Do Something Different

Do Something Different | 10 Things: Design School Edition

People never warn you about art school. To the average person, going to college to study art or design sounds easy. They assume you spend your days learning to color inside the lines and discussing the latest Photoshop updates. 


As a recent design graduate, I can tell you design school is so much more than learning about code and color. It’s sleepless nights, collaboration, messy overalls and originality. It’s blood, sweat and tears (literally). It takes real passion and drive to survive design school. And if you think you’re up for the task here’s 10 things, design school edition: 

1. Total Takeover

When I first got to design school we were shown a triangle. In each corner there was a word: grades, life and sleep. They explained to us that this triangle represented balance and we would have to choose. If we wanted a good night sleep and a life, our grades would suffer. But if you wanted the good grades and a life, then forget about sleep. 

Unfortunately there is some truth to this. Art school is a total takeover, it’s a full time commitment. Creating is a process that is extremely time consuming. It’s endless brainstorming, sketches, mock-ups and drafts until you get to the final product. Sometimes you won’t have time to sleep, you’ll forget to eat or even end up wearing the same outfit for 3 days straight. But here’s the good news: you’re going to love what you do, and you won’t be in it alone. You’ll push yourself to create and think in ways you didn’t know you could; and the people you meet will be incredibly inspiring, passionate and driven. Maybe it’s not the college experience you expected, but it’s definitely worth while. So if you had to make the choice, what would you rather have? 

2. Time Management

I can NOT stress how important time management is, and learn to do this early on.

Have a planner, make a schedule, use a calendar, make a list or scribble on the back of your hand. Whatever works for you, just make sure your time is divided equally. That means make time for work, breaks or errands and make note of due dates, deadlines and extra help sessions. Designers and artists are visual people, so it helps to see everything written down. Make this a habit and you’ll be set. 

3. Take a Break

Freshman year I had a professor who assigned us a weekly journal. He said he wanted us to write about 3 things we did every week that didn’t involve school, design, work or anything in between. His only instructions were: it had to be fun, even if it was watching Netflix and eating take-out. 

This simple assignment ended up teaching me the most valuable lesson I learned at design school: take a break. Take many breaks. Get outside, go to a concert, walk your dog or hang out with your friends. The moment you stop living your life, is the moment you fail as a designer. Taking a break is just as important as getting the work done, you need it to stay sane. Get out of your head and make stories for Monday, because these experiences are what create inspiration, thoughts and innovation in your work.

4. Critique

If there’s one thing that every creator dreads, it’s critique. My only advice for this is: 

Get over it.

Leave your ego and sensitivity at the door. Prepare to have your work thrown out, torn apart and destroyed. It’s nothing personal, critique sessions are there to help you learn and grow as a designer. You’ll learn to love receiving feedback, good or bad. Others will bring perspective to your work, and offer suggestions or improvements that you may have never thought of. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have pride or confidence in your work, but stay open-minded and humble. Listen. 

5. Collaborate

What makes design school such a unique experience is the opportunities it presents. You’ll never get a chance like it ever again, chance to discuss, work and collaborate with so many creative departments. 

As a student, I loved learning about everyone’s field, I made friends with interior designers, fashion merchandisers, photographers and animators (to name a few). This opens up your network and gives you unlimited resources, both as a student and in your future career. Learning the different aspects of art and design can expand your capabilities and even help you make a few friends along the way.

6. Be Curious 

This point sort of ties into the last: be curious, but not just about other fields. 

You should be eager to learn everything and anything about your art. That means reading articles, staying up to date on the latest developments, learning about creators in the field and their techniques, visiting museums and attending lectures. Even things like asking for feedback, questioning other’s work and reflecting on the creative process. Curiosity is the best thing for your education, and it should stay with you throughout your career.

7. Save Money

For those of you who are unaware, design school can get expensive. Fast. Besides the tuition and added living expenses, it’s books, materials and tools. 

Personally, I found myself paying for overpriced colored paper, a copious amount of printer ink and caterpillars (true story). Other than getting loans or scholarships, there are a few other ways to help you save some cash. Most materials can be bought in bulk and can easily be shared if you have a couple of friends to split the price. Shop at hardware stores, most may have the materials you’re looking for and they are way more affordable than materials found at art stores. Take advantage of school facilities, odds are they have computers, printers, other gadgets and scrap materials that you can use for free. Oh, and the golden rule: never throw anything out. You never know what you can use or reuse for other classes and projects. 

8. Be Creative

This is an obvious one, but seriously don’t forget to be creative. 

Design school is a place where you can experiment with many materials, techniques and concepts. So go wild, cause I can tell you that in the real world you won’t have that privilege. Most professors won’t limit you, if anything they’ll push you further and take your innovation to a whole new level. Have fun with it and get messy. 

9. Do What You Love

They say that if you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. And that’s true. Design school is full of people who can attest to this statement. 

If you know you love art and design, but you’re not sure what specific field fits you? Then that’s ok. Use the time to explore all departments and find out what you love, I’ve seen many come in as animators and end up graduating as painters. It’s perfectly normal to want to try a bit of everything before you decide, I encourage it. Not everyone gets to enjoy their profession in the same way that artists and designers do. So be grateful to have the talent, ambition and courage that it takes to work in this field. 

10. Do Something Different

This is something I heard a lot as a student: do something different, be original, find your niche. That’s a lot of pressure on a kid. It’s not easy to be “original” in the art and design world. 

I think individuality comes organically. We all have it in us. Our interests, experiences, thinking and perspective are what make our work unique. So use that. Put your own twist on everything you do. Practice, create and fail until it works.  Learn to do common things, uncommonly well. Innovate, create and excite and you’ll find yourself doing something different.


So there’s my 2 cents. My tips and tricks on how to survive design school. I only hope that this small list will help prepare you for the best and worst years of your life. It’s no cakewalk but you’ll love ever second of it. Promise.