This is a post from my previous blog that I felt was worth reposting on this blog. It was originally posted on June 17, 2011. So no, I didn’t just graduate, yesterday. Jeeze!
As of today, I’ll be a graduate of Durham College’s Internet Applications and Web Development program. It’s crazy to think that my formal education in web design and development is over, and I’ll begin making my way into the world of professional web design. One of my biggest strengths is that I recognize where I’m at. I am by no means a design professional. I’m not an expert and I certainly can’t give out expert advice.
However, being a recent student, I also recognize what it’s like to sit in a classroom until 6pm on a Friday night when I’d rather be hanging out with my friends. So whether you’re a design student at Durham College or anywhere else in the world, here are some tips to getting the most of your college experience:
1. Listen, listen, listen!
No matter where you go, what you study, or who teaches you, one thing is certain – it’s going to get boring. We all know this. It could be a teacher that speaks ridiculously slowly, a subject that you could care less about, or some douche bag typing away at his blog about five tips for design students – at some point you’ll stop caring about what’s being taught to you. Especially being a designer (you’re an egomaniac, admit it) you may start to think, “I don’t need to be here, I already know this”.
But don’t stop caring. Keep your ears open because if you wait on that one piece of advice to hit home and re-ignite your interest, just an FYI – it’s not going to come. Everything that you’re being taught, at some point or another, will apply to you. Every piece of advice and information that’s given to you will have some value to you. Everything has value, it’s just a matter of determining how much value something has to you in particular.
2. Every assignment is an opportunity
At some point, most likely toward the end of your education, you’ll need to compile a portfolio. Your portfolio is supposed to be a projection of your abilities and your best work. With every assignment you do, try to do it to the best of your abilities. That may come across as weak advice, but the fact of the matter is, when you decide you’ll turn your design dial up to ‘awesome’, it might be too late. You’re swamped with too many assignments and your work suffers. It happens. So try to do your best work as early as you can.
Also, make every assignment an opportunity to try something new. You’re a student and you’re in a learning environment. Take advantage, because you might not have another one like it. Set minor challenges for each assignment to help you learn. Seen a cool website that makes use of a tons of textures and big typography? Try that out on your next assignment. Or maybe you seen a simple website with great use of white space. Experiment with that next time.
This is the best opportunity to try out different styles and an even better opportunity to determine your own personal style.
3. Make use of the people around you
There will be few times in your life where you’re constantly surrounded by like minded people who are willing to offer you help – unless you’re a rockstar with a bunch of groupies, in which case, “help” is used sparingly. Take advantage of the design-centric environment. This kind of environment is particularly beneficial to your creative process when you see everybody’s work and you realize there are X amount of people that had the same requirements and briefing you did, yet there are X amount of distinctly different designs. Some might not be great, but it’s important to figure out how someone came to the conclusions they did. Pick their brain’s as to why they made similar or different decisions than you did. Learn about other people’s creative process so you can compare it to your own.
Another great aspect of being in a student environment is that you will undoubtedly be given lots of compliments. The classroom environment rarely gets confrontational and people are more apt to give you positive critiques of your work than negative ones. Listen to what everyone says about your work. They might be blowing smoke up your… behind, but ultimately you’ll find patterns in the things people say about your work. Chances are it’s because it’s true. If people always mention your use of imagery – that might be your thing. If people are always complimenting you on your colour choices – that might be your thing. If people always try to change subjects and talk about the weather – that might not be a good thing.
4. You won’t learn everything in a classroom
Another fact about school – regardless of your field – you’re not going to learn everything in school. You’ll learn a lot, but even then, you won’t know everything. Web design is constantly evolving and schools, for one reason or another, can’t keep up. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you never stop learning. You’re going to need to read blogs, forums, comment sections, and even the dreaded printed page if you want to keep up.
It sucks knowing that you’re couped up in a classroom all day and knowing you still have to do more learning and more reading. Find ways to do both. Bookmark a couple good resources and read them during coffee breaks.
Your teachers are great resources for learning, but you need to be independent to supplement yourself with the necessary knowledge to stay current.
5. Apply yourself
If there’s any underlying message to the previous four points, it’s that if you want to do well, you have to work hard. Work really hard. In other words, you have to be the person in the classroom that you hate for trying so hard on every assignment. You have to be that guy.
I know these points come across as utopian/best-case-scenario type advice. I know that being a student can/does suck. I know it sounds like you have to be a design nerd to be any good (though I would argue being a design nerd is pretty damn cool). But it doesn’t have to be all bad. Applying yourself doesn’t have to come at the cost of your social life and sanity.
But the simplest way I can put it is, if you make an effort and want to do well, you’ll do well. Putting in work yields results, at least that’s what years of listening to rap songs has taught me.
To be honest, these points aren’t all a reflection of my own personal academic career. In fact, a lot of these things I didn’t realize until after I was done school. I share this blog post as a way for students to fully realize their opportunity and make the most of it. I know I didn’t. I was never that guy. Though, now, I wish I had been.
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Can you be a whiz by just sitting in class? Is taking the general consensus a reasonable means of assessing your skill as a designer? Am I actually a douche bag? Let me know in the comments section and feel free to share!