The creative minds wired for design careers often encounter undeveloped career paths on their journey, merely following a dream and listening to a lie. The opportunity that lies in the digital age enables designers to become typographers, developers, illustrators, and at times the photographer. This convergence of creativity births the core principles of design. A reality, Gus believes, not all aspiring designers are fully prepared to address.
During this one-on-one interview, the methodical introvert outlines the art form’s hot-button issues and the very reasoning behind why he continues to empower and mentor creative souls in the industry.
The Program Myth
Maya: Do you feel like today’s students are properly prepared for the changing elements of the design industry?
Gus: It depends on the student. There are tons of excellent programs preparing students well, and some terrible programs that are defrauding them. It’s criminal what some programs are doing.
Recently, 15 different design programs have been forced to shut down due to promises made to students once enrolled. The federal government is allowing students tuition reimbursement. Considering how that chapter of their lives was wasted, these students should be entitled to punitive damages.
Designing the Lie
Today the problem lies within the skewed mentality of the many schools that believe in replacing design training with software training. These programs guarantee, “We will train you to become a graphic designer,” yet they only teach software. This is the equivalent of them promising, “We will train you to be an architect,” yet they merely teach you how to use hammers and saws. It’s not about the tools; it’s about problem-solving, talent, and artistry. It’s about understanding communication, not just about software.
In too many pockets of the country, institutes are merely showing students how to use hammers and saws as opposed to embracing and allowing them to flourish as creative problem solvers. It’s utterly shameful having legitimately talented students who cannot discern between the right and wrong paths. These lost students faithfully set their hearts, empty out their pockets, work their tails off, and enroll on their journey to become a “design professional.” Little do they know, they’ve been deceived, and these institutions have begun corrupting the naïve minds of future creatives.
Public education systems have been cutting art programs left and right, robbing the next generation of designers. Degrading this early development stage and misguiding students who strive to turn their talents into a career. Without that institutional support, students are dependent on the chance intervention of mentors and role models. It ultimately goes back to elevating the industry’s awareness, and changing public perception to fully understand the true value of design.
The Core of Design
I don’t think there’s enough awareness of the profession for people to realize it’s a lie, and this awareness is vital to elevating the value of design. The core fundamentals of this industry are misunderstood. The balance of understanding business problems and developing artists remain as fundamentals of design. If that's not happening in programs that are training designers, they are being robbed. Literally.
AIGA, the professional association for design, defines the industry of design “… the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content.” This involves understanding people, businesses, cultures and creating compelling ways to influence others. Without understanding the core truth of design, software is meaningless.
Maya: How do design students help themselves if their current programs or courses are not doing enough?
Gus: I suggest immediately getting involved in design organizations such as the AIGA. Even in the programs I've criticized, I believe talented people determined to succeed will do so no matter where they are. If students are in an environment or program that may not be preparing them the right way, and if their only option is to stay in that program to get training … then it’s vital they find additional role models, sources of inspiration and information.
The Self-Driven Student
Take action and get involved in the local chapter of the AIGA. Here, in Dallas, we are privileged to an additional design professional organization, the Dallas Society for Visual Communicators (DSVC). As members of these communities, students can expand their view of the business, networking and become inspired by a wide array of designers—from other students to veteran design heroes. These groups often host events and programs providing: mentoring, professional development, speakers, networking, workshops and so much more.
These organizations open students’ perspective in the industry, giving them a sense of aspiration. The most important part of this process is to develop a clear sense of what their career goals are. This is about surrounding themselves with the very best design and designers, even if they're in a situation where they may not find this with immediate peers or instructors. There are plenty of resources available online, magazines, speakers, potential mentors, and networking opportunities that can supplement for the lack in their program. Take whatever is optimal about the situation and use it.
There is hope because the self-driven student will survive. A motivated, self-driven student will proactively stay hungry and teach oneself. If you happen to be in a program that's not great, it’s crucial to surround yourself with influential and inspirational people to show you what the profession should look like. This way you can reach that point, if not exceed it. If you don’t know what you aspire to become in this industry, you’ll have nowhere to go. You will just be muddling around aimlessly due to lack of knowledge. You will not discover what’s possible.