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Formal Training: Yes or No?

Discussion in 'Universities & Training Forum:' started by Tony Hardy, Feb 5, 2013.

  1. Tony Hardy

    Tony Hardy Guest

    This is a common question that I get asked a lot. "Did you have any formal training? Did you go to University? What was it like?"
    So that's the question I'd like to pass onto our forum members.

    I left school straight after GCSE level (got all A*-C) went to Northumberland College and studied for a BTEC National Diploma in Graphic Design which was great fun. The college was great and felt it really brought out the best in me. I was 17 by the time I finished my ND and didn't quite feel ready to head off to University. I decided to stay on at college for another year a got my Foundation Diploma too and felt on this course I got a good grounding in some other subject areas (fashion design, art, 3D, motion/animation). The way our college was laid out was like a big creative design studio so we could waltz between different areas and courses and pick up the info we needed along the way.
    Then, I went to University. With having such a positive college experience, I went off to Leeds Metropolitan University. And basically, I hated it. There was too much "oooh, you COULD do this or you COULD do that"..."come in to lectures IF you want". It was all just a bit up in the air. Ended up sticking it out for the 3 years and came away with a good degree (2:1), but, I still feel as though I learned nothing. Maybe how to motivate yourself when nobody is there to put a foot up your backside.
    So, did you train formally? Was it worth it? Has anyone made a career without the formal side of things? Let's share our experiences!
  2. Jimlad

    Jimlad Well-Known Member

    Got a sackful of decent GCSE's (including Art), stayed on at 6th Form for a few A-Levels (with Art again) and trundled off to university. To become a primary school teacher... Silly careers advice tutor. Packed that in after a year and switched to a design course that covered outmoded software (Freehand and Director, anyone??) and didn't cover anywhere enough in terms of practical freelancing. Sort of a jack-of-all trades course that touched on lots of areas (print, screen, 3D, web, flash, drawing, typography etc) and let you specialise at the end. I should've specialised in print, but with the campus printers always breaking, I did an interactive multimedia piece instead. Emerged with a 2:2 and a slight cynicism towards usefulness of the uni experience as sold by Tony Blair.
    So then I kept drawing, practicing, learning and building my illustration portfolio. And improving the skills I actually wanted to use. Eventually got a job working alongside our very own Typo and learned many much more relevant things. One or two of them from him.
    Going to uni was worth it. If only for the independence and learning to deal with people. In terms of the course itself, it introduced me to some basics that've been a base to build upon since.
  3. Matt Harle

    Matt Harle Guest

    I left school after my GCSEs, and went to Newcastle College to study my A Levels; Film Studies, Media Studies and English Language. As you can tell, all geared towards one particular area. Anyway, I decided that I wanted to put all of my theoretical work into practise, and applied to the Media Production course at Northumbria University. I graduated last July with a First.

    As for my time at Uni, it was mixed. We had lessons encompassing all different aspects (Camera, sound, writing and editing), but some of them were badly handled, the editing lessons especially. We were put into groups of 4 or 5, and were all crowded together into a tiny and cramped Avid suite as a lecturer showed us what to do for about an hour and a half, before sending us off into seperate suites to do it ourselves for 10 minutes. The problem here was that you couldn't always see what they were doing, and it just wasn't very engaging. Not to mention that the rooms weren't air-conditioned, so it started to get pretty hot and smelly after a while. By the time I hit my third year and realised that I wanted to specialise in editing, Uni had opened a new computer suite, full of Macs that ran Final Cut Pro. So, I basically started living in that room, dedicating all of my free time learning all about FCP, cutting different films in it, and researching how the programme worked. I managed to teach myself pretty much everything, and was also helped out by one of the technicians if I was ever stuck or confused.

    So, whilst most of my Universty experience was locking myself in a room and teaching myself how to use software, I don't really regret it all that much, seeing as I wouldn't have access to equipment like that anywhere else.
  4. berry

    berry Active Member

    I got an A level Art and was then kicked out of Art College for ( as usual ) Got a job as junior artist and in 2 years I was interviewing students for jobs.
  5. martyvibe

    martyvibe Junior Member

    Got decent GCSE results, then stayed on to do my A-Levels in Sixth Form. Was a total and utter disaster, as I ended up losing inerest in everything whatsoever by the beginning of the second year, and promptly failed.

