Choosing a Major (I want a career in web design/multimedia)

Discussion in 'Community' started by 18thTomorrow, Sep 25, 2004.

  1. 18thTomorrow macrumors 6502

    Apr 5, 2004
    The Alpha Quadrant
    I am a freshman at a liberal arts school with many, many majors and opportunities.

    My passion is in multimedia and website design. I love designing websites and other interactive media. My second week at school I landed a job in the school's website dept. and I love it. This is the kind of thing I want to do for a career.

    I started out as a graphic design major but I don't know how I feel about it. Actually I lean towards not liking it. Our school has a foundations program you have to go through before taking any higher level art courses. Right now I'm enrolled in Drawing 1 and 2D design. Neither of them are particularly enjoyable. I really, really don't fit into the art community at school. The art people seem to feel like they're better, brighter, and classier than anybody else in the school or the rest of the world. Many of the art students live in a special "art housing" unit, and they look down on the students who live in other dorms or off campus. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise to me to encounter these vibes. It's just that I really don't give a damn about their "high art"--about being the best drawer, the edgiest thinker of the bunch. In the past I've gotten (really) good grades because I followed the rules and did the assignment the best way I knew how. In art class I have to be the best artist and break the most rules to get a good grade. It's a bit depressing. But I probably should have expected it coming in. I don't want to be the next Picasso, I don't want to fit the "starving genius artist" persona. I just want to design some lowly, real-life websites and I want to learn how to do it well. But apparently my choice of life calling is too lowbrow for them--I'm not a real artist, I'm an imposter.

    So I'm toying with the idea of either adding or switching to a CS major. My school offers both Computer Science and Information Systems. I enjoy programming (though I've never dealt with anything more advanced than QBasic or Java) and while I don't really like math, I'm fairly good at it. Another advantage is that the BFA degree in Graphic Design requires 84 credits in art, while the BA in CS/IS requires at the most, 50. !!! Quite a difference. With work, 12 hours of studio art(only 6 I get credit for) and 7 credits of honors classes, I don't have much free time right now. Switching majors would provide me with a lot more time to do the things I love--work on my website, volunteer, maybe even add a violin minor. That looks really attractive to me.

    Sigh. When I'm with the geeks, I feel too out-there, artsy-fartsy. And when I'm with the real artsy-fartsies, I feel much too literal. It's quite the conundrum.

    Seeing as many macrumors members have experience in both these areas and the field that I want to get into, I ask for your advice. Specific questions I have--
    1. Will not having an "official" background in graphic design be a hindrance to me? Even without any formal training, people have told me over and over I have a good eye for color and composition. (see my website if you want an example)
    2. Would a degree in Computer Science or Information Systems be more useful to me? What is the difference? My school offers both. I should talk to my counselor, and I will, but I'd like to get your perspective too.

  2. bousozoku Moderator emeritus

    Jun 25, 2002
    Gone but not forgotten.
    I know your feeling, mostly. I'm currently working on a 2 year Graphic Design degree along with classes to move my 2 year Computer Programming degree into a 4 year Computer Science degree.

    I enjoy design and have done it well, but I'm no artist. Even with photography, I don't want to do the most artistic thing, just because someone else does.

    I also do software development and it's enjoyable in a different way. There is a sort of art involved but certainly not one that people using one of my applications would notice.

    I always view an Information Systems degree as the path for someone who really doesn't want to be involved with technical details--a manager or operations staff. It's okay but there isn't anything rewarding about the career.

    Computer Science requires all that math and I hate scientific math. I'm taking an Algebra class now so I can get to Calculus some day. If you do it right, Computer Science classes require you to be just as intense as Fine Art classes do.

    Either way, you're going to have to stretch out and become something more than you are. Staying the same, being a part of the crowd, is boring.
  3. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
    That conundrum of yours is an advantage.

    There are few people out there who have the aesthetic/design skills AND the tecchy skills. Don't worry about fitting in – eventually the art crowd will admire your skills in actually being able to turn your creativity into something concrete...

    Web teams usually have specialists but smaller organisations may not be able to afford both, which is where you come in.

    Get experience of some sort, whether volunteering or not. It helps employers if you've produced something practical in a real-world situation, rather than theoretical student work.

    Whatever you choose, it never hurts to know your way around Photoshop...

    Best of luck, which ever path you follow.
  4. 18thTomorrow thread starter macrumors 6502

    Apr 5, 2004
    The Alpha Quadrant
    (Blue Velvet: Is your user name from the song?)

    I do have some practical experience, already--it's what landed me my current job. For over 2 years I worked as the sole webmaster for a nonprofit youth-sports organization. I used dreamweaver and photoshop to design and manage a website that grew from 5 pages to over 700 pages under my dominion. In that time I developed a lot of skill in many fields--coding, design, and photography, as I also had to photojournal each of the games and events the organization held.

    I love bridging the gap between the technical and the design. That is, taking the limits of whatever code or technology that I'm working with, and then making my vision of what I want a site to look and feel and work like and making it a reality, working with my limitations instead of against them. It's that sort of challenge that inspires and motivates me.
  5. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
    Hiya... 18thTomorrow.

    Sounds to me that you'll have no probs at all in whichever field you choose – don't worry about what the crowd thinks.

    Although I'm currently a print designer, I left design school with a hobbyish interest in electronics & computers and went straight into teaching photography and making videos. I've also designed flooring, sold wine, and washed dishes...

