What They Didn’t Teach You in Design School: A Book Review

To get a feel for Phil Cleaver’s new book, What They Didn’t Teach You in Design School, imagine spending an entire semester’s worth of office hours with the cantankerous college professor that everyone loved—the one who told the truth because he knew he could get away with it. Then go ahead and add a week-long orientation from that senior designer who took you under her wing and taught you the basics on your first job.

The small post-card sized book is probably just what you’d expect from someone who started his career at Pentagram in 1977, spent years at big-time agencies, and still finds time to teach classes at the School of Art and Design in Middlesex University in London.

Back of the book

Back of the book

The use of only two colors—red and black—and the use of reliance on clever typography speak to Cleaver’s approach: Keep it simple. You’ll find career tips, pithy quotes from the famous and not-so-famous, and anecdotes from designers detailing some of their earliest experiences, including quite a few newbie mistakes. Although the advice seems tailored to those looking to land an agency job vs. an in-house gig, every new designer can benefit from nearly every page.

Cleaver has a few unexpected bits of wisdom here: Include an image of yourself on your resume and be sure to have a physical portfolio in addition to your digital samples. He sings the praises of internships, suggesting that young designers make the coffee and tea before even being asked.

But he also insists that if you get nothing but grunt work, you should tell your supervisor that you expect to have something to show at the end of your internship.

Front flyer

Front flyer

It’s not all high-minded career advice. Cleaver explains why he prefers generating initial ideas with pencil and paper rather than a computer, and he shares the ins and outs of style sheets and batch processing of photographs. He’s also got ideas for collaborating with illustrators, photographers, and other designers.

If you’re new to the design world and never had a mentor, What They Didn’t Teach You in Design School should be on your desk, right next to the Pantone color wheel and that mug full of Sharpies.

Be sure to pick up your copy What They Didn’t Teach You in Design School