To School or Not to School

Education undeniably changes us. Learning new things completely alters our perception of life and the world around us.

But formal academic training is a touchy subject for some people. Going to school to learn a discipline is still not an option for everyone.

As someone who has worked in the graphic design field for quite some time without an advanced degree, I understand that self-education is not to be underestimated.

But just how far can this type of training get you in life before you reach an impasse?

This is one of the big questions in the world of graphic design: is design school worth the time, money and effort? Does it pay off?

We have all heard tales of such self-taught design heroes as David Carson, who single-handedly ushered in a new era of digital design. He didn’t go to design school. He had a gift and was disciplined enough to refine it.

But is Carson’s extraordinary story relevant to us? Is there even an answer to the question of whether design school is actually worth it?


Why Go to School?

We have to consider this question in the right context. Not all graphic designers want to pursue the same career path.

In today’s market especially, art and design are such diverse fields that colleges are finding it more and more difficult to keep their curricula up with the changes.

When I was going to school, my program focused mainly on print and had only two classes on web design. Now, only a few years later, almost all of the jobs I am offered are web-related.

Designers not only are expected to be aware of design principles and how to apply them to physical forms, but are also often expected to have detailed knowledge of many other subjects, including:

  • Coding
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • PHP
  • RSS feeds

The acronyms are enough to make your head spin. Many top design schools still do not cover even the basics of these modern aspects of design. For example, Yale’s graphic design program does not have a single class covering web design.

This makes sense if design is studied as theory. Design principles are somewhat universal. However, it means that students have to obtain further education in their field of choice.


Degrees Help

I recently spoke to a colleague of mine who graduated from the graphic design program at Yale. I asked him where he learned his Flash, Dreamweaver and PHP skills, which are the cornerstone of his business and account for most of his income.

He told me that he got all of his knowledge of web design from free online tutorials. Hearing this, I asked whether he regretted spending so much money on his education at Yale.

He quickly responded that the contacts and portfolio that he built at Yale led directly to his success in business. He did admit when pressed, though, that he considers his MFA unnecessary for the actual work that he does.


Degrees Don’t Matter

Yale or Parsons or SCAD or NYU may be one person’s foot in the door to design success, but what about those of us who don’t have the opportunity to attend such prestigious institutions. Is our design career toast?

Let’s look at another example. A few years ago, I met Andrea Campbell, now Art Director of Orange Element in Baltimore. She told me that when she considers someone for a position, she bases her decision on the interview and the applicant’s portfolio, and that’s it.

If the position is an upper-level one, she also makes sure the applicant has some experience under their belt. But degrees don’t matter. Those words, degrees don’t matter are now stuck in my mind.

Here are some key points to remember:

  • Emphasize your portfolio. It is the key to your success.
  • If you are interested in a position, ask someone at the agency if you can send your work over. If they like what they see, you might just get an interview, even if you haven’t gone to Yale.
  • The most important thing is to know what you’re doing. If your portfolio looks good and you can talk design, you will be considered for the position.


Gaining an Edge

Getting your foot in the door is not the only battle, though. The job market is tough, and the graphic design field is extremely competitive.

According to Linda Katz , an employment specialist, the key to gaining traction in the job market is to have an edge. For graphic designers, that edge could be different things, but the main challenge is to show the employer why you are the best person to fill that position.

The simple truth is that, in some situations, a college degree is an edge.

Another fact to remember, especially if you’re a freelancer, is that teaching is one of the best side occupations.

Teaching pays well, and some colleges even offer benefits to their long-term adjunct faculty. Freelancers often need this, but a degree is almost always required for these teaching positions.


No School?

But let’s say design school is not an option for you. Perhaps your situation doesn’t allow it. Perhaps you’ve already gone to school for something else and don’t want to go back. Or perhaps college just isn’t your thing.

Whatever the reason, fear not. Many successful graphic designers are self-taught. In fact, skipping design school has some definite advantages. You learn how to educate yourself; you avoid a big debt; and you can take advantage of market segments that are not over-saturated.

I know of several designers who, upon finishing school, did not learn how to self-educate. Either you quickly learn to adapt and update your knowledge of the field or you quickly become obsolete.

Graphic design changes rapidly. If you don’t pay attention almost constantly, you can easily lose your competitive edge.


No Problem

What kinds of opportunities are available for graphic designers who have chosen not to go to design school? Some of the best ones are often overlooked. For example, outsourced work from big agencies.

Big agencies often make short-term commitments with designers to see if they are a good fit. Because the position is not permanent, they often pay less attention to degrees and more to the quality of work.

Another opportunity is direct competitive design. This is a growing model for many online graphic design studios. The most well-known example is CrowdSpring. CrowdSpring allows any designer to submit mockups for the projects listed on its website.

At the end of a competition, the client chooses the designer whose work they like best. I have gotten some work through CrowdSpring, and it is a wonderful opportunity to get criticism and feedback.

It is also a potentially good money-maker. One of my colleagues makes an excellent salary solely from his CrowdSpring work. He treats it like a full-time job. He puts in 40 hours a week and treats each client as if they had hired him for the design. He makes $60,000 a year, and his degree is in business administration!

In the end, you can do very well without going to design school, if you know what you’re doing.


Know Your Stuff

One of the biggest challenges of forgoing a traditional education is to actually get an education at all.

Self-taught designers must be extremely well disciplined. In addition, they must have the resources to be able to study graphic design and learn any skills they will need. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. We’re so used to finding everything instantly that we forget the importance of internalizing information.

  • Attention to detail is of utmost importance. People will judge you harshly because you don’t have a degree, so you have to show them why they are wrong. Know your design principles and practice them well, and the critics will shut up pretty quickly. In addition to tutorials and online information, read books on graphic design. Some recent research-based design books introduce new principles that are here to stay.
  • Like it or not, people have a bias for academia. You need to prove why being self-taught gives you an edge to better engage your audience. Don’t forget the importance of the portfolio as a tool to earn people’s trust in your skills. In addition to conventional projects, make sure to showcase work that is somewhat academic in nature and that shows off your knowledge of sound design principles.

Again, if you know what you’re talking about, people will listen to you and respect you.



Whether or not you have a degree, remember that you are a graphic designer; to maintain your standards and keep up with developments in the field, self-education is imperative.

Good designers forever seek out resources to update and hone their skills. The Internet is a vast bank of shared knowledge; you just have to know where to look.

Aside from free resources online, classes won’t set you back too much. The classes I teach in graphic design and typography at McWeadon Education, for example, are college level but cost only $99 each. Similarly, offers inexpensive online classes taught by seasoned professionals.

Not all professionally written resources cost money, either and there are literally endless resources online.


Google Tips

Google is often the best place to start pinning down resources and sorting them by subject. Be specific in your searches.

For example, if you need free resources, be sure to include the word “free” in your search. You can often find exactly what you are looking for by phrasing your query right. For example, “standard packaging templates” would probably return jumbled results. But “standard package design templates for Adobe Illustrator” would return more helpful websites.

The same is true of web design. If you need a specific code for a website, don’t just search for “HTML code.” You would quickly get lost in the sea of information. Try something like “HTML code for bullet points” or whatever it is you are looking for.

Also, remember to archive good information when you find it. Bookmarks are great, but if you have space, save the pages on your hard drive. Information, especially on blogs and message boards, can disappear rather quickly.


Plenty of Hard Work to Go Around

We must always remember that good design communicates something.

Training ourselves to be able to research and develop solutions to design problems that we face every day is essential. Training is the launching point for any successful career in design.

Whether at school, at work or on the Internet, continually expanding our knowledge base is crucial, not only to keep up with changes but to maintain the edge we need to win clients and wow employers.

Going to design school and self-educating both take dedication and effort. Even the best curriculum doesn’t contain everything you need to succeed. Gaining that edge entails crafting your own personal program of sustained education.

Written exclusively for WDD by Christian Hurst. He has an MFA in Graphic Design. He is currently senior designer at Kristag Design and teaches graphic design at McWeadon Education.

Did you attend a school or are you self educated designer?  How has your choice impacted your career?

  • jarvo

    Enjoyed this article. It gave me some reassurance since I am turning my hobby of coding into a career. Not the same topic but same idea :)

  • matt

    Great article! I am in the midst of deciding between the formal or self-teaching route, or a mix of both. It was nice to see this issue touched upon!

  • Rahul – Web Guru

    Degrees do help to a lot of extent, but at the end of the day it is the experience that counts.

    • Tylor

      I absolutely loved the way you summed this up. Thank you :)

  • Mike Smith

    Really good article. I wrote about this recently actually and explained 10 things your college degree won’t do for your freelance business. I never graduated high school but have been self taught since around 13-14 years old.

