Is Design School Actually Worth it?

May 5, 2011 - By 

Image by D Sharon Pruitt

Let’s be very clear. School isn’t mandatory to be successful in a creative industry. Nobody cares if you have a degree or if you went to a prestigious school. No matter how you get there, the only thing that matters is that you’re good. That’s it.

So what value does school have to offer if not a degree? Why should you even go?

The Hard Stuff
Please don’t go to school to learn Software. What a gigantic waste. Software is easy to learn. Just search for some video training for any tool and you will find hours of people showing you what each and every button does. Learn that stuff on the weekend and test out of those classes. Instead, while you’re at school, learn the hard stuff like design, color theory, typography, story telling, composition, animation, editing, and compositing.

Forced Deadlines
School helps to get you ready for working with clients and getting projects finished by giving you hard deadlines to work with. A project due on monday means a weekend of working your ass off. Learning how to create great work and put it out for the world to see is THE KEY to being a creative. School projects give you great excuses to stay up all night worrying about a big project. And, that’s EXACTLY where the learning happens.

Ask anybody that went to school what they thought of it, and you will get the same response. “It was ok, not great. But this one teacher made it all worth while.” It’s exactly that one or two teachers that you connect with that make the school experience “worth it”. When you find your mentor, go out of your way to take more classes with them. Ask them for guidance and have them critique your work HARD. Their advice will be more than worth the tuition.

Being great is only half of the equation of course. You also need people. Without people, you don’t get work or show work. Great work without people is useless. Don’t end up being a great artist in the basement. People hire or recommend, or see, or enjoy, or buy what you do. Your classmates and teachers are the usually the first contacts you have and these relationships can help you throughout your career.

Most importantly, school gives you the time you need to play and learn. You must make many many ugly things before you start making pretty ones. School gives you that time to go though that phase without the pressure to “Get A Job”. Especially for young students, school is where you make all your mistakes and find out what your strengths are.

Really Worth It????
Is it really worth all this time and money just for the piece of paper nobody will ever ask you for? Of course not. It’s all the other stuff that goes along with school that you are really paying for. In the end, you get out of school what you put in. Can you skip school and save the cash? Sure! Many successful talented people have. Can you get some of these things on your own? Yep. There are always outliers. But as a rule, If you are thinking about going to school, do it.

Posted In:  Design Ideas
  • It’s the best/easiest way to get your foot in the door, but after your in- it’s all about your work and who you know from there.

    Good write-up!

    • I think having the ability to write words properly is an advantage to getting a foot in any door; unless you want to work as a cashier at Wal-mart.

  • The bottom line is you need skills and a network to be successful. If you have that your set, if not design school will be a boon to your career.

  • true…def a tough call…”the borrower is slave to the lender” … is it worth be indebted for nearly your entire life…school has gotten soooo expensive, disproportionate to the amount that can be earned for most…but then again money isn’t everything…great post

  • So bottom line is if you’re thinking about going to school, do it? πŸ˜› Yes I’ve always kind of imagined I was gonna go study some time, so yeah I should!(?) πŸ™‚

    Great post though, agree on almost everything <3

  • Grrrreat! Me and my brother and Simon Gustavsson is thinking about it, and we probably will! It mostly because we need some kind of color, design, composition and storytelling teaching. We’ve never really got any basic important theory. And it’s for the contacts, as well. Sweet!

  • All really good points Nick.
    Of course, when I was in school there was very little software to learn (yes, I’m that old) so learning the hard stuff was all there was.
    And of course, after nearly 25 years (good God!) I still make ugly stuff, just a lot less of it. That’s the trick.

  • The debt you acquire is ridiculous, it’s like having a mortgage minus the wife, kids, and house… BUT the network you create is invaluable. You get what you put in.

  • Great Nick, i actually think that school is important sometimes for you as a person. I enjoyed, made a lot of friends, travel. I’m still a student at the University doing Graphic Design: New Media. So when i look back i see this…

    I’m from Portugal, i moved to London to study at the Uni there, from there i got a scholarship that allowed me to travel to Seoul, South Korea to study 6months for free.
    In London made a lot of good connections and already got into some awesome workshops with great people. Also made some great projects with my friends.

    I started by working and then decided to stop for a while and keep study because i was missing the fun and the time for explore, and also see more cultures and share knowledge. In the future what is important is not knowing how to work with the softwares, is the way you think and solve problems that is going to get you a good solution for what your doing. And i think that is what i’m getting a lot with the Uni. I’m learning how to think about stuff!

