There’s hardly a hotter topic for young adults and recent graduates in the United States. No, I’m not talking about Fake Melania or Bernie Sanders. Well, kind of Bernie, maybe. It’s college and the crushing debt that comes with it.
College has become an institution. Basically, you’re expected to get into a four-year university, rack up some debt, and then maybe graduate. In fact, it isn’t like that very much at all. College is still treated like a right, but more and more students aren’t graduating. Even if you graduate, you’re talking about some crazy debt. I’ve been paying on my student loans for the past six years and I’ve taken roughly two percent off my principal balance.
In the world of design, there are a lot of distinguished schools, but also a lot of individuals who have succeeded without that schooling. I know that one design program at a smaller university in the region I live in requires a portfolio before admittance to the design program. I also know people who have no degree, yet they do work for some of the biggest names and labels in the music industry on top of agency careers.
That’s where the afternoon panel at the Eye on Design conference picks up: do you need the degree or is it more about your body of work and how did each of the panel speakers get to where they are today?
Eric Hu, director of design, Ssense
First off, this was my favorite part of the day. This panel was comprised of people doing things that I want to be doing, and each of them had some similar element to their background as what I’ve lived and experienced.
Hu is the director of design for Ssense and I happen to really like that site. I wasn’t familiar with their editorial section right away. I mostly found my way to their site because they have one of the best collections of men’s clothing on any site in North America. Naturally, I can’t afford the Acronym line of items, but when they run a huge sale on their adidas and Champion reverse weave items, I’m there for it.
The site is exceptionally clean, modern, forward-facing, and chic. Hu and the crew at Ssense have put together one of the best sites for fashion with the editorial end acting as the stimulant for your mental after you’ve emptied your wallet.
My biggest takeaway from Hu was this: You must be willing to work and take work when you get it. Don’t treat design projects like they are beneath you if they can pay your bills for three months so that you can spend those three months chasing the projects that you really want. He also mentioned that finances are huge for those who are new to the industry, acknowledging that the only people who can afford to take their time and only work on the what they want are people who come from money. I think that is an extremely underrated element of the young professional experience in 2017. If you don’t have a parent bankrolling your lifestyle, you can’t afford to be picky about the jobs you take.
Erik Brandt, graphic designer + educator; department chair, Minneapolis College of Art + Design
While Hu resonated with me because of his acknowledgement that you need to take the work you can get and that only the rich can afford the luxury of exclusively taking on projects that they feel like doing, I liked the contrast of Brandt.
Brandt is a well-traveled designer and department chair at MCAD. That’s kind of a big deal and not the kind of thing one achieves without some type of degree. Brandt mentioned lots of travels, a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, some time in Egypt, Germany, and southeast Asia if I recall correctly.
Now in Minneapolis, Brandt is inspiring and challenging the future minds of design. He had a wealth of information to share and seemed like a true student of the life experience, which probably aids him in his role as educator.
My favorite thing from Brandt’s contribution to the panel was not his socks, those were a close second. I appreciate most that he has a mini-art installation on the side of his garage. The rotating art and his choice to display the art others create was a lot of fun and I think it would be great if more of us supported developing artists and spiced up the sides of our ugly garages.
Hassan Rahim, designer-artist-director
This panel was such a home run. Hu and Brandt were fantastic, but Rahim said a lot of things that were right on the mark for my personal life and the way I’ve carried it for several years now.
Rahim said that he came up through the skateboard scene in SoCal and had a love for music, that still pervades all of his work today (as I write this, I’m wearing a Jacques Greene shirt that Rahim designed). There came a point, Rahim shared, where he was either going to download Fruity Loops or Photoshop and the Photoshop file was smaller and that’s how he became a designer.
He mentioned Boiler Room, skateboarding, Jacques Greene, Nike and his work ethic. All of those things were direct hits with my taste and experience.
Work ethic, more than a degree or an MFA, is what Rahim said you should acquire. He mentioned that when your day job ends, that’s when you need to not join your co-workers at happy hour – you need to go home and start working on the stuff that you really want to be doing, the things that you’re passionate about and want to be your future.
This blog doesn’t look like much, but this is just one of five or six sites that I’ve written at over the past five years. I’ve made it on to some large website networks, I’ve improved. It opened a door into a marketing position. Now, I write and learn design every single day – and every single night. It me so hard that Rahim was essentially affirming my position on work and the way I’ve lived the past three or four years. Your day job will pay the bills, but it’s all the other work, disciple, determination that you do in your own time that will determine who you become.
Daniel Coughlin - @xvanwilderx