But when it comes to acquiring the necessary skills to succeed in the world of graphic design, YouTube probably won’t cut it. Instead, classroom learning paired with hands-on experience serves as a great base to get you started in the industry.
So while you begin your search for the perfect school and degree program, be conscious of the ways in which that program can help you gain practical experience. That might end up being what sets you apart from other aspiring graphic designers.
“Students must learn to embrace the madness that is the graphic design world,” -Anand Hurkladi, an instructor at Rasmussen College’s School of Design.
Hurkladi is just one of the graphic design gurus that weighed in on the importance of real-world experience. These professionals all agreed that it is a vital ingredient in a student’s recipe for success after graduation.
Hands-on learning is essential for success
When shopping for a graphic design school, you will undoubtedly find many programs that promise you all types of skills and knowledge. But hands-on learning is an absolutely essential part of any graphic design curriculum, according to Richard Poulin, cofounder and design director at Poulin & Morris, a New York City design consultancy.
Poulin has also been an adjunct professor for more than twenty years at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He says it’s his professional responsibility to equip students with both the theoretical and practical foundation necessary to be competitive after they graduate.
One way he does this is by inviting industry professionals to critique students’ work and provide feedback they can use to hone their skills. This helps students understand what is expected of them in the real world.
Their feedback focuses not only on the design itself, but in the entire process. This includes writing creative briefs, researching for projects and presenting finished work to a client.
“If a program is not incorporating practical learning, it’s really unfortunate,” Poulin says. “It’s setting [students] up for a rude awakening when they enter the workforce.”
Certain skills can’t be taught in a classroom environment
While lectures and textbooks can provide a theoretical foundation to build on, most industry professionals agree that there is no substitute for hands-on graphic design experience.
Many skills that are essential to graphic design are very difficult to teach in a classroom, says Hurkladi.
A great example of this is learning to work within harsh limitations. Instructors can incorporate deadlines in class, but Hurkadli says they are nothing like real-world deadlines.
“The classroom is much too comfortable,” he says. “It’s not until you are pushed outside of your comfort zone that you begin to flourish as a designer.”
Hurkladi insists that students in the classroom are too focused on crafting their design. When working in the industry, they’ll have to consider project budget, time constraints and strict client parameters.
Hurkladi teaches his students about client interaction by encouraging them to participate in internships and gain experience in the field. He even goes so far as to guide students toward freelance jobs or design contests when he finds them.
Real world work enhances your portfolio
Practical graphic design experience also helps boost your hiring potential once graduation has come and gone.
“There’s simply no substitute for the experience that a fat, bulging portfolio represents,” according to David Miles, digital development director at the publishing firm Familius.
Miles has valuable insight into how graphic design students can distinguish themselves, thanks to his daily routine at Familius. One of his duties is to screen candidates for book layouts and cover designs, so he sees his fair share of portfolios.
“Personal portfolio pieces are nice and school projects are dandy, but professional pieces tell me you know how to work with a client,” Miles says.
When looking for interns, he’s not interested in selecting students that can tell him about good design—he selects the students that can produce it. He says good design requires hours and hours of practice, and you can’t fake experience.
“The student’s hands and eyes must become a concertized pair,” Miles says.
Experience is key
The professionals featured here were clear about one thing: Hands-on graphic design experience is crucial for students to succeed in the industry.
So, be sure to check out the course curriculum before you invest your time and money in a graphic design degree. You should be confident that the program you’re enrolling in will arm you with the tools you need to succeed after graduation.
What are some other necessary graphic design skills that are difficult to teach in a classroom setting? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!