In November, I wrote a short list of things I learned in Design School. I graduated from Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) in spring 2011 and decided to take a look back, evaluating what I had learned during my 3 years there. While many of my high expectations regarding university were crushed upon starting my degree (you know, how university is supposed to be about dedicated teachers imparting some great knowledge and wisdom to their students), I DID learn some useful things through sometimes harsh, other times enjoyable lessons.
Here’s the second part, and 3 more valuable lessons I learned while attending Design School:
4. Design for your clients, not for yourself
You would think that university is about creativity and breaking the rules, and I wouldn’t blame you. I thought that as well. But the more I worked on design projects, the more I discovered that teachers often expected rather precise things from their students, no matter how much they claimed to be open minded.
Don’t take me wrong; I was no perfect student and I’m not blaming my teachers for all the Bs and the few Cs I got in university. That would be arrogant. However I did end up receiving low grades on projects my teachers frowned upon even if they had been, for me, a real success and accomplishment.
I had gotten it wrong; university is just like real life. The client’s taste and opinion is what matters most when you work for someone. Even if you successfully convince a client to adopt your idea, you cannot force it on them or they will retaliate with some nasty comment or reaction, as great your concept may be. I learned in university that the person commissioning the work should be the one to be the most pleased, not me.
Considering that, not every work you will do will be a masterpiece but since your clients are paying, it only makes sense that they are happy with what they get in the end. If you can’t deliver the merchandise (it has happened to me; there are things I simply refuse to design), then turn down the contract. You will lose money but you will keep your pride.
5. Better late than never
This one is sort of obvious but I thought I would include it anyway: Deadlines. Finishing a project on time, whether you are a student, freelancer or employee, is the best thing you can do. You don’t want to anger your boss, whoever that might be. Sometimes though, something will go wrong and you will need more time to complete your project than you initially thought. It happens, it’s life. The best thing to do then is to warn your client or teacher about it and tell the truth. By truth I mean not that you were sitting on your ass doing nothing for a week, but that you encountered some unexpected difficulties (yes, sometimes gathering motivation to work is a difficulty…) and you need some more days to finish the project. Most clients/teachers will be understanding and gladly give you a few more days to complete your work.
Of course some will not be happy. At all. Then again it’s to be expected; they’re commissioning you and you can’t deliver the merchandise on time. Half of my teachers were ready to fail me if I handed my work as much as an hour late. With them I threaded carefully. But if you must be late and nothing can change that fact, well I still stand by my position; hand-in the work later rather than never, unless the teacher tells you to your face you are already failed.
It’s really the exact same in real life. If you hand-in a work that is late because of your own fault, but which you know will blow your client’s mind, then they might forgive you. It’s worth trying. It has worked for me. The alternative is much worse; handing in nothing and losing your client’s (or teacher’s) respect and trust. It’s the last thing you want, trust me.
6. Trust your eyes and instinct
One great teacher told me once that the best way to avoid making flaws while designing was to trust your eyes and instinct. There are many rules about what a balanced and good composition should be like, what colors should go together and which ones shouldn’t, how the text should be positioned, how a person’s head should never be cut, etc. In the end though, it suffices to take a step back, look at your design and ask yourself: “does it look right?”. If you’re not sure, then there’s probably something wrong in your design. If not, then you’re most likely on the road to visual success (unless you have vision impairment – then scrap this whole point about trusting your eyes… sorry mate).
If you are a designer, artist or photographer, it’s probably because you have an eye for art and composition, or at least a potential to develop. Knowing the technicalities of the field and the rules is definitely helpful but in the end, trust yourself and your intuition.