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Is Design School Worth It?

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  • Is Design School Worth It?

    Lately I've been doing a lot of reading and watching of videos on this, weather or not what you would get out of going to an art school to learn design is worth the rising price of tuition. I am still in high school and reading about other peoples experiences, where what they were taught in school was worthless once out there and the actual important skills are only learned through actually working, it frankly makes me wonder what value a degree from an art school would have. I always thought that in order for someone to hire you you would need a degree to serve as ethos, but now I'm not so sure.

    I recently watched one video where this guy proposed that instead of paying to go to art school you could take that money and pay industry leaders (like Micheal Bierut, Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister, ect.) to allow you to shadow under them. What are your guys' opinions on any of this. Do you think that Design School is necessary anymore? What do you think of the video? What other alternatives are there to design school that you would recommend?

    Any thoughts on this would really be appreciated, I don't think that I am the only one with these concerns.

    Also here's a link to the video that I mentioned:
    (He starts talking about his alternative at 21:39)

  • #2
    Coincidentally I watched a video from the guy in the video a couple of weeks ago. He was working with a design student. Really good direction, and it's a real world enviornment. I would totally recommend mentoring under someone like this rather than art school.


    • #3
      Part of the decision of going for a degree or not can depend on what kinds of jobs you want to pursue. Many, many employers require a degree and 2-3 years real-world (not freelance) experience. Even if not getting a degree is the smartest, sanest, most economical choice, it could severely limit your employment options, no matter how good you are.
      Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.


      • ClaySirknee
        ClaySirknee commented
        Editing a comment
        Would it be viable to get an internship at a design firm, or even pay for the internship, and then work and learn there until you get offered a full time job?

        It seems me that school is a type of credential that allows you to get work, because it ensures that by graduating from that school you have met a certain set of standards. But I think that working by working with a firm you are also backed by the quality of work that firm produces.

        It seems like it's all about providing yourself with ethos (one of the three key points to persuasion, in this case persuading someone to hire you). In order to have ethos you have to be backed by some sort of institution that has a good reputation among the people who you are trying to convince to hire you.

        So my question is whether or not being mentored by a top tier designer, or interning at a well known design firm would provide you with the same amount backing needed to get you a job?

      • KitchWitch
        KitchWitch commented
        Editing a comment
        In theory, everything you said makes sense, although interning at one agency only helps to boost your chances of being hired at that agency. In some companies - I can't speak for all but I'm hearing about it more and more - here's what happens... A job opening is posted for a designer. Fifty-seven million designers send in resumes. Those get scanned and checked for key words, letter combinations, etc. One of those is more than likely BFA or the like. If the computer system doesn't find what it's looking for, it tosses the resume before a human being ever sees it. I don't think it's ethos so much as efficiency of process.So you'd have to make it through the computer scan and probably a first interview with HR before you even meet someone you could convince to hire you. And I'm talking about in-house, corporate opportunities, to be clear. I am not familiar with agency hiring at all.

    • #4
      It wasn't until about 10 years ago that I started saying you need a degree. The reason why? There are just too many newb designers out there and the only way to weed you down to a manageable number for interviewing is to require the degree on top of the 2-3 years of real world experience. Not every place is like that, but a lot of the upper echelon studios and corporate work arenas are.

      I firmly believe that graphic design should be taught like the trade that it is. Any school that offers the course, should spend the first year teaching theory, the next two years applying that theory to projects that mirror the real world all the way up to the production level, and the final year should be a placed internship under a vetted mentor.
      But that would mean not accepting more students than they can place and heaven forbid the schools don't take every last dime they can squeeze from GD hopefuls that think chair projects and self-directed studies are going to get them a job, or prepare them for a freelance career.
      Until students, and the parents footing the bill, demand better of our college system, I don't hold out much hope for them.


      • ClaySirknee
        ClaySirknee commented
        Editing a comment
        But wouldn't being mentored by a "industry leader" designer and getting a recommendation from them, or maybe even a job, serve to separate you from other designers in a similar way that school does?

        It seems to me that the only way to force schools to change how they teach design would be to force them to adapt to the market by adding a new means of getting a credible education.

        I guess what I am really asking is: would being mentored by a top tier designer (or multiple ones) serve as a replacement to a traditional college education? (In means of getting you job in the real world and preparing you to handle it).

    • #5
      To put it bluntly, my best guess (based solely on my 30-plus years of observations and experience) is that only about one in ten design majors are still in the field ten years down the road.

      As bleak as that might sound, the chances of succeeding without a degree in this field and making a decent living in today's world are probably closing in on zero.

      As for mentoring with a big shot name, why would they even have the slightest interest in helping out with that plan when they can choose from hundreds of top-notch design majors who are actually learning something in school and are in a position to do real work instead of shadowing and getting in the way.

      Anyway, a higher education isn't just about learning a simple trade; it's about growing in breadth and experience as a person in a way that goes beyond what one will learn by focusing on something as narrow as following someone around for a year or two. In a university design program, students are introduced to dozens of different viewpoints and ways of doing things -- all of which will help the student develop his or her own ways of doing things. And yes, an internship is important because it provides a practical basis to how the real world works, but it's no substitute for a formal education -- both are needed.


