All You Ever Needed to Know You Learned
1000 words for design students
by Allan Chochinov
There are a million things to learn in design school, but what
about the things you need to know "about" design school?
In an effort to be clear and concisesomething your teachers
are always bugging you to dohere are exactly 1000 words of
advice for design students (clichés included):
Keep your ear to the ground.
The best gossip is any gossip. Start there and then do your homework.
If a course or a teacher is reputed to be great, odds are that there's
something there. Same for the inverse, but don't be dissuaded by
advance reviews of a difficult or challenging teacher or coursesometimes
the best fit is a tight one.
Do your homework.
There is no question that in design school, what you put in is what
you get out. It's not exciting and it's not revelatory, but it really
does turn out that the students who work the hardest and commit
themselves the fullest end up with the best stuff. Inspiration and
perspiration. You need 'em both.
School is expensive. Come on time. Stay late.
College in many countries is prohibitively expensive, so make sure
you're getting your money's worth. Arrive on time and insist that
your teachers do too. Stay after class and ask questions; find out
about more than just what the class covered. Don't be a pest, but
don't be a pushover either. Why? Here's why:
We work for you, not the other way around.
Teachers have an annoying habit of setting up the power dynamic
to make you feel like they're in charge. I hate to roll out the
"you are consumers of an educational product" argument,
but the reality is that teachers, administrators, librarians and
deans are all there in the first place because you decided
to attend. And they really do work for you. So be clear about what
you want and need, and team up with other students to make sure
that those desires are communicated to the people in power. Use
the library; ask for help. Make us work for you. You've already
Hone your presentation skills.
Walking the walk and talking the talk are different skills.
And no matter how good a designer you are, without a certain level
of presentation skills, nobody will ever know. Practice public speaking,
present your head off in class, and write, write, write. There is
no underestimating the harm to your future that bad presentation
skills can unleash. Really. You could stop reading this now and
you'd have the best stuff.
If you do one thing in preparation for the new school year, buy
a camera. We miss the old 35mm SLRs, but we're realists and recognize
the irresistible benefits, instant gratification and economies of
digital. Buy as many megapixels as you can, and if you can swing
one of those sweet prosumer SLR digitals, do it. Make sure you bring
your camera to class (not the expensive one thoughyour roommate's)
and have fellow students photograph you presenting your work, conducting
interviews, that kinda thing. Finally, have others take pictures
of you making your models up in the shop. When you've looked
at enough portfolios (car, toothbrush, chair, toy, form study, car,
), those "process" photos are positively
the most exiting thing in your book to a jaded interviewer. "Did
you make this model?" Well, yes. I did.
Do more; consider auditing a class.
"The people who do more are people who get more done."
Duh. It's no secret that busy people often get a lot accomplished,
and this is the same for students. Take an extra-curricular, non-design
class (especially if grades aren't important/necessary for you),
or, at the very least, consider auditing one course per semester.
(Auditing a class means attending and doing the reading, but not
taking up the teacher's time with homework, or taking up the class's
time by asking questions. Get the word on the street, sit in during
the first couple weeks of the semester, charm the pants off the
teacher, and bask in the rays of someone telling you something you
didn't already know. Most students aren't familiar with auditing,
but it's offered in most schools.)
Read the paper.
This is the single best way to be and stay connected with the
outside world. A killer-talented designer with nothing so say isn't
much use to anyone (though the marketplace would expose the idealism
of that argument!), and there's nothing more dangerous than
an ignorant mass producer. If you live in a city that has a good
newspaper, subscribe. If you don't, find a good one at your library,
or read countless ones on the web for free. What's a good newspaper?
The New York Times. There. That's a good one.
Get off campus.
School is great, and, after all, that's what you're doing there
in the first place. But school design programs are kind of like
the "official" programthe real stuff is happening
by people who finished school (or often ignored it altogether),
and your best investment is to connect with the communities of creative
people who are doing design for a living and a life. Training
in school is only part of the equation. Being submerged in the culture
of design practice is where the real action is.
Don't work alone.
I know you know that design is a collaborative effort, so there's
no reason why you shouldn't practice getting along with others while
you're still in school. But that's not the real benefit of doing
design homework with others: It's more fun. If you don't already
know this, then you haven't done design work with others.
Take almost any job.
There is absolutely no replacement for the real thing, and practical
experience in any design related field is more than you already
have. So don't spend six months after you graduate looking for the
perfect job. And, certainly, don't wait until you graduate to look
for your first design job. You should be doing everything in your
power to get some practical training onto your résumé
and into your brain and hands before you graduate. That means
helping out somewhere once a week, or bagging that summer internship.
Do anything design-related. You'll be respected more by future employers,
and have some chops by the time you get out.
Well, that's it for me. 1000 words of advice. But there's more out
there, so with the ball rolling, why not share your own advice.
Don't be shy:
I Knew Then What I Know Nowa special discussion board feature
Allan Chochinov is a partner at Core77. When one of his students
asked him one year "what [he] was doing the following week
on Spring Break," he looked at him quizzically. "This
is my break. Next week I don't get one." He teaches
once a week at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.