    I can see that Nick is a person that knows a lot of things about a lot of stuff, not just Design, not just Cinema 4D, but actually a lot of things. And that’s kind what makes the difference. You gotta see a lot of shit if you wanna be good at Design, and you gotta learn how to think about stuff.

    Those boring ‘contextual studies’ classes about cyberpunk movement, that you don’t go cause it sucks. One day you gonna look back and see that you miss that!

    And my advice is enjoy while you at school, and do not loose time playing around, and do collaborations with your friends and explore as much as you can. And not just with 3D! There is a lot of other stuff that you can explore out there that is gonna make you be good.

    Thanks Nick, great post.

  • I’ve Been going back and forth on this very question, I got into AE about a year ago since then I’ve been on the fence wondering whether or not going to school is the right step for me. reading this makes me realize there are a lot more Pros from what I had originally thought. this had a lot of points that I over looked. I’m still not sure but this has definitely given me a whole new insight.

    P.S this might not be the place for this but are there any Creative Artist on here, from the Los Angeles Area I would Love to start up A sort of meet-up/networking event sometime..Email me, once again sorry if this isn’t the place for this.

    ok lunch is over back to the desk job lol

    • Hi Joseph, I am in the LA area, VC to be exact and would love to look into meeting up with like minded individuals? Into photography at all? Digital video? Theres lots for us to talk about and work on!

      • Hey guys, I’m also in the LA area. Hollywood to be exact. Would love to meet up and just hang out. Ideas exchanging ideas and starting up projects would be fun.

      • hey im replying and i’m in la as well..still in school at ai and looking for connection. I do vfx motion graphic and photography. I would love to collaborate on project and see what I could do to be better.

  • School can’t teach you how to design. Design is something you just do. I am graduating here next week and I know dozens of students graduating with me who didn’t have design skills coming in and who don’t have design skills now.

    • School can and does teach design. It taught me. School taught me how to talk about design, how to identify problems and work toward solutions, how to properly set type, and how to THINK like a designer instead of like an artist or a software operator. Sure, I could have learned that stuff on my own, but school taught me faster than I could have taught myself.

      Design is not something you “just do.” Walking, breathing — those are things you just do. Design requires skill and discipline. Skill and discipline can be learned, and they can be learned in school. (See “The Hard Stuff” and “Forced Deadlines” in Nick’s post.)

      But what can’t be taught is passion, and I think that’s what you’re trying to say. You have a passion for design or you don’t, and your fellow graduates never became passionate. I graduated with plenty of folks like that, too. It’s sad, really.

      Which leads me to the one thing I disagree with in Nick’s post: If you are thinking about going to school, don’t just go. Seriously think about why you’re going. If you’re considering design school because you heard it’s a growth industry and you drew the turtle really well in that test they advertise on television, that doesn’t mean you’re passionate about design. Talk to some professionals, talk to good students, learn what it takes to REALLY build a brand, typeset copy, or create a perfect opening credits sequence. After all, I heard nursing is a growing profession and I know CPR, but I’m not signing up for nursing school any time soon. Great design requires passion, and school will not teach you passion.

    • I have to agree with Arlo. There are principles to learn about design. There are rules which are important to know why they are there…then you’ll be able to break them properly :). Also technique…whther it is design or fine arts school teaches technique. I feel what art school teaches is more mechanical…the organic comes from the individual.

    • There is also a huge difference between design schools. There is even a difference between majors in schools. I love my design school and have never been happier. I have learned so much from the amazing professors I have.

      I am a Visual Effects student at SCAD and it is incredible. I have some of the greatest professors. Most of them are people who have left the visual effects industry and are now teaching. Some of them know the software, but they all know how to talk about the work. It is so important to know how to talk about your work. Self critique is very important also, and the help from trained eyes who have been in the industry not only teaches you this, but also helps you improve your demo reel. I know my work is better because of their criticism.

    • i didn’t took courses in school, it was all by passion but i have to recognize that it would have saved me a lot of time. Some few are really talented by nature and don’t need school or else to be great designers, all the others need to learn it the hard way and school is also the quickest way to achieve that first step into that world.
      @arlo : walking isn’t just done like breathing πŸ˜‰ you have to learn how to walk and you have to fall and rise again and again before acquiring the skill, ask my 1 year old daughter πŸ™‚
      So is design, i believe.

  • The majority of the HR departments at most employers require that degree. The reality is that degree does not speak to you as an artist or your abilities…all it really says is that you spent 4 years(or more) and a lot of money for it. In most cases the people hiring you don’t care about the degree outside of filling a requirement…they care about your work and what you can bring to the table…at least that is what I look for.

