Do you NEED a Degree to be a Designer?

Do you NEED a Degree to be a Designer?

Published by June 25, 2021 4:23 pm Comments Off on Do you NEED a Degree to be a Designer?
I wrote a short questionnaire aimed at Designers of all disciplines to harness their thoughts on whether a degree is a benefit when working in the design industry. 
My intention was to use my findings and pass this industry opinion on to those moving through education, or entering the world of employment and looking for a design position.

I asked people to share their experiences of education and employment and how THEY felt that their qualifications had helped or hindered them.

I posted the questionnaire in a Facebook group for creatives, called the Creative Juice, and on LinkedIn. The responses and information I received were rich and interesting. However, the results were not exactly as I had expected … 


Results and Thoughts :

We had responses from a variety of design specialities and roles from UX to Branding, from Solopreneurs to Company Directors with a career demographic which spanned from just a few months, to over 30 years in the business…

And 80% of the responders had a degree.

But only 64% thought that their qualification had benefitted their employment prospects.

“The pace of the uni projects in no way prepared me for real life schedules or industry practices.” 

I am a great believer in learning on the job, and have had a wide variety of blisteringly talented work-placement students come into my company over the years, from a broad spread of educational establishments, from school, college and university, as well as post-graduates.

They have all mentioned gaps in their learning in education, and wondered why they were not better prepared for ‘real life’ and why that was not a part of the curriculum.

“On my first day at work my mentor said forget everything you think you know. And my real education began.”

Which is my thought exactly.

Interestingly, opinions were that, more than your final qualification, it can be your aptitude, the course you choose and your tutor that have a lot to do with how your journey through education benefits you as an individual… 

But feedback comments in the questionnaire also went to the other end of the scale :

“It gave me the skills and confidence to call myself a designer. But most of all, the courses I did gave me a portfolio and the language, so I got hired.”

I am an employer. I run a design agency, albeit a small one. But one that has been serving clients for almost 29 years.

Everyone who has worked for me over the years have ALL had degrees.

But, truth be told (and you may well have rumbled me already…) I am writing this blog with a massive bias … my bias.

I don’t have a degree

I have always been unsure if I was just exceptionally lucky, or if that pact I made with Satan had really paid off… or if I met the right mentors at the right stages and I was prepared to work really hard to absorb and learn from them. But I will never  truly know if the Degree route is better.



It seems that the journey through education does offer valuable experiences that help shape your view and understanding of the world … and may well be a necessary and beneficial step in the development of design skills.

One of perspective, breadth of scope, lack of constraints and time and space to explore.

So how about an alternative, where a greater proportion (a third, perhaps) of the Degree is given over to industry placements. Where education providers (or the students themselves) build relationships with businesses and create a symbiotic situation where the employers help nurture design talent, show what the industry is and how it works, and what will be required of them in terms of time and effort, and in turn have access to fresh talent with all the perspective, ideas and unique viewpoints that they bring.

… surely opening these doors wider can only be a good thing for us all?


Thank You

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