As my wife and I have been slowly getting into “back to school” mode with our 2 daughters, I recalled how excited I had been, as a soon-to-be first grader, at the prospect becoming a “big boy”. Luckily, even after the initial excitement of being a student had worn off, I ended up having a very good academic experience that culminated in an amazing 4 years at a fine arts/design school where, unbelievably to me, I got to create art and designs all day long.
I’m sure many of you have had a mix of good and bad experiences during your school years. Regardless of the quality of your previous educational encounters, though, I can tell you that, as an in-house designer, it’s critical to continue your academic pursuits.
As a subset of the larger design community, we are the most in need of continuing professional development. Not in the area of design, but rather in the disciplines of business management, leadership, communication and interpersonal skills where we received little, if any, training as design students.
There are 2 things to consider when pursuing additional studies – what types of skills you want to develop and how you’ll develop them. The most obvious aptitudes to focus on are your verbal and writing skills, your people and project management acumen and (OMG!) your financial prowess. You might consider enrolling for classes on public speaking (a college intern at our studio is taking this class next semester), business writing, organizational behavior, introductory accounting, marketing and business administration. (Some of these areas of study lend themselves well to online e-learning options.)
To my second point, there are less traditional approaches than taking college courses that may be better suited to your learning style, life situation and pocketbook. Most obviously, there are the myriad of intensive workshops and seminars that are offered by various business skills development companies. Conferences, webinars and industry organization sponsored lectures are other typical options.
You can be more creative in your methods, though. Below are a few ideas worth entertaining.
- Find mentors for specific skill sets by targeting people who are proficient in areas that you’d like to develop in yourself and forge relationships with them.
- Create a reading list of books dealing with a topic of interest and then make sure to read them. (Audio books are a great resource too.)
- Write articles on your areas of interest that will force you to do research. The added benefit is you can then submit them for publication.
- Create a presentation on an area you’d like to learn more about. As with the writing of articles, this will compel you to engage in research and you’ll end up with a lecture you can shop around to local design organizations or businesses.
- Make up a thesis project. This is pretty ambitious so you may need the support of an expert or teacher in your chosen topic.
However you choose to pursue your continuing ed and whatever the subjects, the most important thing is to make a commitment to do it and follow through. Okay, break’s over…