Posts in industry expectations
Each semester, students who have completed GRA 1951C Portfolio Review (aka. the light at the end of the tunnel), open their hearts and portfolios for anyone who is interested in seeing their finished work. Although ANYONE is welcome to attend, this is an especially awesome inspirational opportunity for students at all levels to ask questions and see the type of talent they will ultimately have to compete against for jobs! No pressure, right!? Here are the details for the current semester show ‘n’ tell:
What: Portfolio Show ‘n’ Tell
Where: Valencia’s East Campus Graphics Classroom in 1-214
When: Thursday, April 25th from 12pm – 2pm
I apologize in advance for this lengthy blog posting! As you can clearly see, I’ve been writing this content for some time now and felt it important to keep the content as thorough and informative as possible. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re about to make one of the most important decisions of your life and your career. Hopefully, you will find this article helpful in deciding what graphic design school is best for YOU.
Step 1: Determine your goals for using your graphic design education.
I know some of you think I’m crazy for recommending step one be to determine what your goals are, but you would be surprised how little some people have actually thought about their options. For instance, do you plan to teach some day? Are you already in the design industry, but only needing software training to advance or freshen up your skills? Are you starting from scratch hoping that learning more about the technical and visual aspects of visual communication helps you find work as a graphic designer in the industry? Maybe you’re aspiring to own your own graphic design business some day? Is it possible that you’re already thinking about an advanced degree, like a Master’s Degree? Or hey, maybe you don’t want a degree, but you’re just hoping to learn some new skills to play with as a hobby?
Although most of you reading this are just hoping to specialize in what is needed to help you find work in the industry, you’d be surprised to know that not all graphic design degree programs are designed with that same goal in mind!
WARNING: Before you read further, it’s important to mention that “getting a degree” is NOT a goal! Graphic designers don’t find work because they have a degree, they find work because they are able to demonstrate strong understanding of visual, conceptual, workplace and technical skills in their portfolio of visual work samples. If you’re not sure whether you’ve selected the right degree major, stop reading here and instead read this blog posting: “Five Signs You Should Not Major in Graphic Design”. For more information regarding what they industry is expecting of graphic design graduates read this: “What the Industry Expects from Graduates”.
Step 2: Understand the types of schools out there.
There are various types of schools with various levels of degrees out there to help you attain your goals. Here is a generalized description of the types of schools, including the pros and cons of each type to help you narrow down your search based upon how each does/doesn’t meet your educational needs:
a. Technical Schools: These type of schools can be public or private and generally only offer technical AS Degrees or technical Certificates, which are industry-focused degrees that take 2 years or less to complete. Note, however, regardless of the degree earned, the focus of technical schools are purely technical in nature and will only prepare you to “click and drag”. Since being a graphic designer involves MUCH more than just operating a computer and graphics software in a technically sound manner, it is suggested that anyone who aspires to find entry-level work in the industry as a graphic designer enroll in a school that provides more than just a technical education – one that also focuses a great deal on visual communication, concept development, creativity and typography.
Technical schools are most often selected by people who are already in the industry, but are wanting to brush up on their software/technical skills or as a technical stepping stone to prepare them for advanced learning at another school. It’s important to include that many technical schools do not have the proper accreditation and/or do not have transfer agreements with other schools of higher learning, so check first with the institution you hope to advance to and make sure courses you take at a technical school will transfer if your goals are to move on to another school. Do not be surprised, however if courses you’ve taken won’t transfer. Remember those courses are purely technical and chances are high that just learning “technical stuff” won’t count towards credit at an institution of higher learning due to a mismatch in course content and institutional goals.
It is next to impossible for any designer looking for work in the industry to find work without an exceptional visual portfolio demonstrating skills that go far beyond just computer competency, so tread with caution if you are considering a technical school that boasts you will be able to find work if their degree focus is only technical. Sure, you’ll be able to find work, however probably only as a computer operator and opportunities to advance beyond that in your career will be next to none. It is also important to understand that most often than not, students enrolled in technical schools aren’t creating work that demonstrates enough understanding of visual communication, concept development, creativity and typography to consider putting in their portfolios. A portfolio that merely demonstrates technical/computer skills will not be able to compete against superior portfolios for jobs in the industry requiring more than technical acumen.
A final note of caution: if the program you plan to complete only provides a “Certificate” (regardless of the type of school) upon completion, this is a clear indication that not nearly enough course work in visual communication, typography, creativity and concept development is covered to qualify you for work in the industry. This includes technical certificates awarded by software manufacturers, such as Adobe, for performing well on a technical examination. You will NOT have a visual portfolio that can get you a job upon completion of merely a certificate program.
b. Private Schools that are NATIONALLY accredited offering an array of degrees: Note the emphasis here is on the type of accreditation. Institutions offering graphic design degrees that are not REGIONALLY accredited cannot ensure quality standards of learning are upheld to meet industry and/or educational needs. As a matter of fact, the degrees/courses taken at a private nationally accredited institution, because of their lack of proper accreditation, will not transfer to any public college or university no matter what type of degree you’ve earned.
The degrees earned at a nationally accredited private institution, no matter the level of degree (yes, even if they offer a Master’s or PhD), will also disqualify anyone with hopes of teaching at a public college or university since college professors at regionally accredited schools must have a degree from a school that is also regionally accredited. This doesn’t mean that all teaching is out of the question, however, because degrees from private nationally accredited schools do qualify someone to teach at their own type of school.