    At all stages of doing creative work, the experience of mucking around with soldering irons and learning BASIC has strengthened my understanding of what was possible within a given medium.

    For example, studying optics as part of physics classes at school improved my photography... doing technical drawing at school helped with understanding Bezier curves etc.

    As well as the technical/aesthetic skills, it always helps to have good people/communication skills – something which your art student colleagues may lack because of their perceived superiority.

    I would stick with the 2D design classes for a while, especially if they cover typography. Drawing, although important, may not be that useful unless you want to pursue an illustrative career which doesn't sound like your thing.

    However, what drawing does give you, is the practice in SEEING and analysing/interpreting visual information... so even doing it in your spare time never hurts.

    Core design skills, however, will always be transferable to different media.

    Most importantly though, when you're younger it always feels difficult to go against what the crowd wants. But don't worry, because as time goes by you'll be glad you followed YOUR path and ten years down the line, you'll look back and be glad you did what you thought was right for YOU, not anyone else...

    (My user name is from my favourite film by my favourite director of all time, which is titled after the song...)

    Take it easy...
  6. yellow Moderator emeritus


    Oct 21, 2003
    Portland, OR
    I was a Sociology major at Duke '94. Since I've been out of college, I've been an IT Analyst for a RadOnc department, specializing in Macs, without ever taking a CS class (heck, any computer class) in my life.

    Just don't think that your major limits you to one narrow field. It certainly helps, but it doesn't limit you.
  7. shecky Guest


    May 24, 2003
    Obviously you're not a golfer.
    just some commentary -

    i attend a design school who also has a foundation program much like what you are doing (not a surprise - the idea of a 'foundation' art program with more narrow majors after the 1st year stems from the Bauhaus - many schools do it.) now that i am a junior in the graphic design program i can tell you that the foundation program is not even remotely like the GD major - so you should not use what you experience there as indicative of what your experience in the department will be like. Foundation is its own entity.

    it is extremely rare (maybe impossible) to find someone who is gifted in both design + code (i have yet to meet anyone like this, and i have been around the block) - you will find people who are adequate in one and gifted in the other, but do not try to be a master of both - it won't happen. Anyone who tells you they ARE a master of both is delusional and kidding themselves.

    i think limiting yourself to "web design" is not a good move, and in that respect, yes, not having a formal design degree will limit you in terms of jobs you can hope to get. A BA and a BFA are two radically differently degrees, but if you do decide all you really want to do is web, then the BA is probably going to be enough, since you will not be expected to have the kind of background a print designer, book designer, type designer, etc... will have, but you WILL be expected to be code savvy - so the BA is probably enough 'art' education to get by.

    and as far as artists being arrogant and exclusive, don't worry about it, its the nature of the beast, and designers are even worse since we can actually make a living on art instead of just doing art - they even have a saying about my school - "its a very religious school - everyone thinks they are god"
  8. scem0 macrumors 604


    Jul 16, 2002
    back in NYC!
    This seems like a good place to ask - What would be the best college for web design. I'd like to be a free-lance web designer (I love technology, but I hate any tech career where you don't get to exercise creativity).

    I don't want to take intro level courses because I know all that stuff already, so I've been trying to find colleges that not only have a nice combination of tech classes (PHP, mySQL, dreamweaver, etc.) and artsy classes (Photoshop, design theory, etc.) but that also don't force you to take 'drawing I', 'art 1', etc.

    Colleges I've been looking at:
    among others. Do y'all have any colleges that you recommend I research?

  9. 18thTomorrow thread starter macrumors 6502

    Apr 5, 2004
    The Alpha Quadrant

    Yes, I realize that the foundations requirement is a necessary part of being an artist and learning your trade. It's learning the basics before you move on to the advanced stuff. But I still feel like I've seen enough to say, "this really sucks." The students are so haughty, and I only have one professor (2D) whose attitude and perspective I appreciate and admire. The others are just so...out there. It's not me--I'm more down-to-earth and practical.
    And if I'm death-on-a-cracker sick of hanging out with art students and people after only one month of it, think of what a bad vibe I'd have if I spent my whole life in the field!

    In thinking about this, and what I like about each major and what I don't like, I've discovered a lot about myself. One of my strong qualities is my ability to follow the rules, to work within given parameters. You give me an assignment with parameters and I'll do one heck of a good job at it. But if your only parameter is, "be creative", I feel overwhelmed. There's just too much freedom in that.

    I'm sick of having my work graded against other students' work. If I get an A on a math exam, it's because I was 100% right in all of the problems. I can do that. But being graded subjectively against another persons (the professors) views of what is good and creative and artistic and what is not really bothers me.

    Which is why I feel like this change would be good. I've realized more and more lately how I love literal, concrete things and ideas as opposed to airy conceptions.

    Yes, I agree that it's probably impossible to find someone who is extremely gifted in both code and design. Which is why I'm trying to decide where my inclination lies. And I want to decide NOW, not 3 years from now when my scholarships are running out and I'm only halfway done with my degree. That would not be a cool situation.

    I don't think I'm limiting myself to web design--if I did pursue a graphic design career it would include print and other media. Especially because we don't know where internet technology may be in 15, 20 years. However, I view computers and multimedia as my best medium, just as other artists use paint, or charcoal, or steel.
  10. shecky Guest


    May 24, 2003
    Obviously you're not a golfer.
    if this bothers you then you should not even consider being a designer of any kind. in design there is no right or wrong, only more right and less right (and more wrong and less wrong if you are not good at what you do.) Design has very few, if any, absolutes.

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