I’ve been a part-time design instructor for over 29 years. I’ve watched many students work hard and succeed well professionally, and I’ve seen others give up. No matter what instructor or course, students’ successes in school and then as professionals depends on very much on themselves. If the quality of instruction is top-notch and is provided to every student equally, it’s what each student decides to do with it that determines their result.
If the quality of instruction is top-notch and is provided to every student equally, it’s what each student decides to do with it that determines their result.
I cannot make anyone learn anything. My role as an instructor is to present information, encourage, exhort, train, correct and give feedback. Each student who enters my class is responsible for his own progress and success.
This is what I advise design and illustration students who want to know be successful:
The teacher is there because you are there.
It may appear that you are there to jump at the instructor’s beck and call, but you should consider that to be training for when you will jump at your client’s beck and call. You pay tuition to reserve your seat in the class. Invest the time well; show up and do the assignments. Don’t waste your money. Remember that every teacher was once a student. It is hard to put anything over on them.
Listen to what your fellow students are saying in class.
Students talk a lot outside of the classroom. But what they say during class — the questions they ask, the reponses they give, and what they say about their work and yours during crits — can be invaluable to you. Don’t miss it.
Invest in a camera.
Make it a good one – with f-stops and aperture options. If you can, get a digital SLR and a tripod. And then document, document, document. One thing I learned as a student at Art Center was to take lots of shots of my work. If you’re spending all that time and money on tuition, supplies and materials, document your process and finished designs with a good quality, high-megapixel camera. Back up your photos on in the cloud and on external drives, and also print them out and glue them into your design journal (sketchbook). If you work in 3-D, take pictures of a project from different view points.
Keep a design journal.
This would look like a sketchbook. Put your ideas, doodles, sketches and comments in it. Document your projects in it. Record notes and ideas. Do your concept work in it. It is a great substitute for the paper napkin, and everything you’re thinking and seeing is all contained in one easy-to-carry place. Become famous for keeping journals.
Using a computer … does not make you a designer.
The computer is a tool.
Use a pencil instead, and you’re still a designer. Using a computer, app, tablet, and knowing software does not make you a designer.
Don’t work for the grade.
The reason you have chosen to be in school is because you want to succeed as a designer of some sort. If your first question for any teacher is “What does it take to get an A in this class?” you’re missing the point entirely. That would be like asking a client, “How much will you pay me?” before their job is even defined. Pay attention, do the work, invest in the extra effort, and the grade will follow.
Plan your time.
Build in margin for the unexpected. Studio classes require a large percentage of time spent outside the classroom in research, preparation and execution. Time is required. Identify your time-wasters and get rid of them.
We do not design out of nothing. Pursue inspiration. Then make sure it remains inspiration. In other words, don’t copy. It’s unethical.
Be creative but solve the problem.
Design is not for the purpose of self-expression. If your goal is to express yourself, become a fine artist or tagger. Designers create for the benefit of others.
Get everything on the course supply list.
Learn how to use it. You can’t substitute scissors for an X-acto. Use the right tool for the job. It’s safer and quicker that way.
Learning anything should change you. Change is uncomfortable. You won’t learn anything without becoming uncomfortable in the process.
Make the commitment.
Coursework is meant to be difficult. If it’s not difficult, you’re not learning. Learning anything should change you. Change is uncomfortable. You won’t learn anything without becoming uncomfortable in the process. You will not like every course or every instructor. For the few years you’ll be in school, suck it up and press through when things get difficult.
Be wary of the easy classes.