These schools, because they are private, charge an exorbitant amount of money to enroll and as a result are able to afford impressively designed and presented marketing collateral, recruitment personnel and learning facilities. You can be assured that the majority of private nationally accredited schools are run much more like a business and much less like an institution of learning. If you’re not planning to teach or to transfer to another school and are unsure of whether the private nationally accredited school you’re interested in will offer you the type of education you’re hoping will help you find work in the industry, consider some of the other points mentioned later in this blog posting before deciding. It is safe to say, however that red flags that indicate the institution is more concerned with their ROI and less concerned with your educational goals are: 1. aggressive marketing, 2. aggressive recruitment, 3. cost that doesn’t fit into the formula mentioned in Step 4 below, 4. recruiters that drive expensive cars and educators that don’t, 5. lack of student work samples available for the public to view that isn’t on some sort of marketing collateral, 6. insufficient accreditation, and 7. a reputation among local hiring professionals that is negative.
c. Community Colleges: Under many situations, this type of school would be lumped into the “Technical Schools” category simply because the degrees they provide are only 2-Year AS Degrees. Surprisingly, however, many of these programs are designed well enough to provide an education that is more like a 4-Year College or University in terms of the quality of industry-focused courses provided. This is mostly due to Community Colleges having the proper regional accreditation as well as regular oversight from industry professionals ensuring students are receiving a good education.
Since the degrees offered at Community Colleges are AS Degrees (focusing primarily on job readiness), you can expect the program to match personal goals to find work in the industry upon graduation. Caution must be applied when selecting the right Community College, however, as many of the AS Degrees in Graphic Design at these type of schools might only provide a technical education if they have the wrong industry guidance regarding what is necessary for graduates to compete for jobs. Remember, it’s the degree to which a graduate demonstrates visual communication, concept development, creativity and typography in his/her portfolio that ensures they can compete in the industry — not the degree itself and certainly not simply savvy computer skills. More often than not, Community Colleges fall short of truly preparing students beyond a technical level, so it’s very important to research a Community College graphics program by viewing student work samples and asking local hiring professionals regarding the quality of the graduates. This will help you know in advance whether or not the program is focused too heavily on the technical aspects of design.
The great news about learning at a Community College is they tend to cost significantly less than any other type of school and, because of their regional accreditation, many courses transfer to 4-Year schools. This cost-saving aspect is often why students begin their coursework at a Community College with the primary goal of transferring to a 4-Year program. Also, if they have a well designed program with talented faculty who don’t just focus on the technical aspects of design you can be assured a great deal of exposure towards industry expectations and ample opportunity to design work that demonstrates those essential visual and conceptual skills needed to compete for jobs. Another great thing about the Community College environment, is you can expect to have exposure to educators who aren’t just professional educators, but are teaching part-time while working full-time in the industry. These are the same people who are out there doing the hiring and who understand just what type of preparation is needed to help their students compete. Not only that, but having exposure to industry professionals will also ensure the fundamental aspects of being a strong visual communicator are not just taught in theory, but are also connected to how they can be successfully applied to the ‘real world’ of design. Do keep in mind, however, that “industry professional” doesn’t always equal “great educator”, so quickly adapting to a vast variety of teaching styles and flaws is expected.
What you save in money, however, expect to pay with your time. Since these are 2-Year programs meant to prepare students for work, you can expect a well designed program to be very intense and focus primarily on industry coursework and less on general education requirements. They do, in fact, only have two short years to get their students well enough prepared to compete against students graduating at the same time with four years worth of study behind them, so there is no room to waste time on course content that strays too far from that goal. Word of caution, a good Community College will provide curriculum and coursework that is extremely intense with a workload that can often be overwhelming due to the 2-Year nature of the program. Full time students can expect to spend anywhere between 24 to 40 hours per weeks just doing homework outside of class. With this in mind, students who plan on working while going to school are recommended to only work part-time to ensure enough time is set aside to learn and apply learning on a deep enough level to produce quality work. Too little time spent applying concepts learned on projects and assignments will equate to less visual maturity (especially in competing for jobs against graduates who’ve had four years to develop), a weak visual portfolio upon graduation and a less likelihood of competing against fellow graduates for industry work.
For AS Degree graduates who have put in their time in a high-quality Community College graphics program and have matured to impressive visual communicators, don’t be too concerned if the job descriptions you’re reading for entry-level Graphic Designers state “Bachelor’s Degree Required”. Really, what they’re wanting is to only encourage job candidates with the necessary visual, conceptual and technical skills to apply. Unfortunately, since many schools only offering AS Degrees have weak programs (and therefore weak graduates), it is not uncommon to be up against a negative stigma that has developed in many regions in the United States that don’t have exposure to a strong Community College Graphic Design Program or who are unaware of the impressive reputation some Community Colleges have earned elsewhere in the country. With this in mind, it is even more so important for graduates of Community College Graphic Design Programs to develop their self-promotional material, resume and portfolio in such a way to educate hiring professionals regarding the quality of their work and the education received regardless of the type of degree. No pressure.
d. Public 4-Year Colleges/Universities and Private REGIONALLY Accredited Design Schools: 4-Year schools (public or private with proper REGIONAL accreditation) offering Bachelor’s Degrees and Master’s Degrees in Graphic Design-related fields are the type most often referred to as required in job descriptions. Just with other types of schools already mentioned, the schools within these categories also have their pros and cons and also require research on behalf of the degree-seeking candidate prior to enrollment regarding the quality of the program, degree emphasis and institutional goals. As you might guess, if you’ve read this far, not all schools are created equal and not all schools provide the same learning opportunities due to differing institutional goals regarding graduates, design of the program, cost and quality of the faculty.
Although most students with Bachelor’s Degrees from a College or University find entry-level work, it is not uncommon to come across reputable institutions in this category who’s graduates don’t compete well for jobs. This is often due to the institutional goals having a “research” focus (expect a lot of course content focused on theory, history and fine art) as opposed to an “employment” focus (hands-on, employability skills, project oriented, technical). This is a good thing for students who, instead of having a primary goal to work in the industry, instead aspire to be innovators, researchers or educators — something this world is always in need of. This is bad news for students who incorrectly assumed the institutional focus was to prepare them for working in the industry. It is not uncommon to witness graduates from research-focused schools complaining of a disconnect between program study and what is actually expected of them as they try to find work in the industry. This, of course, is not the institution’s fault because they have maintained their institutional goals to be research-focused, it is the student’s fault for assuming the institution’s educational goals was to prepare them for work in the industry. Remember, Step 1 above is to make sure your educational goals match those of the institution prior to selecting a school.
