing nostalgic about it, though.

    0 points
  • Jason BeatonJason Beaton, 7 years ago

    My Immediate answer would be: No, It's not necessary. I wasted 4 years on a Graphic Design degree only to learn things that if I did a little searching on the interwebs, I would have learned the same things. However, In my mind there are two benfits to going to a school for design. Curriculum, and Connections. A great design school will have a well executed curriculum to build your experience and help you learn. If you can provide yourself with this, then School is not necessary. As far as connections, some of the higher end schools will have the best connections (internships, graduates who now work in the field, etc...) which can take a long to to establish on your own.

    0 points
  • Sebastián RibasSebastián Ribas, 7 years ago

    I'd always go for Design education, but you need to go to the best you can afford, always. It's not so much about connections, but if you can afford a great school you'll probably have teachers who are great and inspiring.

    If you're looking for a purely academic design school, where you can learn the basics, design theory and history, I'd recommend any of the european design schools such as Barcelona, Delft, Lausanne, London or Weimar. They have great heritage and lots of great designers have learnt there.

    However, if you're looking for a more specific Interaction Design school, I know that the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design has a really good summer school, so I guess their IxD Programme is also good. http://ciid.dk/

    Hope it helps.

    0 points
  • Kristy TillmanKristy Tillman, 7 years ago

    Hi Bilal,

    I will tell you a shortened form of my story.

    I was artistic and creative during high school–invested in my art for 4 years but was encouraged to go to business school and had no idea one could pursue an artistic /design career.

    My parents encouraged me to go to business school. I was in a 5 year MBA program but decided to finish in the Bachelors only option after several internships when I knew that I'd hated this decision and wanted out.

    Funny enough I was quite successful n my coursework and internships it was just not the thing for me. However, during one of my internships I met a guy who was a designer who worked for some pretty serious companies freelance and I was inspired by his work. Little did I know that this friendship would change my life course. Side note, he was formally educated.

    After graduating business school, I took my first job that paid well but that I absolutely hated. I decided to go to grad school to get out of this job and buy some time. Meanwhile, my designer friend begin showing me his work and introducing me tools that he used and of course I downloaded copies of CS and started playing and making my own things– I was intrigued.

    I started my masters level history program. I loved it and thought I might go on to a Ph.D. program and become a history professor. Meanwhile I had begin to earn a bit of side money with my designs, which were absolutely horrid, even for that time. But that did not stop some people from paying and it also built my confidence.

    I had to do a co-op for my masters program and I worked for a tiny museum. They had a graphic designer do bigger things but they had a lot of unmet needs because of capital constraints --which allowed a canvas to hone my skills and actually do things that people would see. It was here that I realized A. that I LOVED design and B. That I had bumped up against the wall on my self -taught skills. My work was just OKAY at the time but lacked so much polish and refinement relative to the designers I admired. So I while I applied to Ph.D programs I also decided to apply to design programs after putting together a portfolio, which I now consider laughable--but it got me in and some scholarship money.

    This is the best decision I have ever made. Learning the fundamentals in a group setting in a structured way was just what I needed to add polish and refinement. My typography courses were extremely essential. It also opened me up to amazing opportunities that I would not have had as a self taught designer. For example, I was a design team member in college --meaning I tried out and won a position on the schools' brand team, which gave me a lot experience designing real things for the school for several years. I also got exposed to highly renowned designers--for example I got do the invitation for Ellen Lupton's lecture, which also means I got to dine and make a connection with her.

    I also had several highly coveted internships with major brands, i.e. Converse. My graduation portfolio was full of professional work and very little school assignments compared to my peers. This allowed me to go pretty far fast. I am now a designer at IDEO, which would have never happened if I toiled away in my basement solo. Also being a few years older and having earned a degree gave me a serious advantage in design school. I knew why I was there and had a bit more maturity which means I worked my ass off comparatively. While other kids thought it was fun to go out and get wasted, I would be in the studio toiling away on my work burning the midnight oil.

    So I say all that to say it really depends on what your objectives are. School was very good for me. It gave me the polish and skills I needed in a structured environment. It allowed me to build a network and access degree-only opportunities. It carved out the space and time for me to actually dedicate my time to learning the craft. It provided a level of legitimacy to my skills--which some people require. So I'd ask myself-- How much time you have? What your needs are? What kind of learner you are?

    Getting a formal education is almost never really a bad thing. Especially at 22, you're still very young . Also since I already had degrees all of my liberal art education was taken care of , and I only had to take core classes and art history. So it was shorter than 4 years.

    In terms of schools it depends on what your major is. I majored in Graphic Design--although I do way more than graphic design on my job. But AICAD schools are a good place to start to look.

    0 points
    • Nick WNick W, 7 years ago

      Can you elaborate on some of the processes in design school that you learned?

      For example, design critiques and how they are carried out is something you can't really experience in a technical (ie. engineering) background or a business background

      0 points
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