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Starting out in the industry

Hi everyone,

Here are a few questions for you that I have been thinking about, as a Graphic Design student I often wonder whether going down the university route was absolutely necessary?

I would like to know whether the professionals or students amongst you have had the same thoughts?

So how did you guys start out in the design industry?
Qualified to degree level or plain and simply a self-taught designers??

  • Degree level designers did you find that the education pathway was absolutely necessary once you had qualified or even whilst you where studying?
  • Self-Taught designers do you wish you got a degree in design?
Finally do you think that design schools, university etc.. are useless in today's world full of online tutorials?

Many thanks for your time,


Senior Member
I'm 17; self-taught over the past four years or so, but I will be going for a master's degree (university) in design, starting in September.


Well-Known Member
I think a couple of decades ago you could possibly get away with being self-taught and get into design, but these days competition is so fierce I say any advantage you can get is worth it. Nothing to stop you trying to start up a design career in your spare time while studying for the qualifications. I think guided teaching is nearly always better than trawing through online tutorials too, as you get a more rounded and planned education on the subject. Plus regular and detailed critique. Also, you're learning along side other people who all bounce ideas and tips and experiences off each other.

At the end of the day, commercial experience and a kick-ass portfolio are what employers and clients like to see.
3 years designing at university can give you a bit of a start in the portfolio area.
Any advantage is a plus.
Onartis said:
I'm 17; self-taught over the past four years or so, but I will be going for a master's degree (university) in design, starting in September.
Could be a wrong idea, could be a right idea...in my opinion i learnt jack s**t at uni. Maybe a little bit here and there. Since I started my job 3 months ago ive learnt more than I ever did it uni in such a short period of time. Uni seemed to have missed out some fundamental things in there teaching which I have found to be most annoying and very strange. A good example I feel was the whole css thing.

We learny css for 2 years and we never covered the Box Model :/ isnt this a fundamental thing to learn? In my opinion I really think it is. Uni totally skipped this one over the 2 years I did CSS :/


Senior Member
I'm kinda with Glen here.

My uni experience was mostly about the basics, really good grounding in the fundamentals of design. Good typography, understanding how to get ideas out, development...and for that it was invaluable, I learnt that the ability to work to a tighter deadline the longer I was there as I had developed the skills to get my ideas out better.

However, I did NOT get taught useful things like a good grounds in print preparation, understanding the difference between my CMYK, pantone, RGB etc...which would have been lovely to know in preparation for my real life, so when a printer says to me this file is RGB with no bleed (this happened to me when I was doing a favour for someone in my second year), I might have had some idea what he meant.

These are 2 long lists of what I learnt, and I haven't got the impetus to list them all right now, maybe later. However my degree was design for media, aimed at the digital end of things, I got bored of digital and focussed on print though.

But point being, there were things I got from uni that were valuable, but I could have done with more preparation for the real world.

School vs online tutorials, is a no brainer, school EVERY time.

You can learn a specific skill from a tutorial, like how to grunge up some text, but if the person who made the tutorial was a clown, then it might not actually be a practical skill if when you apply it to your work it doesn't work in the medium. I would love to see how some of the people who create web tutorials would react when you ask them, so you have suggested they create a file in 72dpi rgb, what if this needs to go to print or vector format?

A real person who has been there can point you in the right directions, but also tell you how to apply things, keep an eye on you and above all else, engage in the creative debate and give you a second opinion.

EDIT: just read this back, have I caught Jazz-itis?
Very interesting views everyone,

As a student I can tell you all that the lack of teaching about professional practice such as printing process, pantones, rgb, cmyk etc.. as stated by (mrp2049) is rather shocking, after all this is what got me so excited to study at university level.

I was under the impression that I was going to learn all these techniques such as 'printing processes' through to 'clients' however none of this is explored.

During this semester we have had a German exchange student studying along side us on the motion module and she told me that the level of tutoring is far greater in Germany, she stated that the tutors are more hands on and tutoring more closely with each pupil.

I suppose this takes me onto another question, if you studied outside of the UK for a design degree what was the level of education like? however this would probably need to be included into a new post.