    However, my art portfolio was pretty decent so did a year of Art Foundation at local college and loved every minute of it. Seriously, one of the best years of my life.

    After which I went to Uni to do Graphic Design and Illustration and this is where it all goes downhill. In the first year around Easter I pick up some form of depression, got in a rut, stopped doing work and basically dropped out. I was quite a mess, so yeah, I massively regret doing this looking back but onwards and upwards. At this time, I also stopped pursuing anything to do with creative arts and got more into music.

    Did a few crappy temp jobs until I got a job working with testing office equipment. Gradually became a software engineer of some sort (pay was still crap). During this time I joined a few bands, got really into my music and totally abandoned my drawing. Seriously, I don't think I drew anything from the age of 21 to 26.

    My job started to drag, so in the middle of boring work days, I'd doodle on some scrap pieces of paper, and over the course of a few months, quickly picked up the illustration bug again. I quickly relearnt Photoshop, started colouring my artwork in and became more productive in my creativity. People noticed my work and I got tons of compliments. I did gig flyers for people and t-shirt designs, and was invited to a few art workshops. This was 2-3 years ago and right now I'm hoping to make a career out of illustration and design. I'm trying to pick up as many freelance illo jobs as possible, while at the same time I'm earning my keep by doing bog standard temp office/warehouse jobs to pay the bills.

    So in the end, no REAL art training apart from a year of art foundation and a couple semesters of university. I have been thinking of giving Uni another try but I'm going to go my own route, and so far have amassed a portfolio, website, all the usual networking hubs etc. Just need to find the clients.
  6. Soprano

    Soprano Member

    I'm mostly self taught, I done college and uni a bit later than most, and even then I left uni halfway through my second year. I learnt more on my Access course in college than I did in uni, it wasn't an enjoyable experience if I'm honest. :lol:
    I initially intended to take a year out to have my baby then I'd either go back or relocate to a university closer to cut the commute, but in the last couple of months I've been thinking more seriously about just going for it on my own. The course didn't really make me happy and I don't feel I got anything from it, whereas I could develop and focus on what I actually want to do instead and follow that route.
  7. davewill

    davewill Senior Member

    I did a degree at LJMU in Product Design which was pretty much a complete waste of time. There were 35 of us on the course, we had to book an appointment to get one to one feedback only to be cancelled on by the busy tutors (most of whom had their own businesses on the side) Lectures were regularly cancelled by tutors leaving a note on the lecture room door, so journeys into uni were wasted. There were no macs at all and not enough PC's for everyone, plus we had workshops in subjects like "How to colour with markers" which Ive never had to do again since.
    There was absolutely no guidance or advice on setting up a business, working in a real life studio or how competitive a field it was. The only thing I learnt was that I didnt want to be a product designer, I loved the graphics side of things much more! I always felt like just another statistic paying fees, there was never an effort from my tutors to build relationships with students.
    Then I went to Salford Uni to do a one year masters course in Graphic Design and I loved every second of it. The facilities were brilliant. The tutors were excellent and became great friends through the year. There were only 5 on my course which helped a lot but we had weekly one to one and group sessions with our course head which was invaluable for bouncing ideas of each other, discussing design theory, etc. I was taught, and learnt more in those 12 months than in 3 years at LJMU. I also taught myself more than I ever had before, mainly due to my love for the course but the great facilities helped alot. There were plenty of macs, a good library, lots of time with others in a common room to chat and a great atmosphere around the place.
    Im sure my love of graphics meant I enjoyed the masters more than the product design course, but I think the overall uni can definitely make a difference. I dont think being formally trained is the be all and end all, but some of the stuff I learnt from doing that Masters has been absoloutely invaluable since, definitely recommend it to anyone!
  8. Soprano

