Design Is Methodology, Not Technique
Much time was spent in art school on the technique of painting, on the mechanics of the perfect litho ink mix, or on the procedure for etching copper plates. I hardly focused on the methodology of creation. It was all about the nuts and bolts, of assembling things, and not of designing systems and methods. I don't mean how much nitric acid to add to your gum arabic. I mean how to see visual creation as a set of interlocking prinicples.
I cringe a bit when I see posts about OOCSS or grid systems. I love these ideas, but I was never taught to think or act in an analytical manner like this. The methodology behind structured content, of functional operations as a basis for creativity? Not so much. Perhaps these revelations come after a few years on the job. In my opinion, however, they should have been taught from the outset.
Money Skills Are Really Really Important
Being broke sucks. Not knowing what to charge for work, or how to write a basic contract, or how to negotiate a budget? These are the most important parts of being successful in the creative industry. Just ask all those super-talented art school classmates of yours that don't actually make anything anymore. As a designer, if you can't fight for yourself financially, you are at a severe disadvantage.
Why the hell did none of my art school professors think it was important to tell us this stuff? Perhaps I was in the wrong class. Maybe I slept through that session. But I doubt it. There were drawing classes of all kinds, and not one core curriculum class about financial planning for creative people.
Well, look where we are now. We still struggle to convince clients of our worth, probably because we can hardly even define it.
Career Decisions Are Never Final
“Art School” was a bit roundabout for me. I started in the graphic design track, in Graphic Design 102. Yeah, I goofed off. One day, our professor asked me what I wanted to be after graduation, and I said I wanted to be a graphic designer. She looked knowingly at me and said, "Are you taking any other art classes here?”
I said yes, that I had some painting classes on my schedule.
“You should think about taking more of those then.” She said, flatly encouraging me to drop Graphic Design as a major.
I took a few painting classes. After a semester or so, a teacher asked me privately, "Are you taking any other classes?” When I said I was taking some printmaking classes, she replied, “Well, maybe you should think about taking more of those...”
I'd been encouraged to leave ANOTHER department.
That winter, relegated to the printmaking department, I randomly began talking to a printmaking teacher. She asked if I was taking any other classes. “Oh, no,” I thought. “Not again.” When I asked why, she says to me, “Well, if you are, you should drop them, and take more printmaking. You have the knack for it.”
And there it was. Affirmation. A direction. Of those three professors, only one of them really thought to help me forge a career path. Two of them actively encouraged me to drop a concentration and do something else. Perhaps they talked about me in the teachers room between studios. Perhaps there was a tenured professor blood pact to get me into the Print Lab. I could care less. The path I took has little bearing on what I do now.
Career choices at that age are usually worthless.
Your Ideas Are Not Precious
Everyone has a great idea. Actually, no we don’t. Most of our ideas suck. So did most of the printmaking I did in school. So did most everyone's. We took 20 minutes to think of an “idea”, or got offered one, and the it was off to the races. We had a few weeks to deliver a set of editioned prints. There was a little time to revise our ideas, but they were often not aggressively challenged.
Doing the first thing that comes into your mind can be a great way to generate ideas and form connections. In this day and age, however, when every single tumblr and twitter feed is exactly that, it’s important to cultivate a thoughtfulness and brutal honesty about your creative thought process. That selectiveness, the ability to separate the unmemorable from the good, is something I still struggle with. I wish I had started learning that lesson sooner, when I was still in art school.
There's a lot I did learn in school. Most of it was really useful on campus, and totally useless in the real design world. I just wish I had been taught these lessons then, instead of in the chaos of the real world. Perhaps nothing can truly be taught, it needs to be learned. For these 4 things, however, I should have known.