Degree or No Degree?

Barton Damer was kind enough to let us repost this article on the zine. What do you think? Do you need a degree to be a designer these days?

Degree or no degree?

There are many potential paths you could follow in the world of “design.” Graphic Art is the term I gravitate towards the most for my own work. There’s often a fine line to distinguish the difference between graphic art and graphic design but it usually relies on less layout of typography and more visual development. A growing field for graphic artists is Motion Design (aka – motion graphics). At it’s basic level, you are simply making your graphic art move. Ultimately, it helps to know a lot about all aspects of design whether it’s web, print or motion. Eventually, you’ll find your sweet spot but you’ll need a good base in design principles first.

School is always a good option but not necessary. It’s a combination of motivation, knowledge and ability. If one is missing, the formula is incomplete. School will provide the knowledge to improve your ability. School not only allows you to learn great design principles and be critiqued by others, but you will always grow faster when you are surrounded and challenged by others who are doing the same. Additionally, the people you meet in school will go on to be in your industry and it always helps to have that connection 5-10 years down the road. School also helps you form discipline. You’ll have to be highly motivated and naturally talented to make a career out of design without an education.

Not all design students are great designers. Motivation is the key to gaining knowledge. Not school. If you have the drive to be a designer, you will find plenty of knowledge online. You can also improve your ability and be challenged by online artist communities. Not going to school is definitely possible in this industry. I have friends that own their own businesses and write code for websites from scratch without ever having gone to college. There are designers that have made great livings for themselves without an art degree. Although skipping school is probably not the norm or the suggested method, going to school does not necessarily guarantee success either. Like any major, people often graduate and do not even find a job in that field.

I went to school for Commercial Art. I learned everything from oil painting to Photoshop. My experience, however, was that I learned principles in class; but not really the software. Learning software on your own or with the aid of tutorials, etc. is a part of the design life. The classroom was more about giving me projects and critiquing them. I learned and tried web design using Flash and Dreamweaver back in the day. I quickly gave that up. I realized that I needed to be able to write code to really have a future in web. That wasn’t going to happen. I’ve learned Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Illustrator, Cinema 4d, and all sorts of software on my own since school. The software is constantly changing so even if you find your classroom setting useful for learning programs; that won’t help you 5 years after you’ve graduated school. You’ll need to learn how to keep up with software on your own. There is no rest when it comes to keeping up with technology.
Overall, I would recommend a good education. That is not available to everyone though so buying a computer and software might make more sense if you are motivated enough to learn what is needed. A strong portfolio will speak louder than a resume or degree.