I asked design students and graduates what they’d include in their ideal graphic design course. Here’s what they told me.
"Design school teaches you how to talk to other designers … there needs to be an entire course on talking to people who are not designers."
— Stephen Lee Ogden
"First-year students should be put through a rigorous programme of calculus, economics, history, composition, and public speaking. The goal would be to produce first a thinker, a professional, a businessperson, and an educated individual. Only then will traditional design “training” begin. And yes, a lot of people would drop out. The phrase “in the real world” would be banned — this school would be very much a part of the professional world."
— Prescott Perez-Fox
"A class that gives homework from that awesome lil’ book “Caffeine for the Creative Mind.” Or one that uses “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” by Gordon Mackenzie as mandatory reading."
— Raul Soria
"Fifty percent of the class shall be directed towards commercial work, with the remaining fifty percent spent pursuing personal projects."
— Brandon Hunter
"What we lacked was web design teaching. It’s a big part of the demand would have been a major plus."
Photo from Terashima design exhibition
"I would teach how to get a proper design brief from a client. The design brief is half the battle and can really guide your work. I would then teach client contracts, another area I feel school has given me little knowledge about. Revisions, getting half pay up front, client approvals, and other legalities."
— Tyler Maynard
"I would place a lot of emphasis on the strength of the concept. Design students might fall deeply in love with a design because it’s absolutely gorgeous (but it might not always be the most effective solution for that particular project). It’s important to learn the difference between a gorgeous solution and an effective one."
— Catrina Dulay
"I would prepare my students for the inevitable…the small projects that take time away from the major projects. For example, after assigning a two week project, I would sporadically assign ‘Client Emergencies’ like that ad that needs to be designed, approved and printed by ‘tomorrow’. That’s something that I wasn’t prepared for when I got my first design job."
— Andrea Williams
"Run it like a business. I feel like clients abuse designers and there needs to be a class to learn how to deal with them."
— Victor Zuniga
"Balance, movement, tone, grid structure, etc, would all become permanent vocabulary for my 101 students."
— DOUGLAS BONNEVILLE
"Part of the problem of my graphic design degree was that it spent a lot of time glamourising the subject and not enough time telling us what it was like in the real world. More input from employed designers would be a welcome addition."
— ABBAS AREZOO
"Once my students graduate I'd always keep in contact in case they need anything more."
— ASHLEY DEAN NEWALL
"I would teach the students, ”Kill your darlings!” This was the sentence one teacher repeated in a design course in Sweden. I find it important because sometimes we think we have the solution, and it’s definitely not. Killing your first idea is a good solution because the first one that comes to you is almost never the right answer."
— ANELIYA STOYANOVA
"I would teach students a lot more about running a business. My course was outstanding at teaching us design, but lacked in teaching us how to run our own business."
"I would make sure that all students understand the importance of print-ready files. This was an area that was barely touched upon in my courses, both BA and MA. A lot of people left the course not knowing how CMYK made a full colour. Ridiculous."
— MARIA STEPHENS
"It would be good to see a focused course covering all aspects of web design in more detail from yr1 including standards, css, type, usability, social media, IA, branding etc."
— LEE MUNROE
"I would assign projects that that solve real problems for real businesses. I am so sick of all the Best Logos Of The Web posts that are full of fake, made-up businesses and words that would never be used in real life. If you can work with the challenges of a real client with real opinions, and you can still come up with a top quality design, that’s what it's all about."
"If you don’t know how to interact with clients, or even close a sale, your talents are going to be restricted. No clients = no designing."
— ALAN ANDERSON
Photo from Terashima design exhibition
"I’d make very clear that design is not art. So many designers end up where they are even though they always wanted to be artists. As such, they hate the business side, and try push clients to fulfill their own goals. Design and art should be separate, and that should be fundamental in any course."
— KEVIN CANNON
"If designers had more knowledge on how to start a small firm and turn it into something great, we wouldn’t have so many frustrated creative people in the world."
— JAY SHAMBURGER
"At least one design class should pair each student with a business seeking a new visual identity, with the students then taught how to ask intelligent questions, prompting the business to reveal its vision for the new look."
— JENNIFER NULL
— BOB QUINN
"I would love a class that taught how to be diplomatic with people who don’t know anything about design but think they do."
— EMILY DOLINER
"If I ran a design course I’d spend most of the time teaching basic design principles and working with pencil and paper."
— MARIO MONTOYA JR.