Faculty at 4-Year Colleges and Universities more often than not are research-focused themselves with little industry experience. Expect to learn a great deal from them about important typographic, visual and conceptual communication concepts because they tend to be the better educators in that regard. Be aware this might mean what you learn from them isn’t taught in a way that applies to the industry because it’s possible they really don’t know how it applies. Note that “great educator” doesn’t always equal “industry professional”, so it’s often left to the student to figure out a way to connect course content to how it applies towards industry expectations. This can be challenging for most students since they haven’t had enough exposure to industry expectations to be capable of making these important connections on their own.
The only type of 4-Year Bachelor’s program that warrants caution is they type that only offers a Bachelor of Arts/Fine Arts with merely a “Studio Art” focus. This is because there is too little coursework required that is graphics industry-focused, giving students inadequate opportunities to master any aspect of the graphic design industry. This also means a “Studio Art” degree won’t provide enough opportunities to adequately develop a competitive visual portfolio. If you’re unsure if the curriculum for the various schools offering Bachelor’s Degrees will provide adequate opportunities for your portfolio, just count up the total number of courses required that are specifically design-related. Ideally, the coursework for a Bachelor’s Degree in design will be approximately half of the total number of classes you’re required to take.
The cost for these type of schools will vary depending on whether or not they are public or private and whether or not you qualify for in-state tuition rates. More will be discussed regarding cost of schools in Step 4 below.
Step 3: Determine if location is important
In the case where you live in a region or state that lacks a reputable program that meets your educational goals it is highly recommend, instead of just picking the closest program, you pursue enrollment in a program elsewhere. Whatever you do, don’t select a program simply because it’s nearby if the program isn’t matching your goals or doesn’t provide a strong learning opportunity for you. Although the convenience will certainly be irresistible, it will prove to be disappointing in terms of time and money invested towards an education you feel is useless when the time comes for you to need it. It’s mentioned in Step 4 below, however; you will need to be aware of what the cost implications are if relocating.
As of the date of this posting, there is one school that is working hard to transcend location by offering a strong program purely online. Note, there’s only ONE program that has been able to do this successfully for a program of study, such as graphic design, that is visual and often tactile in nature. In case you’re wondering, the school I’m referring to is SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) which is a private properly accredited art and design school that comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Not a single school offering a graphic design degree online (other than SCAD) as of this posting has a strong enough, reputable enough or well enough accredited program for me to consider recommending. Online degree programs are NOT for everyone, so it’s important you know well enough in advance if you are disciplined enough and already possess strong enough independent learning skills to learn in that type of environment.
Related to location, however, I’ll touch upon how in-state and out-of-state tuition ought to be a consideration when it comes to the cost for a higher education in graphic design in the next step below.
Step 4: Weigh the cost/benefit
All across the nation, more and more people are understanding the importance of a higher education when it comes to reaching career goals and earning a living. The same financial opportunities exist today, however, just as they always have for low-income earners, so finances alone should not necessarily be the sole factor in determining if you seek a college education. Believe it or not, there might even be more opportunities than ever before for low-interest student loans, scholarships, grants and part-time employment while attending school to help pay for the cost. This ought to be very encouraging for those of you who have financial challenges you feel might interfere with your ability to go to college. No matter how rough your financial situation is, affording college will take proper personal financial planning, a TON of paperwork to apply for aid and possibly part-time or full-time work with a part-time school schedule. It is not recommended any student consider a full-time school workload if he/she is also working full-time… rushing through your graphic design education for financial reasons will only hurt your job prospects if your visual portfolio only demonstrates what “you have time to do” versus what you’re truly capable of doing. It’s the tortoise in this case that will win, not the hare.
There are many additional costs that ought to be planned for beyond tuition you can expect when selecting a school. There’s housing, transportation, food, books, supplies, fees and no doubt other things I can’t even come up with right now. Don’t forget to plan those items into your cost equation. Make sure you fully research whether the school you’ve chosen is primarily a commuter school with no housing facilities or whether or not they provide dorms to students at an additional cost. Each of those scenarios will also have to be weighed in the context of transportation considering students who are staying in campus housing will have very low transportation costs, while those who have to commute to school will probably have lower housing but higher transportation costs.
Regardless of whether or not you have any financial concerns, the cost of higher education at some schools can be set way too high considering a major in graphic design. My favorite radio/tv talk show host, Dave Ramsey, provides financial advise as it relates to the cost of a higher education I’ve always felt just hits the nail on the head. In a nutshell, he counsels parents and students to only pay a price for higher education that is equal to or less than what you will be making in your field upon graduation. So if you expect to be making around $30,000 your first year employed as a graphic designer, which is a pretty average estimate nationally, then the cost for your degree should be that amount or less. Yes, even if Harvard had the best design school in the nation (costing approximately $55,000 per year!), it would not be worth what they charge to earn their Bachelor’s in Graphic Design unless you could expect to make $200,000+ right out of school being a graphic designer. Dave Ramsey also provides additional college-related spending advice that I have come to respect and admire over the years you should also take into consideration: http://www.daveramsey.com/articles/article-list/category/100374/
It is common practice for pretty much any type of school to charge three or four times the amount of tuition for students who are enrolling from out-of-state. This is certainly a cost consideration that needs to be factored into whether or not the cost benefit of a higher education in graphic design is within the range mentioned above. The cost of education CAN actually be rather low if you’re fortunate enough to be residing in a state that has a reputable graphic design program at a state college or university. Whatever you do, don’t assume that the program isn’t strong simply because it cost less! A great example of this is Virginia Commonwealth University, one of the most reputable schools in the nation for their arts and graphic design programs. It would seem silly if anyone living in the state of Virginia were to pay three times the tuition cost to attend a graphic design program outside of the state, when a phenomenal education can be obtained at the low in-state tuition price!
