In less than five weeks, I’ll be done my work term and officially completed my two year graphic design program. Which is crazy. If you would have asked me several years ago if this is where I imagined I’d be, I wouldn’t dream of it. I always knew I wanted to be involved in the arts, but it wasn’t until my first year at NSCC in the Applied Media and Communication Arts program that I really got a sense of what I could do. One little taste of design and I was hooked immediately. Now, after two incredible years in the Graphic Design program, I’m taking a step back to look at all of the lessons I’ve learned and share with you some advice. Whether you’re thinking of taking the program, you’re interested in design, or you’re already a designer, I hope that some of the things I’ve learned will be helpful.
Without further ado, what I learned in graphic design school:
Grades don’t matter as long as you pass. What matters is what you learned from the assignment and how you can improve. If you get caught up on what your mark is, you’ll miss the entire point of what you’re learning. I will always remember my first assignment and my first critique, because it sucked big time. It was the second lowest mark. Don’t get discouraged by numbers and letters because what really matters is what you learned from the experience and how you can improve it.
Your classmates will become your friends, your mentors, and eventually your coworkers or bosses. You have to spend two (or more) years with these people, so don’t be strangers. Being surrounded by a group of people who are all just as passionate as you about design is an incredible feeling, so take advantage of it while you can. Collaborate, ask for critique, have design dates, share thoughts on great (or terrible) design you find, and be kind to the people around you. If you’re working in a small design community like Halifax, the more people you know the better.
Free work is okay. For me, it was a great first experience for learning how to deal with clients. If you aren’t swamped with work, do some jobs for a friend or a student, but don’t sacrifice your school work to slave over a project that is only making you upset or causing you problems – you’ll have plenty of that when you start freelancing. It’s great for making connections, but remember that your assignments are important.
You’ll never know every single thing about the programs you’re working in and that’s the fun of it. Sometimes (almost always) I open Photoshop and get really frustrated. There’s so many options and tools that I’ve never clicked and so many things I’m not sure how to use. The same even goes for Illustrator and InDesign, which I’m more comfortable with. But that’s okay! Even in the last month of school, I was stumbling across super valuable tools in the programs that I was never aware of. There is always something to discover and learn and experiment with. Don’t feel scared or incompetent if you’re not a total expert.
Don’t become a creative hermit. Going out and meeting other creatives, even if they’re not your field, is so incredibly important. I wish I had been more involved in the community in my first year, because it wasn’t until my second that I found E3C and became 100% more inspired. Even if you’ve got a ton of work, or you like being locked up in your little design cave with a cup of coffee, take a few hours out of your day sometime to go be with other creatives. It’ll motivate you, recharge your brain, and help your creative process immensely.
This is just the beginning. Looking back on my two years, I never realized how much I learned until I sat down and really immersed myself in the memory of it all. In a couple weeks I’ll have a whole new list of tips and thoughts. I could probably write a whole book on my experience, but I think I’ll just stick with a couple articles… for now.