Adults always say to graduating college kids, “Welcome to the real world!”. Even though it’s really not horrible like they usually insinuate with their tone of voice, the welcome is appropriate – you are leaving one world and entering a completely different one. As it relates to design, I’ve been living in the “real world” now for a bit, and a couple of things just constantly keep coming to mind that I need to tell you about!
When you’re in college for design or any kind of digital media, you have opportunity after opportunity to create things from start to finish, making every single decision along the way. Sure, there are requirements and criteria for every project, but you have the privilege (and are expected) to make all of the style choices yourself. Yes, this can be exhausting, but there is one thing more exhausting – having to work around someone else’s (bad) design choices. Design classes don’t really teach you how to take someone’s bad design of something and make it look good WITHOUT changing it. When you get out into this ” real world” I’m talking about, you won’t have the privilege of making all the design choices at first (or maybe ever). You will be given a bad logo, for instance, and required to slap it on everything, constantly fighting to make sure the logo stands out, but also fighting to make sure that your design pieces surrounding it mask the horribleness of the logo. It’s a battle that seems it can never be won, but it can – no matter how bad the design choice of someone else, YOU can make it work. What your college design classes absolutely taught you was how to be an EXCELLENT designer, giving you the ability to do the impossible. It will take time, and it definitely takes a lot of knowledge, but you can do it. And people will look at you and say, “wow”.
When you’re in college, you’re expected to be learning and growing. So, when you make a mistake, no one will really look down on you, because that’s what you’re there for – to make mistakes and to learn and grow from them into a better designer. Likewise, when you have to support something you’ve designed, it’s okay to ramble on and use the words “font” and “typeface” interchangeably and to constantly only be thinking, “WOW – look at this great thing I designed. Isn’t it great?”, because the most important thing in your mind is pumping out great visuals. In the “real world”, good design doesn’t cut it. And great design doesn’t cut it, and not even perfect design will cut it. As beautiful as the visuals are that you create, you have to have an explanation and a purpose behind them. People will constantly doubt you, and therefore you have to walk in and out of every design project with strength, ready to tell anyone and everyone why your design is awesome, who the audience is, why you chose those colors, why there’s so much “blank space” (BARF – negative space has a purpose!), and so much more. In college, your professors understand why you made the choices you made in a design, even if you’re not able to explain your choices yourself. They’re professors for a reason – they know more than you. But when you are in the “real world” and you’re trying to convince a store manager who just spent her last penny on fixing the gaping hole in the ceiling why YOUR design is AWESOME and could be so beneficial for them…you have to have confidence. And to have confidence, you need to know your design inside and out, and know the answer to every question an individual may ask.
What’s your #1 frustrating thing in the “real world” of design and how do you overcome it?