Spending more on your graphic design education will not earn you a higher paying graphic design job your first year out. And Remember to also consider Step 3 above (Determine if Location is Important), when doing your financial planning as well. You don’t want to make the mistake of selecting the wrong school for you simply because they’re the cheapest and closest guys in town. Steps 1 and 2 are more important determining factors.
If you’re needing to research what graphics designers are making these days, AQUENT and AIGA partner together each year to bring to you The AIGA/AQUENT Survey of Design Salaries.
Step 5: Select your school and enroll
Lets say you read this entire post and you’re still considering selecting the wrong school for the wrong reasons. All I can do is share this one final thought with you all: It saddens me every semester to hear stories from students who had selected the wrong school first, graduate and cannot find work, have weak visual portfolios, cannot transfer their credits, have accumulated $85,000+ in student loan debt and who have wasted years of their life earning a degree they find useless. It saddens me because there is no advice I can give and no magic wand I can wave that will qualify them for work, give them their time back or pay off their debt. Please, accept the advice in this blog posting openly if you happen to read it BEFORE you choose a graphic design school because once you’ve made that very important life decision, there’s not much more any of us can do if you make the wrong choice for the wrong reasons.
Procrastination, its the opposite of what I’m putting down now, since I’m listing it first. With this said I’d like for you to understand that you should avoid this at all costs. If your able to do the minimum amount of work for a project, DON’T stop there go beyond that of what you felt was good and make it sick, so nasty that it makes people stop in there tracks before they can even realize that they had plans to do something else before they came upon your design.
Now in order for one to do this, one would need self motivation and a desire to exceed beyond the norm, if this is not achieved, how will you differ from anyone else designs, sure its good to conform, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that one should not follow the trend but try to be a trend setter in the design world. That’s what creativity is all about right, being unique?
For one to set the trend they will need a lot of brainstorming time to fully think out what would be the best possible route for the execution of a solution to the problem. This all leads back to procrastination, if one procrastinates, how will one have time to think about how to execute a solution effectively? Maybe your not really setting a trend, but setting a bar, lets say you saw the
bar, but heck you want to raise that bar a whole lot higher then the level you saw it at. The answer to this question is time management, if you can master this then you should be just fine. Adjusting your schedule, not overloading yourself with certain activities that you could otherwise go without doing. Set aside some time for yourself to just think and sketch out ideas on paper, there is also this thing called “taking a mind dump” where you just go to a computer, or paper, and you just spit whatever is on your mind on paper, this clears your mind of all the garbage in there, so you’ll end up thinking even more clearly when it comes down to brainstorming.
Alright well back to procrastination and how you should avoid it. When one does this they allow themselves to think clearly hen executing a project solution. Using your self motivation will also drive you to come up with the best possible solution to problem. In order to do that you have to brainstorm for a certain amount of time before you do so, its like designing with a computer, you have to sketch out your ideas first, you can’t just go straight to the computer and expect to make a master piece.
Finally, but none the less , if you expect to do any of that stuff one has to manage their time wisely! I’m a forgetful person, and recently came across a sidekick phone, which allows me to better organize my time, I use to write down things on paper, but those pieces of paper always got lost…okay good luck!!!
Coming from Germany, a country where everything seems to be complicated and difficult, it was a big change to move to the USA, the country of the American Dream, where everything is possible and quite frankly, everything seems to be easy.
Now, the last thing I want to imply here is that Valencias Graphic Program is easy. It has taught me though that everything is possible.
Heres my story: Was my Graphics degree planned? Not at all. The truth is that I needed to find an inexpensive college, one where the out of state tuition isnt just simply killing you, to obtain a visa to stay in the country of my choice. In Germany I had always dreamt of studying design, be it fashion design or graphic design. However, as already mentioned, in a country where everything tends to be complicated, your dreams are often shattered. So I had to keep my feet on the ground and just accept that design was something for highly talented art students.
When I met with the VCC admissions officer to apply for my degree here, she asked me what I was planning to study. Not knowing anything about VCC, I grabbed the list of degrees and browsed through it. I was very surprised to see Graphic Design on the list because in my country you just dont walk into a school and study Graphic Design. That is something only a chosen few with experience and talent get to do. So I thought, why not? I checked the degree and gave the sheet to the counselor.
Now, the truth is, in my first semester I did not take a single graphic design related class, in fact I didnt even take a class that I needed at all for this degree. My plan was to leave school and look for a job as soon as my green card situation was in place. Well, needless to say, it took longer than I had planned for that to happen, so in my second semester I gave Graphic Design a try. The reason why I hadnt started to this point was because I was so scared of being disappointed at myself, for not being highly talented. In Germany I would have never made it into a Graphic Design program, so I still couldnt understand how I could just walk in here and start my degree in this field. The other reason why I doubted the degree was because I thought if everyone can study it, it cant be that good, so why even bother?
Then I walked into my first Graphics class. I will never forget how excited I was. It was real. It was happening. I was officially a Graphic Design student and treated as such. There was talk about design. Talk about how we would all go off after graduation working in the industry. I could not believe I was in the middle of all of this. One of the greatest things VCC has given me is self esteem about my design and my ideas. I have learned that there is something positive about every idea you have. Yes, it can be improved very often, but the constructive criticism and positive feedback you get here is wonderful. It does not limit your creativity; it inspires you to do more. You learn to think bold. You value the world around you and see things with different eyes. In many ways VCC has brought back my creativity from childhood that has been suppressed in my home country with negative talk and limitations. I finally started believing in my forgotten dream again. I am capable; I can do it if I want to. Everyone can walk into VCC and try it. I have to say thank you for giving everyone the opportunity to prove themselves. Thank you for not killing creativity and art in its earliest stages. I have learned that everything can be learned. I have learned that teachers and students alike see, value and believe in you and your art. And isnt this what art is all about?
