Paula Scher wrote a great piece on Tony Spaeth’s Identity Forum. Here’s a snippet.

“I never knew a designer that got hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a logo. Mostly, designers get paid to negotiate the difficult terrain of individual egos, expectations, tastes, and aspirations of various individuals in an organization or corporation, against business needs, and constraints of the marketplace.


“The designer needs to be ever present because, inevitably, at some side meeting, something will be suggested that will totally destroy the form of the logo. Something can be suggested innocently, with the best of intentions, that will scuttle all plans, compromise all standards, and destroy the integrity of the design. The only person who can know this and stop this is the designer.”
— Paula Scher

Citi logo
Paula Scher’s Citi logo

Tony’s Identityworks (and Identity Forum) is sadly no longer online, so the full piece isn’t linked.

Somewhat related are Paula Scher’s thoughts on pro bono design (on


I feel designers must be on the defensive at times. Clients want to downplay the importance of design and what it takes for good design to take shape. Much time is spent conceptualizing and sketching for someone to come along and want to change the design when we are not present.

How do you get that job Youssef without a portfolio you created at college?

I have never, ever in 18 years of working seen any designer that has hasn’t been to college that was any good. Having said that I have seen a lot of college graduates who aren’t very good!

A good creative education at a good university is worth it’s weight in gold. Then you have to work at good creative agencies to turn it into diamonds otherwise it will turn into lead.


I’ve met some amazing designers who went to college for something other than design. Hanging out with other designers, reading lots of design books, taking individual classes, working on real designs can produce a fine designer.

Good logo design comes from being curious, being present, pushing past the cliche, learning to ask the right questions, listening and not being afraid to say no.


@ Lee

Design isn’t brain surgery. You can easily get the same education through reading and practice. Lets face it, the majority of what we learn about design comes after we get out of school.

Oh, and clearly you’re not looking hard enough

Lee, the answer is simple: PASSION and PERSEVERANCE. With those two ingredients you can amass a portfolio that will take you where you want to be. A creative education is great, but it’s not necessary for all of us (BTW I went to design school). Working with the “real” world is where the learning really begins.

“A good creative education at a good university is worth it’s weight in gold.”

Like gold, it is rare.

A lot of institutions are out of touch, by their very nature, college tutors are institutionalised. I have met one, maybe two tutors that really gave a crap about students work.

There is a lot that colleges and schools don’t teach. And it’s not just a problem of the design world, it’s a problem that everyone has. Just ask any of your friends working elsewhere.

What should be included in all schools, tho, is the value of intangibles. Most designers know nothing about how their design will affect economically a business, my self included more or less (more on this later), yet they expect their clients to understand the complexities of their work. The client should only come to peace with the fact that ideas take time to mature and that a well thought out idea is valuable.

Currently, I’m reading the next book to handle clients more appropriately:
Douglas W. Hubbard – How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business

Finally, a good tip for all designers is to know the difference between simple, complicated, predictable, complex and chaotic; and, how a logo, yet simple, is complex. A speech to the client about this subject usually ends up with him/her making minimal suggestions about the design.

I’m with Lee on this one. I’m of the thinking it’s only people who haven’t gone to college who would run it down.

It seems, to me anyway, that a lot of people seem to want to become designers because they like it. You know, the way people like gardening, or DIY, or knitting. It’s because it’s being perceived, more and more, by people who think that because they have the tools to do it that they can. Crowdsourcing is something that encourages this. And in doing so, is demeans what design is.

You decide that graphic design is the career for you because even at the age of 16, 17, 18—whatever—you have a real, serious interest in it. Then, in devoting 3, 4 or more years of your life you go to college where you tackle briefs, learn from lecturers and guest speakers, you study designers and design movements from history, go on placements, you learn your craft, studying the basic essentials of what design is before moving on to the more particular nuances of the subject and at the end of it all, if you are good enough, you have a brilliant portfolio. If you’re lucky, you’ll be hired by an agency. For some, employment isn’t something they want so they start out on their own or form an agency of their own with fellow graduates.

Either way, the talented ones emerge educated, informed, respectful of what design is and armed with a brilliant portfolio. I’m not suggesting that there are no non-educated designers out there that are creating good work – the pre-digital generation is full of them, designers who learnt a craft when it really was a craft. But now many people think because they have CS4 they are halfway there.