"If I ran a design course, I would take the time to learn the art of teaching first and realize that just because I have designed a few annual reports in the field does not qualify me as a good teacher. Many of my professors have not been able to justify their grades, didn’t know what a scoring guide/rubric was, and loved to humiliate students during the critique portion of the class. Phenomenal teachers give constructive criticism, but they also know that they should sandwich it in between some positive feedback."
"I would include some sort of discussion or lecture on pricing."
— ERIC LAWSON
"The capstone would be very similar to my branding class where students would create a product/company of their own and take it from nothing to launch, writing design and marketing briefs and design several key things such as an identity package, advertising, catalogs, packaging, etc. with the instructor acting like an art director in a design firm. Outside of design I would have students take courses in experimental psychology to expose them to research methodology and looking in research journals to help solve design problems."
— JON LIEBOLD
"Students should be given projects where the teacher plays the role of a difficult client — someone without imagination and the ability to articulate what they want. It can be a huge challenge to isolate the core message of a design project, and knowing how to handle those clients, and keep them happy, can be even harder."
— NEIL KOWALEWSKI
"I always felt that my design classes, while informative and very helpful, never touched on the 'real world' of the design community and life. How to survive at a design firm (whether small or big) was never spoken of."
— LEE GUSTIN
"If I ran a design course, I would hire David Airey to give me advice on what to teach students."
— EDUARDO VELARDE
"Business practices in the design field would be high on the list. Presentation skills should also be stressed."
— VICTOR WARE
"I’d like to see design schools help students garner freelance work on their own, as a student project supervised by an instructor, as well as require an internship in an agency setting."
— NICK VENTURELLA
"After our last final a couple weeks ago, my fellow students all felt like, “Wow, we've got a portfolio website for ourselves, but how do we do it for a client? Do we buy the domain or what?”
"Perhaps a lack of craft is partially the fault of the student, but in many cases, as a teachers assistant I find myself often showing students how to properly utilize an exacto blade, or even how to score something. These basic skills are easily enough taught, and I can’t believe that some of my professors are overlooking them, because they’re fundamental in the final presentation of your product."
— RACHEL MERCER
"Preparing students for the working world should be a priority."
— JACOB PAYNE
"If I ran a design course I would want students to seek out opportunities within and outside the design profession. My favorite thing about being a designer, the thing that pulled me into this field to begin with, is the ability to see how so much other stuff works behind the scenes. I love talking to clients who do things I never knew existed."
— KEVIN M. SCARBROUGH
"If I ran a design course, it would be for kids from 7-18. It would be completely free, and all they had to bring were their own tables and chairs."
— SU CHIN'S HUSBAND
"I would include a lot more on client interaction or the business side of design. For every design course I’ve taken, we learn the ins and outs of the software perfectly, along with the review and application of design principles.
"However, there have only been a few courses where the outline simulated a real-world design we might have to do for a client, or the handling of any other sort of client alteration, suggestion, or complaint. Of the few that had done that, I learned the most."
"Instead of just having the students design a book about a place they visit, for example, I would make the students research their place of choice, talk to people from that place, photograph the location, derive common themes of their place, use word maps to find deeper than surface ideas for much more well thought-out designs."
— BENJAMIN KOWALSKI
"The tutors would behave like clients with the briefs so you have to ask the right questions in order to get the information needed."
— GEMMA JACKSON
"I had an instructor who made us run our projects through an output bureau before we turned them in. It was expensive, even with the student discount, but it only took one midnight phone call (“Hi. Your type defaulted to Courier. You said you had to turn in tomorrow morning… what do you want to do?”) to make me pay attention to all the details. That was invaluable experience."
— CYNTHIA KNIGHTON
"With just a little more effort 'clients' could have been assigned to each student, or students could have come up with a client, written up a brief and then thrown it in a box and swapped with other students so they had to follow some guidelines from a client. Who gets to change the name of their client because they want to create a logo in a grunge style this week?"
— DAKOTA CHICHESTER
"I would love to see more print shops being visited, mom and pop, large scale, all types from full four color offset to web to flexo to letterpress, designers need to know how things work so that as designers they can design for how it will be processed."
"Business classes should be a requirement because design serves business. Without an idea of how businesses operate, we designers are missing a huge part of what we are designing for. We aren’t creating commissioned art pieces, we are creating design solutions."
— CHRIS LEE
Not everyone who replied to my call was featured as there were some overlapping thoughts. Thanks very much to everyone who took the time everyone.
Related: What's high school for? By Seth Godin.