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What They Don't Teach You in Design School: Advice for Students

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If you are a design student, or a recent graduate from college, you may be feeling hesitant about what the design industry is really like. Unfortunately, college can’t provide you with everything you need to know before you hit the job market. Working hard and educating yourself outside the classroom will put you ahead of the game after graduation.


How to Market Yourself Effectively

Social media is a great way to present yourself and if you don’t know how to use it effectively, you’re missing out. Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are arguably the main hubs for designers to communicate, collaborate and market themselves to employers and potential clients. A large part of securing employment after post-secondary is who you know. Be nice to everyone - you never know who will give you your next opportunity for a job. Establishing these connections early on in your career will be beneficial.

Your Diploma Won’t Get You a Job

Despite what your teachers or parents tell you, your diploma won’t necessarily get you a job in the web design field. Proving what kind of work you are capable of producing through your portfolio or demonstrating passion and potential to an employer will more likely catch their eye; compared to a student who has more formal education. Having a killer portfolio and personality will land you a job almost anywhere.


Be Wary of Jumping Straight Into Freelance

Freelancing straight out of college can be an enticing option for students. Although the thought of working from home sounds glamourous, very few students have the perfect combination of skills early on without any real-world experience to jump straight into freelancing. Approach college as a buffer of time that allows you to own your skills - something that freelancing can’t offer.

Business Skills

If you are going to commit to freelancing, make sure you understand that you are running a business on behalf of yourself. Understanding business fundamentals is crucial to having success on your own. It would be beneficial to invest in some business classes over the course of your college education. Subjects such as marketing and economics can all be applied to your job as a designer.


You Need to Work Outside of School

Get Experience

Internships can be a huge stepping-stone in getting your foot in the door. The connections, friendships and mentors you will gain through getting professional experience in the industry is invaluable. Although internships can be daunting at first because they put you in an unfamiliar environment working collaboratively with other designers and real-life clients, these experiences will help you grow as a more sharpened designer.

Design is Ongoing

Design is an ongoing learning process that is always evolving. Any static academic semester will not be able to keep pace with a technologically based field such as web design because of how quickly knowledge and practices can advance. Those students who are constantly learning and become pro-active with their education outside the classroom will be better equipped to succeed after they graduate. You need to put yourself in a never-ending state of growth; never be satisfied with where you’re at. This takes time, patience and discipline to stand out amongst seasoned designers.

Keeping up to date is solely dependent on how much important you place on having the ability to teach yourself. Given how fast the Internet moves, investing your time and effort will certainly pay off and provide you with more practical information you can apply to improve your everyday work. The fact that you are reading this article proves that you are already ahead of the game!


Communication is Vital to Your Success

Many people that don’t work directly within the design industry believe that web designers are socially isolated people who stare at their computer screens for eight hours a day. Although this is (somewhat) true, having good communication skills will propel you to new heights in your career. Even if you are an introverted person, like myself, it is still important to practice basic social skills such as communicating your ideas and being able to persuade clients in certain situations.

Written Skills are Also Important

Having good writing skills is the essence of turning our ideas into well articulated, spoken words. Writing skills are often neglected by designers because they don’t directly see any importance. If you have bad grammar, poor sentence structure or spelling mistakes in your e-mails, resume or cover letters, you have little to no chance of getting a response. Most employers receive hundreds of resumes in any given period; if you can’t take the time to proof-read your writing, they won’t take the time to look at your portfolio. Also, be professional in all your e-mails unless it is a close family or friend. Treat e-mails like writing a letter, not like an informal text message.

“If you don’t write, you don’t know what you think.” - Jeffery Zeldman

Articulating your Design Ideas

You have to be able to explain the “why” in all your design decisions. Good design should speak for itself at some point, but if you are unable to articulate why you made a decision, your clients are less likely to be persuaded by something they are unsure about. Having good communication with other designers and clients takes practice. For some students it might take longer than others, but being able to articulate our design decisions is an important aspect of our job description.


Conclusion

The bottom line is that you have to work hard, both in school and outside the classroom if you want to become successful. The more work you put in now while you’re still young, the easier it will become later on when you are searching for employment after graduation. Becoming familiar with your strengths and weaknesses, knowing your personality and skill sets will prove to be major assets when marketing yourself as a young designer.

I hope you enjoyed this article, thanks for reading!

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