katie and i have both received a lot of emails from people interested in going into the design field, asking us “would you recommend going to school, or teaching yourself?” here’s our advice!

if you’re trying to make graphic design your career then i highly recommend the college route. i received my BFA in graphic design from the maryland institute college of art. my professors and classmates taught me a lot that i wouldn’t have learned if i was on my own. participating in class critiques taught me how to speak about art and design. it taught me how to articulate my creative thoughts and concepts, something that i do everyday at my job. working on group projects taught me how to interact and work with other designers which prepared me to work on a team. i was exposed to all different channels of graphic design which helped me figure out which direction i wanted to take my career. another plus of going to school is getting an internship experience. most companies can’t bring you on as an intern unless it’s for college credit. my internship played a big roll in my life and career and i wouldn’t be where i am today if i hadn’t gone to school.

if you just want to learn graphic design to make art or get creative on your blog i think self taught is perfect. you could attend bri’s blogshops or take a class at studio like 3rd Ward. there are also a ton of graphic design books out there that explain the basics of typography and design.

for me, school was very very beneficial. i was lucky enough to know from a very young age that i wanted to be a graphic designer, so when college came up, I had zero hesitation. i attended Arizona State University for two years (my dad lived there, so I wanted to be close to him and try something new) The program I was in was very technical (we barely even got on the computer for those first 2 years) The precision, attention to detail, work ethic, classic training that I learned there is something I will always value and believe helped me tremendously.
then i transferred to FIDM/The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and continued on my graphic design journey for another two years there. my teachers taught me how to talk like a designer, present like a designer and think creatively. It was wildly different from ASU, but I loved it in it’s own way. what can I say, i LOVE SCHOOL. i love deadlines, i like a good challenge and learning new things is the best feeling. I ended up getting my AA in graphic design and had my first salary job the month I graduated. I am not sure I could have been in that position without school.
a lot of people say you have to have a certain degree to succeed. nope, don’t agree. I think it’s a personal choice of when YOU feel ready. after those 4 years I was more than ready to take on the world. i couldn’t WAIT to get out there and get some real world experience. and yes, like katie said, college gets you very valuable internships (i had 3)!

(illustration by katie evans. see last week’s advice post right here. and remember, we would LOVE to hear the questions you guys are wanting answers to!)


Add your own

    Abby says:

    Thank you! That’s all I can say about this advice column. You have no idea how helpful it has been. I’m a freshman at the University of Minnesota and interested in Interior Design. Everyone tells my I need to pick a major, a double major, and find a career in the sciences. It has been so stressful, and such a struggle between what I have a passion for and what people expect of me. So thank you so much for the daily inspiration you give me!! It means the world to me!

    Katie and Bri I have to agree with you both. I took the university route for Interior Design and did a 4 year degree program (I believe they call that college here in the US). I have been working in the industry since graduation and have met many people int he UK (where I used to live) and in NY (where I currently live) who took a different path from me and either did a certificate programme or didn’t go to school at all. While it is possible to take those routes, the information and knowledge base that I formed at school has been so valuable to my career I can’t really put it into words. On-hand experience helps teach you things that school cannot, however without the foundation that I developed at school working with professors and peers I would not be where I am today and would not have moved to the senior positions I have held with such confidence and ease.
    I really feel that University helped me to get to where I am in the design world today, however it isn’t for everyone and it was a lot of work. You can completely succeed without going down the educational route, however in my experience it was an amazing networking tool (with peers and internship opportunities) and facilitator for my career.
    This is a really great post and discussion that I think is very relevant to the design world today. Thanks for posting and GOOD LUCK to all those out there looking for some answers!

    Mallory says:

    This was a great post; however, I have a question for all of us who have already earned a BA in something other than design. What do we do now to learn, grow, and get a foot in the door? I went to a highly regarded liberal arts school with no design degree. I majored in Literature and Economics but have since discovered my desire to pursue design. It seems that any post-bacc program requires a portfolio or design experience, but how do I achieve these things without the training? Any books or courses you’d recommend? Thanks!

    Allywan says:

    I’m with Mallory. BS in biology, love for design.

    Morgan says:

    This is such a perfect, time sensitive post! I’m a recent graduate in Journalism and I’ve been so frustrated with the lack of options out there for writers! Starting a blog seems like the only way I can actually write! College has seemed so pointless because the only jobs I’ve been getting a callback on has been for secretarial positions that require little or no college degree! You’re very lucky to hold a job that you love with a beloved blog!

    bre says:

    Totally agreed! I actually attended a very technical graphic design school for my first two years as well. All about the techniques and tradition. Then I transferred to a much more concept driven / innovative / real world experience school. I couldn’t be more happy that I had a little bit of both sides in my education and totally think it’s helped me get where I am today!

