For Adam Larson, founder of Adam + Company, design school at Syracuse University opened new possibilities. He learned "that you could do [design] and make a living." Larson said he appreciated the exposure, new ideas, and training of grad school.
"So much of what we did dealt with conceptual thinking and problem solving and [was] less focused on aesthetics or application," he recalled. "I think the collaborative nature of the way the classes were structured was the biggest takeaway."
Larson also took the opportunity to study abroad, which he says was "extremely eye-opening and enriching" and changed his life forever. As for learning design by using software, Larson said, "Just because you know Microsoft Word doesn't mean you're a writer. The same is true of design software. . . . Some of the best designers I've met in my life don't even use the computer. And most of the best design that exists in the world was done prior to any technology. However I do think the programs have made it a bit easier."
Each designer's experience is different, but the thing that they all have in common is that their design education has been key to their success as designers.
For me, the past two years of grad school have taught me about workload, time management, professionalism, and the presentation skills necessary to be successful in the field. Not only have I learned the history and formal design tools, but also that you cannot design in a bubble. Networking and collaboration are a big part of what makes going back to school so beneficial. It's being in an environment where you not only are among other design students, but also have a direct connection with design faculty, professionals, and guest speakers that people outside the program don't have.
Although the field of design can be competitive, some say there is an unwritten agreement that designers help each other, whether collaboratively or with connections. I think both collaboration and competitiveness push us to the next level, to create better things or do better within the community.
The Say Something Poster Project is a great example of collaboration and competitiveness doing something for the greater good that benefits all parties. Last year, Jason Stevens, the project's founder, brought together a group of designers to create a competition that would generate inspirational posters for the Home for Little Wanderers.
The project was posted on kickstarter.com to raise money through the community to fund it, that way the competition would not exclude designers who cannot afford the entry fees that most competitions have. Not only did the project bring designers together and ask them to share their love of design, but also raised awareness and gave back to the community to inspire the next generation.
Grad school has taught me a combination of the technical aspects of design, as well as being able to communicate a message. What I did not realize is that I was also learning to take risks and make connections, and that is something that is invaluable and cannot be learned just by using software.
Brittany Kearnan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.