Struggling in The Process and Failing a Class


Umm, I don’t know how to start this so I will provide a little background on myself I guess. I failed a few classes and gave up on some, about a year ago I decided to do something about it and I succeeded a little bit -time management problem is being solved-

Well, the thing is that I am taking a class and I am doing terrible at it. I get stuck a lot in the design process and I always fear the process. Probably because I do not understand it well enough.

Here is an example:
I find myself avoiding making the thumbnails because nothing feels right. All is repetitive or bad.
And all the rest of the process is dependent on that. Including the upcoming projects.

And the professor of this class that I am struggling with puts more emphasis on me because I am the oldest in the class and because it is the class that I gave up on last year. I do not hand my work done, even if I really hate that I still do not finish it and this problem exceeds being a time management problem.
I don’t know how to explain that to him or what solution I could provide to solve the problem or if I can explain it in the first place and ask for help because…I don’t think that it is an easy problem that the professors will bother to look help me with or one that can be solved in this 200 level class (which is half done).
“It should’ve been solved in the last 4 years of your studies” is what they will probably say. What should I do? I can’t fail the class twice without doing anything, this will break me down.

Well - the thumbnail process and sketching ideas is important - don’t skip this step.

There’s a tonne of design process theory online - and why thumbnailing is good.
But see if you can pick up some books on it. There’s only so much reading online will get you.

Why are you skipping this?
I can’t draw to save my life. My sketches are terrible too. But I still do them, even if it takes me a bit longer. It’s important.

You seem to have given up without even asking for help.
Conjecture that you can’t get help that you ask for? Why do you think like that?

Conjecture. You have no idea what they say.
If they don’t help you or refuse to help you - that’s another conversation.

But take yourself away from the computer - go outside with a pencil and paper and sit down somewhere on a park bench, or by a river, and take in some fresh air and just pencil out some ideas.

Or if you’re into the great outdoors - perhaps you like trains, or you like cars, or you like donuts.

Whatever it is you like - sit down and draw it out.

Pick something you love - pick something you want to sketch out. Pick something you’re passionate about designing for.

Sit down with a pencil and paper.

Even if you get a few magazines on the topics you really like - look at how they design it.

Sketch those magazines, even you’re tracing them.
See how they design - what tips you can garner from it.

There’s plenty of design books out there. Plenty. Hit a local library. Or see if there isa design agency/print/web design vendor near you.

Ring them - talk to them - ask them.
Explain you’re a student and would like to learn see if you can meet them, talk with them, maybe get a few design books from them if they have some.

Don’t look inwards - look outwards. Reach out. Get the help you need.

I do them, but I barely do it when I just have to do it.

hmmmm…I just feel pressured because I don’t find myself able to explain what is wrong clearly. I am afraid of not doing well and not responding to whatever help I might get. Not to mention what I will have to hear about me being in my fourth year already and did not ask help on such a fundamental thing from the beginning.

Thank you. This is really helpful.
My college have an advisor and a counselor, but I am hesitant about talking to them. Thoughts like “I don’t need help” or “I don’t want other professor to know about this” and “I will procrastinate or just not respond to help anyways” comes to my mind and make me so anxious about it.

Oh my God, I keep putting excuses not to do this. Sorry for that.

Why do you want to be a graphic designer? The reason must be more than a whim or you wouldn’t have taken the class over again the second year. What is it you like about it? What keeps you sticking with it, even when you’re not finishing the work? Are you sort of afraid to finish it because you feel you’re not up to the task?

I’ve been a graphic designer for, well, decades now. When I started out with it, it really was on a whim. I didn’t even know what graphic design was when I enrolled in the program. The first year, I was terrible because it seemed everyone but me had some of the basics down, whereas I was struggling to understand any of it.

At some point, though, it all began to click. I stuck with it and made it my life’s work. I remember my very first year when the instructor told me that he wished he could just pour a little of his knowledge into my head, but that it didn’t work that way. I’m wishing I could do the same with you, but here’s the best I can do.

Go to a bookstore and buy some magazines. Look at the book covers. Look at the packaging in the stores. Look at some of the work on Behance. However, don’t just look — study it.

Figure out why things work and why other things don’t. Pick them apart and analyze those pieces. How do they fit together in a larger composition. Maybe it’s a color combination that you like. Maybe it’s the emotional tone of seeing this shape juxtaposed with that one. Maybe you like this typeface more than the next, but figure out why. Figure out why the typeface you like might not work as well when used for this product as opposed to that one. Look at a book cover that really works and imagine the sans serif type on it being replaced by a flowery script face. You’ll see that you can’t just substitute one typeface for the other, but figure out why doing so doesn’t look right.

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Everything you have said is just you putting obstacles in front of you to block you. I may be wrong, but this looks to me like some sort of crisis of self-confidence (or similar). This seems to be less about design or thumbnails, than about you telling yourself that if you don’t start you can’t fail.

In some ways failure is to be welcomed with open arms when it comes to the design process, somewhat counter-intuitively.

