10 Things I Learnt At Design School

Saturday, November 05, 2016

For those of you who don't know, I have been studying Visual Communication Design (i.e Graphic Design) at Massey University's College of Creative Arts campus in Wellington, New Zealand for the past four years.

Last week (26th of October at 10:30am, to be exact) I finished my design degree! Four whole years of tertiary study and I'm all done woo! Because of this, I thought that I'd make a sequel post (check out the previous one!) about all the things I learnt at university, but this time about design school specifically.


Get an Apple computer
No matter how adamant you are about how great your PC is, if you are doing a design degree you will be using a lot of Adobe products, which simply just work a whole lot better on Apple computers. I bought myself an iMac part-way through my second year as my PC laptop was on it's last leg, and it was one of the best purchases I've ever made! Also, it's a whole lot easier to have a computer or laptop to use at home, so you don't have to walk to campus in the rain or be on campus for long hours at night.

Fork out for Creative Cloud
I spent a lot of time trying to sneakily find alternatives to inDesign and Photoshop for the majority of my degree, but it was simply just a whole lot better to pay the money for Creative Cloud. What's also great is that Adobe has a Student package where you can get access to all of their programmes for NZD$16.99 rather than the usual NZD$57.99 (or NZD$22.99 per app).

Know the difference between Criticism and Critique
As creatives it is so difficult to remove ourselves from our work when getting feedback, and when we receive negative notes about it, we can take it personally. The thing is to remember that people are giving feedback against your work and not you, yourself!

"It looks cool" isn't feedback
As a carry-on from the previous tip, when you give feedback, make sure that it is useful. If you like something that someone has made, why? Is it the typeface? Why does the typeface work? If you don't like something about their work, then what is it? What element doesn't work? What could they try instead? Giving something constructive with tips or ideas can be a heck of a lot more useful than straight up non-specific compliments.

Take advantage of timetable modifications
In the first couple (out of four) years of my degree, there were a lot of people in my class which meant that there were a lot of duplicates of classes; so before each semester began we were able to pick which 'stream' of class we wanted for each paper. This was fantastic for people who had a job during the week so they could arrange to have days off (one of my friends managed to have four day weekends in our first year!) What I liked to do was to try to have just one class every day, so that I could wake up and have just that project imbedded in my mind for that 24 hours. 

Be prepared for inspiration
As we are idea generators, ideas can come to us at the worst times, often when we aren't near a computer to bust out our creations. Have an app on your phone for taking notes, have a pen and paper to do doodles on your bedside table; if you get an idea, don't let it go, it may never return!

Always have your work on your mind
The thing about being a creative is that you can be thinking about your work anywhere and anytime. Don't get me wrong, it's good to take breaks, in fact it is very necessary. Don't only work in class or immediately before and after class. Do a few hours of work every day outside of class, so that you get to learn your project inside and out, and you are able to generate ideas a lot faster because it's always in the back of your mind.

Apply for internships
Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door to the design industry whilst still being an under-graduate and not committing to a 9-to-5. This year I was lucky enough to get two internships that each ran for about six months and I learnt a lot from them. I learnt how to generate work in a short space of time and design for someone who may have different tastes/ideas to you and. I also got two awesome references from them and some work to show off on my portfolio!

Your style will change
Over the years at design school, your 'aesthetic' and 'design style' will most likely adapt and change. I went into design school with no idea what my 'style' was, but I have since come out with a sort-of style that I like to use within all of my design work. If you come to the end of your degree/certificate and you don't feel like you have a concrete aesthetic, don't worry, as a creative you continue to learn and grow post-tertiary level and beyond!

Design without communication is just decoration
I saw this written somewhere and it sums up design perfectly. In fact, my degree major is actually called 'Visual Communication Design'. If the work you produce doesn't speak, it doesn't have an underlying message, then it's just something pretty. Whether you're an illustrator, animator, graphic or spatial designer, the point of design is to not just make people think "that's cool", it's to make them think and feel, as cheesy as that sounds!


Hope you enjoyed the things that I learnt whilst being at design school! Maybe you're considering going to design school, or are already there?! I'd love to hear what you think and if you have anything different to add!

- Louise x

As a part of finishing our degrees, all of the final year Design and Fine Art students get to exhibit their Major Project work in the end-of-year Exposure exhibition! If you're near Wellington, the exhibition is open 5th to the 19th November, here's the Facebook event page to get all the know-how!

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