    One thing I’d like to add to everyone coming out of school and going into interviews…please leave “cocky” at the door. I find many people coming from art school are full of over amplified cockiness about their work…when in reality most of their work looks exactly like the last applicants.

    • Just wanted to add that the real learning comes from experience in the field. From being around people who have been at it longer than you and being open to learn and adapt. The passion and eagerness to teach yourself and jump out of your comfort zone should be a given for anyone experienced or not.

      The downside is it is hard to get that experience without having that degree or experience already. So in essence art school is one of those necessary evils…good thing is it helps weed out the folks that aren’t serious about it…some of them anyway. πŸ™‚

    • In the end if you decide to go to school it is up to you to get the most out of it. They will teach you technique and principles, but it is your job to take it further and learn more…school really just breaks the ice. If you don’t take it beyond that or take advantages of the resources that school provides…then you are wasting your time and money.

    • I could not have set it better. Awesome.

  • Great I agree with you, but I thinking to apply in design school just for certificate nothing more

  • The best thing about art school is not having to worry about clients and marketing. The worst thing about art school is not having to worry about clients and marketing.

    Being self-taught I have little frame of reference to what art school is like. I have however got a degree in applied maths which got me in to finance jobs which I wouldn’t of without it. However I feel as do some of the agency friends I know the most important attributes for design jobs are a solid portfolio, showing that you have more than a couple of ideas and being a good communicator – not an art school qualification.

  • Thanks, Nick. I totally agree with you about the software stuff. A copy of “After Effects Apprentice”, the WGA writer’s strike, and a moratorium on new temps launched my career as a production artist and jr. designer. That said, I found a certain ceiling with my career lately and I’ve started going back to school for the “soft” skills. For me, learning to draw, concept, and about design principles, color theory, etc. have been extremely helpful.
    Also, I’d recommend dipping your toe at the local community college like Santa Monica College and Pasadena City College here in Los Angeles.
    Otis and Art Center are awesome, but why not see if you like design school for $75 a course instead of shelling out $1000 a course and much more for tuition and supplies. For me the deadline and structure is the most important part. And if you have already have a degree, you can often get a certificate that takes much less time.

  • Great post, thanks for doing this. I’ve seen others that attempt to tackle this and none have come at it quite the way you have. I’m a web designer who didn’t go to school and managed to get a job at it (small town, not a TON of competition, though it’s there) but have found my knowledge lacking in certain areas, primarily theory based. Thankfully there are many books and websites around, and if you’re driven you can learn a lot.

    You’re bang-on about learning software, too. If you really struggle with learning new software, take a generalized computer course to get you more familiar with the broader environment rather than a specific piece of software. You’ve got all the time and free resources in the world regarding that.

  • I thought I would share my story, since this is a subject I struggled with for awhile.

    I graduated with a degree in advertising in a relatively small university in MI. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be. I dabbled in AD, CW, and even Account Management. I was lucky enough to get an internship at a very well known ad agency, but it was a non creative position. But I was told that with experience at this agency, I could pretty much go anywhere. However, I learned the hard way, that this was not true. After my internship ended, I faced countless rejection for months. I had to move back home with my parents b/c I couldn’t find a job, and it was an overall nightmare.

    Since, I had plenty of downtime during all of this, I decided to get back into design, something I’ve always kept as a hobby/side interest. I considered myself a decent designer, but I had no experience. This eventually led me to Greyscale, and other tutorial sites, where I began to play with 3d software. I fell in love with motion design shortly thereafter, and was spending all day with that rather than finding a job in advertising.

    At this point, I was struggling on whether school was an option. Unfortunately, I already was in a large amount of debt, and I didn’t want to dig a deeper hole. So I decided to go the self taught route. This wasn’t an easy decision but I got to the point where I had a demo reel, and I started sending it out to studios for internships. I applied to two studios in LA I respected, thinking nothing would come of them. Instead, both called me back. I should note that both of these studios are fairly well known. I couldn’t believe either was interested in me. In fact, they were both so interested in me, they got into a small bidding war over me, and I ended up having my pick with a full time jr. position rather than an internship at either studio. So now, I’m in LA, working my dream job.

    All this, with no actual working experience, and NO design school. I had ZERO contacts in the design industry. I’m completely self taught. I don’t even consider myself that particularly talented, but they saw I had passion. My employer told me that I was actually more interesting b/c I was self taught, as that showed initiative and passion.

    It was a very surreal experience, and I was definitely lucky. But my story shows that school is not needed to get into this industry.

