What’s Wrong With Design School?

3 min read

Not long ago, I interviewed a young woman who was about to graduate from design school with a degree in Visual Communications. She’d spent the last four years of her life learning about the intersections of business and art, technology and marketing. She was looking for her first job.

She showed me her portfolio. Some nice posters and handbills. A couple of ads. Some classwork. A lot of it was thoughtful. She had a couple of really nice pieces. She wasn’t a bad writer. She needed to work on her typography, but most kids coming out of design school do.

“How about web design?” I asked.

Her face fell. “No,” she said. “Back when I was a sophomore, I could have taken some web classes. But you had to learn how to code, and you had to learn Dreamweaver, and I just couldn’t figure it out.”

I was appalled. Dreamweaver? Yes, I’m sure knowing Dreamweaver is helpful to young web designers. But you don’t have to know how to build a website to design a website. You can be a smart, sophisticated web designer and know zero HTML.

This young lady is not alone. I can’t count how many times in the last five years I’ve interviewed design school graduates who have no experience in web design. Even worse, most of them let me know they’re not interested in web design. They love print. They love paper. Web design is too ephemeral, impermanent.

Know what else is impermanent? Employment in the print designer industry.

Of course, there will continue to be jobs designing for print. But that’s not where the industry’s headed. If you can’t do digital design, you are severely limiting your employability.

You need to look no further than the Indianapolis communications market to see the truth in this. Over the past five years, traditional ad agencies have downsized or shut their doors–or reinvented themselves with digital chops. Meanwhile, companies specializing in digital communications have multiplied and flourished. I’m sure it’s the same story in every big city in America.

Design school administrators, I ask you: how can you let your commercial design students graduate without some experience in web design? It would be like graduating from journalism school without knowing how to type. It’s basic to the future of visual communications, and it’s where the jobs are. Print is not dead–but you have to hold a mirror to its nose to make sure it’s breathing.

And design students: please, please consider learning how to design a website. You do not have to learn Dreamweaver. Do it in InDesign or Illustrator or PhotoShop or some combination thereof. Better yet, find some websites you think are great and steal from them. Print me out a PDF. Learn something about how people do things on the web. Show me great web design; I can hire someone else to build it.

I felt bad for the young designer I was interviewing. I knew she was doing some freelancing, so I said, “Sometimes we have some page layout we need to send out. Would you be interested in doing some of that?”

She looked at me with chagrin. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve never done a brochure.”

Four years of design school and no web design AND she’d never laid out a brochure? Sigh. I wish I were making this up.

Come on, design schools. This is bad.