Getting Schooled: Computer Arts Design Student Handbook

Nubby Twiglet Computer Arts Design Student Handbook

“If you have the right skills and attitude, sooner or later you’ll be in the right place at the right time.” —David Annetts

There are a lot of students out there who read this blog as well as a lot of people questioning whether they should go to school for design. This post is for you. Even though I’ve been out of school for close to five years now, I started this blog as a design student and I remember having more questions than answers about the industry I was beginning to break into. I only wish there was a guide like The Design Student Handbook around at that time.

I now take a lot of the information I’ve gathered for granted but flipping through this guide makes me remember exactly what it was like. And I commend Computer Arts for putting this together. It’s approachable, solid and takes a lot of mystery out of what it takes to start a career in design. And it doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that the design industry is more competitive than ever.

The handbook is divided into 8 chapters and covers topics including picking the right learning method (from self-taught to university), how to find an internship, what works (and doesn’t) for self-promos, what it takes to make it in the real world and how to get noticed in a sea of other designers.

I like the practical approach to the guide — it even weighs the pros and cons that come with traditional schooling routes and covers alternatives to getting qualified that involve a lot less expense. And, it gives you tips on how to survive while studying from staying inspired to keeping a budget! I feel like alternative methods aren’t discussed often enough and I’m glad this guide breaks down those barriers. For instance, I attended an accelerated design program at a community college and it taught me everything I needed to know at a fraction of what it would have cost at university. It’s important to weigh your options before incurring a huge amount of debt.

Of course, getting into school and doing the work is only the beginning. I love that the guide says that you should treat your final year at university like a job. And, to always be your worst critic. Because honestly, when you’re in school, these are the two things you don’t want to hear! Beyond that, submit your work to design blogs, put time into your website and never stop networking, both online and off.

Nubby Twiglet Computer Arts Design Student Handbook

Remember that no matter how great you are, you still have to nail your first interview. A few points on the list stood out in particular, namely to not be late, personality definitely counts and YOU’RE NOT GOD. The takeaway: be confident but never arrogant!

The internship section is also spot-on. This starts by explaining the difference between internships, placements and work experience. Who knew?! I interned at the same design studio for a full year and agree with many of the sentiments including confidence is king, speak up, become irreplaceable, act interested and act as though you’re already on the staff!

“Your portfolio serves as an extension of your personality.” —Dominic Lippa

I found the self-promotional section perhaps the most helpful because the truth is that no matter how talented you are, you still have to get out there and let people know that you exist! Portfolio tips and promo ideas are covered but also perhaps more importantly, tips on how to avoid social media pitfalls are as well.

Finally, there’s a resource guide in the back. I like that it’s not just the usual list of inspiration sites and schools. Instead, the list runs the gamut from courses to essential reading to legal to finances, housing, digital folio sites and industry advice. What more do you need?!

I found my copy of The Design Student Handbook at Barnes & Noble but you can head on over to the Computer Arts shop as well. Students, if you’re looking for an affordable, go-to guide this is a great place to start.

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