The thumbnails are hugely important for not being important, directly. You do them only to get your head out of a rut and come up with ideas. The human brain is hard-wired to find patterns and sequences. This is why we find pictures in clouds which aren’t there. Design is about breaking out of the accepted norm and coming up with new ways of thinking about a problem. To do this, you have to break established patterns, or clichés – either your own or societal expected norms.

Thumbnails are a time-honoured way of achieving this. Sketch out something ad nauseum and you will go through all the clichés until eventually your brain, has that moment of revelation and goes off on a new path.

Correct me if I am wrong, but you appear to be approaching the task as simply something you have to do to pass the module, rather than doing it because you understand why you are doing it.

This is probably slightly heretical to say, but these days, I don’t always sketch ideas out (or rather, I do but mentally, without pencil and paper). Of course, I still do on many occasions, but the whole process is about getting your brain to jump its wheels out of the tracks and go running freely. Over time you learn to know the best way to put your head into this space (it is different for all of us). I have my own tricks to trigger that kind of thinking, which allows us to bypass the crossword jigsaw, lightbulb cliché solutions and be creative.

You need to read a lot more about the what and why of design.

Go talk to the professors and counsellors. Can’t hurt. Design is all about communication. Learn to do that visually and verbally. Ultimately you have to learn the way you and other people tick, in order to be able to communicate an idea to them. Find your passion. Find why you want to do this.

It seems like you have come up against a wall and just stopped. Go find a ladder. You have to learn to problem-solve.

As Smurf said, talk, then talk some more. You are only hindering yourself by not doing so. You will probably find it quite liberating and ultimately a free mind is what you need to be able to come up with ideas.

It won’t come quickly or easily, but stick with it. It took me a few years for what is now my grand passion – type – to click.

Keep coming back here too and if you want post specific work – even thumbnails – for critiques and suggestions and directions.

I didn’t know either but I do not regret it. I mean, do you imagine how much could be done with this?? -I know you do-

How much change it could do? I can even use the design thinking to find a job if “Graphic Design” is not there anymore -idk if it will or won’t be but the idea just crossed my mind-

This is a treasure, especially that I have to learn about different disciplines to make it work. More like a big puzzle to solve.

My interests can be involved even if they changed. Everything is an inspiration.

Well, most of my enthusiasm is directed toward the thinking stage, which is only the half of the process. The other half that needs more time is the doing part. I know that in order to reach my dreams I need to learn how to do design.

But I still struggle with it and part of it is because of my own negative traits and habits of thinking and doing and such.

I used to hate typography honestly because I thought that it was not important -I didn’t understand a thing back then until I learnt more about deign thinking and scientific thinking and research-
what is typography and why is it important?

Probably. This stopped me for a really long while for most of my projects. Art classes and group projects, all of these were submitted on time even if they were missing.

Individual projects, however, are late because they must be complete I guess.

I want to make it my life. or in other words, make my life out of it. My lifestyle was really messy and careless until I took classes with the same professor that taught me the design thinking part. Then I made something more out of my life so now I am really obsessed with design thinking and finding solutions.

This is a very valuable advice. I don’t know why I make things hard for myself. I sure will follow your advice from now on and I am sure that I will learn a lot.

You are right. Actually, all what you said so far is correct.

I will! Thank you so much!

Why though? Do them thoroughly.
Make a point of it. Overdo them.
Make it the No.1 thing to do - even over the entire project.
Thumbnails is your no.1 project now!

They might be relieved that you came to them to explain your situation.

They might have advice or set you up with a mentor - or help you with your approach.

Definitely - talk to someone. It always helps.

You can have results, or you can have excuses, you cannot have both.

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Same here. I never sketch thumbnails other than when I’m exploring logo designs or initial ideas for typefaces. I was taught in school to always sketch layouts, but over time, that process became quicker and more fluid when I just skipped the pencil and paper and thought through the design in my head.

I would not advise beginners to skip the sketching phase, though. Nor would I advise them to head straight to a computer to explore ideas. Over time, like with any kind of sustained practice, shortcuts are developed that work better and are more efficient for each individual. At first, though, it’s probably best to stick to the tried-and-true sketching method before heading off in some heretical direction that might eventually work for one person but not another.

I can’t think of anything more important to graphic design than typography. It’s not only a part of nearly every piece of graphic design, typography is also a microcosm of all the elements of design. I’m not at all sure that it’s possible to become truly proficient at graphic design without simultaneously becoming proficient with typography.

This is the same for me - and probably a lot of designers.

But I think the sketching out ideas is to form critical thinking and force you to evaluate at a non-mechanical (computer) level to hash out ideas.

I remember the day I just stopped doing thumbnails, images formed for me in my head, layout ideas, creation, all started happening (some say in the cloud) in my head.

There is a point where the design process and the critical thinking combine and there is synergy in that.

But to get there, it takes practice.


