Design Dilemma: Screwed by Art School

Oh, my! Another complaint that an art school didn’t truly prepare a student to succeed in the outside world. For the serious student, too young and inexperienced to know what courses will strengthen their career chances and choices, a bad art school is a huge mistake. Today’s dilemma involves one of those people. What can you do when you wake up years after graduating and realize your degree isn’t offering the value you hoped it would?

Join us as we delve into another graduation party Design Dilemma, helping to answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky world of design.

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The Dilemma

Today’s case — we’ll call them “Art School Victim #112637” — writes:


I suppose I’ll start with introducing myself, my name is Elise and I’ve been out of University for a little over 2 years.  I just finished reading your article about why artists are scared to even begin their careers in design. It really resonated with me. I realized I’m sitting in the same seat. I have a degree in Multimedia, but due to the school I attended, I feel I only scratched the surface of the business. The majority of my time was spent in GE classes, then fundamentals (which I know are important, so that’s fine). But then the classes offered for upper-classmen, well they weren’t all that informative. I had started out wanting to be a character designer but nothing like that was offered. The closest I got was an illustration class.

“This is easy to answer but probably not be easy to hear. Once again I have to shake my head at many art schools for not taking their students’ careers seriously.”

I took the beginning web design course and a class in flash (which didn’t help me at all since the job I found was doing flash interactives and I found that timeline based animations were a thing of the past, too bad that’s what I learned). The Graphic Design majors were given a portfolio class to put something together and have it critiqued. Everyone else was left out to dry.

I left that school with a bare bones knowledge of what I was getting into. I didn’t know how to put a portfolio together, I didn’t know anything about the business side to designing. Heck, I soon realized that I barely had what I needed to even begin to start looking.

Fast forward to the present — I’m in a job (the one mentioned above), where I feel stuck. I’m glad I even got something like this yeah, but there’s no room for improvement, I’m not doing what I want to do. Which I have discovered through my own experiments is logo design and branding. And I’ve learned more about the design world reading blogs and looking at tutorials then I ever did in those classrooms. However, I want to move on. I want to actually design, not just go to work and churn out an already made template. I’m sorry this ended up being so long, I guess I had more to say then I thought. But the bottom line is, I’m terrified. I feel I have none of the skills needed to succeed and I’m losing hope. Any advice no matter how little would be greatly appreciated.

Oh, and honestly, out of all the blogs that I’ve read, your work has been the only one I’m actually looking for now. Thank you.


Case: Art School Victim #112637

This is easy to answer but probably not be easy to hear. Once again I have to shake my head at many art schools for not taking their students’ careers seriously.

What Do You Do at a Dead End?

Well, when you get to a dead end, you usually, without thought, look to climb over a wall, see if there’s a door or turn around and try another avenue. Same thing goes for Case: Art School Victim #112637.

I hadn’t finished art school when I fell into a job with great promise. It didn’t work out, but I found another one, and another and then ended up being the art director for an iconic magazine. That’s when I decided to go back to school at night and earn my degree, basically to have that piece of paper.

“Exasperating advice for someone who has already put in the time and money and expected to keep moving forward but a necessary step to put someone in the right place with the right credentials.”

Oddly enough, I enjoyed going back to school. I took courses not offered when I had been a full-time student and it helped my career move forward with better jobs and the ability to be a better designer.

What Case: Art School Victim #112637 needs to do is be grateful she’s employed in some sort of creative role and not slinging burgers, because she can use that security to find her way back to the point art school should have placed her (and be happy that she has experience that will work with her knowledge to get her a better job).

Exasperating advice for someone who has already put in the time and money and expected to keep moving forward, but a necessary step to put someone in the right place with the right credentials.

To help catch up on logo design, as she says she desires for her career, I would make the unpopular suggestion of entering crowdsourced projects such as or the smaller-but-better-chances . There’s also Elance if you want to lessen the gamble and just bid on projects.

Case: Art School Victim #112637, while creatives despise these crowdsourcing sites, they will provide you with forced practice on logo design and you might win a few hundred dollars for winning one! If you don’t win, your entry will serve well in your portfolio. Keep in mind that many designs submitted to these sites are horrid, uncopyrightable works cranked out by “designers” who thrive on becoming logo factories.

If you treat designing your entry or entries as if you were getting seven figures, then you have increased your chances of winning. The point is to build a portfolio of the work you want to do while you are being paid, in a place that won’t tax your creative juices so you can return home at night and make that your second job but your first priority! Before you know it, you will end up doing what you love. Just keep moving and forgive yourself for lapses in working your second job. We have to survive first and foremost.

Keep Learning!

Case: Art School Victim #112637 isn’t alone as many of us feel we are ready for the next step, yet we are hindered by our knowledge of software and technology. We lookup and read articles about advances in technology and design, so why not take a class for intensive training?

Design is not stagnant. It keeps moving and evolving and those who wish to be the leaders and the doers, will be those who continue to study and learn. Case: Art School Victim #112637 won’t be starting over, so there’s the good news. She just needs her knowledge to catch up a bit with her desires. Most of us need that and some of us do it.

Things are Looking Good :-)

Case: Art School Victim 112637 followed up with some encouraging news:

Thank you for taking time to respond with this as I know you’re very busy. I agree and understand everything you’re said. After I sent you an email, I started to take some steps on my own. I’m still terrified, but this has made me feel a bit confident about what I’m doing now.

I’ve started to build my portfolio more, I’m on Behance and I also started to enter contests on as you mentioned above. I felt horrible for doing it because I know it continues the client thought process that they don’t have to take us seriously. I’ve seen some pretty interesting things on there but as I had no portfolio to speak of previously, I saw this as the only way to possibly get more practice.

You’ve given me the courage I need to keep moving forward. I’m learning what I can in my free time, reading articles, such as yours. If you have any free time at all, I’d appreciate a look over of my designs possibly? If not, like I said above I know you’re busy.

Thanks again for the the advice and the confidence boost I desperately needed.

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