(An adaptation from Peter Vogt’s, “Five Signs you Should Change Your Major”.)
Give yourself a point for each question below you answer ‘yes’ to:
1. You’d rather be surfing Facebook or playing online games during a lecture or presentation or you can’t stop web surfing during class breaks.
Let’s face it, it’s not really the teacher’s lecture that has you so bored because you’re bored our of your mind when doing homework for graphics courses as well. Maybe you’re also having a hard time convincing yourself that you should keep trying to read that textbook or project description? We both know that it’s not that you don’t like to read, but more so that you would rather be reading something else like emails and new posts on your myspace page. It doesn’t have to be this way, you know? You shouldn’t have to try so hard to find something about graphic design that you’re interested in enough to let go of the myspace and dig, really dig, into graphic design on a deeper level. Couldn’t it be that you really don’t like design as much as you’re trying to convince yourself and everyone else you do?
2. You’re doing poorly in your current major courses.
No more excuses. If you really loved design enough you would never have a problem finding the time to take your work beyond minimal expectations for class. It’s not about how much time you have, but how much time you’re willing to spend on the things you love. Any “Cs” on your report card? Well guess what a “C” really means in this industry — someone who only meets minimal expectations — someone who’s unemployable. If you’re not excited enough to stay up late and sacrifice playtime beyond what is being asked of you for assignments, then it’s time you stopped claiming to love design. People who really love design carry things like sketchbooks or cameras around with them just waiting to be inspired by mundane things, are constantly reading up on the topic and spend every bit of spare time perfecting their skills. They’re the ones you try to convince yourself are ‘naturally more talented than you are’ when really all they are is someone who loves design enough to spend the time needed to become GREAT instead of settling for GOOD.
3. You chose your current major because you think it will make you rich one day.
Every designer, art director, creative director in the industry will tell you that being a designer will not make you rich. It takes a certain combination of drive, enthusiasm and sacrifice to get past the entry level pay to getting paid well. Funny thing is that this is true for just about EVERY type of job someone would expect to land just out of college. In many industries this is called, “paying your dues” however, I prefer to call it, “a rite of passage”. Whomever has been telling you all these years that graphic designers get paid well to do “fun” things or worse, they’ve been telling you that getting a degree in graphic design will get you a job in graphic design is sorely mistaken. Degrees don’t get you the job, YOU get you the job. And if you don’t have the strong portfolio, drive, enthusiasm and willingness to sacrifice your time when you’re getting started in the industry your career will go nowhere.
4. You keep reading about other majors of interest and/or think you might be better at something else.
Want to get set on the right foot starting today? Then make sure your school goals are to LEARN and not just to get a degree. No matter what career it is you end up finally choosing, make sure you’re goal is to learn everything you can possibly learn while you have the opportunity and the benefit of someone who is there to mentor you and teach you what it is you need to learn. Although it is the responsibility of a teacher to teach, it is the responsibility of the student to make sure he/she is actually learning. Keep in mind, however, that if you’ve selected a career direction that you aren’t excited about, you will be reluctant to want to learn that content. Oh, and I just can’t resist right now — stop blaming the teacher for your reluctance to learn because that bad habit will get you in a heap of a mess when it comes to one of the most important job skills you could ever hope to have — independent learning beyond what is taught in a classroom.
5. You just can’t stop wondering whether or not you should be majoring in graphic design.
Generally this type of wondering comes from no being satisfied with your reasons for choosing to be a graphic designer. If your reasons aren’t making a whole lot of sense to you, then change your plan and change your major. Choosing a major is an important life decision that brings with it peer pressure and other types of obligatory pressure (such as the desire to finish what you’ve started) that are often not good enough reasons to continue on the wrong path. Make sure you haven’t chosen to be a graphic designer based upon what someone else wants with your life and also make sure you haven’t made your decision based upon your need to satisfy societal or other pressures. As was mentioned before, and really it doesn’t just apply to being a designer — if you’re not excited and happy doing what you’re going to school for, you’re not going to be happy or successful as a professional either.
So nows the time to total up your score. If you have given yourself three points or more, then make up your mind to change your major today. If you’ve given yourself two points, then you will probably want to run your ideas by one of your professors or a career counselor. You might even want to try some soul searching by logging into your atlas account and checking out “My LifeMap” and “My Career Planner” for alternate career options that would best suit your desires and abilities. If you gave yourself one point or no points, don’t go changing your major just yet, it could just be that you’re really close to finding that one thing about graphic design that will have you hooked for life.
… the client.
… communication goals.
… contributing to the industry.
… the buyer.
… the bottom line.
… the sales.
… the product.
… the rest of the world.
In other words, everything but you.
All too often I witness students and veterans alike defending ideas that they are attached to in an irrational way. Irrational meaning that instead of choosing design elements based upon factual rationale to meet communication goals, they have instead chosen the elements based upon how it makes them feel or personal goals. In most cases the elements that are chosen are done so to give the designer a certain pleasure to see a vision or idea executed. We’re all guilty of it to some degree.
In an article titled, The Top 10 Things They Never Taught Me in Design School, Michael McDonough writes, “No matter how good your design is… Somebody has to buy it. Respect those people. You need them. Big time.” It’s important for designers to understand, especially entry-level designers, that we rely on others to pay our bills. By not being helpful to them and instead ourselves, our clients are liable to go elsewhere to have their company’s communication needs met.
Usually the designer describes what they have done by beginning with the words, “I like…” or “I feel…” or “I wanted…”. Ah, yes, you see there? Notice there is an absence of goals, communication, audience, client… it’s me, me, me. Really, if you’re being rational, you should be sticking to the facts, and the facts are that what YOU like, feel and want does not matter to your client. They want to know how you are going to meet THEIR needs, not yours.
