Self Taught vs. Formal Education with Showcase of Design Schools

by in Design on 5th Jan 2010 · Comments

Just the other day, I asked my 56 year old Dad how he managed to fix the computer all on his own. His reply: “Google!” Then it hit me. Wow! Even my dad uses Google to get answers.

These days, Google plays a relatively big part in 'answering' questions. Teachers and lecturers have practically been replaced, as more and more students and people in general have turned to Google for answers and information. This is particularly the case in the area of web design and development. After all, educational and informative websites, blogs and forums litter the World Wide Web in abundance. So why should you spend thousands of dollars on University fees, when you could be learning it for free?

Self Taught vs. Formal Education with Showcase of Design Schools
Images credit: White Winter Hymnal, Extra Ketchup

Some feel it is unnecessary to get a formal education because they intend to start their own web design business and be their own boss. However, there are others who feel it is more prudent to have a certificate to prove they are capable to companies they are applying to.

You could be one of those thinking of pursuing a degree in Web Design or you could be one of those attempting to be a self-taught guru. There is no right or wrong method of learning Web Design, what you need to figure out is which method suits you best so that you can make the most of it. This article explores both the pros and cons of choosing between getting a formal education and being self taught. We will also take a look at design schools around the world worth considering, when pursuing a formal education in Web Design.

The Path to Becoming a Self-Taught Guru

Approaching a self-taught education

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken)

Crossroads
Image credit: bengalsfan1973

The path taken by the self-taught guru definitely is the path less traveled by. However, if you are determined to go down this road, the good news is that you can set your own learning pace free of rules, regulations and curriculum distractions.

With the explosion of web design and development blogs on the internet, reading an article or two every day is a great way to understand the subject. It takes a lot of discipline and patience, but once you get into the regularity of learning on your own, you will more likely retain and process the information better than in a classroom of 20 or more.

Plunging Straight into the Working World

Those who have no formal education in design whatsoever, fret not. If you already know a substantial amount of knowledge about Web Design, you could still apply for a job at an agency. Some smaller design firms will hire hardworking and apt individuals even if they do not have any prior formal education.

Baby Bird
Image credit: glaciergirl

Your wages will most likely be lower than those with a certificate, but seize this golden opportunity to learn as much as you can from your new colleagues. Their experience and the lessons they can offer you are worth as much as those offered in schools by teachers and lecturers, maybe more.

Client: “I want it to be small enough to not be too noticeable but bright enough to draw the eye.

Client: “The grass in your rendering looks too clean cut and cared for. The maintenance crew doesn’t want to guarantee that it will be kept up that well. Can you make it more overgrown and brown with some dead patches in it.”

(abstract taken from Clients From Hell)

The Advantage of Being Self-Taught

The working world is vastly different from the sheltered and cosy one in school. Clients have the final say in the real world, unlike in school where you are the master of your creative design. Being self-taught, you are thrust into the working world without first experiencing the protective comforts of the school environment, and thus have no illusions or false impressions regarding it. This is one of the advantages of not having a degree; you do not have the preconceived notion that the working world is just like in school.

The ability to handle criticism, both relevant and irrelevant ones, is an important and useful skill when facing clients. This is something everyone, with or without formal education, has to learn when starting out. Working, you will learn to control your emotions and maintain a professional persona with clients, communicate effectively and build a rapport and your reputation with people in the design world.

Getting a Formal Education

After graduating from college or high school, getting a degree seems to be the most natural and logical thing to do next. Formal education provides a well designed curriculum specially packaged for students to equip them with the necessary skills to prepare them for the working world. Now with online degrees available, receiving a formal education is easier than ever.

Just a Stepping Stone

Getting a formal education in design is just a stepping stone. The learning doesn’t end there. Schools are equipped with the latest technology and can teach you how to use them well. But technology is always improving and changing. You must have the ability to motivate yourself to learn beyond the scope of your set curriculum.

Stepping Stone
Image credit: travelkid42

If you belong to the handful that rely heavily on lecturers rather than taking advantage of their guidance to increase your own experience, you will suffer after you receive your certificate and enter the working world.

Expanded Education

One of the biggest advantages of getting a formal education and attending design school is the opportunity you get to take up other design or art related courses. These extra courses will help you develop visual literacy skills, and allow you to practise articulating the rationale of your designs and ideas.

