Should Designers Start from Design School?

By Lindsey Wright. Filed in Web Design

Graphic design and web design, has become a popular career path in the last decade. As such, no matter an aspiring designer decides to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar school or an online school, there are always a plethora of professional classes, degrees and certifications to help them get started in this competitive field.

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Yet many may wonder – just how effective are these courses? A career in graphic design does not technically require a degree or certification to pursue, and many successful web designers have launched their careers without ever taking a graphic design course. Yet, the answer to the question ultimately lies in specific aspects of the aspiring designer’s career goals, their natural aptitude for the field and the competitiveness of the job market.

Full discussion after jump.

The Basic Facts

Although graphic design does not require a post-secondary degree in order to enter the field, having one does help. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most entry-level graphic design positions require a two or four-year degree. In fact, of those working in the graphic design field, 81 percent have a bachelor’s degree, while 11 percent have an associate’s degree. As such, only 4 percent of all those employed in the graphic design field have some or no college study.

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Of course, these statistics include a variety of graphic design positions, including those in print media, web development and marketing. However it should be noted that the BLS places computer system design and related services, which includes web design, as being the top salary earner.

Education = More Income

This indicates that a higher level of education is desirable for these positions, particularly when coupled with the fact that freelance designers earned an average of $57,000 per year while designers working for corporations earned $95,000 per year. Thus the chances of making the leap to a corporation, with its attendant pay scale and benefits, would be significantly increased with formal education.

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Additionally, in the article “What Education and Experience is Required to Be a Web Developer“, Jennifer Kyrnin points out that aspiring web designers are best served by focusing their education on visual art and design rather than on the computerized elements of the design process.

While it is important to learn some computer-specific programming tactics and design strategies, most firms that hire web designers will mostly require individuals with visual creativity and design savvy.

The Essential Knowledge

Kyrnin also discusses the essential things that any would-be web designer must know before they go out and look for a job. Her list includes knowledge of:

  • HTML coding: Even though WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors are now commonplace in web design, it’s good to know how web sites are constructed from the bottom up.
  • CSS: Cascading style sheets is an essential element of web design that unites all of the design elements on the page. As such, it is important for a designer to have a fundamental understanding of how CSS can be used and how it responds to changes in the design layout, otherwise a web page can quickly become a disaster, especially when it’s viewed in different internet browser.
  • JavaScript: Although this is generally the realm of web developers and programmers, knowing basic JavaScript can enhance your design prowess, overall user experience and make a simple web site more functional, and this knowledge serves as a big plus that will win you favor as a freelancer or as an in-house professional.
  • Design Theory: From color theory to design layouts, most web designers are visual people with degrees in the visual arts. Thus, studying design theory is essential to developing a strong portfolio of works to showcase to potential clients or employers.

While it is possible to learn all of the items discussed above on your own, it is generally more practical to learn them in a school environment. Additionally, while learning them on your own might be more economical in the short term, it rarely benefits in the long term.

This is especially true when employers want a four-year degree for most web design positions and advancement is often based upon education as well as experience. Furthermore, as the BLS notes, individuals with communications or business management training in addition to their visual arts and web expertise will be best positioned to advance in to management positions.

Job Growth and Competition

According to the BLS, the expected job growth for graphic designers in general is expected to increase by 13 percent between 2008 and 2018. Similarly, as new technology platforms and marketing initiatives lead to a need for individuals with the experience to apply design principles to these platforms, job growth has greatly increased for individuals with web design experience. The BLS further notes that competition for jobs will be fierce in graphic design, particularly in the field of web design.

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With such fierce competition for design positions, a formal education will serve you well in not only securing a position, but also in maintaining that position and advance to higher echelons in your career.

Final Words

Ultimately, it is best to look before you leap into the world of graphic design and web design. While it may be possible to find a design job without a formal education in the field, opportunities for advancement will be slim.

So while it may be tempting to jump into a design career without formal training, studying design and computer principles before you attempt to begin a design career clearly seems to be the best option, as doing so will give you an edge over the competition.

Editor’s note: This post is written by Lindsey Wright for Hongkiat.com. Lindsey is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

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