In the world of design, the portfolio is paramount, often more central than one's credentials or awards. As a designer myself, I'm more concerned with the work someone has done and is capable of. Some designers I know have found great success without a master's degree, and others with master's degrees still struggle. The reverse is true as well, of course.
I recently stumbled on a blog post from Annie Murphy Paul asking if apprenticeships might be an alternative to college. Here's what Robert Lerman, a professor at American University, had to say:
An apprenticeship is a structured program of work-based learning and classroom-based instruction that leads to certification in an occupation, and it involves a high level of skill demands and it covers many occupations, depending on the country. In our country, we focus more on the skilled trades in construction and in manufacturing, but it can work in many other fields.
Could that include design? With rising tuition rates, the idea of going to college can be daunting. Some professions, like medicine and law, require strong credentials. But others, like design, are more about the portfolio. Are there other ways to develop that portfolio?
The tech world might reveal some examples. A recent New York Times piece looked at one young man, Benjamin Goering, who joined a company without a college degree:
So in the spring of 2010, Mr. Goering took the same leap as Mr. Zuckerberg: he dropped out of college and moved to San Francisco to make his mark. He got a job as a software engineer at a social-software company, Livefyre, run by a college dropout, where the chief technology officer at the time and a lead engineer were also dropouts. None were sheepish about their lack of a diploma. Rather, they were proud of their real-life lessons on the job.
But not everyone is able to just take the leap. We all need training, especially when it comes to the complex ins and outs of design. Should we be seeing more apprenticeships? Should design studios consider offering them? I can imagine they'd be distinct from internships; the connotation of an apprenticeship suggests learning on the job, and not just serving coffee between college classes.
Lerman might agree. Here's what he said in the above-mentioned blog post: "Shouldn't we have space for people who like to learn by doing, who like to combine classroom activity with real employability at the workplace and skill development at the workplace? I think we need both."