College just wasn’t for me anymore. I won’t necessarily say that college is a waste of time for aspiring UX designers and product designers, that I didn’t learn anything, or that my path is necessarily the right one. As a matter of fact, I’m super grateful for my first few years of college and my time in the industrial design program.
Before I got into that program, I couldn’t sketch, I didn’t know what design-thinking was, I knew jack-shit about user-centered design, and I sure as hell didn’t understand that design was something beyond aesthetics. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without my professors, mentors, and fellow students.
It was in school that I learned design process, teamwork, brainstorming, iteration, testing, and many other skills. However, after a couple years, my time in formal education had run it’s course. I had gone out and gotten a taste of working in the real world. Actually experiencing the reality of design processes, working with real constraints, and real bosses and coworkers.
At the end of the day, the projects and constraints in school are entirely manufactured. You don’t get the constraints of real users, real cost of implementation, or real dynamics of a team. You must adhere to deadlines and deliverables that are arbitrary.
I couldn’t go back to school because I learned that products are living and breathing things. They change, they break, they’re dynamic, and as a designer, you have to consider all the moving parts. I wasn’t going to learn any more about product in school. They would have just been exercises - not field duty.
In the year and a half I could spend finishing school, I have the opportunity to learn so much more from working on my own in the field, as well as learning from other practicing professionals. The idea that I need to get the piece of paper as insurance just wasn’t a good enough reason for me to stay.
So what can students do to be prepared for the real world, if school isn’t going to do it? And how can schools do a better job of preparing their students?
Real-world experience: internships, mentorships, apprenticeships, entrepreneurship. Design is a trade, as much as it is an artform. There is a great deal to learn from teachers, but many of them are not serious, practicing professionals. Many don’t do the extra work to understand and keep up with current tools, industry awareness, and modern practices (go ahead and ask them about Agile and Lean UX).
In addition to learning from practicing professionals, students need to put themselves into positions where they can learn the ins-and-outs of product. If you don’t put yourself through the rigors of reality, nor do you put your products through implementation and usage - then you can’t begin honing your skills in building real products and experiences.
If you are a professional or a student, I’d like to know your thoughts on the matter. Leave a comment or send me a tweet