    • Great story Brandon.
      I would agree with you
      so you go though that job without “piece of paper” rite?

      in my place, everything needs “piece of paper” whatever good you are, without “piece of paper” you can’t go through a better job. if you are lucky, you can get a job, but your salary will so tight

    • I technically do have a degree. But it’s in a different field. In college, I was basically trained in advertising management. I spent a lot of time outside the classroom on the creative stuff tho. When I realized advertising wasn’t where I wanted to be, I took everything I knew and went to graphics design, which naturally led to motion.

      I can’t really speak for pay raises based on educational background, as I have yet to experience any problems with that. But I’m sure it varies from country to country.

  • I’ve applied to jobs that “required” a 4 year degree (without actually having one) and gotten those jobs (without lying about not having a 4 year degree). For the creative industry I think schooling is pretty much obsolete.

    My buddy is getting his Masters at S.C.A.D., I’m gonna scan it into Photoshop, put my name on it, and give it to my parents!

  • I think that design schools (or any other schools for that matter) teach you other invaluable lessons that you cannot get on your own.

    First of all, I think that education in general is important, and that pertains to everyone in society. Higher educational levels in a society brings many other benefits, not necessarily design related ones, that I think are necessary in order to sustain a high standard of living. As I said, what you might learn in college/university might not always make you a better designer, but it will expand your knowledge, and designers are not exempt from the idea that attaining knowledge about various topics is good.

    Second, schools are social training grounds where one learns how to interact socially with other people. I do appreciate how useful tutorial sites and forums might be, but when it comes to real-life, social interactions, giving presentations, or talking about your art, you are not going to become proficient in that by sitting at your computer. Being an internet hero might help you in some aspects of your design career, but take the Gorilla as an example. He combines electronic networking TOGETHER with his superb presentation and conversational skills. I have watched some of the tutorials posted here lately from third-parties, and although I appreciate the knowledge I get from them, they bore me tremendously. Whenever I watch Nick’s or Andrew Kramer’s tutorials, I want to hear everything, visit their websites, participate in the discussion, and potentially buy products from them. I think that social skills are heavily underrated.

  • Totally, totally, totally worth it……….that is if you use the time to your advantage. It aint about the degree, it’s about the time you have out of the “real world”.

    If you receive a degree at the end of it, or an A level or whatever you’re studying for, it shows that you can follow a brief, that you can interpret what someone has asked you to do. It’s such a no brainer that i’d do it all over again tomorrow. Maybe not tomorrow as I have a meeting……

  • I went to school so long ago, Photoshop wasn’t even around! Think about that.

    I got a BA in graphic design but all of my motion work has been self taught. If I had it to do all over again, I would’ve gone to an art school and not a university with an art program. I spent too much time worrying about history classes when all I wanted to do was create. But I’m glad I had some sort of schooling.

    School was great for preparing me for deadlines, being professional, getting along well with others. I actually learned graphic design pre-computer so even though I haven’t pasted anything up in probably 20 years, I feel like that has helped me in ways I can’t explain.

    I’m not the best at what I do but I work hard. Woody Allen once said that life is 90% just showing up, so true.

    • Oops. What I really wanted to say was…I’ve worked on lots of crews with some really good animators etc. but they couldn’t compose a shot if their life depended on it. They wouldn’t be able to color correct it and they wouldn’t be able to tell you why it didn’t look good.

      I like to do a lot of different things. Being awesome in one defined area and sucking at the rest is not what i’m interested in. I’d rather be pretty good at a lot of different things!

  • Anybody know of some good schools to take some really valuable design theory courses in South Florida?

  • I love how you mentioned compositing twice when listing the hard stuff πŸ˜€

    Anyway: I happen to be one of those guys who didn’t plan on going to school. I had quite done quite some work and figured I might just get into that industry without school or degree. A friend of mine made me go to school anyway. I’ve been stuck in school for 5 years now and I loved it. (I still don’t care about the degree). I have learned quite some stuff but most importantly: I have experimented with so much stuff and explored so much new things. I figured out what I really wanted to do.
    I had those 2-3 great mentors that inspired/thought me a lot. I’ve met many important people currently working in the industry and giving me opportunities to get some jobs.

    It’s really as if you were writing about my life here, Nick!
    I completely agree with this post!

  • Seeking Knowledge in and of itself is a worthy endeavor. However, far too many ‘Design” schools are more concerned about collecting tuition than educating their students to be great or even ‘good’ designers. Thus the onus lies upon the student to have the drive and ambition to apply what the school has on offer to their benefit. Far too many students don’t know how to do that and are giving these schools a very bad reputation for turning out graduates who know little to nothing about Real World Design. Designing is ‘Applied Critical Thinking’ something few – if any institution – offers as a course.