    A hands on, learning as fast as you want approach is best in my opinion. And with the huge resources out there like WDD, Smashing Magazine, Noupe, Spyre Studios and others, it’s not hard to pick up the basics and the advanced items required to design full time in a very short amount of time.

  • shondra03

    very good article

  • ddub

    I agree that some people have natural ability and a degree doesn’t always matter. I must say though, that as a designer with a degree, I get frustrated VERY quickly by the general public’s notion that anyone who purchases Photoshop can call themselves a graphic designer. Designing doesn’t make you a designer any more than taking a photo makes you a photographer. We’ve all had that client who wants us to incorporate a logo that their cousin/hairdresser/friend/niece “designed” and it can be a challenge to redirect their thinking to the idea that graphic design is a specialized skill that, let’s be honest, does require some form of training. Whether that is a college degree or a series of online tutorials may not matter in the long run, but it can sometimes be difficult for trained designers to dispel the idea that just anyone who likes to doodle can make a career of graphic design.

    • adam

      I agree with you, there are uneducated folks calling themselves as graphic designers, and it’s annoying that they put themselves on the same category of yours. However I don’t mind them. If they lack of knowledge or talent, they just can’t show an adequate quality portfolio or work (legally), and the serious employers and principals will choose the designer with an adequate portfolio. I state that amongst the many designers their portfolio is their ranking.

      After reading this article I decided to wait one or two years between my high school and college studies and concentrate on self studying and building connections. It helped me understand why the college study is important, but not not sufficient.
      I’m a 19 year-old entrant graphic designer with self studied knowledge and few reference.

      • vnikey

        I also agree with ddub.

        But as much as I would wish to think that “If they lack of knowledge or talent, and the serious employers and principals will choose the designer with an adequate portfolio” this is unfortunately rarely the case in real.

        When a company turns to a graphic designer, it usually has no idea of good or bad design as long as it’s called design, and at this point the only matter is the price of the service… so it often happens (and I have witnessed it) that amateur graphic designers get the job because they are cheaper as they have no degree… and this is very sad in my opinion.

    • Al Hunt

      I agree with ddub. While I’ve only completed 1/2 of a certificate in internet production (not in design) with the next half to be done later this year, having any kind of formal focus will put me ahead of the next guy who doesn’t (IF both of us have exactly the same experience and education background!). I have a red seal in Carpentry, that is I’m formally educated and trained to be a carpenter. I’ve seen many carpenters who have done the ‘buy a hammer and an apron, now I’m a carpenter” and are the worst examples of carpenters and actaully put clients at risk due to their lack of education or experience. NOPE. Scratch that–it’s completely a lack of education. I’ve also witnessed incredible contractors who didn’t finish any formal training at all and yet are incredibly responsible and well rounded carpenters. But the former far outweigh the latter. As it happens, I also have a degree in Nursing. Same thing as carpenters. Some nurses, well, I can’t figure out how they ever got through biology. But somehow they did and now they can say they are a Nurse. Other Nurses, say like Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), have much more knowledge than any RN. In the case of Nurses, the latter outweigh the former. Not many Nurses with a degree that can’t cut it professionally. I’ve been programming since 1981. No formal training at all. I decided a year ago I wanted to start designing websites. The formal focus of education was the right thing for me to do. But if it isn’t right for the next person, what could it hurt?

  • Jay

    I think that you are onto something here. College is just a place where people pay other people to read to them. Self directed learning to improve oneself I think is better then the stuff you pay for.

    Keep up the great write ups and I hope to come across you again in the future.

  • Mokume

    Deciding against a degree is not always the easiest way. Possibly you have to work twice as hard to be taken serious by your customers.

  • zeemiDesign

    I’m a self educated designer and I think this has several advantages: You can focus on what you really need and want to learn, you can gain experience while working and you are able to adapt quickly to the market.
    If you are working as a freelance designer it hardly matters if you have a degree or not, everybody is looking at your portfolio and not at your degree.
    On the other hand, if you want to get hired it is quite an advantage to have some degree related to your field of work. There are also big differences from country to country. In the United Kingdom the quality of your work is as an example much more important than your degree, in France and Germany things look a lot different.

    In the end everyone has to find the right way to go by himself. One thing is for sure though, either way you’ll always have to continue learning.

  • Web Design Maidstone Kent

    Not knocking a formal education but how many of history’s great icons had a relevant qualification in their field? No 1st class degree in music for John Lennon, no college graduation for John Steinbeck. My point is whilst it can be useful to be aware of principles and techniques, too much knowledge can stiffle creativity… the technical stuff anyone can do, the ideas are harder.Enjoyed the article!

  • Michale Austin

    Love the post!

    I my self have no formal training. I grew up rather poor and couldn’t afford to go to any college at all. by the time I was 16 I was working full time and had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I did get the chance as a teen to make websites for my high school and found this very enjoyable. By my twenties I knew what I wanted to do and spent many years trying to become a graphic designer / web designer.

    About 7 years ago I took a job that let me have the title of graphic designer but with no pay :(… I was only 21 so it really didn’t mater. After many years of ups and down, trying to work for other or doing it myself ( my not so failed but not so successful attempt at a company )
    I now get payed at the highest end of the graphic design pay scale doing work as a director, consultant, and yes finally as a graphic designer/ web designer.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is well if its something you want really really bad you can do it. Degree or no degree! so if this is what you love keep it up and never let any thing get in your way!
    -Michael Austin

  • Michale Austin

    Might I add, I have had to work my butt off! I didn’t just skate by with no degree. But I let life be my college and I take every day as a learning experience and try even harder to make my self better at everything I do.

  • Vipin

    Hey great article.. Best fitted to me!!!
    Thanks for the post..

  • Ross Kimbarovsky


    I enjoyed your article and much thanks for mentioning crowdSPRING. I’ve been thinking about this same issue recently – not specific to design – but generally. Is education or practical experience better? I’m not sure there’s a clear answer that’s right for everyone, but you’ve done a nice job highlighting the benefits of education for some and more importantly, explaining why education isn’t critical. As you’ve written, there are many remarkable graphic designers who don’t have formal education in graphic design.

    I’ve shared a link to this post with the crowdSPRING community – it’s an important subject for all young designers (and aspiring designers) – thanks for taking the time to write about it.


    Ross Kimbarovsky

    • Christian Hurst

      Thanks! I love crowdSPRING, it is a great place to hone our skills as designers. I love posting projects and getting feedback, it keeps me sharp.

      I recommend it to everyone I can, as a way to continue design education.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  • Jay


    That is very true. I know many people that didn’t go to college that have that exact issue. Some people are held back by college. What I mean, the people who start early in life instead of going to college have to work harder.

    If the people who have to work harder are smart about it they could build an amazing work ethic and provide quality at whatever they are doing. I as always taught to be the best at what you do. You could make a million dollars selling ping pong balls if you were good enough.

    To make it short, I see where you are coming from Mokume

  • Bryant

    Are people able go to our and learn many technical skills by just reading and teaching themselves? Yes, obviously. Are people able to teach themselves enough skills to make a living and be sucessfull? Yes, but should everyone do that… I don’t think so.

    For all the technical things you learn in College is it also much more than “a place where people pay other people to read to them”, as Jay mentioned above. College and Higher Educational Institutes are a places to learn, understand, communicate, network, and develop yourself in a well rounded educational experience.

    I’d say I learned about 1/3 of my technical programming skills at school, and the other 2/3 from apply them in actual work experience, however when I was in school I also learn so much other information that I can apply to my career that I never would have gotten if I would have not attended school.

    Current I am a web developer, so everyday I’m working with HTML/CSS/JS/PHP/ASP/ASP.NEt etc.. but at school I learned about systems architecture, database administration, relational db mapping, object oriented coding structures, network and internet security, not to mention all of my business classes like finance, accounting, etc.. AND on top of that all of my elective classes.

    I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal at all, but there is a lot to say for a well rounded education that too many people think they can get around because they are able to also find the information online. And personally for me, the more education I get the more I want, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone who has gone on and gotten more education come back afterward and regretted the decision.

    • Christian Hurst

      Good point, I think self education can go as far as people will allow it, as long as they have the dedication and determination to motivate themselves forward.

      Some people need the rigid agenda that school provides, some people thrive more in an informal environment. It just depends on the individual.

      Thanks for the post!

