What They Didn’t Teach You In (Design) School

No matter the professional path you walk in life there is always a common thread that connects your professional life and school background to that of every person you meet – the phrase “Man, I wish I learned ________________ in school.” It’s no secret that higher education typically has a large disconnect between the theory and foundations they teach and it’s actual application in the professional world. While institutions of higher learning have come along way in mandating professional practice internships and co-operative learning experiences to minimize these deficits, there is still a long way to go – and the design world is no exception.

This disconnect is one of the driving forces behind Phil Cleaver’s new, self-designed book What They Didn’t Teach You In Design School, a joint venture between Phil Cleaver, Alan Fletcher and many of Phil’s former students. Amusing anecdotes from Alan Fletcher and Phil’s students litter the book, seamlessly weaving together the sage advice Cleaver has culled from his students and his own experiences over the years to create a truly one of a kind book. In the spirit of helping you navigate the often choppy waters of transitioning from design student to rock star designer, and everywhere in between, we’ve pulled together a few quick tips to help you along in your design journey.

design school; design schools; design instruction

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Get a mentor.

This is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of every rock star performer in the business world and, in fact, life. The best part is that it isn’t really a secret, it’s just one of the most often overlooked and underappreciated pieces of advice out there. Mentors are seasoned veterans in your company or industry that have literally been there, done that, gotten the ass kicking or t-shirt and moved on. They can be the biggest help to you when navigating sticky client situations, making big career decisions, or by simply being a sounding board for your ideas. Whatever you do, whatever your field, take the time to find a quality mentor and you’ll reap the benefits over and over and over again.

Join a professional organization.

Every industry has multiple professional organizations meant to help its members – both new and seasoned alike – stay current with industry trends, norms, best practices and more. A professional organization can be one of the biggest boons to you as a practitioner if used effectively; many offer help with legal matters, mentorships, job connections, and networking. Don’t discount the value they can bring to you and your business.

Can’t afford to join a professional organization? No problem! While almost all professional organizations have yearly fees associated them – some chump change, others considerably hefty – almost all of them offer free and/or low cost resources. This can range from YouTube videos, to newsletters, to handbooks and guides, blogs and more. Take the time to dig around their site a little, you maybe surprised at the wealth of knowledge they offer up for free. Check out the features listed on their site as well as frequently mentioned names and perform Google searches for related articles and blogs, you’ll be surprised how much knowledge you can gain for free!

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

Network outside your industry.

While it is very important to cull contacts within your industry and the immediate industries you interact with (printers, photographers, web professionals, etc.) it is equally important that you not neglect members of distant industries. These distant industries are your potential clients and it never hurts to have a wide reach and contacts you can tap for work or industry insights. Innovation and inspiration is everywhere, you don’t need to surround yourself with just creative individuals, balance it out with a healthy dose of analytical and technical types too and you’ll see your client base and creativity soar.

Follow your every whim.

We should qualify this with the phrase “within reason” as there are a number of whims you should not follow as they could kill you or land you in jail – both equally bad things. However, what you should do is dabble in everything. Take a pottery class, go line dancing, visit a new country or restaurant – immerse yourself in change. If something interests you, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment, embrace it and experience it. Not only will you get a chance to expand your network, but also you’ll give yourself unparalleled experiences to pull from, boosting your creativity in ways you can’t even imagine.

What Didn’t They Teach You in Design School??

1554409_392829880852382_1944711841_nFor more great advice on how to be the best designer you can be and master what they didn’t teach you in school, check out Phil Cleaver’s book, What They Didn’t Teach You In Design School, available now at MyDesignShop.com! Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.

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