Things I Didn’t Learn in Design School

There are things that I didn’t know were applicable when I was a design student, about working in design in real life, or in real companies. These are those things, and I hope any discerning designers out there can take heed before they depart to the “wild”.

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This is obvious — design is an act of problem-solving for others, not for yourself. It is a collaborative effort, and no designer can do it on their own. Well, they can design like an artist, in solitude somewhere, but that’s not after you at least talked or brainstormed with somebody else. Even if you design your own product, you think about the end of the game: the users, or the people who would use your product.

Don’t expect the first job you do would be a self-satisfying masterpiece. There will always walls to climb up to and to see the wider world.

Somebody would ask you whether you’d be capable of using certain software or platform. Say no to these places. Every place you approach, or every problem you have will demand for different things. It’s always the man behind the tools. If a company asks you to use certain software, don’t limit yourself to that, and continue to advocate for the execution of the idea, not the tools. If they insist, they’re not good companies.

This is not only applicable to your mom. Take heed, future designers. It’s a strange world out there where nobody really understand design, even you. Even if they think “user experience design” is a good investment. They’re doing it because everybody is doing it. You’ll get disappointed with how people think about your design. You’ll get disappointed by the engineers, because they can’t execute your ideas perfectly. You’ll get disappointed by the business, sales or marketing guys because they don’t know a single thing about solving and delighting the audience at the same time — they only care about numbers. You’ll get disappointed by how many Chief Creative Officers or Chief Design Officers there are in this world, and how most companies are led by people who don’t come from design. You’ll have a hard time convincing everybody.

The premise that designers are changing the world when you were in design school? It’s only a propaganda. You’ll have to pave your way through, because the world will try to fail you.

When I studied, my major was Visual Communication Design, and the three sub-majors were Graphic Design, Advertising and Multimedia. Nobody would’ve thought that user experience design or user interface design would come into play in the recent years — and how I accidentally stepped myself into, despite my Graphic Design sub-major. Everything that I learned about perfecting that typography and fussing over the choice of spacing and colors would still be applicable, but take into account the medium: it’s an ever-changing one, and the way your audience reacts to it is totally different than print medium. What I’m trying to say is — designers coming out of schools need to adapt themselves and choose their specialisation.

Proud of the visual design that you did in some of the past personal projects in the past? Be ready for that to change. Pushing for a working design is already hard, let alone pushing for beautiful visual design. You are lucky if you can be in a team where everybody cares about the craft, but most often, you’ll end up in companies where they are there to make profit pretty quickly or die. That means you’ll have to be satisfied with a working design. This is where most designers fail, including me. A good design is not always pretty, but it has to work consistently. By pretty, I mean it doesn’t have to be a novel or a totally funky approach. You can use existing design patterns and still be rocking. If you design digital products, think about the end users in mind.

Designers. You’ll be disappointed by the state of things. It’s part of your job to change it. Disrupt the world — one step at a time.

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Reflections on digital product design, travel, food and the in-betweens. Finding my compass.

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