What I Wish I Had Learned In Design School

The moment I received my BFA in Art with a concentration in Graphic Design I couldn’t have been happier! After years of studying and learning and mastering design, I was ready to dive head first into my dream career and use everything I had learned about design to change the world. It didn’t take long to realize that even with all my education, there were still lessons I needed to learn. Now don’t get me wrong, I had great professors and an even better education. But at the end of the day a degree simply won’t substitute experience. It’s been two years since I’ve graduated and I have learned a lot along the way. Here are the things I wish I had learned while I was still in school…


Designers work EVERYWHERE

Many designers work at firms and advertising agencies, but that’s not the only place where designers can work. When applying for jobs after college, I discovered fields I never even knew related to graphic design because in school I had only been exposed to design agencies. It’s not uncommon to meet a designer who works from home as a freelancer, or in a corporate setting on a marketing team. Designers can have a hand in anything from web design and advertisement to illustration and t-shirt design! Figure out your niche in graphic design and aim for jobs that align with the type of design you enjoy doing most.


What I Wish I Learned In Design School


Network beyond the computer

A big part in getting a job is about who you know; point, blank, period. People are more likely to hire someone they know as oppose to someone who applies online, even with an outstanding resume and portfolio. I spent months sitting at my computer applying for jobs that I would never get, not realizing I could’ve better my chances by attending gallery openings and other local design events. As designers we have to remember to step away from the computer sometimes and have some face-to-face interaction with people, not profiles.


Social media is for more than just being social

As much time as I spent on social media in college, I should’ve been the most well-known graphic designer by the time I graduated. But instead of using these networks as an opportunity to promote my work and interact with other designers, I mainly used it to be social (because that’s what they’re for, right?!). I would soon realize that having a social media account for my work could really help me get my name out there as a designer, gain recognition for my work, and connect with potential future clients.


Design contests want your money

As straight forward as it sounds, it actually took me a while to catch onto this one. I would pay hundreds of dollars to submit my designs to these competitions, only to be left feeling down and insecure about my work when I didn’t receive the award. By submitting to these contests, designers are not only working free of charge, but they are essentially paying the organization to submit their hard work through entry fees. Now that just doesn’t make much sense, does it?  Yes, the recognition that comes with winning a prestigious award is fantastic and looks great on your resume, but if you’re spending tons of money trying to win one, just stop now. Instead change your focus to strengthening your portfolio, so you can get hired and paid what you deserve.


What I Wish I Learned In Design School


Designers (especially freelancers) need to blog

My only regret having a blog is that I didn’t start it sooner, especially since I had way more free time in college than I do now! Blogging can teach you so much about design because it forces you to really know what you’re talking about. You can’t write a blog post on logo design and know nothing about logos. Design blogs are a form of teaching, and teaching others is one of the best ways you can teach yourself. Additionally, blog pages increase your online presence and ultimately bring more traffic to your website, giving your portfolio more exposure.


Freelance is a business

When I graduated college I knew everything about being a designer, but nothing about being an entrepreneur. I struggled during my first few months of freelance because I wasn’t sure how to take on the entrepreneurial mindset. There is a lot that goes into working as a freelancer:  you must know your design niche, how to get and manage clients, what to charge, how to promote yourself. Eventually, through lots of research and the inevitable trial and error, I learned the skills needed to run a freelance business, and with the right drive and motivation you too can learn to manage a business and become a successful freelancer.


What I Wish I Learned In Design School


Have some insight you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below!



Ariana Nicole
  • This is a great post and thank you for sharing your real world experience as a graphic designer. The number one thing that I also wish I’d learned in design school is to entrepreneurship of it all. I have also learned to just trust the process and not be pressured to take on every client every time. Absolutely knowing your worth and who your clients really are and are not is essential to surviving. Great article!

    July 23, 2015 at 4:21 pm

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