Choices
Image credit: fotobicchio

Finding the appropriate design education also allows you to build a solid basic foundation and inculcate good processes, discipline, and good methods of brain storming and concept creation. The right design school will not only nurture your technical abilities, but will also greatly influence the way you come up with design concepts, allowing you to find your own unique style. It is not just about the codes or how pretty your websites look.

A Time Saver

Having teachers and lecturers to guide you definitely saves you a lot of time as you won’t need to figure out which steps comes first and what’s next. The school syllabus has been carefully designed to help you learn progressively. The fact that your lecturers and seniors are readily available to help you when you encounter problems is also a plus. The structured environment of a school also ensures that you have a constant learning pace.

Homework due dates also help students to get used to the idea of meeting deadlines without the pressures of catering to the client’s whim and fancy. This allows students to breathe more easily and concentrate on keeping to working schedules without worrying about a ruined reputation.

Play It Safe

These days, a paper certification of your abilities is important for you to be able to go far in your career. Even if you are a good designer with a lot of experience, you might be overlooked by your dream company overseas, just because you do not have any paper certification. Or perhaps, years later, you might want to pass on your knowledge and experience to the next generation of designers but cannot because you need a degree to be considered for a teaching position.


Image credit: Skoox

A formal education may not be the most ideal way to learn web design, but having a certificate is certainly the safest way to do so.

Showcase of Design Schools worth considering for Web Education

Emily Carr
Emily Carr is an exciting learning community in visual arts, design and media arts. From credit and non-credit courses to graduate studies, whether in face-to-face or online interactions, our students are engaged in a diverse community of talented individuals involved in a creative and stimulating environment.

Part of what makes Emily Carr so vibrant is the passion with which faculty, staff and students pursue their creative projects and the way they examine their practice and are involved in renewal, change and self-reflection.

Emily Carr

Full Sail University
Full Sail University attracts people from all over the world with a passion to create, music, film, games, animation, design, and live events. They come here to learn in an environment that is essentially one of the biggest entertainment production facilities on the planet, and to be part of a community of like minded peers.

Full Sail’s students and instructors share a passion for this unique blend of art and technology, where gear and creativity come together under one roof. But most of all, students come to Full Sail seeking fulfilling careers doing what they love.

Full Sail
Parsons School of Design
Parsons School of Design focuses on creating engaged citizens and outstanding artists, designers, scholars and business leaders through a design-based professional and liberal education.

Parsons students learn to rise to the challenges of living, working and creative decision making in a world where human experience is increasingly designed. The school embraces curricular innovation, pioneering uses of technology, collaborative methods and global perspectives on the future of design.

Parsons
Central Saint Martins
An art college and cultural centre in one, Central Saint Martins is internationally renowned for the creative energy of its students, staff and graduates.

They have an outstanding reputation for educating foundation, undergraduate, postgraduate and research students. Fundamental to study at the College are experimentation, innovation, risk-taking, questioning and discovery, within a highly supportive learning environment, no matter which discipline you choose to study.

St Martins
Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design
Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design's education focuses on learning by doing, on a balance of theory and practice, and developing a student’s individual voice when solving problems for people.

The School of Design offers undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degrees, as well as a minor for undergraduates and a summer program for high school students. Students have access to excellent facilities, as well as various opportunities to study abroad.

Carnegie Mellon
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) believes in the value of a holistic education, one that balances the emphasis on the professional major with an equally important expectation that a student be versed in the humanities, literature and the social sciences. RISD recognizes that not all students will ultimately be practicing in their professions: they may in fact choose other professional endeavors.

Students receive an educational experience underscored by rigorous requirements and reviews, complemented by fully one-third of their program concentrated in the Liberal Arts. This combination ensures that focused study is supplemented by a broad understanding of the context in which artists, designers and art educators pursue their chosen fields of work.

Rhode Island School of Design
Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) provides a career-oriented education which helps graduates find employment in their chosen career, in an environment which uses the latest technology to make learning stimulating and enjoyable. QUT has close ties with government, industry and professional associations, thus ensuring our courses are relevant to the real world.

Queensland University of Technology
George Brown College
In its 40 years of being in the heart of Toronto, George Brown College has become woven into the economic, cultural and social fabric of Toronto. George Brown College is one of Canada's largest, most diversified and highly respected colleges, serving a broad and vibrant student body with an incredibly rich program mix of apprenticeship training, certificates, diplomas and degrees.

Drawing from its close relationships with industry, George Brown College creates and continually enhances relevant programs and curriculum to serve the needs of both students and employers by producing workplace-ready graduates who are highly sought after. Comparative research of Ontario's colleges has revealed that nine out of 10 George Brown graduates get jobs within just six months of graduation.

