Graphic Design - Where did you learn?

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by HudsonsHalfHour, Aug 28, 2009.

  1. HudsonsHalfHour macrumors member

    May 19, 2009
    To all professional graphic designers who earn a crust doing it. I would love to know how you developed your skills, where you were taught, which courses you took and what to avoid.

    I have wasted my life so far in office jobs and have decided to turn things around. I've always had an eye for design and can use PS fairly well. Saved up money and would like some guidance on the next steps I should take to get into the field.
  2. Blue Velvet Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
    This may not be too relevant for your needs as it goes back to the early 1980s, but I'll lay out what my design education was:

    I took a three year full-time diploma course in what was called 'Visual Communication and Design', I also did one-year part-time post-graduate courses in photography and video production, while teaching.

    Bearing in mind there was no such thing as a Mac in 1983, during the three years in design school, most of the work was taught using traditional methods, a focus that I still believe is more than capable of teaching the fundamentals of design. In the first year, classes included:

    • One full day of drawing, split into general drawing and life drawing. Life drawing was the real deal, nude models, plaster casts, field trips etc. General drawing was hours of drawing things like egg-beaters, cubes, household objects with a perfectionist and technical approach taught by a drawing teacher who had been taught by someone who taught at the Bauhaus. It was one of the most difficult classes I've ever had to do, but it taught me how to see.

    • 3D design, working in materials like metal, plastics and moulding of different materials.

    • 2D design which included silk-screen printing and illustrative work using gouache and acrylics.

    • Typography classes, starting out with hand-lettering and constructing traditional Roman letter-forms, working our way up to designing typefaces by hand with drafting instruments. We also worked with letterpress, setting type by hand and studied the history of typography and had to sit exams on it.

    • Full day of photography. Huge darkrooms and studios, shooting work we'd done in other classes, as well as portraiture and field work.

    • Projects that involved giving presentations to the entire design school, all years... this helped tremendously down the line with client presentations and even brief-taking.

    • Repro: where we studied how ink gets on a page. Sounds simple, but these classes were the fundamentals of knowing how to work as a print designer. Lots of field trips.​

    But the second and third years were even more involved, extending into packaging, campaigns, full-scale typesetting, book illustration etc with outplacements in the third year. Looking back over 25 years ago, our first early projects in 2D design were done with cutting out and collaging techniques using only coloured paper. Using these simple techniques trains you by focusing only on matters of balance, proportion, scale and hue.

    The fundamentals of design are not to be found in knowing how to use software, they're in much simpler methods that build up to a rounded overview of the entire field. I don't usually comment on work in this forum, but often I see work that shows capability in software technique, with little understanding of sound principles, particularly where type is concerned.

    In my last job, I also had to coordinate the work of some freelancers, a couple of whom would send me work in RGB, for instance, or without bleeds. They didn't last long. So, regardless of whether it's print or web, 3D or 2D, packaging or illustration, my advice would be to look for a course that isn't purely about the software. Having a look at any student shows or graduating portfolios from any particular course will give you insight into what can be expected, as well as closely studying the details of any course.

    I wish you all the best. It's a highly-competitive field where talent doesn't always win out; you have to know how to effectively communicate as well, so don't spend too much time in the early stages looking at the nuts and bolts of specific software packages, and give some serious thought as to where it is you want to end up. Good luck, but make your own luck as well. :)
  3. Brien macrumors 68030


    Aug 11, 2008
    I taught myself. Don't underestimate learning things the "old" way either. Designers fresh out of college don't even have a good grasp of color theory.
  4. moderniste macrumors member

    May 7, 2005
    I have a BFA and taught myself to use the software after I graduated.

    If you aren't sure what to do next, see if any local community colleges have design courses. Look for one that isn't focused on teaching software, because that's the least important thing and you can pick it up on your own or with courses at What you need is an environment where others can give you meaningful feedback about your work. A classroom setting is great for that because your teacher and classmates will be familiar with your work and watch you progress, and you'll be able to learn from what other people are doing also.
  5. THX1139 macrumors 68000


    Mar 4, 2006
    "Some designers fresh out of college don't even have a good grasp of color theory."

    There, fixed it for you.
  6. Rt&Dzine macrumors 6502a


    Oct 8, 2008
    Most of the better graphic design jobs I had required a bachelor's degree in graphic design. It was an easy way to narrow down the amount of applicants. In the largest company I worked for, they did hire graphic artists with 2-year degrees but I don't ever remember a graphic artist upgrading to a graphic designer within the company.

    This is just my experience and it's slightly out-of-date because I've been self-employed for several years now.
  7. THX1139 macrumors 68000


    Mar 4, 2006
    My bachelors in Graphic Design was so intense that I would have never had been able to learn what I did on my own. I was taught how to see and think at a different level. Even so, the best designers to come out of my school are those who applied themselves and had the best innate talent to begin with. The program allowed them to hone their skills and taught them the discipline of how to be a designer. The success they achieved with those learned skills was left up to them.
  8. Sir SpemzR macrumors 6502

    Jun 9, 2009
    Inland Empire
    yet again it doesnt matter if u have a bachelors or just an associates, but
    it matters what skill you have...

    someone could have wasted 3-4 years getting a bachelors when some
    20 yr old could have taken just an AA course at a trade school and have way
    better techniques....its not wat u learn, its how u use YOUR creativity to
    master what u learned
  9. Rt&Dzine macrumors 6502a


    Oct 8, 2008
    I'm just telling how it was in most of the jobs I had. They used the bachelor's degree to weed out applicants. Just like jobs in other fields, they had minimum job requirements. Obviously it doesn't mean that someone without the degree isn't as talented or isn't more talented.
  10. LeviG macrumors 65816

    Nov 6, 2006
    Norfolk, UK
    Personally I went like this (UK based) - note I went 3D design in the end but as this seems to get lumped within graphic design a lot of the time.......

    (upto 16 years old) gcse in design technology (more graphic orientated)
    city and guilds in design (at the same time as my gcses)
    (16-18 years old) a-level in graphic design
    (19 years old in my case) 1 year btec in art and design foundation (equaled 2 a-levels iirc) which covered art history, graphics, print (fabric and paper), sculture, fine art along with a bit of product design etc
    I then branched out into product design with a BSc (hons) at university after a year out.
  11. lucidmedia macrumors 6502a

    Oct 13, 2008
    Wellington, New Zealand
    This is a key point. There is only so much "content" a design teacher can share with the class -- we are not explaining the vagaries of tax law -- instead, a studio education is a focused and intense opportunity to develop experience under the guidance of a skilled tutor alongside a group of like-minded individuals. The core of your design education is critique by your peers, something that does not really take place as often in the working world.

    School is also an environment where one can learn and experiment with a smaller amount of financial risk than learning on the job carries.

    So, in short, a design education is about developing experience faster, safer and with fewer limitations than within industry.

    Many studios require a bachelors degree. Bachelor's degrees come in two flavors: BFAs and BAs. The BFAs require more time in studio, making visual work. The BAs require more time in classrooms taking liberal arts. In the past, the BFA was seen as the more "professional" degree as the students would typically have portfolios that reflected their additional studio time. However, I have found that many interactive agencies (and advertising agencies) are recently favoring students with stronger liberal arts backgrounds.

    As has been mentioned in this thread, many design degree programs do not formally teach technology, focusing instead on spending that valuable class time on formal and conceptual development. At my school, most students come into the program having learned Photoshop and Illustrator in High School, so they arrive ready to work. Student's are expected to learn new technologies -- after effects, flash, xHTML/CSS, actionscript, processing -- as they go, and most are pretty successful at it. I expect designers to self-learn technologies this in my studio, as well. I do provide tutorials when needed...

    I have a BFA and an MFA.
  12. primalman macrumors 6502a

    Jul 23, 2002
    at the end of the hall
    Echo on this. Thinking.
  13. carollaura macrumors newbie

    Aug 31, 2009
    Even I’m also looking forward to improve my skills in graphic designing. Actually m bit confused in selecting the better one between Kaplan University and South University. Can anybody suggest with personal experiences if any?
  14. HudsonsHalfHour thread starter macrumors member

    May 19, 2009
    Some illuminating answers, many thanks to all who shared their experience. A little daunting I must say, especially considering the cost of courses. The local art and design college here in Memphis is charging 19k a year for an undergrad in Graphic Design! I’m hoping to find something more affordable, I just need to be pointed in the right direction.
  15. primalman macrumors 6502a

    Jul 23, 2002
    at the end of the hall
    There are lots of quality state schools out there, much cheaper. Shop around at some of the campuses with large art departments with GD programs.
  16. MacBoobsPro macrumors 603


    Jan 10, 2006
    "Most designers fresh out of college don't even have a good grasp of color theory."

    There, fixed it for you. :D

    I learnt at college and graduated onto a Uni course (HND) at the same college. I too knew very little about colour/print theory when I left, but thats because I (and most of my class mates too) found the class incredibly boring. "We dont need to know this we are using computers. Lets go to the pub."

    Turns out my first project I screwed up as I sent full colour artwork to the printer even though the client was paying for single colour. I got a much needed lesson in print/colour theory by an irate boss and the rest is history.
  17. primalman macrumors 6502a

    Jul 23, 2002
    at the end of the hall
    this sound more like a lack of production knowlege than color theory. The theory is about color and the relationships of color, the psychology of color reaction and the effects color produce. What you did was make a 4-color process job when you should have been making a one spot color job. That is a lack of production understanding, and I see it all the time in the students that blow off the production classes we teach. Alan pipes book is a good starting place for you, orvthe SpecLogix series (though hard to find).
  18. decksnap macrumors 68040


    Apr 11, 2003
    I did a BFA at an art & design university that partnered with another university for liberal arts stuff as well.

    I would highly recommend a four year BFA including a fully immersive foundation year. We didn't even touch the computer until year 3.
  19. omgitzjoie macrumors newbie

    Sep 4, 2009
    I never would have expected my local university to have such a great design program. You have to look at all the schools (public for less tuition) and their programs and see which one is best for you.

    What I think is the best about my program is the fact that we do everything the traditional way at first. No computers. It teaches us detail, color, conceptual thinking, form, function, processes, use of space, composition, etc.

    Try looking at the 4-year public universities near you. The problem with technical schools these days is that they start you off on the computer learning software and you spend your whole college career on the computer. It's no way to learn design :p
  20. primalman macrumors 6502a

    Jul 23, 2002
    at the end of the hall
    Bump on this. Nail on the head here. Community colleges are great for training, but if you want to be a designer rather than a production guy, spend the time in an imersive program that focuses on concept and critical thinking rather than technical prowess.

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