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Created on June 29, 2015

Nine Things They Don't Teach In Design School

By Stephan Wilhelm, Creative Director, Sandbox Brand Marketing

1. The real world of commercial design

This item is closely tied to the following two points but I have separated them as they all have uniquely distinct aspects to them. The world of commercial design is far removed from the realities of design school due to the nature of the work you get to do. Every company will have its core ‘bread and butter’ clients, process, structure and your role will be to apply your talent and creativity to bear on typically a very specific area. Unlike design school you don’t get to pick the client, project, budget or the timeline to the level that you would like.

2. How to deal with account people

I’m not taking sides here, or disparaging account people for the role they play in fundamentally altering the creative output. However the reality is that the role of design within the entire process is one aspect of a larger thing going on. There are a range of perspectives, insight and information that a designer is not privy too, and your ability to build solid relationships with another major component, namely the account people will go far in your ability to bring to life your creative vision.

3. Client relations

Another critical component of a successful project comes down to the client relationship. No big surprise here, but sometimes its an area that gets overlooked during to day to day tasks. In the most simplest terms people follow the basic path of: know - like - trust - buy. This holds true for buying something physical or buying an idea or strategic approach. It can happen but unless you have gone through the first three stages, your ability to get sign off is greatly diminished.

4. Staying creative

This is somewhat connected to item 1 - for as you build your skill set and become talented at certain aspects of your profession the easiest and most immediate reaction for a company will be to give more and more work to the person who they can trust get the job done at the highest quality and efficiency. And before you know it you can get caught up in the hampster wheel of same project / same solution / different day syndrome. Keep an eye out for this and ensure you challenge yourself and your thinking from time to time.

5. It's not about you

Maybe this should have been included in the first item but there is enough here to talk about as something unique. When you come up with a brilliant idea or concept that gets rejected or criticized, it is not about you. Yes, you are the one who developed the idea and put it out there. At the end of the day that idea has to stand on its own merits and the ideas' ability to meet the needs and objectives and intent, is separate from your effort/abilities to create it. It’s very hard sometimes to keep that emotional distance from something that you put your heart and soul into and care passionately about. However for the sake of your sanity and ability to work in this field long term–yes, care passionately about what you do and defend it vigorously AND keep the idea at arms length, knowing that its not about you, its just about the idea on the table.

6. what really gets you the job

Yes, a strong portfolio and relevant experience is a very strong trump card to play. Overall personality and fit play a stronger role than you may think. This is not about trying to predict what the interviewer wants or are looking for and projecting that. This is about the interviewer knowing the reality of what the internal culture and politics are like and getting a real sense of how your personality fits into and/or enhances their culture. For an interviewer this can be very tricky to pick up on, as everyone who comes into an interview is on their best behaviour and presents themselves in an ideal light. The only way to really know would be by working side by side for a couple months. Whenever you get the chance to freelance or do a trial project for a potential employer is always a great way for both sides to see if it is the right fit all around.

7. Your portfolio

Maybe they do teach you this in design school now, (I don’t know its been so long), anyways what sets any portfolio apart is overall variety, the ability to speak to the specific problems being addressed and, how your solution was the best answer. For those just starting out your school work unfortunately looks and feels like school work. Not that it doesn’t have any value in understanding how you approach problem solving it's just that once you have seen a creative typography assignment it feels like you’ve seen them all. Try to include some self-directed promotional pieces or better yet, do some freelance or even pro-bono work for actual clients. You’ll up your credibliity rating substantially. For those with a number of years under your belt, don’t be tempted to pass off group projects where you only played a specific role into something larger. It's easier to spot than you may think and if one has to dig to find out the real story it doesn’t look good.

8. Networking

Together with being a brilliant creative thinker the world is a very social place and you need to put the time and effort into learning the art of schmoozing. Luckily, there are many different ways to get out there, both electronically and in person. I would advise that whichever way is the most uncomfortable for you to spend some time exploring that option and dealing with the imaginary fears you may be building up for yourself. For me networking is all about finding ways to help other people as much or if not more than trying to get people to help you. Just get out there and do it.

9. Humble Confidence

And last but not least, a core value we subscribe to at Sandbox that we call humble confidence. In all aspects of life sometimes you are a master and sometime you are a student. Some of what humble confidence means for us at Sandbox is:

1) Quietly yet firmly sharing ones opinions when for the benefit and encouragement of others and the accomplishment of the mission.

2) Inviting honest feedback and evaluation; willing to be held accountable.

3) Listen first then listen some more then speak.