Think of me as goldilocks, it has taken me three tries at this whole higher education thing to get something that fit just right. It started with business school, then a swing in the opposite direction with art school and landing in the perfectly tepid embrace of graphic design.
My experiences with each institution have been wildly different. I hated business school and felt like a speck in the massive auditorium size classes. Art school was completely different. The classes were smaller, we were urged to share a lot of ourselves in our work– maybe a bit too much. It was art school that led me to graphic design though, I saw graphic design as a creative outlet that didn’t cross the boundaries. I wasn’t creating work that reflected me, I was creating work that reflected the world around me. I didn’t learn a whole lot from my short stint in business school, art school was an amazing place to grow as a creative, but YSDN has helped me develop skills beyond design. These are some of the revelations I have had since I started my bachelors of design:
- Let’s start with the most nerve-wracking thing for every first-year design student, critiques. An essential learning tool. That first critique is brutal, the professor asks others for feedback and there is just…silence. It’s understandable, I mean what do we know? We just started, we are too worried about our own work. I know now that it is just as important to learn how to give constructive criticism as it is to take criticism. This in itself is a vital skill, the ability to give critique when asked for an honest opinion without leaving someone feeling dejected. Also learning not to push your own tastes, own preferences on someone’s else work. The ability to think beyond what I would have done and give feedback to help further a vision that’s not my own.
- If there is one thing I never thought I would learn in design school, it is how to conduct research like a (semi) pro. Many of our projects need a solid research base to be successful and this means a lot more academic writing than people may expect. I have spent countless hours researching a wide range of topics and pulling out bits and pieces that can help guide my own projects. In YSDN it is constantly drilled into us that a project needs a stable base to build on, whether that is a research base or a process base or (usually) both.
- Learning how to communicate ideas better is another skill that comes with experience and time. Over the last few years I have had to explain my thinking process and ideas to peers and professors. It is a valuable skill to learn, how to promote yourself, how to focus on your strengths and speak with confidence about your own work. Confidence comes with practice and each class is an opportunity to hone that skill in front of an audience of peers who want to see you succeed. I spent too much of my first year being nervous about presenting work.
- Our classes are collaborative, even if the projects are not. We work together to figure out solutions through critiques and presentations, we are a team. In a school setting it is easy to fall into the trap of being competitive, of being the best, of getting the highest grades. Since I started YSDN I have grown a lot as a designer but so has everyone else. It makes me very happy to see others succeed and to see the wonderful work that fellow students produce. Accepting that other people will be better at some things than me and feeling comfortable enough to admit that and even go to them for help is another lesson well learned.
- Lastly, I have learned the value of having good ideas over perfect execution. Even graduating university in a few weeks, I would not call myself a pro with some of the programs I have come to rely on. But being a good graphic designer is not just being a photoshop wizard, it is coming up with new imaginative ideas for project after project.It all starts with a good idea and then figuring out how to make that idea a reality– well, that’s what Google is for.
It has been quite a journey from the nervous first days in the design labs to planning our online graduation show. I have learned a lot, grown a lot, and I am excited to keep growing as a person and as a designer after graduation. It may have taken me three tries to get it right, but I am so glad I kept trying. Third time IS the charm, at least it was for me.
Rachel Cowley is one of the graduates of the York/Sheridan Program in Design class of 2021. Catch Rachel’s work showcased at the online graduate showcase on April 20–21. Visit ysdn2021.com for more details.