Guide to Design: Realities and Options in Design Education

by Frederick H. Carlson
Guide to Design: Realities and Options in Design Education

If you're interested in design, many programs for prospective design school students exist.

Design Schools

Large public and private colleges and universities offer a broad university-level curriculum, and can have highly respected focused design programs within their schools. Smaller colleges and universities are less likely to have this type of breadth of course offering and specialization, but particular fine programs exist in this collegiate demographic.

Specialized institutes and schools (often with online programs) offer much more specialized experiences that can produce employable design professionals. Graduates from these vocationally-minded schools often benefit from hands-on work experience and the chance to learn from older mentors within the field to learn design principles and problem-solving skills.

The desire of the student to specialize in a particular industry will quickly shorten their list of choices, as it follows that specialization in an industry drives specialization in higher education. I suggest that students serious about professional design careers investigate and interview professionals in the field they desire to enter to find out where those designers went to college. This is not a fail-safe system, but at least it will direct the serious young design prospect to key institutions.


Students may earn a Certificate or Associates Degree at a smaller specialized institute or they may earn a BA, BFA, Masters or Doctorate in any of the following degrees: Arts, Applied Arts, Fine Arts, Science, or Applied Science at larger institutions.

Technically oriented career paths such as design will require the mastering of computer skills. Course offerings should include computer-aided design and drafting (CADD technology) and training in graphics software, art history, elective art courses to improve presentation skills, design project courses in specific disciplines (graphic, industrial, and other specific areas), design history, general history, writing, and important courses emphasizing design principles and problem solving. The humanities can help you find areas to work within (such as large institutions, government, corporate and business markets). Some highly specialized course offerings at the top schools can be automotive design, typography, print processes, all levels of fashion design, advertising design and presentation media.

After Graduation

Graduating students entering the job market should construct a portfolio, which is a highly edited personal package that visually states your strengths in your desired work area. The portfolio is always edited toward the convenience of the client/employer and not to show everything you'vee ever designed. Portfolios should show finished work and process work, and the interview is a place where you as a young designer can make an impression regarding your ability to work with others, follow directions, and keep an eye on the clock.

Young designers can often expect a period of apprenticeship where they work on presentation of others' ideas; frequently these are routine tasks under supervision of the design project managers. As designers become more experienced in their respective fields, they will decide to stay within a particular business and enjoy an increased amount of responsibility and challenge, or they will decide to strike out on their own as an independent.

NEXT SECTION: What Kind of Design School Do You Want to Attend? »

Related Articles