Advice for a young designer

| May 2, 2013

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A friend of mine is wondering how to navigate undergraduate-level design classes (and perhaps ultimately a major or minor). More specifically, he is weighing the difference between “graphic design” and “web design”—and he asked for my thoughts.

Firstly, it matters what kind of work you imagine doing after college… but let’s say that you could do that work and have majored in either field.

Then it matters if you want to take one kind of class more than the others… but let’s say that you don’t have a preference.

Let’s say that what you’re asking is, “What will employer preferences be like when I graduate?” Then, perhaps the subtext here is, “What kind of career should I have?”

OK, so that’s too hard to answer. So let’s go back a step. (In fact, let’s say you don’t know what kind of career you want.)

That makes it a little easier for me to give the following advice: find the college instructors that will make you the very best design thinker.

What is a Design Thinker?

I’m not sure I know. Tim Brown might—he’s a major proponent of the… idea? theory?– I do know that “design thinking” represents an interesting set of related ideas about collaboration, problem-solving, and production. And it seems to apply widely to the way the people and organizations imagine doing good work.

Some characteristics and behaviors that have been useful to me personally (in my own experience and as observed in my collaborators) are:

  • Being a generalist—having a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things (read widely! discuss!)
  • Being a generative thinker—contributing a lot (be brave! drink coffee!)
  • Being empathetic—with both your collaborators and end-users in mind (be observant! be generous!)
  • Being creative—adding a point of view that isn’t already represented (be…um,  creative…)

So: when you go to college—probably any college—find someone (or several people!) who can you help you become better at all of these things.

Then find meaningful internships. Those will give you useful fodder for job interviews.

Oh, and don’t take my advice. I wrote this pretty quickly. Get a second opinion! etc.

(And for an extra hundred bucks, and about a week of effort, you can pick up the specific skills you need to be a good-enough graphic designer or web designer.)