I don’t care much for thumbnails. I usually look for reference images linked to the subject matter of the design problem. I fill my head with a visual culture of the subject - then I lay out the content and look for visual associations between the two.
Graphic design is for with meaning. There are many ways to go at it. Original methods make original solutions

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Sounds like you are suffering from Pride and Perfection. Both of these are Creative Design Killers. Most designers do not love every design they create, but when the project has to be done, we suck it up and get it done for one simple reason—when you are working in the field, your client or boss will always be expecting projects to be done on time. An acceptable design finished on time will always be better than a “perfect” design that misses the deadline.

So was I, but just like Just-B, I didn’t like the thumbnail part of the job either, but I eventually became proficient enough to skip thumbnails altogether for jobs I was working on personally. There is another important reason to learn thumbnails—As my business grew, I had to hire subcontractors who had to work solely off my thumbnails and instructions.

Look—don’t be discouraged, please. Having a HEALTHY since of pride in doing a great job for a client, will always be there…eventually. Take it one day at a time and do your thumbnails—fast—that will give you better results most every time.


Can you elaborate on that please?

Sure. Just to start, I studied graphic design in the US - a very Swiss graphic design education, then moved to France. I have been teaching applied typography since 1994, but I also have my studio where I work. So this is a bit of a “French method” of conceiving meaningful form.
There are two issues involved in any project : there is the SUBJECT, then there is the PROJECT.
So lets say your design problem is to design a book about
So for exemple, let’s say your subject is Ella Fitzgerald. And your “project” is to design a CD with remastered best hits. So I would start by collecting reference images and textes around that : photos of her performing, text from her life history, people around her. I would set up a timeline to see where she fits into the history of Jazz. Get an idea of what she was, specifically, as compared to other jazz singers before and after her, to establish what is specifically Ella. Also, photography specific to that time frame, lyrics, portraits, etc. You need to fill your head with your subjects visual (color, form, type, photography, philosophical, historical “culture”.
Then, I would put down, in a neutral manner, the content of my design problem.
And then you try to approach your design problem - by crossing your needs with the culture you have absorbed. The third ingredient is you, of course, your personal approach to the subject and the project.

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To my mind, unless I am missing something, what you describe doesn’t appear to be a different methodology. It is part of a fairly standard process. In fact, its the part before you get to the ‘thumbnail’ (or whatever way you use to put your head into that creative space) part of any project.

For me, this falls more under a research or immersion, stage. A few years ago, when I spent a fair bit of my time designing CD covers, I wouldn’t even begin until I’d listened to an album three or four times, so you understand what it is you are communicating. That is the same for any project.

Moreover, I am afraid I have to slightly disagree with your original statement. Original methodology doesn’t necessarily make for original solutions. Original thinking does.

Of course, new (to the individual) methods may help open new neural pathways, but ultimately, however you get there is not as important as finding your own way to make your own head break out of the daily, pattern-making, routine-following norm, which then allows you to come up with new, appropriate and effective ideas.

Then again, to contradict myself, playing semantics, like this serves little. As I say, how anyone gets there and what terminology they use to describe it, is academic, apart from in an academic setting. In the end, we each develop our own methods. However, it is always interesting to hear how other people do it.

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This is helpful, thank you. I think that I need to do more research on the process.

This reads like self-sabotage because you fear criticism. You are holding back from the process that is designed to help you grow. You don’t go all-in on the assignment because then the criticisms would cut too close to home. Your instructor calls on you a lot because they see the wall you are putting up and they are trying to get you to tear it down and engage. It’s not about your age. It’s about trying to correct your deeply flawed approach to the work.

Don’t confuse criticism of your work with criticism of you. Everyone does work that sucks. It doesn’t mean that you suck as a human being.

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Ok, so as an adult student closing on 40… being the oldest in class sucks and is really nerve wracking. It is uncomfortable, and it feels like you have to produce the best work because you are the oldest and therefore you’re expected to know more, do more etc etc etc…

It’s all in your head. Trust me. If anything my teachers have more patience for my clumsiness and consistently late assignments than they do younger students because I’m almost 40 and have actual real life responsibilities like children of my own and a job that is not entry level that requires my attention (I’m a senior business and project administrator, and yes I’m aware that there are younger students that will have such commitments but most - where I am - do not).

So on top is all the advice above which is awesome (and I’m copying a few bits to stick to my monitor, thanks guys) mine is to take a step back and breath. You are folding under the weight of your own fears of failure, which I have also done an awful lot in the past months, and putting yourself under immense pressure that is pretty much just in your head. Step back and breath.

Not brilliant but turned in will always be better than brilliant but never even made it onto paper.

Also it sounds like you clearly have a skill with a passion for design thinking. Design thinking is a skillset in itself that you can run with career wise without becoming a master of graphic design. It applies across so many fields… as long as you have the skills to share your thinking in a manner that others can understand coughTHUMBNAILScough

And finally, talk to the supports and instructors at your place of study about the problems you’re facing. If they know they can help, or they can be mindful of it when marking (or you know, stop calling on you so much in class because it’s giving you anxiety issues).

I got a good grade on a previous project.
I am still late for the current project.
And I ended up sending a message to the counselor.
Let’s hope that this works =_=;;

Thank you all. This was very helpful and I will keep coming back here to re-read your answers.
If anyone has something to add, please do.
Thank you.

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