With that in mind, take the words “I” and “me” completely out of your vocabulary when presenting a solution to a client. You might be wondering what to say to a client then. I know, it’s hard. You try to remove those words from your presentation vocabulary and they just naturally slip out. My theory is that everyone has been talking so much about themselves for so long on on-line social environments like myspace they just can’t seem to get the words I and me out of their vocabulary when presenting solutions.
Considering the challenge, I have a suggestion: Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice talking about your work the correct way, the easier and more natural it becomes to discuss it in a way that is not about you. Talk about the someone somewhere that you are doing something for. Everything else is filling in the blanks and avoiding the use of “I” and “me”.
Now that you’ve read “Why I chose a two year college” you might be interested in hearing others opinions about this debate. Many others have had to make this very same decision. What do they think? Well, I decided to contact a few of our alumni to get their take on this topic.
Why they chose a two year college
I’ve found that many of our alumni and current students attend Valencia for some of the same reasons I had mentioned previously. For Rick Romot of pH3 Design, Inc. he found cost, qualilty programs, and flexible scheduling as reason for attending:
“There were several reasons I choose to attend Valencia’s Graphics Program. When I first moved back into the country, this was the only state that I had my residency for in-state tuition. Valencia was second to only RSAD (Ringling School of Art and Design), which would have been my first choice, had money not been a factor. Valencia offered night classes and real-world professionals as instructors; this allowed me to begin my career while going to school and get the best education possible from peers in the industry.”
For Amanda Hutton of award winning Design firm, Juicy Temples, it was cost as well as having the option to transfer to a four year program after Valencia:
“I had just finished my first year at FAU and, upon moving to Orlando, wanted to complete my general 2-year requirements quickly and inexpensively. VCC seemed like a great option to springboard to UCF. Once I finished my AA at Valencia and was gearing up to transfer to UCF as a Graphics major, I decided to stay at VCC to pursue my AS instead of my bachelors. Thorough research into both programs, as well as countless interviews with industry professionals, led me to the realization that VCC had a far more adequate & relative program in graphics. I chose to bypass a bachelor degree and utilize other avenues (AIGA, personal research & exploration, networking) to strengthen my education.”
Award winning designer of Big Guns Design, Daniel Ariza, also valued these same benefits Valencia offered:
“I learned that Valencia had really great design program. Not to mention that it was so close and much more inexpensive than any other place I could have gone. I figured if nothing else I could go on to get my AA and go onto a university if the program didn’t live up to my expectations.”
How does the creative industry value two year degrees in comparison to four year degrees?
Although a two year degree helps students gain real world experience and prepares one to work in the industry, there must be a reason why most jobs still continue to list four year degree requirements. After working in the industry for several years now, our alumni such as Rick Romot offer some great feedback about this debate:
“AS vs BS? I might have a PHD in physical education, but that doesn’t make me an Olympic athlete. The level of degree doesn’t always directly apply to how good someone is at something, particularly in the creative industry. However, it must be said that pursuing a higher level of education IS important for certain career goals.”
Award winning designer of Richmond.com, Colette Ruff, is one of our alumni who have relocated and has experienced first hand the stigma that can be associated with a two year degree. Although Valencia is well respected locally, if students decide to move elsewhere they might be faced with this same response to two year degrees. Here’s what Colette has to offer:
“My experience has found it harder to be taken seriously with just an AS degree. Most of the job Market here in Virginia feel that you should know more if you have a BFA of sorts. Getting a BFA can get you into the door more than it would for just the AS.”
Amanda Hutton, who is also the Vice President of the local Orlando AIGA chapter agrees that a two year degree is often not as valued as a four year degree:
“On the whole, I think the 2-year degree is undervalued. It’s arguable whether a student can obtain the hard and soft skills necessary to succeed in the design industry within a 2-year structure. A solid portfolio may possibly compensate for the absence of a bachelor, but anyone who chooses a 2-year degree MUST supplement their education by exhausting all external/internal resources available to them (graphic/design organizations, trade literature/publications, industry events and networking).”
Daniel Ariza has learned to work beyond this reaction, offering that it’s not just about the degree you hold that makes you successful in the industry:
“When I first graduated I was hesitant to tell people that I only a two year degree. But as time went by I came to understand how much more important your portfolio and body of work. Although education is very important, your work and abilities coupled with the relationships you form along the way are most important.”
Would you recommend a two year or four year degree?
Although our alumni’s feel a two year degree along with one’s abilities is more than enough to help land a creative job, alumni such as Colette Ruff and Amanda Hutton agreed that a four year degree is still a wise choice to consider. In fact, they both have plans to return to school in the future to seek a four year degree. Amanda Hutton had this to say about four year degrees:
“I would recommend that students pursue a bachelors whenever possible. Though it’s not always an immediately obtainable goal for every student, the structure of a 4-year program allows the maturation necessary to expand, not limit yourself, on what you’ve learned.”
Rick Romot makes a great point to help students making this tough decision, suggesting:
“The deciding factor should closely be related to the school’s strengths, the experience level of the instructors, and what the student hopes to achieve in their career. If a student is looking to advance their career into a management or a teaching position, a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree may be best.”
When hiring, does the degree make a difference?
Every alumni was asked this question, and they all agreed that although it is certainly a consideration, it is NOT the only factor that leads to hiring new employees. Rick Romot’s response should reassure those of you who might be considering or currently enrolled in a two year institution:
Now a days, you email off your web site to a professional to check out your portfolio. If they like what they see, the bachelors degree is only a formality that can be overlooked. If I were hiring a student out of school, I’d look for three things for either degree:
- Creative potential. You either have it, or you don’t. The experience comes with time and training after the degree is earned. Good ideas are very important to see in a students work.
- Personality. My creative team’s ability to get along well is extremely important. A person should fit in well to the company culture and match up with the company’s goals.
- Work ethic/ability. Being able to produce what the student promises is vital.
What are you thoughts?