    I was fortunate to have a mentor in Graphic Design who probably spent less than ten hours total giving me real world jobs that took my raw talent and made it bankable. My advice for those who have the tools available to them and the discipline to teach themselves is seek out internships / mentorships to get a Real Education / On The Job Training. It will prove far more valuable in a shorter time span.

    That’s my 2 cents.

  • I would trade every single one of my “computer animation” classes for more time with the three instructors I had that taught storyboarding, life drawing, and typography. They were the most demanding, inspiring, critical, and downright exciting people I’ve ever known. It was a shame that most of my fellow students thought the classes were a “waste of time” and “beneath them”. I learned more about critical analysis, the intricacies of process, and work ethic from the “design” teachers than anything else in the core animation program.

    If I was in the market for a school now, I’d find a way to study with artists that know the fundamentals and have never touched a lick of After Effects or Cinema 4D in their lives: painters, musicians, typographers. Live the life of Samurai Jack, mograph style.

    I can learn the tools with a $300 sub to Lynda, fxPhd, and a nicely tuned listing of artist blogs. That’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the $50-70k most of these factory art schools are charging!

  • Im from panama city, panama.
    nick is my school, that’s it. thank you…

  • Hey Nick, great post man. I’ve learned more over the last few years working in the industry than I ever did studying digital media at Sydney University but I really loved my time at school and it set me up to be doing what I’m doing now.

    Uni for me was a motivator. It’s a competitive environment and you do your best to make cooler stuff than your colleagues. There’s great opportunity to if you have some good teachers, cause they are (or usually are) keen to show you as much as you want to learn.

    It was full on, I had to do loads of work but it was totally worth it. Yeah I racked up a massive debt but I’ve paid that off and now work in an industry that I wanted to for years before I got into it.

    These days I can learn more from this site, or from killer MILG training, or wherever but you gotta be hungry for it. Sometimes I go to bed with 3D on my mind and wake up with a new idea, then work out how I’m gonna make it come to life… and that’s all before going to my day job in video and motion graphics. A few people before me mentioned passion and without that in this line of work, you’ll just plod along…

    Anyway, my boss (who owns and runs the studio I work in) never went to university… he’s completely self taught and is an amazing operator, but he’s really passionate and we’re always teaching each other new shit. Neither of us ever looking at the clock hanging to get home and that’s the kind of drive you need in this field… I think πŸ˜‰

    Rambling now, nuff outta me. Thanks for reading πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚


  • I love designing(motion graphic mostly), but almost every time its very hard to extract an idea or concept out of my mind. so one of my friend told me about talented and non talented person, he said: untalented person have a difficult to work in creative way(have a bad sense of popping an idea). he said they just “ordinary worker”
    so i am struggle what he said, I afraid I’m not the talented person…

    so, my question:
    is talented person always easy to get an idea or concept ?

    can a untalented person work in a big industry ?

    • I get ideas pretty often, but for me also I find it a bit hard to make them in for example, Photoshop.
      Other times the ideas just keep popping up and I get to make them in Photoshop.

      I think my problem mostly, is that I am afraid it won’t be good enough. So the way I see it – at least for me, is that it has nothing to do with talent, but to believe in yourself, and just make whatever you want and not be afraid of the outcome. You will have a good result if you just believe that you can make something good.

      I’m sorry if I didn’t answer your questions accurately, but this is at least what I think of what you wrote.

  • If you would like a job I got two words for you: Hyper Island. Seven months of real client briefs and three months internship later I landed myself a job as a motion graphics designer.

    By the way I’m 20 years old and Hyper Island is the only ” design education” I got.

    • could you post your website? I would love to see your work.
      cause ive been considering hyper island but not sure yet.

  • I agree with the fact that school isn’t mandatory to be successful, but what it happens in some country’s especially in mine is that you kinda need to be graduate as a minimum to actually get the job or to be promoted to say like . I’m also aware of some cases were less experienced people actually get more money then a very experienced one’s just because they are graduate. It’s not a general thing in all companies but it happens. So go to school! πŸ˜›

  • Personally I have learned a lot on school. Back in the days when pages were layed out on paper (non-repro blue for the win! Still use it to do sketches), and I miss that in some of the newer designers nowadays, it gives a whole other eye for page lay out and what not.

    That said there are numerousdesigners who didn’t need it to get where they are now (and some are in admirable positions). In retrospect I don’t think I learned what I should have learned, but it brought me where I wanted to be nonetheless. Or as Douglas Adams once said: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” And that might just be what it is.

