Want To Be a Better Design Student?

June 9, 2010
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Want To Be a Better Design Student?

With design students, there is the 2/13/2 Rule. Allow me to explain.

A Visual Design student who is signed up for my upcoming Typography course wrote to me and asked what he could read during the summer to get ready for the Fall semester class. It about knocked my serifs right off. Where was he hiding his apathy? How dare he, during the sacred summer months, think about preparing for entering a demanding and increasingly competitive career field by preparing early for a class?

I'm pretty sure he's one of those two or three uncommon design students that I have in each class of around 17 students. I'm glad he blew his cover very early on, taking out some of the guesswork at the beginning of the semester as to who are going to be the ones who make this teaching thing worthwhile. These are the two students who get it. They work hard. They have ambition, and they will have a successful design career. Thirteen or so students are in the middle and will get Bs and Cs and try at about a 60% level. They'll do mediocre work and get through school but will have a very hard time finding a good and worthwhile design job. Two or three are always at the bottom and they have neither talent nor ambition and should be somewhere else.

Want to be a better design student? Here are five things that a successful design student does, (and typically does without being told to):

1. Observe and capture. Carry a sketchbook and camera. In the sketchbook jot down ideas, lists and goals. Sketch in it every day. Keep your drawing abilities fresh and you'll find a better flow during the sketching and brainstorming part of the design process. With the camera, shoot pictures of everything you see that is inspiring, bizarre or funny. Save these pictures and tag them for easy recalling at later times.

Sketch by Brock Elliott

(sketch by Brock Elliott)

2. Utilize critiques. Speak up about other students' work during the critique. With careful wording, be helpful. Also, listen to everyone else's critiquing of your work. Most importantly, have a fellow student take notes during the critique of your work so that you can focus on the interaction during the critique.

Preparing for a critique

(students preparing for a critique)

3. Find an internship. Working on actual client work within the setting of a design firm is crucial for a student to understand work culture, communication tools, interpersonal relationships, client-relations vocabulary, budget restrictions and working on projects with client involvement.

4. Manage and backup files. Many students could be saved a lot of grief if they simply organized their files better. Create a folder for each class, then a folder inside that for each project. Name your files with your name and the project number. Keep all files for a specific project within the same folder. Backup your files by having a copy of everything on two different storage devices.

5. Understand how the computer works. Understanding how the computer and the programs manage memory, or how screen resolutions and color spaces work is increasingly important. Also, just know that restarting the computer solves 99% of problems you'll run across. Edit the preferences within software and customize the workspace of each program to better suit your workflow. Assign your mouse buttons and surface interactions to often-used functions. Learn keyboard shortcuts for the operating system and the programs. All of these things will enable you to optimize your computer production time.

Students who do even just these few things could rise up through the ranks of their fellow classmates. Combined with a lot of sleepless nights and the other obvious things such as attending class sessions, could even pull a formerly apathetic student up into that top tier. Jason Wilkins, now a designer in Austin, Texas, was one of those students. See more of his "Visual Booty" series here.

From Jason Wilkins' Visual Booty book
Tom Hapgood

Tom Hapgood

Tom Hapgood is a designer in Northwest Arkansas, USA, who teaches in the Visual Design area of the University of Arkansas. He teaches motion design, typography, web design and animation. Before moving to Arkansas he lived in Boston, Arizona, Germany and Italy.

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