  • Adam

    Good post.I went to school for digital media and at the time the program was fairly new maybe just a couple years. I already had a good amount of knowledge as far as how to use programs, and a pretty decent eye for design. I was hoping college would help me evolve more and teach more things that I hadn’t already learned but that didn’t seem to be the case. Most of the professors seemed lost as well as upper classmates and everything was basically buy a book do a project out of the chapter and turn it in. I might as well have just gone through online tutorials to accomplish the same thing and save a lot of money.I think school is good to get a general understanding, but I don’t think creativity can be taught and the only way to really evolve is to push yourself and put in as much effort as you can. That being said, after I graduated and started working, I realized now there are some really good design schools out there such as RIT who seem to be pushing out pretty good designers fresh out of school.

    • Christian Hurst

      That is a good point. School can be a helper in some situations and a hindrance in others.

      Thanks for the post!

  • Jacklyn

    Great article! I think going to school has helped me a lot. I’m a Mass Communication major w/a concentration in Internet Technology and a minor in Graphic Design. Though I must admit that neither has helped me as far as web designing goes. So, I feel a little cheated. I’m really worried about getting a job when I graduate. I really don’t want to freelance because I really don’t have any experience whatsoever. I would like to work with a firm, but my portfolio isn’t that great. College is great, but I should have researched other schools first before settling for something close to home.

    • kim

      I understand completely what you are going through. I only recently graduated from a school that gave me enough knowledge and experience to barely keep my head above the water. The truth of the matter is that most people do not use their degree, they gain the experience elsewhere. I have only used a little of the design skills I learned the rest I have been learning on my own and from those around me. What might help is looking into internships. They don’t expect you to be experienced and to have a huge portfolio. It looks excellent on your resume and will help you learn and gain experience that you need. Plus everyone goes through that panic phase where you don’t think you are ready for the world but I’m sure you will surprise yourself.

  • Kent

    Wow, what an important article to read through. I must say I’m really on the fence on this issue and there’s certainly no right answer for everyone. Personally, I graduated from college but not with a design or computer science degree so I guess I technically count as self-taught. I worked freelance and campus development jobs all through college but found it nearly impossible to find work after graduating. I was almost always rejected because I didn’t have a degree related to the work, even if I was already overqualified for the job. I guess the point is that it’s easy enough to teach yourself the tools of the trade but without a diploma to back it up it can be very tough to convince others you’re qualified. A great portfolio helps, but keep in mind that a lot of HR workers setting up interviews and contracting freelancers simply will throw away any application that doesn’t meet the education requirement. Even if you don’t think you need a formal education, unfortunately most others will think you do.

  • Robert van Hoesel

    Im still on high school. I already decided for myself that college won’t help me. But I have a question. Going to high school is obligated in my country. Should is screw up high school and spent time on designing. Or should I pay atention on school?

    • Christian Hurst

      Even with graphic design skills you will still need a well-rounded education. I always say it is impossible to design in a vacuum. Or, in other words, as designers we need as much information as possible on a variety of different subjects in order to fuel our creativity. It is important to pay attention and study in as many areas of education as possible, you never know what clients you are going to have to design for.

      Thanks for the post!

    • Laura

      As a designer, you will need to know a little bit about everything, otherwise you will find answering briefs very difficult. Also, if you are going to apply for full time positions, not have the basic education will really set you back. I’d recommend knuckling down for a few years and then concentrate on design once you’ve finished school. You’ll be doing yourself a favour in the long run.

    • Ivan Novak

      If you want to be a designer (or anything at all) you will need to be able to communicate your ideas succinctly and with precision. No matter who you are, if you are unable to communicate effectively with little to no grammar and spelling mistakes, you will always look unprofessional.

      Pay attention in school. Reading, writing and arithmetic are the most important and will develop your critical thinking skills properly.

    • Treavioli

      Finish school! A high school degree is good to have just in case your design career does not work out.

    • Jasmyn Madison

      Getting an education is always important, especially high school!!! If not for learning about your field or intended career, then for learning how to think.

      That is the purpose of education: it teaches you how to think.

      That’s why a lot of people with a college education tend to do better than those that don’t. There is sometimes a higher level of thought-process. College also teaches you a lot about yourself because you interact with so many people and get to see so many new and different things. Never underestimate the value of education. No, it’s not for everyone, but it always has a benefit.

    • Al Hunt

      any job done well requires both education and experience. Most educational program certificates, degrees etc. are really door openers that will allow you to apply for jobs that experience alone may not let you. But to not graduate high school will turn out to be a door closer for anyone who is young and not experienced.

  • Jessica B

    My degree is highly valuable — to me. I would do my degree in philosophy over again – a million times over again. But it did not help me in my career as a web dev and designer. With that said, because I work at a university and can take classes at a steep discount, I am considering doing classes informatics and graphic design (I’ve never had a formal design class)… just for fun.

  • vj

    I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the nice post.

  • Damian

    $60k a year from Crowdspring – I doubt that very much. I can’t believe designers are prepared to work for nothing and then hope that someone ‘rewards’ them for the designs they have created. I can’t think of another industry where this would happen.

  • Christian Hurst

    Thanks for the great posts everyone!

  • designfollow

    thanks for this for info.

    Does not have the best of the designer self-reliant

  • Mason Sklut

    Really well done article. It goes to show the success behind self-education.

  • kbllodude

    Really, really awesome post as I am just out of high school and one step into college but not really sure if made the right decission, I’ve always had passion for design, since the early days watching my brother create his college work (industrial designer graduate) when I got into high school I had pretty good knowledge on what I was doing and had alreay done a couple of web work, and as the years went by I keep self motivated and always renewing the knowledge I already had, but now I find myself asking the same question is college really worth the time and money spent? Will I just sit and listen to a bunch of crap I already know? of course not diminishing the oportunities that I will find such as networking, portfolio improvements and so on, well resuming great article really touched a crucial point in my life right now thanks!

    Oh and btw
    @Robert van Hoesel
    don’t screw up dude gotta learn how to take advantage of every situation, get involved with the website crew and get yourself into design classes I’m sure if that’s what you love then there’s no wrong place and no bad timeing to start!

    • Christian Hurst

      Thanks for the feedback. Let me know how things are working out for you. What school are you attending?

      Good luck with everything!

    • kdesign

      Like many people say, there’s no right answer for everyone, but if you do go to college, just know that it will be worth it and no, it won’t be crap you already know. You can’t walk into college thinking you know everything, because after you graduate, you’ll realize there’s still so much to learn. I graduated with an Art degree, painting and drawing all day, then freelancing graphic design on the side. I landed a full time graphic design job out of college four days after I graduated last year, but EVERY day I learn something new or find out about something in design that is new to me.

      You need to be as well rounded as you possibly can, and the only way to do that is to be open to learning — in the classroom or outside of it, during school and after graduation for the rest of your life. Yes people can be self taught.. I taught myself design even if I went to school for fine arts. But with resumes oftentimes being the first thing employers see, and they don’t see the degree that reassures them that you were committed enough to study, it unfortunately makes it really hard to compete with designers who do have that degree on paper. It’s just tough times right now… study as much as you can, and if you don’t go to college, know that you’ll have to excel in other ways that can only be proven by your work and confidence.

  • z0r

    About the “Degrees dont matter” – true. The problem is that many people start making their career “or business” that is not relative to their education.
    You should “To school” to gain knowledge, and not a degree.

    • Christian Hurst

      Good point, this points out the importance of self motivation and education. Whether or not one chooses a formal education it is imperative that the continuing pursuit of knowledge be a major part of their life. I have known many people who have successfully self educated in order to start a new career. And on the other hand, I have known many who have come out of school not qualified for the degree they hold.

      Learning is really the key principle here.

      Thanks for the thought.

      • z0r

        You are welcome.

  • Heidi Cool

    This post reminds me of the debate some have between the merits of a classical liberal arts education and one that is more career oriented. I’m in the liberal arts camp. I’m a Web designer/strategist with a background in marketing and a degree in Philosophy. Like Jessica I found the study of philosophy to be invaluable, but I also find that it applies to what I do now.

    Philosophy fine-tunes one’s critical thinking skills and helps one to look at a problem from a variety of perspectives. If one tactic doesn’t seem to be working, you approach it from another angle. All of that applies to marketing and design as well. And it keeps one looking for new solutions and interested in the ongoing pursuit of learning. In a field like this, one that continuously evolves, that quest to keep learning is integral.

    When I look at the source code for a site by someone who claims to be an SEO expert and see that they’re keyword stuffing—but have left off page titles, or a designer who is using tables and font codes instead of CSS, I see someone who has stopped that quest for knowledge, and is still doing things the way they learned to back in 1996.

