Can You Start A Brand Without Going To Design School?
A degree in fashion, textile, or interior design can help your career, but is it absolutely necessary? No!
Design schools offer structured education on both the theoretical and practical aspects of designing, but none of this helps us to become a successful designer if we aren't creative, talented or passionate about it. Of course, there are definite advantages of going to design school, but you can still become a designer without attending one. In fact, there are many successful designers, such as Alexander Wang, who haven't attended design school.
Why then should we attend design schools at all? To find out, let's take a look at the various factors associated with these Universities, and decide whether formal academic training is worth it.
Why Go To Design School?
Design in any form, whether it is textile, interiors or graphics, is a creative industry. The success of your brand does not depend on whether you attended fashion school.
Let's take a look at the various benefits of attending design school.
Pros Of Attending Design School
The Intangible Stuff
When you go to design school, you shouldn't aim to just complete your formal training and obtain a certificate. Instead, you should learn all that you can to make yourself an all-rounded designer. This article, “ Is Design School Actually Worth It?” on Greyscalegorilla emphasises that you should prioritise more intangible things like design, typography, composition, colour theory and story telling at University, instead of hard knowledge, like software.
I have to say that I agree with this. I went to design school and learned about the software I should be using, like Photoshop and Illustrator. I then spent hours and hours mastering the programs outside of the studio. The studio was the place for interacting with likeminded people, networking, learning theories, broadening my design knowledge and opening my mind to different ideas and ways of doing things. Consequently, at home was where I developed the software knowledge I use daily to run my ethical textile company, Offset Warehouse, but my eyes were opened to the social and environmental horrors in the design industry while I was studying. It was this realisation that led me to start my company in the first place!
Perfecting Your Design
It is not possible to make a perfect product. With every design, comes a better design idea and an improvement you could make. Design school opens your eyes to this. Your work will come under scrutiny from your peers and lecturers, and you'll soon be pushed by those around you to create products that are bigger and better. University gives you the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. You also receive guidance on different methods, technologies and ideas to really push your work to the best it can be.
At design school, you get a real taste of what your future job could be. As you work on different projects, you learn how to handle deadlines and complete work on time, just like you would once you begin working. You're often encouraged to work in different areas, and hone in on the areas where you excel.
The equipment and facilities you have access to are often world class, so make the most of them whilst you can. It may sound geeky but going to the library and having access to so many design books, magazines and online journals was one of my favourite things about going to University. I also tried to use as many different departments as I could. I wasn't just working in the fashion department, I was using the print room to screen print onto metal, I collaborated with textile designers, product designers and vehicle design, used 3D printing, laser cutting... you name it! It's all incredible experience and made me a better designer all round.
The theory side of design is also explored deeply. Some students find this the worst aspect of school, but others find it fascinating. Understanding the theory behind design can improve your work tremendously, and it's unlikely to be something that you focus on going it alone.
Another huge advantage of going to school is being mentored and tutored by professionals, often those from the industry, who can guide you on the right path. Their experience and advice will be immensely valuable, and can help you realise your strengths and also find out where you need to put in more effort. Some students even say the entire course was worth it because of one tutor. Just look at the influence of Central St Martins Fashion Design MA tutor Louise Wilson. Now sadly deceased, she launched the careers of designers like Phoebe Philo and Alexander McQueen.
Going to design school helps you build the contacts to work with. When you are on your own, it is difficult to find the right people who will help launch your brand. Finding contacts is easier when you are at school, as you have teachers and classmates who can help you get your first break. Many business partnerships are formed at art school.
Why Design School Isn't Always Worth It
Time & Money
You will need at least three years in school to complete your degree in fashion design. If you go on to complete an MA, that can be another one to two years full time. Apart from all this time, you will also be spending a huge amount of money for the course. Not to mention the materials that you need to create your products, which are usually not covered by the course. Is it really worth it?
Design Schools Don't Know It All
Jonathan Ive, head designer at Apple, complains that most design schools focus on teaching software, not the physical making behind the product. As a result, students lack vital knowledge to make them inherently good designers. In his words, "That's just tragic, that you can spend four years of your life studying the design of three dimensional objects and not make one."
You Don't Like It
A whopping 70% of students don't finish their design course. Some of this is to do with my first point, time and money, but a lot of it is to do with the stress of it all. Being critiqued on your work can be emotionally draining. The hours are long and deadlines are incredibly stressful. I remember nights of working until 4am, catching 3 hours to get into University for 8am... it was rough. So, if you're not strong enough to have your designs pulled apart and you're not prepared for a nights of sleep deprivation - design school is probably not for you.
How To Design On Your Own
You can become a designer without attending design school, if you are talented and know how to acquire the necessary skills. To begin, you should be computer literate and study the software that will help you do the graphic design for your product. You can study almost any software with online tutorials and website articles today. Websites like Lynda allow you to do this easily. Check out the article, 5 Sites That Help You Become A Designer Without Going To Design School to find out more about the various tools and websites that will help you. Websites like Designhill even allow you to create your portfolio and showcase your design.
To gain better insight into the actual design part and to improve your skills, read plenty of books and magazines on the subject and attend workshops or courses on relevant topics. Also, polish your writing skills as a good designer needs good communication skills to sell his brand. Start putting together a portfolio of your designs and ideas. Enter design competitions to showcase your talents and get noticed. Also consider doing internships with design firms, so you can build your contacts, gain experience and get an actual feel of how the industry works.
Would I Do It Again?
Undertaking my Masters was the toughest thing I've ever done. But what made it tough, was the most valuable thing I took away. I worked fourteen hour days and came up against some huge egos. I don't think one meeting with my lecturers went well - I always left confused and flustered, and disappointed that I had more to give with what I considered a perfect design. And while the software and design skills are certainly useful in my day to day life as a textile business owner, what I developed during my time at University was much much more valuable: Strength, determination, fight-back, reason. I learnt to present my ideas to intimidating industry leaders and bullish peers. I learnt to stand up for myself and what I believe in - I developed a voice. A dedicated work ethic is now the norm - and working twelve to eighteen hour days, even on the weekend, is something that is required when you first start a business. While most of what I learned could be read in a book, many of the skills and traits I developed at University are vital to my businesses success today - I doubt I would have even had the courage to set out on my own without it.
We can safely conclude that it is possible to start a brand without going to design school. The question is, do you have the drive and passion to do it yourself? No? Then consider going to school, getting all the help you can and giving yourself as much opportunity for success as you can.
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