We asked—and, boy, did you answer. In the first ever ARCADE Design Education Survey, readers shared their stories, opinions, wisdom and advice from their formative years in the academy. Below you’ll find select responses to the survey. Enjoy!
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Better to think of yourself less as a “building” or “product” or “landscape” designer than as someone who “takes an interest in the ratio of the way things are to the way they could be.”
—DANIEL FRIEDMAN, Dean + Professor, University of Washington, College of Built Environments
I think my dad tried to give me this advice, and I didn’t understand it until I was a more experienced professional: Find connections that don’t feel forced—the ones based on genuine friendship and respect are the easiest to make, and yet most powerful tools for moving forward in your career.
—BRETT MACFADDEN, Partner, MacFadden & Thorpe
During sophomore year, a professor told us that “Your career as a designer starts now”—meaning that everyone in the class would someday be a colleague in the “real” world. It put all of us in a more professional frame of mind and made us think beyond just being a student. From that point on, we had to take our education more seriously.
—JOSH KORNFELD, President/Owner, General Assembly Product Design
“You’ll get the amount you can ask for with a straight face”—courtesy of a professional practice teacher at USC Architecture. It sounded so basic at the time, but it’s served me very well.
—ERIN WILLIAMS, Koning Eizenberg Architecture
I met Bradbury Thompson just a few years before he died. He had very clear blue eyes. He said he had heard I was writing a book. I said, yes, I had started. He looked at me piercingly with those blue eyes and said, “When you decide to stop writing it: don’t.”
—NATALIA ILYIN, Visiting Professor, Cornish College of the Arts
From the dean of an architecture school: “Get out of studio, spend some time with your friends who aren’t becoming architects. . .not only will you have more fun, but they’re your future clients.”
—MYER HARRELL, Weber Thompson Architects
What do you think design schools do well/poorly?
Design schools give students access to instructors and buy them four years of time to make mistakes in a safe environment. But schools sometimes think too much of their ability to produce great designers out of everyone while not really preparing students for real-world challenges. Also, schools could do a better job at teaching students entrepreneurship—or even attempting to teach students in this area.
—ANDI RUSU, Partner, IF/THEN
Design schools help creative students find their voice and passion. But they should also educate the whole person and not sacrifice the liberal arts for practical skills. Students need both.
—ANDY DAVIDSON, Interactive Media Producer, Golden Section
Most design schools teach students to think critically. But students need to know more about new technologies specifically, how to tailor new technologies/design methodologies to practice.
—ED PALUSHOCK, Senior Project Manager, The Miller Hull Partnership
Design schools inspire, nurture passion and create a foundation for lifelong learning. But they do not effectively deal with practical concerns.
—ED WEINSTEIN, Principal/Founder, Weinstein A|U
Design schools develop good work ethic, methods and iterative approaches to address a range of problems and various self-reflective qualities. One other thing that some schools do well is change. By change, I mean evolve over time to address the changing needs of society, market, technology, etc. Currently, I believe that many design schools focus too much on training design technicians and less on training thinkers and planners. Skills are an important part of any profession, but many schools focus an extremely large part of their curriculum on training skill-based technicians of design which may only prepare students for a very narrow field of opportunities once they leave school.
—JASON O. GERMANY, Assistant Professor, Product Design, University of Oregon
Good design schools give their students a solid foundation in both thinking and skills. With the right kind of studio project experience, students become very adept at handling complex problems through design. Design programs within universities have the advantage of richer academic offerings. Independent design colleges, if excellent, offer the advantage of more exposure to design itself. Ideally, a student should get both experiences. Schools that confuse learning software programs with design education don’t offer the right kind of foundation for deeper, ongoing learning.
—LINDA NORLEN, Associate Director, Design in Public (nonprofit organization)
What career advice would you offer to someone training as a designer today?
Design is as much a philosophy as a state of mind. Be curious and passionate in everything you do.
—MAGNUS FEIL, Assistant Professor of Industrial Design, University of Washington
Never get good at anything you don’t really like doing.
—RON VAN DER VEEN, Principal Design Leader, Seattle Office, DRL Group
What you think design is right now is likely to only slightly resemble what it will become. Tools will change, skills will change and what is valued by clients will change. Be prepared to be flexible, find conviction in your approach and work your butt off for what you believe in. That will create demand and respect.
—TIMOTHY MILLER, Senior Design Strategist, Teague, Seattle
Follow your passionate interests. There are many jealous, mean people who will discourage you, (Seattleites: Remember you live in a passive-aggressive city). Ignore them, and listen to your heart!
—PAUL BYRON CRANE, Landscape Architect/ Whole Systems Design
Learn about the things that your clients care about, so that in addition to doing the design you want to do, you can have clients to make them happen.
—LESLEY BAIN, Principal, Weinstein A|U
Be flexible. Most people don’t end up doing what they thought they would.
—GEOFF BRIGGS, Owner, I and I Design
If there’s something you want to work on, just do it! Don’t wait for cool projects to come to you, or they won’t.
—LAUREN JONG, UX Designer, Google
If you can, when you have the chance, go for the more interesting position out of school, rather than the one with better pay. That first direction can lead you down a far more rewarding path, and better money will follow.
—KRISTINE MATTHEWS, Assistant Professor of Visual Communication Design, University of Washington and Owner/Director, Studio Matthews
Get ready to learn until you die. The world (literally, the environment itself) is changing as never before, and its dragging countries, economies, companies and technological development along with it. Designers who want to keep bringing home the bacon are going to have to continually re-prove their mettle by satisfying new user needs, using new technologies, following different economic models, all while geopolitical manufacturing dominance
shifts from the West to the East and then to North Africa and beyond.
—DOMINIC MUREN, Lecturer, University of Washington
—AUGUST DE LOS REYES, Senior Director, Samsung
Stay loose and be ready to immediately jump on any interesting opportunity that presents itself!
—LANCE WALTERS, Assistant Professor of Architecture, University of Hawaii
Seek out ways to develop your verbal and written communication skills. These become even more important in practice.
—KIRSTEN MURRAY, Owner/Principal, Olson Kundig Architects
Learn the history of the design that inspires you. Travel and see places and things. Study language, the arts, other cultures. Learn to see through other eyes.
—CHRISTOPHER OSOLIN, Owner/Principal/Espresso Maker, Replinger Hossner Osolin Architects
Make sure this is really what you want to do. There is very little money in it.
—CHRISTOPHER LEWIS, Partner Lewis + Smith LLC
You will design many more things than you think you will. You absolutely must take an interest in technology and how it is shaping our lives. Graphic design is not just pretty-making.
—ALYSHA NAPLES, Design Manager, Hewlett-Packard Labs
Aim for the top. Being a designer with real influence can be the best career ever. Being a middling designer taking orders will become boring very quickly.
—ANNE TRAVER, Designer and Affiliate Assistant Professor, University of Washington