    I went to college for interior design and had a fantastic experience. It opened doors I didn’t know existed and taught me important lessons not found in any textbook. There is something powerful about collaboration and working in a studio setting with likeminded talent. Social media and the internet continues to transform the options we all have as designers. However, a formal education is still the route I’d recommend. Just always know, there are several avenues to go after college! I thought I’d be in Chicago wearing a pencil skirt, working all hours of the day and night to move up the corporate ladder. Now I want to build my own ladder. Or better yet, a jet pack. I thought it would be another 15-20 years until I’d want to have my own company. But I’m not waiting!

    katie evans! says:

    @mallory i would look into a school that offers an associates degree or a continuing studies course. you’ll get the training and understanding of the basics without having to put in all the time for another bachelors degree. OR you could look into local design studios and see if there are classes you can take or find someone to teach you one on one. OR try to get into one of bri’s blogshop courses 🙂

    Caroline says:

    love these posts! what about going off on your own – the transition, establishing your rate, your clientele, etc?

    Amy says:

    As a graphic designer, I would have to agree that college is so very important. For me, the last two years were the most beneficial; I had thought about stopping with an associates degree but am sure glad I went for the bachelors degree. Sure, anyone can learn to make things look pretty but there’s so much more about graphic design that you just can’t teach yourself. I think that many people think we graphic designers are just really good at making things pretty, but what many fail to understand are the depths and techniques of what graphic design is really all about. I suppose that’s true for most all fields of work, though.

    Amy says:

    thanks katie for your recent comment. i’ve been thinking about my options since i know that most jobs require a degree of some sort plus a portfolio. i’m self-taught right now but on a slow slow progression. i have a bachelor’s in marketing and loved design well before i graduated high school.

    Sarah says:

    School is cool! Those 4 years of learning were so important. I’m a graphic designer, but actually have a BFA in fine arts. I realized I wanted to do graphic design several years after graduation. So, I found a design firm that I loved and took a job as a receptionist. Then I proceeded to pester the design staff and work my butt off above and beyond my pay grade to get noticed. Before long I was assisting the design team, and then I was on the design team. It was A LOT of hard work and persistence- but here’s the deal: The foundation of creative learning that my professors laid down for me was/is priceless. Without that, I’m not sure I would have done as well making a transition. And, I was lucky enough to learn from school that the learning never stops- especially if you are in a creative field. There’s always a new way of seeing things, or a new technique to learn, or a new skill to add. Creatives tend to be curious in nature, so that doesn’t hurt!

    Sarah says:

    You offer such applicable advice. Thank you! I am currently a college student and face worries, decisions and the like about my future. The cloud hanging over everyone’s head, “Will I get a job with this major or that major?” Thanks for reaffirming my believe that school is beneficial no matter what.

    Robertson says:

    I am currently going to look into graphic design programs in northern California. I would love to learn more in an academic setting!

    sarah.a says:

    i loved design school! have a bachelor of design (visual communication) from monash university plus a year at another art school and i had a blast. like bri, i loved the challenges, deadlines and the creative people and environment. wish i could go back!! 🙂

    if you’re passionate about it, you can make it work!! 🙂

    Linda says:

    I agree! I went to school for several years for graphic design and learned so much that I wouldn’t have had I been self taught. I also contacted many of the best design companies in my area and asked for their opinion on which schools were the most credible (many of them said 2-year degrees at the respectable schools were sufficient). Everything from foundational design principles, repetitive critiques and motivation from teachers throwing you in different scenarios, networking with professors and classmates, art history, software classes. Of course I learned a ton on the job after school as well but I feel like school was the butter to the bread of my design career 🙂

    Linda says:

    @Mallory, I agree with Katie! You can look for a condensed version of a design program in your area and lynda.com is great for software training!

    I too, also agree that school is beneficial, and besides the course content and methodology you have highlighted one can gain from, it is also the atmosphere of like minded people saturating your environment, which leads to very resourceful networking on campus etc, and as we know in this world, who you know is also as good as what you know…

    gia says:

    Right on, I like this discussion. I’m trying to get back into school for healthcare, and I’m excited about the opportunity and challenges.

    Linda says:

    Oh and also the most crucial thing employers look at is your portfolio. You can create self projects and wow them with these which will helps a ton.

    Oh hey, fellow FIDM alum! I studied graphic design at the sf campus and I loved being able to bounce ideas off other creative people and have my work critiqued by professional instructors. I too landed my internship from connections through school. All in all I loved studying at FiDM and would go back if I had enough money for another round of tuition!

    juliet says:

    I really love that your learned to “think creatively” in school. Would really love to read a post with pointers on/what you learned about thinking creatively!!!