  • Hey Nick, thanks for all your awesome tutorials; without them it would have taken me twice as long to learn half as much about Cinema 4D. I wanted to ask you if you have any plans on tutorials that aren’t so focused on the 3d aspect, but more on how to make an attractive animation?

    We all know a really sexy motion graphic piece when we see it, but most of us – at least us amateurs – don’t know WHY it looks so awesome, and just learning a few key tips about camera moves or editing I think could be just as helpful as learning how to light your scene.

    Again, thanks for all your hard work and creating such an awesome and helpful community.

  • It’s definitely great to make some connections with fellow designers and as you said, focus on what you wanna do. I also enjoyed the critiques in college, definitely helpful. Ultimately though, I would say it was not worth it for me. I learned most of what I know on my own through the net and my internship. Definitely not the 30 some grand i paid just to get the paper.

    It would be more helpful to have non-college related classes. Classes where you can pay a DECENT fee to get some of those things you can’t get through the net and improve your skill but you don’t get a paper. You work basically speaks for itself. That way you don’t have to take out loans or be in debt. I feel like colleges are just in it for the profit, not because they actually want you to leave with a valuable skill. Revolutionize time, lose the colleges start independent schools. Not accredited, not expensive, and you actually get a lot out of it. Something like that.

  • I think school can definitely be worth it for the right person and not for others.

    One thing that is important is to manage your own exceptions about what you get from school, like you pointed out above. I think people often expect that going to school will get them a job or that the school should help place them. Instead it’s about the experience, skills and networking that you mentioned that are the real benefit, the job part is really up to the individual.

    Great post.

  • It was already mentioned a few times here, but learning how to talk about Design and Animation and/or whatever you are focusing on is very important. Knowing the vocabulary of your craft is very important.
    History of these crafts is vital as well, but my school overdid it on the classical art and missed a lot of the modern digital stuff (morelike recent history i suppose)

    to sum: School is great for Vocabulary and History

  • Alot of them who currently working on big films and games are from Gnomon School.Nick should also learn 3d max or maya to help you a better understanding in other softwares..

  • i am a freelancer from South Africa and doing web design and development i never went to any school what i find difficult is getting clients because this site of the world if haven’t got any papers, most of the clients don’t trust you unless you have a good portfolio

  • I agree with all the points there, especially the bit about needing the time to play around. I’ve been teaching myself Cinema 4D for the last few years but as I’ve also had to hold down a full time job (not in the creative industry) the process has been long and slow, just because I don’t have enough time. About 18 months ago, I decided to save up enough money to take a year off work and really get stuck into it. I’m leaving work in July and going to live in another country for a year, away from all the distractions. I’ve thought long and hard about doing a design course, but I just don’t think it’s for me. I know that I’m the kind of person that learns much better when I teach myself. But of course, everybody’s different. And at the end of the day, like you said Nick, the most important thing is weather you’re any good or not.

    By the way, I’ve been a fan of yours Nick for a long time now but never post on your site, so while I’m here I just want to say thanks to you because a lot of what I’ve learned so far has been through this site. You’re an inspiration. Keep up the good work!

  •!, Ron Brinkman’s “Art and Science of Digital Compositing”,, blogs like this one, helloluxx, and, personal responsibility, involvement, and friendliness > College, and lots of debt.

    Think long and hard… If you can’t afford it, don’t go. Debt is the chief inhibitor!

    We live in a grand information age where every bit of story-telling, composition and color theory is out there β€” and most likely for free!

    Luckily, life doesn’t sum itself up to this one decision either.

  • I nearly feel like I inspired you by my email πŸ˜€ . Nice to read… gives me a bit more motivation to work harder, even when I’m not goin’ on some school focused especialy on graphic design… yet ^^.

  • No one seems to have mentioned one of the biggest benefits of school, particularly of a full university academic program: it’s not just about preparing for work. Even the most out-there, totally-unrelated-to-your-career coursework can teach you valuable things: how to think critically, how to organize information, how to do research, how to communicate better.

    Broader background knowledge is particularly important if you want to work in documentary. Say you get a gig animating the text of a speech by Abe Lincoln, or a monologue from a Shakespeare play. Learning typography is important, but knowing the history and meaning behind the text you’re setting will make you a better animator — and enable you to bring the words to life for a new audience. Accuracy is also key: on more than one occasion the company I work for has ended a contract with an animation house because the artists made beautiful things but couldn’t get the facts right.