    Soprano Member

    The institution makes a huge difference I think. I went to college later than most so my course was for ages 22+ - maybe having people of a similar age to me made it more enjoyable, but the course, tutors, studio space, other workshop facilities and the media suite which was kitted out pretty well for printing - it was brilliant.
    I applied to do my degree through the same place and at the last minute the location was changed, to a place with one very poorly equipped media suite and not a lot else. They didn't even have decent printers for us. :(
    That, plus the tutors having to re-adjust to the move as well, and then further down the line tutors leaving, course leaders leaving, going around 4 weeks without a course leader AT ALL.. argh
    I fell pregnant at the beginning of last year so had planned to see out the rest of my second year and look to return for the 3rd at a later date, but then I fell ill so I missed a fair bit. I still have the option to go back (I'd have to redo the whole second year) but in all honesty, having thought about it I don't think I'm going to. Everything I know I've learnt through researching myself, finding tutorials, and just trying things. I'm giving myself this year to see how far I can get without having the degree then I'll make a proper decision, but I don't think being educated on paper is essential in this industry, if you're willing to put the effort in!
  9. The Simulator

    The Simulator Active Member

    As with most I got my GCSE's and went to do A-levels. Moved house and started A-levels again (different exam boards so couldn't transfer) then dropped out.
    Ended up at Lincoln Uni studying 'Interactive Design' hated every minute of it, learnt very little. Ranted about it in my first ever blog: Is University Really Worth It?
  10. Squiddy

    Squiddy Guest

    Sounds similar to me, except I didn't bother with Uni - I was that dissatisfied with A levels.
  11. GibbonIt

    GibbonIt Member

    I think that if you can develop the passion and the talent. I think you can still be a great designer anyway. :)
  12. Tony Hardy

    Tony Hardy Guest

    I think passion is 99% of the job. I wouldn't do what I do if I didn't love it.
    GibbonIt likes this.
  13. GibbonIt

    GibbonIt Member

    Graphic Design is such a great job, because you do what you love and have different projects and scenarios all the time. And well said Tony :D
  14. davewill

    davewill Senior Member

    As much as passion is important, I think you need much more to being a good designer than just passion. Im a passionate football player, but that doesn't make me a good footballer!
    There are thousands of passionate designers out there, but a lot of them are rubbish designers. They are enthusiastic but lack key skills.
    The one thing uni gave me that some of my colleagues lack is a knowledge and respect for design that only came through learning about the history of the art, the theories and logic behind typeface choices, colours theory, typesetting, layouts, psychology of the audience, and so on. This can all be self taught so formal training isnt essential, but I would have to disagree with your statement Tony, theres much more to being a good designer than just passion in my opinion.
    DavoSmith likes this.
  15. Jordan

    Jordan Active Member

    I think what Tony is trying to say is you need passion to want to learn, you can go UNI for 3 years with no passion, obtain a degree and still be a bad designer. They passion/desire makes you want to learn, progress, spend time networking, reading about design and all the other things you can do. Basically if you want to be good at anything you have to immerse yourself, eat it, breathe it mentality.
    GibbonIt likes this.
  16. Tony Hardy

    Tony Hardy Guest

    Yeah, I think you have to live design to become great at it. I'm a passionate cook but that doesn't make me a chef, you're right Dave. But having that passion will help you along way along the line!
  17. davewill

    davewill Senior Member

    Yeah fair point chaps, I think I was just trying to make the point that in this day and age the design industry is massively oversaturated. Due to the internet and the ease of getting software like photoshop, there are now thousands of amatuer designers who class themselves as good designers just because they love design, when in fact, those of us who do it as a profession know theres much more to it than just a love of our work (but I agree, that passion and drive will propell you a lot further than those who dont have it)
  18. Tony Hardy

    Tony Hardy Guest

    Points taken and understood Dave :) Did you read my "Does Photoshop Make You a Designer?" blog post haha?
  19. It's definitely a saturated market, but I think that unless Adobe makes their products more affordable in some way, then sooner or later another company will overtake them with one of the current, often underrated products, or a new piece of software that really does do the same as the adobe products.
    I'm not a massive fan of their efforts to increase their revenue and sales by making so many different types of software that all do virtually the same thing, with some minor changes. It would be alright if they weren't all so similarly priced.
  20. davewill

    davewill Senior Member

    haha, not yet, but maybe I should!

    I agree its frustrating Sean, but Adobe are clever. They have such a huge market share that If you choose to not update your software you soon struggle to keep up. Nothing worse than admitting to a client or a printer that you cant open a file you have been supplied because you are still using CS2 when the rest of the world are on Cs5 or 6!

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