    This of course ties into the importance of teaching yourself—on an ongoing basis. My years in college were some of the best in my life. I was exposed to a variety of ideas and people that greatly influenced who I am now. Higher education was a great fit for me, and a choice I never questioned—thankfully I also had scholarships. But it may not be right for others. No matter how we go about it, the point is to keep learning and to keep taking new challenges that will help you do so.

    I didn’t learn about color theory, typography or HTML in my contemporary analytic philosophy class. (Though I did take art and film classes that would contribute to design knowledge) I learned basic print design skills (from keylining on a light table and using a stat camera, to Photoshop and Pagemaker) working in the marketing department of a publishing firm. We had a small team and I found ways of helping out our designer so I could learn from her. In time I was designing book covers and brochures. I taught myself HTML in the early 1990’s because I wanted to know how it worked, and because back then they weren’t teaching it in school. It was too new.

    When I wanted to learn Flash I started trying to teach myself, but found it wasn’t as easy to pick up an hour at a time as HTML had been. So I took a class at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and that gave me a good framework from which to work.

    So my education has been a combination of formal schooling (though not in my field) and self-teaching. This blend worked for me.

    In the end though I think if you study what interests you, whether through formal education or on your own, you’ll gain deeper insights and knowledge that will offer both results in the long run and satisfaction throughout the process.

    I’ll leave a note to Robert van Hoesel as well. Keep up with school, you never know what you may pick up that may apply later. I did a project once where I had to do illustrations of a particular type of rod used in paper-making for a company Web site. I had to relearn trigonometry to draw the curves on the rod to the correct proportions. This would have been far more complicated if I’d not first learned it in 11th grade. Aside from that, look for opportunities at school where you can apply your design skills. Get involved with the school paper or yearbook, help with publicity for clubs and events, get creative with visual aids when giving presentations. If you think about ways you can use design in the classroom it may make it more interesting.

    • Christian Hurst

      Thanks for the post.

    • Al Hunt

      Great reply Heidi!

  • Aneliya

    Well, this really was a great post!

    I have my diploma in industrial design.

    I am on the same point of view – the diploma shows that you were capable to finish your career and, personally, I WOULD DO IT AGAIN, if I had to start over… I did not graduate from Yale or some University with a world fame, I have finished my career in a small not really famous University, but I had the chance to visit a lot of countries in the time I was studying and seeing it REAL – all the theories that we were listening to in the classrooms etc… That HELPED A LOT!

    So, guys that are wondering whether to attend or not a college – I would say: “Better do it!” It is not a waste of time!

    Good Luck in designing!

  • Karol K.

    I probably shouldn’t be saying this but (sadly) I use my degree only for getting some instant credibility. When it comes to actual work – it’s irrelevant, because I mostly use the knowledge I’ve obtained on my own. But that’s just me…

  • ignitionlab

    Whilst many seen to have natural ability to create great design straight out of the box, I think a degree helps in gaining a better understanding of methodology behind design elements. From my experience, I found my degree opened up more possibilities to work within different fields related to design. My route was slighly different as I did two years at college, followed by another two years at Uni to get my honours degree. The two years at college allowed me to focus on software skills and basic design principles whilst the two years at Uni allowed me to focus more on methodology. If there was a subject that wasnt included at Uni that I was interested in, I would always find time to find out more that subject including it in my work when possible to show that I had the talent and determination to succeed.

    Uni is a great place for making contacts, since Uni I have been lucky enough to do work in the computer games industry, Elearning development and freelance web/flash design. Without Uni I dont think this would have been possible, regardless of how talented a person may be.

    Personally, I think that the ability to design can come from both natural flair and ability, but in some cases it needs to be nourished and people need to be pushed, thus allowing them to really shine through.

    If you’ve got talent straight out of the box, I would still persue the degree route, your only going to be making yourself even more employable come the time you graduate.

    • Christian Hurst

      I started at a two-year school myself.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • paul

    I really enjoyed this article!
    I have a degree in computer science, but I didn’t have any design classes, yet I just started designing websites as a freelancer.
    As for deciding if going to college or not is useful, the highly competitive market will decide for you! If you aren’t successful I suppose that means that you should spend some time getting better at desiging first.

  • Brian Jones

    Thanks for the great read Christian. I just began my web design journey this year – learning XHTMl and CSS. Now delving into the design aspect, this is very helpful information as I have contemplated back and forth “should I go to school or not”. I have heard that alot of (if not most) designers are indeed self taught and sometimes actually this gives us a little edge over someone who has schooling under their belt. Keep up the great posts and look forward to reading more from you…

  • car agmes

    Really well done article, i agree with the par that there are many people that didn’t go to college that have that exact issue.


    I think that nowadays some schools never do harm. Helping to update and some people have a diploma can help a lot. Then the work that allows you to practice your teachings. Tough and hard work. Nice post.

  • Derek Pennycuff

    Well written and well reasoned. :)

    I have an Associates of Applied Science in Web Development Technology, a Bachelors of Science in Web Design, and I’m a few months away from a Masters of Arts in Communication and Technology.

    All of that has very little to do with the quality of my work. I’ve been lucky enough to encounter a handful of brilliant professors. But I’ve learned just as much from and been just as inspired by sources like A List Apart and books like Don’t Make Me Think. Formal education has just been another resource at my disposal and compared to most other resources a very pricey one both in terms of dollars and hours.

    I’d like to teach some day. I think I would enjoy it and maybe even be good at it. Education in the field of web design is in a sorry state at the moment. Even The Chronicle of Higher Education picked up the research on that topic done by Leslie Jensen-Inman (also in an article at A List Apart). But with all the work going into resources like the Opera Web Standards Curriculum and the Open Web Education Alliance, it’s an exciting time for both educators and self taught designers.

    My only worry is 10 years ago when I first started teaching myself about web design and development, it wasn’t such a hot topic. I think that helped me cut through the information glut. Chances are, if someone was writing about CSS before 2001, they knew what they were talking about. Now, a nice looking blog is no reason to trust what’s published there. Chances are it’s someone else’s WordPress theme. And on the topic of templates, just because a template is published somewhere does not mean it follows anything resembling best practices.

    We still have plenty of great resources out there, but self guided learners just starting out are going to be ill equipped to separate the good from the bad. Resources on javascript were a lot like that for me, and I think it held back my ability to develop skills in javascript by 3 to 5 years. Even server side programming came easier because the available documentation was more consistent.

    A formal education in any field should develop information literacy skills and put people on a path of life long learning. If you can find a program that can help you do that, I don’t think it matters if the word “web” appears on your diploma or not. And if you can pull it off on your own, I don’t think the lack of a degree will be any great liability.

  • Cameron Baney

    I went to a four year school and got a degree in Interactive Media Design. In my opinion it was worth it. While I learned new techniques at the school, I learned a lot from blogs such as Web Designer Depot. Definitely keep in touch with the community.

    I think it all depends on what you want to do for your career. Web design is a portfolio driven career, but a lot of companies are now looking for a four year degree.

  • Ray Wenderlich

    With all of the technical information now freely available online and through books, I think that self-directed education will become more and more popular moving forward for those who are motivated enough to work hard and teach themselves.

  • Sam Bishop

    I would have to say that my college education was absolutely priceless. My computer science degree did very little directly to teach me about web design and server-side development but it indirectly taught me social skills, problem solving, and how to self teach properly. The college experience is more about managing your time and priorities. Learning to balance classes, work, social life, and playing a sport for my university (25+ hours alone for this) was not easy but proved invaluable when starting my business 3 years ago.

    Also the connections I made in my college experience allowed me to start freelancing right after graduation and to play a sport professionally for 4 years. The majority of our early client work came from college connections which has either spawned repeat business or great referrals that have led to bigger and better projects.

    Just my experience and best of luck to you, young bucks!

  • RKW

    Interesting article, in that, in past interviews I have had to make the case of why my personal experience as well as education has made me a viable asset. Having had an education in some of the “best” schools in the world (masters level), I can attest to one side of the argument. My formal training was actually in Fine art and not Graphics – of which I spend the majority of my time these days doing.
    The value of the formal education is the interaction with Professors, who not only impart the history and principles of design and art in you, but also a respect for the established rules, which in turn let you break them. It’s also a great place to thrive in so far as, mingling with others of your type of personality, helping foster ideas and creating questions and the solution to those questions.
    On the flip side of it, Ive spent nearly 100k on my education and I can affirmly state that, while in one or 2 instances the schools of my study got my foot in the door, my resume and education documents really turned out to be a piece of toilet paper in the job world.
    Ive run my own studio for the better of 13 yrs now and the best thing, I believe, a design artist can do is network and, keep fresh in your skills and always retain a high level of expectation of yourself in your work. Website free information can only give you tools to use against your building blocks….not turn you into a great designer.

