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What I Learned After a Semester of Design School

After my time at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) studying architecture, I’ve come up with a few bits of advice for anyone just starting out or thinking about getting into design. Being in classes with a variety of students – from architects to interiors to product designers – I better understood each path and what I wanted MY focus to be. Whatever it is you’re concentrating on, know that we’re all in it together!

When you sign up for design school or even just one class, it is not all colors, finishes, and furniture. Sketching beautiful designs from your imagination turns into math, all-nighters, and the model you redo three times over. No, I don’t want to scare you; I want you to know that design school isn’t like what you see on HGTV.

The Structure of Class

No matter where you go, all classes are different. Even within the school you’re attending, professors each have their own style of teaching. Some like to spend time looking at notable projects, some will show videos like KOOLHAAS HOUSELIFE, and others might spend the majority of their time lecturing.

At SAIC and other art school programs, you will likely experience more studio time and less instruction. Many of the classes are self-driven, and it’s up to you as a designer to use the resources available to you, reach out to your professors & faculty members, and attend talks.

Usually, the beginning of the class is the time to update the professor and class on the status of your project BEFORE diving into your work, much like how things would run at a firm. I experienced a mix of studio time and lectures, but most of the time my classmates and I quietly researched, drafted, redrafted, learned to use AutoCAD, built models galore, and asked our professor questions. Keep in mind, professors often won’t come to you, so be sure to seek them out to ask questions on your own.

Your Reason

Why did you choose to take this class? That’s what they’ll ask you when you first introduce yourself, even before seeing the syllabus. For some, it was because they had parents in the industry, others have always been creative and want to turn their skills into a profession, and then there are those who want to see what being a designer is really like.

Consider why you’ve chosen to design and think about what you want to get out of your time in a particular class. Do you want to work at a firm? Is it your dream to open a firm on your own one day? Do you have absolutely no idea? It’s alright if you’re unsure about what you want to do, but if you have an idea, take steps towards your goal. Try to connect with the people you admire, and learn how they got there.

The Chaise Lounge Podcast is a great place to hear the success stories of designers from across the country. It focuses on the business of design, what isn’t taught in school.

They Did it Too

Who am I talking about here? The greats of course! Ludwig Mise van der Rohe and Philippe Starck didn’t wake up and decide to become designers and then design the Farnsworth House or celebrity homes in a day. No one gets to where they are without a little blood, sweat, or tears. I mean this quite literally – be careful with your X-acto knives. When you look at the clock and realize the sun is about to come up but you’re still straightening out your AutoCAD drawings, take a deep breath and remember it’ll all be worth it.

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