Senior Member
I've learnt more in three years on my own than I ever would have done at uni. I'm 19 and know more about what I do than 90% of graduates. That's not necessarily cos I'm good, it's cos uni is ****.

Also, if I were at uni now I'd be in my second year. I wrote a document that Newcastle uni currently use to teach their students. If I'd accepted the course I applied for at Newcastle, I'd literally be teaching myself.


i'll be honest.. I worked through my university for the university doing freelance design work (it paid for my fees and gave me the all important beer money too :)). I think Uni was a good place for me to start off but as the others here have pointed out its not for everyone. My HND hasn't done me any harm in getting work :)


Well-Known Member
jamieleung, I've been left with a similar impression after meeting foreign exchange students at uni. And I believe during the course of 3 years we spent a grand total of ONE DAY covering "professional practice", and that was during year two, so mostly forgotten by the time the information was most pertinent.

Uni seems to function more as a starting point, giving people some basic skills and understanding to work with and build upon, rather than a be-all and end-all solution churning out expert professionals.


Senior Member
I've been thinking on reflection that a placement/sandwich year would have been a very smart move.

My lady does product design, and they have to build industry ties throughout their final year, and it hasn't done her, or anyone else on her coarse, any harm.


Active Member
jamieleung said:
So how did you guys start out in the design industry?
Technically I started when I was working for a local signmaker, although at the time I didn't really know it as I thought of myself more as a signmaker/IT guy than a designer. But in those early days I actually gained a practical understanding of the difference between vector and raster, as it was literally vector we would cut with vinyl and it would need to be a path to send to the cutter and raster would need to be 300dpi CMYK to print onto vinyl.

jamieleung said:
Qualified to degree level or plain and simply a self-taught designers??
After my time with signs, I went onto a new foundation degree course at a local Uni/College, which was vocational, and intended to help students get into work after the 2 years studying. Throughout the course I was doing freelance work, which helped with my Uni work and vice versa, there was a lack of technical knowledge from the course, for the print side, but I knew the basics already by that stage.

As soon as I left Uni I landed a job at a local agency, and within a month there I learnt more on the technical side than I had done in two years at Uni. But without the Uni qualification I wouldn't have been able to get the job.

jamieleung said:
Finally do you think that design schools, university etc.. are useless in today's world full of online tutorials?
No definitely not, there's only so much that can be taught by a tutorial, they're good for learning tools and software, as well as little shortcuts But to really understand a design brief, explore ideas, develop concepts and deliver a proposal to a client, I think you have to go through that on a practical level.

I think in reference to Harry's reply, his situation is slightly different to the others that have replied so far as it's web development, and from what I've heard experience is far greater than a degree when it comes to coding for the web. A lot of the courses that are available seem to offer dated skills and techniques, or are entirely reliant on one expensive software package, rather than learning to hand code for example.

Interesting thread by the way Jamie :)
Thanks Greg, I have been thinking this topic through for sometime now.

At my uni we have one lesson a week on web development and this is the very basic html/css most of which I was able to learn out of uni hours, but lets just say my code is rather untidy and having these basic lessons in html/css is fantastic. You learn something new everyday ;) however I doubt we'll ever touch upon html5, css3, jquery,php etc..

I was fortunate to work alongside a designer whilst studying my A Levels, this gave me a good portfolio to take for my uni interview which helped a lot, also done freelance work. But at the end of the day I doubt an employer would consider employing me if I did not have a degree.


Senior Member
I've heard comments before saying the level of those design courses is very low. And I like to think I already have a head start since I've been into it for quite some time now. But right now all I really know is web stuff and I dabble a bit in actual graphics; I'd like to explore more stuff such as flash, advertising, product design, indesign/print etc. etc.

And I think college is a good place to start. And even if I don't finish it, I think college is something you should experience — as the old saying goes "There's a time and place for everything, and it's called college."
I've already went and looked at two schools, none of which I was particularly impressed with (for starters, the tour guide, who is also a lecturer, didn't seem to know exactly what he was talking about), although there's two more I'll be looking at.

For the past two years I've been working part-time as what I guess is a junior designer at a design agency (which has been mentioned before), where I have already learned a lot. Not only design and code-wise but also just the way things work around an actual agency.