    Maddie says:

    I completely agree that the necessity of a degree varies from person to person. For me, I thought college was a joke. I knew what I wanted to learn and the only way I would master it is if I did it, not by a teacher giving an assignment and grading it. There are no tests or grades in real life. And my philosophy has gotten me far – I currently work as a technical designer for Anthropologie in their home offices in Philly. I have my dream job 🙂

    Ali says:

    I am loving this advice column. As one who is deciding whether to go back to school in design, the column has been super helpful and informative. p.s. Yay for FIDM!! (I used to work there:)

    Stacey says:

    Thank you for your advice! This is exactly what my questions was. Another great thing about these advice posts is that I get to hear other people’s experiences and advices through the comments which really makes a difference. Finding people in similar situations and helping and encouraging one another is all I can ask for!

    Kay says:

    Would you please show us your CVs? how are designers CVs supposed to be? I am currently working on mine and sorta facing difficulties..thanks a lot for these beneficial articles!

    Leah says:

    @Mallory and Katie….I have similar questions, except sorta different I guess. I earned a BFA in painting and an MFA in sculpture so I have definitely learned how to think creatively, and I have been taking a lot of continuing ed graphic design courses at SVA this year, but do you think its necessary to be successful in graphic design unless you get that BA in graphic design? I am dying to work in the field, and am building up a portfolio, but I am nervous I am getting too old (and honestly can’t afford to work for free) for an internship, even though I would LOVE to do that, I’m not sure its feasible for my real life. Any advice on how to break into the graphic design world without internship experience?

    I agreed with both of you up until I went to graphic design school for 2 years and quickly ran out of funding options. Now I am tens of thousands of dollars in debt and without a degree.

    Because school was no longer a financial option for me, I have had to work twice as hard to learn the things I would have in school. Still, I think those 2 years were very beneficial for me and were a great foundation for the things that I have sought to learn on my own. I guess what I want to say is that, while school was an ultimately fabulous experience while it lasted, there are so many online and printed resources available to those of us who can’t afford it and other ways to go about getting experience.

    I am starting my own graphic design and illustration business and a handmade shop this year on what I have learned from constant practice, dedication, a good sense of professionalism, and hundreds of helpful resources from blogs & websites, books & magazines, and other graphic designers I’ve encountered. I may not be able to get a job working for an actual company yet, but I can most certainly start my own! In the end your portfolio means the world and your working habits can be learned.

    katie evans! says:

    @leah bfa and mfa + continuing studies! woah! i agree that you need another degree. to break into the world i suggest reaching out the companies you want to work for and presenting them your work. you could do projects on your own as if you were doing it for that company to show them your skills. you just need to put yourself out there and get on all to networking platforms: twitter, linkedin, tumblr, etc. the more your link is out in the world the more chance of having the right person see your work.

    angie says:

    What are the books that you would reccomend to someone looking to be self taught?

    katie evans! says:

    @angie two of my professors came out with a great book called “graphic design: the new basics”. it’s by ellen lupton and jennifer cole phillips. ellen also wrote another one (she has a TON of books) called “thinking with type” that explains the basics of typography.

    emily says:

    I’m studying design at Arizona State myself. My associates is in Interior Design through a community college here and I got a fantastic education there. Though I am leaning more towards a career in event planning, I absolutely loved the curriculum. Now with my design management education, I am learning the creative business side and I find it absolutely fascinating. though I understand Natalie’s position on running out of funding! I am one semester shy of a degree and very close to my aggregate loan limits. It’s scary teetering this close, but it’s absolutely worth it.

    Kate says:

    I stumbled across your blog via pinterest and I’m absolutely smitten! I went to ASU as well – started in Graphic Design but finished with a BIS in Design Studies and Art History. The 4 hour studio dedicated to drawing one inch lines drove me mad and I’ll never forget the smell of plaka 🙂 Of course now that I’ve been out of school for almost six years (yikes) I would love to go through the program – just for fun! Anyways, I was so excited to discover a new favorite blog and finding out you too experienced the graphic design program at ASU was icing on the cake. Cheers to you!

    Chloe says:

    This post is amazingly helpful! I’m looking for a career like Bri, and am interested to know if FIDM is worth the price, and would love to hear about her experience there! thank you!! 🙂

    Hello there, You’ve got completed an excellent work. I am going to certainly stumbleupon this along with my personal view advocate to friends and neighbors. I am certain they’ll be benefited from this fabulous website.

Leave a Reply to Kate Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.