These are students and they create work that is infinitely better than anything that most non-educated designers these days could produce

Students, not graduates. Think they’ll struggle for work/clients? No, me neither. And why not? Because they’re talented and have studied very hard.

It just seems to me more and more people want to ‘play’ at being a designer, regardless of their level of talent. They know nothing about it other than how to copy, or closely imitate shall we say, what they’ve seen already i.e. trends.

I’m not suggesting that college is perfect, far from it. It’s only when you work within a studio that you fully realise what design is as an industry. But coming into that armed with education, which nurtures any talent you have, is the best way. It certainly takes a lot more than passion and perseverance.

Design is becoming the 21st century digital age DIY. Got the tools? Then you can do the job.

Martin, you bring up many good points. But to imply that you need to have an art school education and preferably work at an agency to really be a good designer is like saying that to be a great musician you have to go to music school or to write the next bestseller you need a school-bought education. Design school works in some ways and doesn’t in others. There are many ways to learn and educate oneself outside of a traditional establishment. The artist will likely have to work harder, but that’s why I say passion and perseverance are key because it’s not an easy road and many paths will have to be freshly paved. It’s the undying urge to carry on and try, try again that gets you through it. Many mistakes will be made, but success if tasted will be all the sweeter for it.

Truthfully the designers who tinker with the craft because they have CS4 will not make it down the line in this industry, but that’s not who I’m talking about or eluding to with my comment, they are hobbyist. A Designer realizes and respects CS4 as what it is: one of many tools in his arsenal. Anyone who thinks having CS4 makes them a designer: is not a designer plain and simple.

Without a doubt both sides of this subject deserve more discussion, but I fear we have somewhat highjacked David Airey’s blog post here and have gotten off the topic the post was intended to stimulate and encourage discussion about. I encourage all of us to revisit this later, perhaps you, Lee and Youssef would be interested in guest blogging as part of a series when my new site is finished in April.

You have some beautiful work.

Now back to the real post: What they don’t teach you in design school!

@ Martin Boath
In regards to being lucky to get hired by an agency. Regardless of whether you have an education or not, your chances of being taken in by an agency are quite similar. Sure an education may seem like a must have however a large quantity of designers hired are the ones with no formal training at all. Rather than take the time for the study they put the time into practicing and come out with more knowledge and a larger + quality portfolio.

You can learn more by reading through the large amounts of articles released by both known and unknown designers then what you would at the majority of institutions.

@ Jye

I could not agree less. Education, as I mentioned, gives you informed opinion and advice from proven professionals, be them tutors or actual designers – real experience; hands-on work; seeing, feeling design; going on placements – not sitting reading off a screen. Agencies actively come to art school end of year shows with the sole purpose of recruiting the best there.

“Rather than take the time for the study they put the time into practicing and come out with more knowledge and a larger + quality portfolio.” What does that mean? Are you suggesting art school is just study? Because if you are you clearly have never attended one and the fact you believe such nonsense highlights a real lack of knowledge on the subject.

Again, look at the links I posted. Think these guys have had no practice?

In the end it is talent that determines where you end up but your talent will not be nurtured, especially at the formative stage of your quest to be a designer, by sitting learning design by yourself.

To compare going to art school and sitting at home reading blogs is ridiculous. Combine the two by all means but relying solely on the internet to help make you a graphic designer is a sad indictment on the design world today.

Designers have to play parent and psychologist to their clients without letting the client know it, and rarely getting paid for it. I have to charge up my reality distortion field before heading into any client review. Dare I say that is the most challenging and fun and frustrating part of being a designer?

This discussion has turned into something very interesting. It would make a great topic for David’s blog, especially if he could gather the thoughts of some major players.

Its really a never ending war though, and will always be one.

Its absolutely ridiculous to think that a disciplined and hard working person can’t learn and become a great designer outside of an institution though. The amount of books, online articles, and video lectures out there is staggering.

@ Martin

In no way am i suggesting that art school is just study nor was i comparing the two in a dismal manner.

Art school gives you a vast understanding of many elements in design and gives you the face to face encounters with a great lecturer or someone with an excellent understanding on the topic. As you said they do get the advantage of agencies scouting at the end of the year.

In terms of sitting at home and learning, i never directed anything at reading blogs, i just used the word articles in a broad term whether it be on a blog, website or any other form of interaction over the internet.

