In 1919, modern design education leapt into the public consciousness as the Bauhaus school was unveiled in Germany. Bauhaus was a design school whose primary intention was to bring all fields of art together.
Compared to the way design had been previously taught, Bauhaus focused on the concept of modernism, which emphasized simplified forms, rationality, functionality, and the idea that mass production and industry could be reconciled with artistic sensibilities. Around the same time, the Parsons School of Design was being built in New York City by Frank Parsons, who believed that art and design would soon become deeply connected to the evolution of modern business and industry. The curriculum he built was similarly focused on teaching students the fundamentals of modern design.
Throughout the 20th century, hundreds of design universities spread across the globe, spurred on by the early successes of Parsons and Bauhaus. However, design education was nevertheless still reserved to people who were able to afford to attend an institution. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. The proliferation of the internet has democratized the process of becoming a creative professional like never before. The traditional methods of learning design (e.g. going to a university) still exist, but so do hundreds of other incredible tools, both online and offline. With the proper combination of determination, discipline, and time, practically anyone can learn the skills needed to become a designer.
But with so many options available just a few mouse clicks away, how do you decide which option is the best fit for you? And how do you ensure you’re getting the feedback and critique you need to properly build up your skills (since studies show that 1-on-1 teaching throughout your education can significantly improve your ability to improve quickly)?
We know that the options can feel overwhelming, so we’ve put together a list of the best ways to learn design depending on your personality, budget, lifestyle, and personal goals. And if you ever want to chat with an experienced designer as you embark on your creative education, check out this article that provides some tips for finding a design mentor.
If You Prefer a Formal Education in a Traditional Classroom
If you have the budget and time, a formal education at an accredited design school is still one of the best ways to become a designer. Not only will you spend years learning the fundamentals and practicing with modern design tools, you’ll also be constantly surrounded by students just as passionate as you and teachers with decades of experience in a number of industries.
Check out a list of the best design schools in the world here and here, and the best schools in the US here.
- You’ll spend years learning the fundamentals at a design college. This can really help to set you apart when you’re looking for jobs and expanding your technical abilities.
- Being surrounded by hundreds of people always trying to do their best work and teachers who live and breathe design education.
- Many top design schools pride themselves on constantly updating their curriculum to keep up with modern design trends.
- An incredible alumni community and career services department that will help you find a job upon graduating.
- Slow. If you’re hoping to become a designer as quickly as possible, design school likely isn’t the best option for you, since most schools take at least 3 years to complete. Some colleges have expedited programs but those will still take at least a year.
- Expensive. Most traditional design schools will set you back at least $100k.
- Fairly inflexible curriculum. After choosing a major you have more choice in what classes you take, but you’ll still be required to take a ton of core classes first.
Perfect for anyone who:
- Learns best in small classroom settings and likes to have someone to hold them accountable
- Thrives when surrounded by other people trying to accomplish the same things as them
- Has a high budget (design school can cost well north of $100k over several years)
- Has the flexibility to quit their job and not work for several years (or just work part time)
If You Want to Become a Designer ASAP
If you’re working a job you don’t like and are looking to move to a more fulfilling career as quickly as possible, a bootcamp might be the best bet for you. Bootcamps come in many shapes and sizes. Some take place in-person and others take place entirely online. They generally include 40+ hours of weekly classroom instruction, as well as frequent group assignments, 1-1 sessions with an assigned mentor, and great job placement opportunities. In terms of payment, many bootcamps allow you to pay upfront — or take the course for free, if you agree to pay them a fixed percentage of the salary from your first post-bootcamp job!
In-person bootcamps are generally preferable to online bootcamps, since there are a ton of intangible benefits to being in the same space as your teachers and classmates. Some of the best reviewed in-person bootcamps are General Assembly and Shillington.
If you prefer to learn online, there are also a ton of great options. Schools like Bloc and Springboard are paving the way when it comes to online bootcamps. You can find a full list of bootcamps here.
- Extensive job placement opportunities. Bootcamps are designed explicitly for people trying to find jobs quickly, so that’s where their biggest focus lies. After graduating, most bootcamps hold job fairs with lots of companies in attendance (mostly in the tech world).
- Being surrounded by lots of other hyper-motivated people just like you. During most bootcamps, you’ll work on group projects with your classmates and be paired with mentors to give you feedback and critique.
- Speed. Bootcamps pack an entire design education in to 3 months. They’re hard work but you can bet you’ll come out on the other end with more knowledge than you thought possible in such a short time frame.
- Curriculum that is built around the most modern and up-to-date design theories and tools, with a focus on preparing you for the job market.
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