Ten years on

This week a fresh new batch of design students graduated from the course I completed ten years ago. That time has passed quickly, but graduation still feels a lifetime ago. I find myself reflecting on the value of design education and its relevance to the world we live in.

You see, every year there are thousands of design students graduating from universities across the UK and there are not thousands of jobs for them to go in to, so I suppose I am asking: what do you learn in a design education which prepares you for life inside and outside of the design industry? Here are my top ten.

  1. Inspiration is everywhere
    Seriously. Everywhere. How you draw information from something, how you notice things that someone else might have just walked by. A design education trains the eye to not just accept what is there but to wonder why and how it came to be.
  2. How to evaluate and talk about your work
    This is massively important in the workplace. Being able to articulate your ideas and explain and evaluate your work is so valuable. As, indeed, is…
  3. How to accept and offer criticism
    It’s tough when someone doesn’t like your work. But in industry it happens all the time. It’s not personal. You have to learn a little distance from what you make. It’s not a piece of art, it’s designed to fulfil a function and part of its function is to please a client and get you paid. It’s not the poetic definition of design you might have wanted, but it is real. Being able to diplomatically offer criticism is also valuable. But being able to suggest solutions is better.
  4. How to research
    Know your shit. Seriously. Know your audience, their community, their history, know your client’s competitors. Know your visual language. Know the context and implications of your work. Know your shit.
  5. Presentation skills
    I’ve won jobs because my work was presented better than other peoples. It makes it look like you care. It makes it look like you take yourself seriously and more importantly, you take your client seriously.
  6. Technical skills (an multi-lingual approach to software)
    When I entered design education in 2001 I was way ahead of my peers because of my previous knowledge of Photoshop and vector drawing programmes. Things are different now. Everyone is computer literate. Pretty much everyone has a computer at home, if not in their pocket. You can manipulate imagery and add text on your phone. The role of the designer evolves. Stay on top of software advances but remember that smoke and mirrors is not substitute for a great idea.
  7. Problem analysis and problem solving
    Understand a brief, understand when you’ve successfully answered it (and understand that sometimes the brief can be wrong). There is no industry in which problem solving skills aren’t advantageous.
  8. Communication skills
    If you’re not a confident speaker in a meeting, practice. That old adage, fake it til you make it, that applies here.
  9. The art of collaboration
    Sometimes working with someone else yields results better than the sum of their parts. These are magical times, my friend, cherish them.
  10. Never trust autosave
    It can and will let you down. When you most need it. Don’t be the person who misses their deadline because of it.