  • Taha A. Makhdoomi May 9, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    In our Subcontinent the famous saying is…
    “a tree with longer roots can bear many hardships & stay firm, but a tree with smaller roots can flow where water or air moves it”
    So learning is very important…my recommendation to all the graphic designer is that must go to university to learn design…
    its not about getting a piece of paper…how much do we learn from there, from typography to research, marketing, as u have mentioned color theory and many more…
    but more of them you learn ethics, the right attitude, how to compete & many many more…
    so go to design school :).

  • First, Thanks Nick for every that’s here on the blog. Love it.

    I’m a art school grad. Wasn’t a fan of the school I went to. Without going into a rant of how I felt school ripped me off and such, I wanted to help out those who are in school or looking to get into it. Here’s my one tip that no one ever taught me that would have saved me hours of headache.

    When you do go to school for design or animation, make sure you’re not taking the critiques personal. It took me my first 2 years in school to realize that about 95% of people there really don’t know how to participate in a crit. In every project you’re having critiqued, you’ll need to really have the world judge it, and just take note of their reactions and responses. The reason being, if they didn’t understand what your intentions were–try again. The idea of critiques in my opinion is that it’s more of an experiment and the people experiencing your project are the test subjects. Half of the time you’ll notice that people are really just saying something because the teacher wants some participation. And don’t get me wrong, defending your project and explaining your project is two different things.

    Also another great tip is to have someone whose never seen or heard of your project and their their impressions of it. Its the best way to see if they understood what it was about.

  • It is true if and only if the person is very talented. But this life is pragmatic. You won’t be always doing the things you want and the degree that you obtained actually serves as a stepping stone for you to venture into another field as. I am a web designer and from my previous experience, the owner of the advertising company who was not a designer, only recruit those with a degree and better treatment for those with oversea university degree. Besides, you need the connection which the school may help you to get during the probation or intern period. No offense and that’s only my opinion since that’s what happening here in my country.

  • Is there a website to learn design, color theory, typography, story telling, composition, animation, editing, and compositing?

  • Great insights – whenever someone asks me if school is worth it, I usually give them that exact rundown! And I tell them not to take too many classes with descriptions that read like an applications folder.

    I did the art school thing a while back. I certainly had a love/hate relationship with it, but stuck with it because I have never learned more in such a short amount of time in my life. I met amazing people who are still friends and colleagues. We get each other jobs all the time.

    When I meet new grads of my (admittedly very conceptual-leaning) alma mater, sometimes they complain that they can’t get work because they don’t know enough computer stuff. I tell them that’s stupid, that they have an education that taught them how to learn things, and they should do what I did: lie! Given that whoever is hiring them is probably looking for an entry-level artist, if they back that lie up with a solid weekend-long effort of tutorial madness, they’ll be fine.

  • I studied design in university back when the first Apple Macintosh hadn’t been invente. The instructors/teachers who had experience and knew their stuff made all the difference. It was easy to figure out which ones couldn’t teach. Nowadays, design teaching is all about software and how to do this and that, and in my opinion, a degree in Arts shouldn’t be given to students who do not get an well-rounded education.
    In the past fifteen years, all I see designers do is go online and find something to rip off, usually when their design bosses can’t tell the difference and have no academic background themselves, and this usually leads to mistakes and bad design.
    I’m thankful for the two-three instructors who made sure we learned by constantly questioning our answers and solutions, and by never letting us take the easy route to an average grade.

  • Hey, Nick.

    As I was browsing through your site, admiring the stuff you have in it, I came upon this article and it caught me. As a first time visitor and commenter here, I was amazed by how comprehensive your thoughts about design school is. And, yes, I agree with you that we could not get all the experience and learning just by going to school. We really need to take everything in to be able to do that. We need to work hard, to network and to absorb everything like a sponge because the experiences that we get out of school are what will make it worthwhile.

  • Hey Nick,

    Love how you broke down all the ads/disadvantages for goin to school. I was into graphic designing bt m more interestd in motion design so shifted to ae and cinema 4d. Now sumhow i feel goin to school wud have been good for the mentor thing you said bt thankfully people like you have been kind enough to take the time and put up tutorials and that solves the mentor problem. Also I think when not choosing to go to school, self dicipline shud be a key thing to build up coz with no one to guide you, its easy to get lost…..i think so from my experience. Do correct me if i am wrong. Great post ^_^

  • Hi, Nick

    This Article is great. Love it. and I wanted to put this in my blog as well. I’ve translated into Thai and put a link back to this page.

    Hope this is ok with you. πŸ™‚

    link for the articles in my blog.

  • Thanks a lot Nick!! I’m going to be joining one of the first animation schools in my country and was debating on what the point was since every other designer I know is self taught and everything. but I now know it’s going to be well worth it! Especially if I’ll be one of the first to graduate with an animation certificate here πŸ˜€

  • School is good, because you socialize with other people, you can share ideas and stuff with each other, learn from them and learn them too.