      • #6
        $10,000 to have someone shadow me for 3 months?
        No way! And I’m not even a so-called ‘rockstar designer'.

        I can imagine for many design / creative professionals who are busy doing what they do best, the last thing you’d want is constant distractions from a wannabe designer with next to zero design skills looking for shortcuts to a real design career.

        Mark my words - anyone who pays $10,000 for a mentorship is going to want to get their money’'s worth - and that’'s a problem when you are a busy designer trying to maintain creativity, productivity and working to non-negotiable deadlines.

        And for what? For $20 extra per hour?
        (3 months = 12 weeks x 40 hours per week = 480 hours.
        $10,000 / 480 hours = $20.83 / hour)

        What the “$10,000 for a mentorship” approach does not take into account is that not all design/creative professionals are motivated by making more money. After a certain point making more money is meaningless anyway.

        I personally would not consider that kind of proposal, especially from someone that shows me they are not willing to put in the time and effort to get themselves educated to a certain level before securing a mentorship.

        One of the problems with the approach mentioned is the person being mentored may have so little foundational knowledge in the design field that trying to pass on your knowledge in a meaningful way is almost pointless. The way I see it, 2, 3 or 4 years of full-time study in the design field is just the starting point, the tip of a very big iceberg.

        On the other hand, if I was approached by say, a recent graduate in a considered and respectful way (e.g. via a well written letter - not an email) for a mentorship I might consider it for $0.00 for a set duration (say 6 or 12 months for say 1 hour of my time once or twice a month.)

        Why? In my 20's I was fortunate to secure 2 mentorships under top ad agency professionals who gave freely of their valuable time for free for 12 months.

        In my case, I am not motivated by making more money.

        I could however, be motivated to pay it forward by being approached in the right manner by the right person for zero dollars.

        P. S. Would this method of paying $10,000 for a mentorship without any formal study work equally well in other fields?

        For example: how about a mentorship in medicine, dentistry or law?

        If not, why not?
        Last edited by Pavlo; 12-14-2016, 05:11 AM.


        • #7
          Are we only talking about $10K here? (didn't watch the video)

          Do you know how much of a time suck an intern really is?
          Even an intern that has a basic college education and should know at least a little bit about design and production? (don't get me started on how little today's college design student is actually learning in school.)

          When I have college educated kids coming in here that don't know what Pantone swatch decks are or don't know how to replace the blade in an Exacto knife... the last thing I'd want is someone with no college education. The kids we get from the vocational high schools are better prepared than some college students.

          Teaching someone the very basics takes hours out of ones day where they could actually be making more money. I've had interns that actually required me to put in overtime to keep up with my own work.

          People who take on interns certainly don't do it for the money. It is a pay-it-forward thing, like Pavlo mentioned. A desire is needed in the mentor to actually want to help the next generation of designers along. But the student has to meet the mentor at least halfway, and have a desire to learn and seek answers under their own power. A busy pro doesn't have time to spoon feed the help.


          • #8
            Originally posted by ClaySirknee View Post
            ...this guy proposed that instead of paying to go to art school you could take that money and pay industry leaders (like Micheal Bierut, Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister, ect.) to allow you to shadow under them.
            That guy is an idiot. Maybe he should ask "industry leaders" what they think of his stupid idea before he pours terrible advice into public view.
            I'd rather be killed than come to your party, but if you don't invite me, I'll kill myself.


            • #9
              Didn't watch the video but good luck getting a loan to pay the industry leader.

              Go to a public university in your state (assuming you're in the U.S.) and get a design degree. You'll spend a fraction of the cost compared to art school, get the same level of experience and education, and you'll have the degree to help get you interviews.

              I went to art school and spent over 80k on my bachelors in graphic design. I don't recommend it and if I could do it again I would go to the local college and get the same degree for 35k.

              Needless to say, you need a degree in the U.S. to make a career in design; unless you are a supremely talented artist who lives in LA or NY and/or gets incredibly lucky.


              • #10
                I think the major mistake in thinking is the idea that an "industry leader" is necessarily going to be a good teacher or mentor.

                There is a very high likelihood that the industry leader will be an awful teacher.

                With a 4 year degree, there is at the very least, some mechanism that the 200-400 level teachers/instructors have some ability at teaching.
                Plus there is the biggest benefit of the art school" critique sessions and learning from your peers. The industry leader isn't going to provide any of that.
                Keep Saturn in Saturnalia.


                • #11
                  Thank you to everyone for your input. Reading your comments has really helped me better understand the necessity of school. I honestly wasn't too sure about the idea that was presented in this video, but it had mostly likes and there weren't really any negative comments. That's why I brought it up here. I haven't posted much here but when I have I am always amazed at how quick people are to respond with well thought out comments. I know that it has helped me grow tremendously. Thanks again for all the help, I think you guys are amazing for being so willing to answer my questions.






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