George Brown College
Arizona State University
Arizona State University is an internationally respected college that develops competence in disciplines critical to today's technology-based economy. The faculty is widely published and highly regarded both in academia and the private sector.

Ongoing relationships with industry partners provide extended learning opportunities for students. With facilities such as the Altitude Chamber, Flight Simulator Labs, Digital Printing Lab, Photovoltaics Testing Lab, Microelectronics Teaching Factory and Haas Technical Center, students are engaged in real-world projects using cutting-edge technology.

Arizona State University
College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (University of Cincinnati)
The College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati is charged with undergraduate and graduate education in the design, environmental and art disciplines. It is committed to: responsible change and development in those disciplines; excellence in teaching and learning, research and creative works; and sharing the benefits of these activities with the university, the allied professions and the general community.

Undergraduate and graduate programs empower students in our School of Design with a core of knowledge that provides a solid educational base.

Daap
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology is one of Australia’s original and leading educational institutions, producing some of Australia’s most employable graduates. As an innovative, global university of technology, with its heart in the city of Melbourne, RMIT has an international reputation for excellence in work-relevant education and high quality research, and engagement with the needs of industry and community.

With more than 60,000 students studying at RMIT campuses in Melbourne and regional Victoria, in Vietnam, online, by distance education, and at partner institutions throughout the world, the University is one of the largest in the country. It has built a worldwide reputation for excellence in professional and vocational education and research. A vibrant alumni community now stretches across more than 100 countries.

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
Swinburne University of Technology
Swinburne University of Technology provides students with the skills and knowledge that will help them find employment in their chosen career and provides an exciting environment that makes learning fun. Students have access to a number of sporting, computer, library and student welfare facilities at each campus and all campuses are in close proximity to many forms of public transport.

Undergraduate students have the advantage of working closely with industry through our Industry Based Learning (IBL) program. Most degree courses include IBL which provides a free-flow information between the University and the future employers of our graduates.

Swinburne University of Technology
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
The School of Design (SD) at PolyU has an excellent setting in the East-meets-West culture of Hong Kong and its close proximity to the Chinese mainland and the rest of Asia. In addition, PolyU’s academic culture warmly welcomes interaction with the SD, thus prompting collaborative programmes and projects with the fields of engineering, business, sociology, medicine, textiles, manufacturing, multimedia, and hotel and tourism.

Hong Kong Poly University
Köln International School of Design
The Köln International School of Design (KISD) is an institution of the University of Applied Sciences Cologne and is offering an interdisciplinary study program in the field of design. Their approach is to understand design as a complex process. Therefore design education should always adapt to the challenges of life- and work environment.

Köln International School of Design
Curtin University of Technology
Curtin University of Technology is recognised nationally and internationally for excellence in education and research. Accordingly, extensive grants have been given to Curtin in recent years to build facilities and conduct research utilising some of the most advanced technologies in the world. Students have access to innovative advancements in research and development in areas such as engineering, health, physical and theoretical science, astronomy, information technology, sustainability and business development.

Curtin University of Technology
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
For almost two centuries, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has maintained its reputation for providing an undergraduate education of undisputed intellectual rigor based on educational innovation in the laboratory, classroom, and studio.

Driven by talented, dedicated, and forward-thinking faculty, Rensselaer has dramatically expanded the research enterprise by leveraging our existing strengths and focusing on five signature research areas: biotechnology; computation and information technology; experimental media and the arts; energy and the environment; and nanotechnology.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA)
Over the past 70 years, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) has been viewed as a leading arts institution in Singapore. The academy has been a driving force in the development of the visual arts scene and in nurturing talented artists. NAFA shall carry on its indomitable spirit and strive to achieve the status of world-class art institute, with which to groom top-notched artists talents in Singapore.

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

We’re All Different; Choose Wisely

There are many ways to learn about design and everyone learns it differently. We have to choose the method of learning that is best suited to ourselves and will benefit us the most. Education is an ongoing process; we learn everyday of our lives.

Besides the Design Schools included in this article, what other schools would you recommend to go to? Perhaps you could share with us the school you graduated from.

We have shown you two different paths, which path would you choose?

Charlotte’s interest is in web interface and design as well as motion graphics. Her absorption with her work is mostly due to her attention to detail and passion for the world of design. Winding down after work, which consumes much of her time; she enjoys traveling, exploring new places, gastronomy, and fashion.