  • Tanner

    This is an awesome article.I have been asking myself this question a lot.
    I am about to graduate high school.
    Personally I am leaning to not going into any formal school
    and this post really helped.

    Glad to hear some opinions from someone who had really done it
    and what they thought the pro/cons were

    Thanks again,

  • Glenn

    The ironic thing is, that my school teaches me how to teach my self. I study communication and multimedia design in leeuwarden (netherlands) and that concept has been awarded several times.
    We get big projects where we work for companies and if we want to know something, we’ll ask our teachers. That way you’ll be involved in real business environments but be still in school in case anything goes wrong.
    I could really recommend that type of education.

  • Laura

    I personally started on a HND in graphic design before completing a degree in the same subject so I have had a lot of educational experience, which, yes, did teach me the principles behind good/great design, how to go about answering and fulfilling a brief, and also how to explain my work and my reasoning behind it (perhaps the hardest lesson of all). And personally, without my education I think landing a job would have been next to impossible…education is held pretty highly in the UK, unless you have LOTS of experience to compensate.

    However, although very related, I am self-taught in terms of website design and my knowledge of coding and scripting. I barely had any lessons on web-based media, and what we did get taught, looking back on it now (only two years ago), it was hilariously awful!

    So in terms of my career, my education is another string to my bow. In other words, I know printing standards (which is VERY different from web), which a lot of self taught web designers perhaps don’t know. But I agree whole-heartily with the message in this post, if you stop learning when in the design field, your very much done for!

    Thank you for the post. Its been a great read.

  • jack

    Thanks to internet you can learn fast and stay on the edge easily. Specially in graphic/web design business. In my country you must work really hard to earn respect without any degree. Only thing you can show is your work and it needs to be good! Usually you need years of experience too. Ofcourse there are these talents who works for big agencies at the age of 16, some agencies browse actively sites like deviant and behance for new talents.

    With good grades from school you automatically earn some trust from people who don’t really know this business. I’ve heard many times clients saying “It’s not excactly what I wanted, but what do I know? He’s been in art school for 7 years he knows what he is doing (or she).”

    If you are good with photoshop or pen and paper but you don’t really know what is graphic design, what it really means, what is this business (which is pretty often the case) go to school and soon your eyes will open. It’s also very important to learn some history behind graphic design, typography and art in general. You’ll make new contacts and gain important knowledge at the same time.

    I’d say it takes years of hard work to be a great graphic designer no matter if you go to school or learn by yourself. And learning does not end after school time and technology goes so fast forward you need to stay on the cutting edge.

  • Christian Hurst

    Thanks for all the posts. There really is no black and white answer to the question of whether or not formal education is the way to go is there? It is all contextual.

    Education, on the other hand, is not optional.

    • kd

      Thanks for this post. It was very insightful.

      I’ve been debating back and forth about whether or not I should go to grad school for my MFA in Design. I graduated with an Art studio degree, and have been working as a junior level designer for the past two years. I constantly read and try as much to keep up to date with design by the books and blogs I come across but somehow wonder still if being in that graduate level atmosphere might be a good idea (or worth it, as some would say). I think of the connections I could make, but graduate school is so terribly expensive and that makes me wonder if my chances of working for IDEO (for example) are less than a graduate student’s who went to school and made those networks. I also wonder if it would be required for me to get my MFA in design if I wanted to teach sometime in the future? I’d appreciate any opinions or advice you might have! Thanks in advance.

  • HArry

    I have worked with many artists that didn’t study typography, color theory, layout, etc. They are able to produce graphics at a high production level, but when it comes to design, they are weak. I believe that talent is something that you are born with, but you still need to learn how to apply your skills and talents in a creative and interesting manner. This can be learned through formal education.

  • Craig Watkins

    Great post! Lots of great points in the comments.

    In my opinion, higher education is great to teach you a little about life, starting and finishing something and is usually a great first step out “on your own” in a somewhat safe environment.

    Having been a design communications major who has a lot of hours but no degree due to lacking funds, I’m kind of divided. My education in design principles was solid, but other than that my course of study didn’t teach me squat about the industry itself and what being a designer is really like. The teachers were great, but too far removed from the industry to really know where it was going. I’m sure that problem is much worse now considering how fast things change these days.

    I’ve never had a problem finding a job with some formal education but no piece of paper. I’ve hardly ever even been asked about my schooling. As some people have said, it’s all about your portfolio. (And maybe somewhat about your personality and how you can deal with people and the pressure.) You either have it or you don’t. College should be valued for the overall experience, but is not necessarily required to be a good and successful designer.

  • Treavioli

    Great article. Very reassuring since I just dropped my design major. I’ve studied design for 3 years but was unable to complete my degree because of my financial situation. Although the decision not to complete my degree was really hard (3 months of gathering opinions, facts, success stories (I’m thorough)), I feel that I am very competent about design. I have enough skill to do well and a potential portfolio to back it up. I haven’t gotten a job or an internship yet but I’m optimistic that I will soon.

    Thanks again for the article and advice.

  • Aman Anderson

    Im finding twitter to be a great resource. Especially following absolutely all or as much as possible of the design sites. Actually this article was in my Twitter feed :) Welcome to Twitter University.

    • Sara

      I am currently at this crossroad, and I feel like I have learned so much from these posts! It’s hands down the best ROI I have ever received from a “free” service. This helps relieve some of the pressure I feel to finish school, without of course receiving any financial aid.

      Love it,


  • Tim

    I went to college and earned a 4 year degree. It has in no way directly helped me with my current career, other than helping me get an interview with the company I currently work for. However, I still consider my education and experiences in college to be some of the most important influences in who I am as a person today and I would gladly go back again if I had a choice. The only formal education that I would say has directly helped me in my job were some programming classes I took in high school and college, not that I used those languages, but the programming basics, software design principles, etc. I learn were very useful when it came time for picking up other languages. Most of what I know came from self teaching and the experience of doing though.

    I think a lot of what you get out of college depends on the school/program you’re in and the professors teaching you. Pretty much any field you go into though you will need extra training, either through your job or from yourself. I don’t view the point of college as giving you a particular tangible set of skill for a job, but more so as giving you well rounded knowledge in a variety of subjects and experience to more effectively deal with things in jobs and in life in general. Even though my degree has no relevance to my job, I still use things that I learned/refined in school everyday at my job such as: dealing with stress, dealing with seemingly impossible deadlines, multitasking, working well in groups (often with people you don’t really want to work with). Not saying a formal education is the only place to pick these things up, but you pretty much have to if you want to make it through school successfully (and potential employers know this as well if you’re looking to get hired by a company as opposed to freelancing).

    Some most of the best designers I know did go to college. I don’t think it had a lot to do with their success since they were very creative and skilled before they went to college. I think college just took what they had and polished it up a little bit and gave them a place to build up a portfolio from school assignments or personal projects developed with contacts they made at school.

    tl:dr version: I think college/formal education can provide a lot of useful knowledge, experience and skills that will both directly and indirectly help you in both your career and in life. However it is not necessary and if you don’t have talent and determination all the formal education in the world won’t help you be successful.

  • Kim

    Schools are good to learn the basis but if you want to become a freelancer, they will never teach you how to sell your work.
    It is a must in graphic design, to keep on learning by yourself, it is a must to be aware of what is going on around you, to be able to evolve.
    Talent and passion are never taught, you have it or not. If you don’t have it you will end up doing boring jobs for boring companies.

    Very iinteresting article as usual in WDD and good comments.

  • Mars

    no to school, if you only have the necessary strong fate of learning then you can achieved it from online

  • eiffair

    Lucky you are in the UK to be able to have a great career without going to school.
    It’s just impossible in France to get a job without the right degrees.

  • Alvaro Hernandorena

    I start in the design world by copying from my brother an html frames site, then a while ago my brother study flash 5 but he didn’t continued, looking at him and asking something i learned the basics of flash, besides flash 5 had some tutorials in the help menu.
    while the years passed by i learned more and more on flash, with online tutorials and the flash help.

    at the same time i learned html and finally the past year i have learned some asp and php working with databases.

    and I keep learning, but i have never study in a design school.

  • SelectedDesign

    Great articel, even because i’m currently thinking about where i see me in a few days and whether i should go to school again or try to find my own way :) thanks a lot!

  • Simon Day

    Interesting post and replies.