  • Hi, I have really big problem:
    In my country there is only one design school and it’s very expensive, I can go to study art where I will learn about design and typogrpahy but I will also learn about history of painting, and many boring useless things so there is my question what to do when there is no perfect or just good school are there any good books or something how to learn basics like composision

    p.s English is not my native language

  • It is always entirely up to an individual to decipher whether he wants to mess up their chance in life or grab a hold of it with both hands. So then, with that in mind it is always worth the effort to put in to achieve academinc goals at the end.

  • Thank you for other great post. Where else may just anybody get that kind of information usual perfect manner of publishing? I have a presentation in a month’s time, and I am about the search for such information and facts.

  • Very interesting article. A nice mix of views all in one. Unlike a lot of articles that tend to be one sided and point down the one option.

    We are a design school in Costa del Sol and it is still nice to see that education is still considered useful.

  • The one thing I would say that school gave me aside from contacts and a foot in the door, is experiencing different aspects of art and design. At times, I feel all we see is design inspiration and design related blogs and then design tends to start looking the same.

    I like painting, doing things with my hands, building things from scratch. My favorite mag is High Fructose. I like to see fine art (specially sculptures) instead of design. It inspires me more to think differently. I will say that art school gave me the opportunity to delve into different aspects of fine arts and design that I may not have thought to look into, try it or that I’d be inspired by them like actual print making, lithography, silkscreening and mixing your own colors for that. Or figure drawing classes that concentrate on action-figure style posing instead of traditional (that was a challenging class). Experiencing this is also invaluable.

    Even if you do not go to art/design school, I highly recommend that designers take courses that are outside technical, software or design related. Go draw something with an actual pencil for crying out loud. Don’t just sit there and stare at the screen… go get your hands dirty. Go!

  • Francisco Simari June 15, 2015 at 5:56 am

    Thank you for this post!
    However this is not so accurate in Portugal. πŸ™ Here you must a have a paper with a degree otherwise it’s hard to find a job. You can be very good at what you do and probably get a job but a person with a degree can be your “boss” easily.
    So in Portugal you must have a degree in a well-known university a lot of contacts.

    (sorry for any error)

  • There was a point near the end of my education that I considered dropping out to save (a lot) of money and because I felt like I had got out of my school everything I needed to and could get what the last classes would give me on my own. Many people told me that if there were two identical resumes except one had a degree on it, that person would get picked. It also shows that you have the commitment to stick something out! In the end I stuck with it and graduated with honors and am happy I have these things to add to my resume.

  • This is brilliant.

  • This is a pretty awesome discussion on the subject.

  • Another benefit of design school not discussed yet is, along with the forced deadlines, is the instructor-led group critiques. Student-designers learn how to stand in front of a crowd of 15-25 (or more) people and present their thinking, their ideas, their solutions. This is practice for the real world. I can’t tell you how many self-taught designers cannot 1) take professional criticism and 2) effectively present their own work – which includes thinking on your feet, fielding off-the-cuff requests from your client during the preso – this is an art and skill that comes from real practice. These are BASIC skills of a pro designer. You WANT to go through the gauntlet as a student so you can hit the ground running in your first job.

    Also, design school teaches you how to think – how to solve problems visually and how to have a chameleon-like aesthetic. There’s huge value in learning design history which directly feeds your hungry baby design brain. What’s the difference between Dada and Bauhaus? Do you know Mies Van der Rohe? What are the qualities of post-modern era design and architecture? You learn how to make sense of things, how to have actual deep and relevant design conversations (even with yourself!) which have nothing to do with ‘Sketch’ and Photoshop (which unfortunately some associate w/having design skills).

    Lastly, the rigor of a good design school teaches you the CRAFT of design. How to respect the minutiae, the production value needed to pull off polished, smart pro design. You have opportunities to excel and be resourceful in ways you wouldn’t solely by watching YouTube videos. Case in point, in order to be admitted to one of the classes in my design school, there was a portfolio review and contest for filling a limited number of seats. One of the components of the competition was that we were to create a paper mask – a combination of two animals. Paper sculpture! Random! But it was a great exercise in thinking spatially, aesthetically, structurally, exercising hand skills and ingenuity. I’ll never forget what it taught me.

    Design school provides you experiences that absolutely give you a huge leg up over your competitors who are self-taught or are getting the bulk of their training via YouTube. Night and day difference in portfolios, quality of thought, craft and polish, presentation ability and skills to successfully carry a high-value real world project.

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