So you’ve heard “Why I chose a two year college” and why others have as well. Let us know what you think – two year or four year?
This past week has been midterm week so many of the courses in the graphics technology program have incorporated TVCA assessments into their course, in response to “What the industry expects from graduates”. I’ve had a few students ask what they could do to raise their TVCA scores so I thought I’d offer up a few suggestions.
- Don’t miss class and be sure to show up on time. Miss a class and you could end up slipping up on learning some of the key concepts in a course. But just showing up isn’t the only factor that’ll make a difference in doing well in a course.
- Come to class alert and prepared to pay attention. In fact, be sure you are not only attentive but you are taking notes during demonstrations and lectures.
- Crack open that book and read it. Even better – take notes. Reading the book before class helps prepare you for material that will be taught.
- Ask and don’t ask questions. Huh? That makes no sense right? Here’s the deal – if you are paying attention, taking notes, and reading assignments you SHOULD ask questions to clarify concepts that are perhaps unclear. However, if your questions are a constant repeat of material you should have read, heard, or taken notes about then you might need to pay close attention to comprehension skills. I’m reminded of the first time I taught the introductory course in our program, Digital Media & Design where many students learn to print using QuarkXpress for the first time. And despite having an assigned reading and a demo, over half the class ended up asking “How do I print?” So just remember, when you enter the industry many employers won’t repeat instructions repeatedly.
- Make an attempt to learn independently. This means use your resources FIRST and then ask questions. In fact, go out and seek resources beyond the course such as other books, or online tutorial resources.
- Make efforts to exceed course expectations. Doing the bare minimum requirements will likely earn you a C. An A exhibits mastery of course expectations – in other words, you are going beyond what is expected of you.
- Complete all steps of the creative process AND apply what you’ve learned to your projects. This means do your research, rough drafts, and comps BEFORE you’re done with the project. Just last week I noticed one of my students quickly sketching out rough drafts just before a project was due. Why? What’s the sense – is it really going to help your project AFTER you’ve finished it? Sure it might help earn a few points, if of course the teacher doesn’t see it – but seriously – when you don’t complete your creative process first it shows.
- Take some initiative and motivation to not only express your sincerity towards your future profession, but go out and do something that WILL benefit your soon to be career. That means get out there and network and get involved in other creative organizations such as GDG, AIGA, and OAF. This valuable connection with the industry will certainly make a difference when it comes time to get a job. If your work schedule or other obligations prevent you from participating in other organizations consider getting involved in other ways such as online creative communities. Here’s a hint – start interacting on this blog and in our flickr. But don’t stop there, there are many more online communities that will allow you to network online beyond school.
- Proof your own work. I am baffled to see how many students do not even bother to use the grading criteria I offer with all of my project handouts. It’s like a checklist – before you’re complete go through and check off what you’ve finished so you can be sure you’ve met project objectives.
- Take pride in your work. This means that regardless of whether you are a print or web/interactive designer you present your work in a professional manner, so much so that a client or employer would be impressed. Remember, sometimes first impressions are the only chance you have to sell your work. Poor craftsmanship and presentation can easily become a turn off.
- Value the opinions and feedback you receive in class, learn from them, and do something so your work improves. Now is the time to learn and polish off your work. Just nodding your head during a critique thinking “ya, I suppose I could do that” and not doing anything to fix the matter really does not help you improve your work.
- Communicate and participate in class. Don’t expect to be called on to participate, do so on your own free will. Most teachers will encourage such interaction in the class. Not only will you improve your communication skills but you’ll help make the class a bit more involved.
- Don’t come to class to disrupt class with cell phone calls, typing emails, or playing flash games or music. This not only disturbs others in the class but it is evidence that there are distractions present which will likely affect your performance in class.
- Spend time outside of class doing homework, reading, and working on assignments & projects. According to Valencia’s recommendations, students should expect to spend a minimum of 3 hours per credit hour outside of class. This means if you are taking a 3 credit hour course you should plan to set aside 9 hours a week. If you are not it will show in the work you are doing.
- Turn your projects in on time. Don’t procrastinate and put off starting your project until just before it’s due. Doing so is asking for unexpected problems to sneak up on you. Remember, Murphy’s Law always applies when you’re trying to finish your project at the last minute!
- Take responsibility for your performance in the course.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a bit of motivation to get started and gear yourself towards doing exceptional work you might want to check out “How to be an expert”. What’s worth noting from this article is, “The only thing standing between you-as-amateur and you-as-expert is dedication. All that talk about prodigies? We could all be prodigies (or nearly so) if we just put in the time and focused.”
I wrote the following article this past March, but due to the fact that we have since developed this blog we felt it was worth republishing to share with those that might have missed it.
Reasoning with Standards
In order to help us better prepare our students for an entry-level position in the graphic design industry, we invited local professionals to participate in an online survey. The purpose of this survey was to help us more efficiently prepare our students for positions based upon industry standard expectations. It also enabled us to assess our curriculum, placement and software. Ultimately we have two goals, to improve our Graphic Design program to meet employer expectations and emphasize to students the importance of skills and qualities needed to enter the industry.
Currently, Valencia’s Graphics Technology Program provides its students with an AS Degree (2-year degree) that allows students to specialize in either print design or web/interactive design. Armed with the opinions gathered in this survey we are able to make sure our students are as prepared as they need to be to be a successful entry-level graphic designer.
Preferred Traits of a Graphic Design Graduate
The skills students should possess to land their first job in the graphic design industry should certainly not be neglected. A student who is not able to meet the needs of an employer or client becomes a waste of time and money. Often times these skills are ones which cannot be identified until someone has been hired. Nothing is worse than hiring someone who cannot meet deadlines, is unable to work with others, or cannot communicate their concepts. And all employers probably agree, hiring a designer who does fantastic work yet has a very arrogant or negative attitude is something they hope to avoid.This is exactly why we feel it is important to communicate to our students what the industry expects. Here are a few noteworthy facts gathered from responses professionals made during the survey:
- Communication. It was not a surprise that recent graduates are expected to communicate well. Not only did 85% of those surveyed find communication to be an important skill students must be capable of performing, but 35% admitted they would not hire a student without this skill.