    I think this boils down to one thing; “Your portfolio can make or break you”.

    It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best qualifications in the World because if the person the interview room before you has a better portfolio then that person will almost certainly get the job because they’ve proved they can do the job because they’ve done it.

    When I started my web design career I created a number of websites for free or for next to nothing. Friends, family, charities, it didn’t matter to me. This had two positive impacts; It got my portfolio growing and it also expanded my knowledge.

    After I dozen sites behind me I started charging a bit more. I got better at it and charged more. Then I went freelance and contractor. I started off with small employers, then bigger and bigger until now where I’m working for a company with 36,000 employees and a web team of 1,000!

    After 12 years burning the candle both ends, having almost no social life, and learning constantly I have pretty much hit the peak.

    Regardless of qualifications the highest priority for both types is getting a strong portfolio going. Having a degree isn’t enough, you have to PROVE you can do it!

  • RoaldA

    Great article! The most important is the portofolio, how you got that portofolio does not matter. In my opinion education in it’s self are as useless as the shit under my shoe.

  • James

    Good post and ideas. I find that the majority of places teaching design and web standards these days aren’t up to date though. As the industry moves so quickly it is hard for them to keep up with it!

    In that respect I think you can learn everything you need to know by self-teaching – saying that though, everyone learns in different ways.

  • Bryce Howitson

    This was a great article with a lot of good points but don’t read it as a pass to simply skip over school. A degree might not be absolutely required to get a job but realize there’s a lot more to a career than getting a job.

    My students frequently want to know if I think they should pay for a formal education and here’s my response: “assuming you are both highly disciplined and capable of learning on your own (very few people are both), how will you know WHAT you need to learn?” Granted there is lots of information freely available for any topic imaginable but how will you know the good/valid information from the total crap? Its important to realize that a majority of the people tweeting/blogging/commenting/etc know as much or less than you do and even fewer have valid experience to backup their statements. Even if you can weed out the useful information from all the noise how will you know what topics to study or better yet that you aren’t missing that one topic that would make all the difference for you?

    I’m not sure where culture has come up with the idea that formal education is supposed to teach us everything we need to know from a facts stand point. That’s actually impossible now (and has always been) since those things are constantly changing. Instead formal education should teach us HOW to learn and provide a focus as well as a community of mentorship.

    Is it possible to be successful without a degree? YES. But it does require a certain combination of luck and and natural talent and this is frequently the exception and not the rule. Just a few things to keep in mind when deciding how to approach education.

  • Renee

    I really found this article to be helpful, as I am self-taught in many areas of web (design, blogging, social media) and have toyed with the idea of going back to school for a while. To me, further education is a huge investment and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Because of the cost of higher education, I’ve decided (for the time being) that going back to school might not be worth it for me at this time. I believe you can still access some of the benefits of going to school by subsidizing your own learnings with classes. There are many classes available to learn the ins and outs of many of the popular design programs (Adobe, etc) without having to commit to a four year college. If you’re on a budget or limited in your time, taking a few classes every year could be greatly beneficial without killing your bank account or sending you spiraliing deeper into student loan debt.

    My current roommate is actually in school for graphic design and we’ve had some wonderful conversations comparing what she is learning compared to what I’m learning (on my own). All in all, you should do whatever feels best for you.

  • designsdelight

    But look school my not have the skill which you are needed in the market place at this moment.

    Look I do not know but I knoow to many fashion design students who are surplus to the needs of the market.

  • sensecall

    Great article.

    I think it depends on what and where you go to study.
    Lots of courses/schools offer work experience which can get you a foot in the door – not crucial but definitely helpful.

    I think the most important thing is your portfolio – design school or not. If its no good then the odds of getting substantial work are zero.

  • R.O.

    I find it laughable that a website devoted to web design would promote spec work sites such as Crowdspring.

  • RN

    I dropped out of college because of financial issues but continued to learn on my own. I make $55K a year because of my strong portfolio and experience.

  • Kenneth Baker

    You article is very interesting. I in that situation where I have changed course to Digital Media Design. I have have designed a lot of websites for clients before and made good money. I do believe experience and a good portfolio as well as good people and sales skills are important but since I have started my course, I am studying modules that have improve my work. The make me look at web design in a different light not just concentrating on the website but using my modules like Preception Systems, Digital Media & Sociology of Media to improve in the way I operate and I am only at the start of my course

  • Tanner Christensen

    A lot of people often forget about the most valuable aspect of going to school: networking.

    Without going to school (even though I dropped out of college), I wouldn’t have the career I do today, and I definitely wouldn’t have the income I do.

  • Justin

    I’ve been able to experience both parts of this discussion. I started design as a hobby several years ago, where I taught myself the bulk of everything I know through other designers and tutorials, I was pretty confident in my ability, but never so much to the point where I felt that I could compete with the artists I looked up to, so I started going to school to refine my ability. The foundation courses really helped me get a firmer grasp on design principles especially since I never had a background in traditional artwork before. The library is also an amazing resource; especially since I’m used to teaching myself. When I was living at home I rarely had the opportunity to buy the books I wanted to and my local libraries didn’t carry them. Electives have also greatly broadened my skillset, and I now have hobbies in mediums that I probably would have never approached without going to school. Networking is another benefit, but I’ve been much more successful with getting collaborators and friends within my field through online means, since a lot of people that attend my college (SCAD) are more concerned with partying. But I have met at least 2 or 3 people here in my 1st year who I’m positive I’ll be working with in the future.

    I’d recommend school to anyone that had the opportunity for it. It’s an incredibly fun and thorough learning experience. You can still teach yourself while you get hands-on assistance from established creative professionals. It’s the best of both worlds.

  • Azizuan Aziz

    Great article. I’m a undergraduate accounting degree student. I learn to design by online tutorials. It’s good. In fact it’s very good. I can learn it from anywhere at anytime. In the other hand, it’s more flexible compared to school because we don’t have to go to class. If you miss the class, you might lost a lot of information but by self taught using online tutorial, it’s like you can attend the same class again and again. The best part is, there are no lecturer to babble to us. lol.

  • Drew

    I am currently pursuing a degree in Software Engineering with an emphasis in Web Design at the University of Michigan and there, they assume you already know how to program and do all the basic (and sometime not basic) stuff that tutorials or self help would achieve. Our curriculum ranges from project life cycles to risk management to project specifications such as error and algebraic.

    But, if I wanted to, I could drop out of school and continue the business and probably make it just fine. It all comes down to what YOU want to do. There are still certain things that a degree can get you that self taught cannot. It may not be correct but that little piece of paper is proof that you know what your talking about.

    Good article!

  • ShirleyTemple

    I study at Faculty of Graphic Arts in Zagreb (Croatia), and all I can agree with your friend that has a Yale degree. All I know about programs an web coding, I learned from online tutorials. They don’t teach us that stuff at school.
    What they teach us, and what separates us from thousands of self-called designers is how design works, what to expect, basics of economics and marketing, sociology of design and most important, print processes.
    So at my third year in college I can proudly say that I know how to design things, how to sell good design and all about the technology that’s behind good print.

  • http://n/a jake pucan

    Thank! although I’m stucked of being a Computer Technician. But I’m working as a Freelance

  • Gagsy

    Nice article, even after reading the article and the comments, I am not able to reach a conclusion!! Still confused : S

  • Mark Lanham

    This is a great article, I am a self taught graphic/web designer who is now studying for a degree in my chosen field. I was also in the position of deciding to continue my self direction or to gain a more ‘informed’ understanding of graphic design principles and so I chose to go to uni.

    For me, this has definitely been a good decision and have learnt far more than I could have probably achieved through my own methods of learning. It gives you a shove in the right direction. Who better to be taught by than professionals.

    I think the bottom line is, this is a grey area, it is very subjective and it depends on each individual persons background/viewpoint. The truth is that there is no truth, only opinion. Enthusiasm, passion and drive are the key elements, keep this in mind and you won’t go far wrong.

  • FeryKloucek

    This is really great article! I agree with You on 100%! For sure it’s better if You have a degree but on the other hand if You are really good, You can be successful even if You don’t have it! Self-education and design feeling is really very important!
    I’m the one without degree and I’m mad in to design for about two years (Yeah, I know it’s nothing!), but it’s still not my job, I’m a pro cyclist and design is my big hobby and also some kind of relaxation to me! I spend almost every free hour by learning new things and even if I know I have a long way in front, I can see I’m making big steps every month..I hope I should be a freelance designer once (when I finished my sport career).
    And one thing at the end.. Even if You have a degree, it doesn’t matter You’re a good designer.. I already know some guys who have a degree, but it looks like they don’t..