The main point in my comment was that the knowledge gained and skills learned are very similar whether whether you are taught at an institution or self taught. As i mentioned above there may be some upsides to attending a school of sorts however and i am not directly comparing the two, i am just stating that they are similar in terms of knowledge and skill.

I must admit i’ve learned so much more in the working environment than at University. But having the degree in my back pocket as also served me well, and not having it would probably mean I’d still be designing websites for local companies rather than international ones.

This is from my experience:


• Ideas and how to brainstorm.
• Typography and kerning (the basics).
• Guest lectures form industry professionals (at my college these included John Mconnell (Pentagram), Sean Dew (The Partners.Dew Gibbons), Phil Wong and Phil Carter f(Carter Wong), Garrick Hamm (Michael Peters, Tuttsells, Williams Murray Hamm).
•Set projects, discipline, illustration, business studies, how to mark up artwork, photography, how to use computers etc.
• Outside projects set by industry professionals.
• Access to competitons.
• Access to a full design library.
• Working with other students on projects.
• Access to other parts of the college to collaborate on projects from metal typesetting, pottery, sewing and fashion, metalwork, sculpture etc.
• An environment where people learn together, en mass.
• Access to advice on any project from tutors on any project at any time.
• Access to valuable information like Mintel reports.
• A final show which will be seen by the design industry where many students get interviews, work experience and jobs.

Is it possible to become a good designer without going to college. Yes.

Is it more likely that you will become a good graphic designer if you Go to a good college: Definitely YES.

WHAT YOU DON’T LEARN AT COLLEGE (from my experience):

• You can’t do award winning work on every job!
• The hours and long and the pay isn’t brilliant for many years.
• How to deal with awkward clients.
• How to present jobs to clients and how to sell ideas.
• How to use programs properly.
• Most of your day is organising, not designing.
• How to art direct.
• How design works in the real world.

I believe a good college education is the best foundation for the rest of your career. Whether this is true outside of the UK is another matter.

Final point is:
You never stop learning.

Hey, it´s true. But it´s very difficult to explain to your client, or anyone between you (designer) and client, that this is important. A great Idea is to take a big hammer and crash the table shouting and barfin, or try to educate your client. yeah, it´s seem like less information is the cause. The client probably don´t know that a failure like this would break his plans, and smash his inentity.

maybe the designer have to take the exactly language to perform it, with numbers, graphs… or anything to help him to say to client that he knows what he is doing. I think a big problem is that design and art is a very close idea for almost people, and because of it, the design is very subective.

I agree the idea of the schools. Don´t think about the institutions with bricks. Think about to learn.

I really want to read more on the Art School vs. Self Taught debate.

I have a degree in philosophy and diploma in print & web publishing but all I want to do is design. I am constantly debating with myself whether I should go back to “design” school for 3 more years or whether I can do it with the education I have.

If anyone has a blogpost or article about this they could share, please pass it along.

To all the people touting all the benfits of design school over experience, there’s one thing not mentioned here – MONEY!
For a hell of a lot of people (that i know of in Australia anyway) just getting the money to go to a good design school is impossible. There are no dedicated design schools even remotely near where i live, and it was financially impossible for me to go. I scripmed and saved just to buy myself a computer!
It’s the passion to learn that drives someone to become a graphic designe, and then the experience that makes us better. I would have loved to go to design school, but i don’t think i would have learnt more. I read everybook and website about design i could to learn the fundamentals. But i was getting experience at the same time.
Whether you go to design school or not i don’t think affects the outcome, it’s just a different way of getting there.
Yes i got jobs with no portfolio, yes i worked for agencies, yes i know operate my own design firm.
Again, i’m not saying design school is rubbish, quite the opposite, it’s a fantastic opportunity for those who can get there. But don’t punish the one’s who didn’t go with your unwarranted stereotypes.

Holy crap i just read my comment and was appalled at the spelling mistakes.
That’s what happens when you try too fast for your own good i suppose!

“…is like saying that to be a great musician you have to go to music school”
No, you don’t have to – but it certainly helps.

I think education provides an environment where you can learn and make mistakes without crushing ramifications. I went straight out of high school and into college. If I had gone straight out of high school into work… I don’t think I would have got any work at all! I didn’t know a god damned thing about presentation and there were gaping holes in my knowledge that I wouldn’t have known to address.

I think education is a fantastic starting point – but I agree the ‘real’ education is what you learn within the work force itself.

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