- Years of experience (including internships). 41% of professionals felt a student’s level of work experience, to include internships was important. It should be reassuring to students that 59% of professionals found this to be somewhat important or not important at all. In fact, roughly 16% of professionals felt this was not an important skill to expect from a student, as they are obviously going to lack actual working experience while they are learning the tools of the trade.
- Artistic Abilities. Among desired skills, 59% of professionals felt artistic abilities such as photography, illustration, or fine art were desirable traits that were important for a student to have when entering the graphic design industry. About 11% of those surveyed confessed that students need not be an art savvy person to be considered for a position as an entry-level graphic designer.
- It’s not just design that’s important. It’s clear professionals support the expectations we have of our graduates. As students are informed regularly, it’s not just about design. For instance, one can be an exceptional designer but if they can’t meet deadlines they become useless. Among the many skills that professionals agreed to be vital to a student’s chances of being hired as a graphic designer were the ability to meet deadlines, learn independently, work as a productive team member, as well as their attention to detail.Obviously it’s equally important that students have a healthy creative process as well as be capable of executing their creative concepts. Nothing is worse than a good idea that can’t be executed. One professional noted, “Two of the best qualities are being able to be a starter and a finisher. I find that several artists can start work on a project and do great work, yet never really finish the project. Some artists can complete a project, but actually taking a piece to the point of being FINISHED is an entirely different level.” Also, professionals like to see students with qualities such as enthusiasm, initiative, and eagerness. It’s discouraging working with a person who is negative, arrogant, or requires someone to hold their hand through every step of a project. On the other hand, there’s a lot to admire about those that not only complete the steps of a project, but they are passionate about their work and LOVE what they do.
- Print vs. Web. An overwhelming 91% of professionals felt it was important that students understand how to design for print design and web/interactive design.
- Print Design. Students should expect to learn a variety of skills necessary to enter the world of print in graphic design. Although the concept behind a design is extremely important, professionals also found other skills such as the ability to design various types of print collateral, proofreading, preflighting, typography and copyfitting equally as important. Professionals informed us that students majoring in print design should be familiar with programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXPress, and InDesign. Over half of the professionals surveyed felt it is important for print designers to also have knowledge of Dreamweaver and Flash.
- Web/Interactive Design. Professionals feel knowledge of skills such as FTP’ing, site maintenance, web standards, and usability are important for students to learn. The feedback received also supported the argument that students must expect to learn and gain experience with programming languages like xhtml, css, and actionscript. Over 90% indicated students must have experience with xhtml and css. Students majoring in web/interactive design should be experienced in using programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Flash. Other programs that were said to be nice to have experience in (but not required) are Imageready, After Effects, Final Cut Express, and Maya.
A solution helps students gain necessary skills
To better prepare students for industry standards and expectations, instructors have collaborated on a self assessment which is designed to help students verify if their current abilities to think, value, communicate, and act (TVCA) are up to par with the graphic and web/interactive design industry set standards for being employable. Along with being desirable traits for employers, TVCA skills are also emphasized as traits needed in a college-level setting in order for higher-level thinking and learning to be achieved. This assessment helps students better understand the importance the various skills that often are not obvious until a person is hired.
Our faculty have observed that students not possessing the majority of these skills are often not successful in the introductory graphics course, Digital Media & Design. If they do pass the second or third try and continue to fall short of meeting these same expectations they have difficulty in higher level courses. If they do graduate they have trouble finding and/or keeping a job. This TVCA self-assessment is currently being introduced in this course, where it is most vital that students learn and understand how crucial these skills are to employers. Twenty percent of the student’s grade in this course is based upon the instructor’s observations of the TVCA skills. Although students will be expected to improve their TVCA weaknesses during the semester, failure to uphold with expectations from the beginning may result in a continued grade point deduction throughout the semester. After completing a self-evaluation early in the semester, students are required to develop an action plan for how they plan to compensate and remedy any personal weaknesses discovered. Each student’s grade is based upon how he or she meets the TVCA requirements in addition to completion of assignments, projects, quizzes, tests, and tutorials.
Barbara Peterson, Valencia’s Program Director for Graphics Technology, noted, “I see much more awareness of the skills needed to be successful and a clear attempt by most students to achieve these. I’m really encouraged by the positive response from the students.” TVCA requirements are expected to gradually be implemented into higher level courses in the program. Currently Kristy Pennino’s involvement in Valencia’s Title III grant funded initiative (focused on AS degree seeking students) has motivated her to implement the TVCA self-assessment into all four of her courses, Digital Media & Design, Typography, Advanced Graphic Design II, and Portfolio Review. She plans to further research pedagogy issues related to the TVCA evaluation. Kristy responds, “Our research could not only benefit any AS degree program in the country, but could also be considered by other graphic design education institutions regardless of the degree offered. What’s nice about what we’ve done is that we haven’t based our decisions on theory or assumptions, but have taken the initiative to research and test our ideas based upon the reality of industry expectations.”
TVCA supports our beliefs: A grade or a diploma does not entitle a student to a high paying job.
Interested in joining the Graphics Advisory Committee?
Valencia Community College’s Graphics Advisory Committee wants to hear from you! If you feel as though you would like to take part in helping to develop Valencia’s Graphics Program or if you would just like to make sure our students are as prepared as you need them to be, then this would be the ideal opportunity for you to express your opinion. Maybe you just feel as though our students’ skills or portfolios are missing a key ingredient that is needed in order for you to hire them? The Graphics Advisory Committee meets twice a year (in the fall and spring semesters). If you are a professional local to the area and are interested in joining, contact Amanda Kern at akern [at] valenciacc.edu.