  • Ejobity

    This is a wonderful article and the comments are even better. It helps me understand why i am doing a degree in the first place even though i feel that school right now teaches me things irrelevant to what i want to do..

    Honestly, going to school is important, it helps you increase your social network of people who all have the same interest as you and it also helps you gain potential clients in the future who will most likely be professionals in their own business or working in a large company. That is priceless for a freelancer.

    I read all the benefits of having a degree and i really like the part where you don’t have to prove yourself as twice as hard but you can charge your clients as twice as

    Education is free where i live and this article makes me realize how i am taking it for granted. Thank you all for helping me realize how important my degree is that i am doing. I was really going to drop out but thanks for the intervention. I needed it.


  • Webmisstress Anne

    My degree knowledge was redundant the second I walked out of the University gates. The world of IT rotates so quickly that nothing you learned in year 1 is of very much use by the time you reach the end of year 3 of your studies.

    Get your portfolio in tip-top condition, because when it comes to design and coding, people always want to see that you’ve got satisfied customers elsewhere.

    Also, if you possibly can, combine some other useful skill or ability with your design work. Because I speak fluent Spanish I get a lot of work in Central America – simply because I can help translate some page text from English>Spanish, Spanish>English and I understand people when they call me on the phone!

  • Taracauc

    I think the most important point you made here was no degree means learning how to self – teach. This is vital! I can’t tell you how many people I have worked with who not only don’t have this skill- they don’t even understand it.

  • Hubert Diaz

    I feel that a college degree pays off and puts you on a higher position than those who don’t possess a degree. There are people who consider getting a college degree but eventually defer it for some or the other reason. It’s a fact that creative excellence is of utmost importance in the graphic design industry but it won’t suffice in all walks of life. Having a degree is always an advantage; in fact it is the best way of getting your foot in the door. With a degree you get exposed to various technologies in graphic design. You learn and understand the basics of advance technologies. Graphic design is a multi-faceted field which requires both creativity and qualification. When it comes to self-education you need to be very diligent and highly motivated. Therefore, a graphic design degree is always recommended.

  • Thiago I.R

    Nice Article! I’m a self-educated designer, and all my learning and knowledge came from my own experiences and work. Now i’m almost 24 years old, and work in a Brazilian Web Agency, not a big one, called Fattoria Web. My boss doesn’t have a college degree too, and can produce lots of good works. Like me, he found his way trough hard work.

    I don’t think that a degree isn’t important. At the moment, i can’t afford to pay something like that to me, but i know that this would help me a lot to get reconnaissance from clients, future/actual bosses, and people around me. And i would have a bigger salary too. But I agree that nowadays, people with no background in design have the idea that anyone who has a Photoshop installed in the computer can do websites, logos and all the stuff who lots of graphic designers study hard to learn, in college or not, and that’s very frustrating. Lots of clients from our company, has a older job who someone with no idea of graphic design produced. And that difficulties my work. But we cannot disparage the designer who studyed by himself, who hard worked because he couldn’t pay off his classes on a good college like Yale.

    I chose this way of being self-educated (even my english I learned by myself) because I didn’t had the money to pay professionals to teach me the techniques that i would need to get this job. And I know that i’m capable to do professional stuff for my clients, with or without a degree. The internet, the books that i bought, my boss, my own experience, my imagination, my dedication… all of that helped me A LOT to get here. I don’t know how the future is going to be, but I know that isn’t going to be easy. And i’ll be prepared, with a degree or not.

  • custom icon design

    Love this post, I think self-educated designer or high school designer always should update the knowledge to keep the edge of design trend.

  • Chabad

    Nice post

  • suffolk websites

    In terms of general design an education is in valuable especially in the critique process. Degrees in thing like ‘Multimedia Technology’ can give students the wrong impression. I have taken on recent graduates who I have had to take back to the cery basics of commercial web design.

  • Silvia

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.
    I have a degree in IT, but want to move into the design area (not only web design) which was never taught during my career. I know I have to teach myself to do things right, but this article helps me gain confidence in what I want to do.

  • Racing Games

    the paradox is that most of the time you need go to school first before you can decide if it’s for you or not.

  • Web Design London

    I must say that overall I am really impressed with this blog.It is easy to see that you are impassioned about your writing. I wish I had got your ability to write. I look forward to more updates and will be returning.

  • Ash

    Haha love the part about not having to prove yourself twice as hard but can charge twice as much! Classic and thanks for sharing!

  • Stanley Diaz

    Great Article. I’m a first year design student and have been reading articles of this topic and find them very helpful. I agree that for someone in the field of web or graphic design, you should learn how keep up with new techniques and technology.

    Seeing as I’m in first year at college, I’m still pondering whether I should stay or leave and be self-thought. I already keep up with blogs and books which I find incredibly useful but if I leave school, I’ll be missing out on stuff such as being critiqued by like-minded students and professors. Which really helps because you may think your design works, when in reality it doesn’t. It really helps getting a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work.

    ps: You mentioned CrowdSpring and getting work through contests. It may work for some new designers getting their foot in the door but I still think it should be avoided. Even though I’m still new to design I wouldn’t rely on this as this basically spec work.

    Thanks again for the article. Really enjoyed it.

  • Rich

    I would say that plenty of hard work all round is probably going to get you further than having a good education and just keep plugging away at all the right people to speak to. Make yourself known, network as much as possible and you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour.

  • rickdelux

    Myself, I went to a Big Ten school not known for design in the 1990’s and received a Bachelors in Liberal Arts. Web Design or Multimedia education didn’t exist at any level back then so I was pretty much left to my own devises to educate myself (and professors and fellow students). The timing ended up perfect for me as I was one or only a handful of college in the mid 90’s to have any web experience. I’ve parlayed that into a six figure design career. But you can be a great designer and make a good income without a formal education or a Bachelors degree. My friends who went to Full Sail for two years do amazing work.

    How far up you go is kind of limited by your degree though. Especially so in the corporate world. My little Big Ten degree pales to some of my co-workers with degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. Now, they don’t do design but much higher level client and business development work. I could go back to school and get a Master’s degree in business to take that next step up from Creative Director but… nearly 18 years of school was enough!

    Note, I do Agency work now but have lots of Corporate experience.

  • Jason

    Great post!

    In my career, I’ve observed 3 areas of discipline that are critical for designers: 1) Design sensibility (“the eye”) and technical ability, 2) being able to communicate your ideas clearly and defend them against criticism, and 3) business intelligence and diplomacy.

    It seems that you need BOTH a level of experience in college and a level of real world experience to round out your education. There is nothing that teaches you more about design in the real world than being up against a strict deadline, feeling the pressure of having to deliver for a client that doesn’t care that you haven’t slept in 2 days. That being said, school teaches you about working with others, adhering to deadlines, work ethic, and enjoying learning and progressing.

    If I had to choose, I’d probably choose the self-taught work experience route, but it’d be close. I say this because after interviewing and hiring designers in my own career, I can say unequivocally that your portfolio and your personality are the most weighing elements on whether you’re going to get hired or not. It has more to do with your aptitude as a designer and your ability to fit in and work well with the team than your degree.

    One thing nobody has mentioned that I believe would benefit everybody, having to work a customer service job. Dealing with people in the heat of a tense situation teaches you more about yourself and life in the real world than any school or online tutorial can.

  • Emlak

    Thank! although I’m stucked of being a Computer Technician. But I’m working as a Freelance

  • BenSWoodruff

    I’m a nobody in the design world…for now. After spending five years in the US Army, two of those in Iraq drawing with Paint and a mouse (oh lordy), I feel like I am ready to get into school hard-core and learn the real STUFF. I mean, four months on Twitter helps, but really it’s almost just as slow for someone who’s pretty tech-stupid like me. Geeze, I’m only 23, suxors. Anyway, I have NEVER allowed myself to think even for a minute that I’d be able to support myself or my family on my talent alone, though I can definitely see that there really is SO much to learn online. Thanks, by the way, to all those of you who contribute to the knowledge pool. That’s pretty much why I’m addicted to this stuff. My older brother is a Windows Engineer (subcontractor), and I’ll tell him eventually to keep that programming stuff, I want to be an artist for hire. Thanks for reading my comment :-)

  • Car Games

    very good article

  • Racing Games

    If you can study yourself, or go to school.

  • Natasha

    loved the article…keep up the good work

  • Car Games

    School is useful for our.

  • Monster Truck Games

    Thank you for sharing a topic to be discussed

  • Jonathan Gold

    If you’re against design education then you’ve either had a bad experience or simply haven’t experienced it at all.

    A design degree is more than technical training (in fact technical training shouldn’t be part of the curriculum in my mind).

    Graphic design is about so much more than making things look pretty – that is almost a given (and something that can’t be taught in a classroom). A modern graphic designer must know the principles of typography, information design, wayfinding and branding.

    Having 3-4 years working in a studio environment with likeminded students and practising industry professionals (and then going home in the evenings to catch up with the latest CSS tutorial) will put you in a much better place than a self-taught ‘designer’.

    Other than that, the wealth of inspiration and industry links we can forge as students is worth every penny we pay.

  • Kresna Ahmadi

    what the most important we take degrees program in graphic design is the experience and the networking internally, instead of the formal learning stuffs.thanks for the post, now my eyes open.

  • Sam Harding

    This is quite a useful article for me since I’m currently in the process of applying to uni. I still haven’t made up my mind though. Although it isn’t 100% needed to get a job in the design world there is the social aspect of uni which, I’m told, is amazing and is worth going for. I’m thinking about taking a different course to design (specifically maths) which I guess would help me on the coding front although I’m already a skilled coder.

    It’s a nice article though, definitely gave me something to think about.
    P.S. I’m looking around Bath uni in the UK since a lot of big web design companies are in that area =)

  • Carl – Web Courses Bangkok

    As the founder of a a web design course training centre this was a very interesting article!

    Bad points of going to uni

    I have a degree in Computing and Internet Technologies but I am entirely self taught as I learnt nothing of use at Uni. The material was dated and the lecutureres where just talking verbatim not actually teaching from what they know or, god forbid, actually passionate about.

    Good points of going to uni

    NOW, what Uni did give me was the resolve to actually work at something and complete it, I made a hell of a lot of friends and I now have a piece of paper that allows me to work anywhere in the world. Let me repeat that, a degree is one of the first things a country will require to let you live and work there. I now own a company in Bangkok and theoretically I can stay forever. SO, I would always recommend getting a degree as it is a passport to the world.

    As for learning web design to become a professional, attaining new skills or if you have an idea you want to make a reality…it completely depends on the kind of person you are. It is not a case of either or with choosing an academic or self taught way, it depends if you are the self learning type.

    Web Courses Bangkok

    Our trainees come to us because they like the idea of having an expert they trust showing them the important things to learn. The internet is a soup of information and it is sometimes hard to know what is useful, where all the pieces come together and how to apply them. If you read a tutorial on CSS3 then how will that help you effectively plan a web site….it won`t for the reason that you need to know the whole picture and that is hard to find from a series of tutorials and articles. It takes talking/learning from someone with experience.

    If I could do it over again I would:

    1. Start playing around with the net and see if I really like it
    2. Find a course that teaches me the basics and gives me a broad idea of what is important
    3. Get a taste for it and do my own project
    4. If I really like web design then I would look for a degree that teaches fundimentals and not one that tries to keep up with the changing tides as it is impossible and the degree material would be weak due to university not having time to let the course mature and thus improve it.
    5. Whilst doing my degree I would try and get some freelance work with the few skills I have, earn some extra money BUT earn a LOT of experience.
    6. Finish Uni, look for a job and take some specialised courses
    7. Find the perfect job in the country I want

    …but then again , that’s how I would do it and as I said this story is as unique as the person on it. Choose what is best for your personality,

  • Car Games

    Very good article. I believe it better go to school. You can get help from school if you got question. otherwise, you need spend more than on your self research.

  • Bournemouth Web Design

    School 100% – SEE if I hadn’t been taught better I might have written 110% and that’s plain SILLY!

  • Corie

    I started out teaching myself AI, because I love vector graphics & wanted custom graphics. Originally I wanted to go completely freelance, but as a mother of two young (2 & 3) boys & my husband could be retiring from the Army in approx 5 years, I decided to go the school route as well. I wanted all my bases to be covered.

    Currently I am attending DeVry University and working on a BA of Science in Multimedia Design & Development, with a concentration in graphic design. Since at the moment we are stuck in KY, schooling choices were extremely limited. DeVry’s program is actually quite good and also teaches the basics of coding (which I have found extremely hard to learn by myself, as I more a hands on learner and like to ask questions that can be answered immediately)

    I believe a combination of self-based learning & school will help me achieve my goals in the design world. No one should ever stop seeking knowledge, especially in the ever-changing world of design & technology.

    It has been a true blessing for a complete newcomer like myself to have available resources like Webdesigner Depot, Smashing Magazine and so many others, to help me along the way. Thank you all so very much & good luck to everyone no matter which route they take!

  • Corie

    Also, the great thing about DeVry is the professors all typically are current professionals in the area they teach so, they are current on all the latest technology, software, and applications.

  • Rasmus Landgreen

    Great article – something to think about.

    As well as a self-taught designer constantly has to stay on top of the business, being on a university demands the same thing. You always have to challenge the quality of your courses and teachers, or else you will end up educating yourself for an age that is long gone.

    For me it’s a matter of keeping a track of when the two learning curves collide; my freelance career will give me something my university can’t, and the other way around. The day my freelance career educates me better, that’s the day I quit school.

    /Rasmus Landgreen,
    Copenhagen, Denmark

  • Multyshades

    absolutely great article on this topic, it reminds my school life as well:)

  • David Naeve

    Excellent information! So hard to find a GOOD school out there.


    nice article. self study and learning by doing is definetely a must for people working with web technologies. but sure you can also learn good stuff at school :-)

  • Yisrael Grimes

    great post. I’m in graphic design school now but know many successful self-taught designers. either way you go, dedication and self-sacrifice is the most important thing when it comes to being successful.

  • Kojeje

    It should be TO SCHOOL :)

  • Medyumlar

    great post. I’m in graphic design school now but know many successful self-taught designers. either way you go, dedication and self-sacrifice is the most important thing when it comes to being successful.

  • save fuel

    There are also big differences from country to country. In the United Kingdom the quality of your work is as an example much more important than your degree, in France and Germany things look a lot different.

  • Theo

    Great article and some very good comments, i really enjoy it. At the and of the day both are important, school and no school, they just complete each other.

  • Bret Juliano

    One thing that I learned quickly after joining the real world is that some companies would rather have someone that is both knowledgeable and passionate about their studies but doesn’t have a degree in it than someone that has the knowledge and the degree but not the passion.

  • Woodbridge web design

    I am mostly undertaking work for smaller clients, but i have found education is rarely mentioned, and if so, just as a conversion piece. Experience and portfolio seem to be far more important.

  • Miss M

    Awesome article.

    I’m currently in school for an Associates. I’ve been in web since 1998, but decided to go back to school to brush up and learn more to improve my skills. I don’t have a degree (yet), but i’ve seen people who never went to school and still have careers in the field.

    The portfolio is one of the most important deciding factors in being hired for a web/webdeveloper position, this is true.

  • DORA

    Interesting stuff. As some one said above both are important, school and no school, they just complete each other. We must try to lay a good foundation in school ,then can deeply operate in work.

  • Kurtis

    As a current student in a New Media & Design program I would have to say that the technical skills that are learned in college are damn near useless. I’m subjected to many hours a week learning Director, a program that I don’t think I’ll EVER use again. However, there are benefits to a formal education. One of my teachers previously worked for Adobe and she is a strict teacher when it comes to deadlines. This definitely helps us get our time management skills up to par and prepare us for a real workplace. Also, the people you meet will be invaluable and the start of your professional network.

    Other things also come along with an education. I have free access to stock photo sites, resource sites, knowledge bases, and can discuss problems/ideas with teachers who have MUCH more experience than I do. While it may not be totally worth the six grand I’m paying it has shown to at least be worth my time.

  • Web design Shrewsbury

    What use is school if, Yale’s graphic design program does not have a single class covering web design.

    I would recommend using google, I think nearly all aspects of design can be learnt from on line resources.

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  • Ismael

    Hi everyone,

    Although I am nearly 32, but believing in “YOU CAN, NO MATTER OF YOUR AGE”, I have just started learning Graphic Designing!

    Actually I am a media man in a small company, but as we grew I also got engaged with graphic designing which later on, I felt crazy about.

    Now after two years since I started learning graphics, I am not that bad. I design fairely well but every time I recieve an order I get confused and somehow nervous.

    I am confused and puzzled in the world of Graphics. Some time I think to myself if only I had learnt “Hand Graphics” which increases your capabilities to illustrate or creating layouts.


    thanks for your help. :)

  • Janna

    A lot of a student’s success is based on a willingness to work hard in this field.

    Read this article I wrote about the topic: