Do You Really Need a Degree To Succeed in Graphic Design?

In short…kind of.

Bauhaus Poster

For people who are unfamiliar with the technology and processes of design — from the artistic form to the technical know-how necessary to execute ideas — going to school is one of THE best ways to learn. You have to choose your school carefully though. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting caught up in a program that doesn’t necessarily fit your goals or approaches.

I was lucky to go to a private art school for one (very short) semester. In that space of time I learned a lot about the art behind it. I spent almost ten years learning the science of it beforehand, and imitating what I saw in magazines and books. In that short period of time I was thrown in to the more artistic, ethereal challenges behind my projects. When I left that private art school and transferred in to a local state university, I was flabbergasted. Students were still learning to kern. They still tried to run RGB layouts through our four-color printer. They were designing booklets in Photoshop. They hadn’t the slightest cue about binding technologies, HTML, print production, etc…all things that I had essentially grown up with.

The traditional design school experience was very tough for me. I breezed through the coursework but quickly approached my two design professors and asked that they challenge me as hard as they could. (That they did…one drove me to tears!) In my experience it wasn’t the actual course work itself that taught me a lot, but instead my interaction with my professors and the internships with which they connected me. It was also in my dealings with my classmates, by being patient and helping them grow as designers through fair and honest feedback and critiques. It was in helping them understand that design was simply not just a pretty picture but a piece of visual communication that was to eventually be consumed by millions of people…and that it needed to be taken seriously.

What I also never expected was to deal with politics. Different professors had different teaching styles and their own philosophies about how to run their classes. When it came time to seek funding for an international project, I had to deal with the politics between departments, and getting recommendations. Some of the hardest lessons I learned in design school was knowing when to drop a design argument when it became apparent that it came down to taste; understanding that honey attracts more flies than vinegar; and that sometimes it didn’t really matter what other people thought — that if you could unequivocally defend your design, you were designing from an informed point of view. It was also really difficult for me to deal with rejection: I had applied to create my own masters degree program but was rejected on the grounds that my GPA was not high enough. (All credited to the hop-skipping of majors I did prior to switching in to design.) In retrospect that was a blessing in disguise: I would have missed out on the opportunity to work for a boutique ad agency and learn the reins of running a business from the inside out. I would have missed out on working with The Rainmaker Network. I would have missed out on starting my own company. I would have also missed out on enrolling in the degree program at Golden Gate, which has served me so well thus far.

No, it wasn’t the brand identity assignments or the poster designs or even the portfolio class that taught me a lot about the design process. It was the people. It was the patience that was required of me to finish the classes. It was learning how to follow protocol, even if I didn’t want to. It was learning that forms of expression require a process, and that there were no shortcut to success. Design school taught me that I would have to work hard, commit to goals, and set to achieving them if I were ever able to make something of myself.

Amara Poolswasdi Working
A quick snapshot of my working process while I was in Thailand. Note the Advil and sketches EVERYWHERE

So, although you don’t really need the degree itself, I believe that it will help you build the patience and understanding necessary to succeed.

(crossposted to

Can Net Neutrality Realistically Exist?

Net Neutrality Poster by BugbyteHeated discussions are abound online and off regarding net neutrality.

Let’s take a second to actually define net neutrality so that we aren’t operating from errant presuppositions. Net neutrality has been defined as a “buzzword used to describe a principle proposed for users’ access to networks participating in the Internet. The principle advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and the modes of communication.

My opinion in 140 characters or less: Net neutrality is a GOOD idea, but impossible to achieve under our current global infrastructure. #EPICFAIL. PLS RT

My expanded opinion: Let me preface everything I am about to say with this statement — I believe that the concept of net neutrality is fundamentally just and right; it is Utopian in its ideals and has a genuinely deep-seeded objective of freedom of information through technology. Unfortunately, like most of the consortiums, news outlets, and textbooks we have at our disposal, every information source is subject to bias, opinion, and bastardization.

Dalai Lama Tweet

I present to you five obstacles that are currently in our way of complete net neutrality:

1. Commercial Internet Service Providers: As it stands, the Internet is primarily a pay-to-play arrangement. Because access to the Internet isn’t inherently free to begin with, the trickle-down effect presupposes that the actual content that you receive once you get online won’t really be free either. This results in media that is placed or paid, through journalistic perspectives, sales/marketing objectives, or agendas of major financial backers realized through a farm team of advocates. (See #4.) IRL examples: Google search engine advertising; Software/hardware/appware strategic partnerships for smartphones (i.e. Motorola Droid with Google via Verizon Wireless service with Amazon MP3 store preinstalled).

2. Governments and Political Agendas: (In this case I am using “governments” and “political” in their fundamental context, where institutions that regulate any social relationships via authority or power qualify as a government or political institution and can carry out the agenda of a select few. This can be the city/state/national government, a religious institution, an educational system, and other culturally accepted bodies of authority) Governments are supposed to work with us, not against us. Unfortunately this has been the struggle since the beginning of recorded history since our usual protocol is 1) we elect them, 2) we decide we don’t like how they’re running things, 3) we do nothing about it OR we inefficiently try to solve the problem by addressing the symptoms and not the causes of our problems. IRL examples: The Great California Marijuana Debate, PETA.

3. Lack of Web-wide Credibility Standards: There is no governing body or accreditation of information provided online. There is no “stamp of approval” to qualify truths and credible information. Currently, credibility is cloaked by commercial and political agendas. Because you essentially “get what you pay for,” the rules of caveat emptor (buyer beware) apply. Credibility is being bought and sold like a commodity — and when that “credibility” has the power to sway nations into action or economies into tailspins, then yes, I suppose you can in fact put a dollar figure on it. Unfortunately, since information is not a tangible good, you cannot “return” it. All you can do is try to erase it from our collective memory, but unfortunately, the information has been imprinted in our culture and thought processes. I don’t know about you but my mental environment is much more expensive than the Internet bill I received and paid for. IRL examples: All unsponsored content in the blogosphere.

4. Paid, Earned, and Owned Media, a.k.a. Commercial Agents of Information:  It’s hard to report the news with freedom from commercial interests when there are bills to pay. Whether it’s through sponsorship, controlling interest, or strategic injection of loaded opinions or material, paid, earned, and owned media makes it difficult to have an honest conversation. If someone is paying to place content, it’s not unadulterated truth: it’s advertising. If it’s a story that has been deemed newsworthy by a writer, an editor, etc., the story probably got to them through marketing and PR efforts…and that qualifies as earned media. If the media channel itself is owned by a person or a company, and not the people, then it has an agenda. Logically then, by those standards, all paid, earned, and owned media serve as commercial agents of information. IRL examples: My mother watched a video news release on Christmas Day and thought it was factual and not opinionated. Public radio stations getting paid to play the same songs over and over again. Texas rewriting textbooks that will eventually be distributed to the rest of the United States.

5. Dumb People: Not everyone will make the best choices with the information they find online. This isn’t to stay ignorant people are to blame. (Ignorant people just don’t know. Dumb people don’t know any better.) Dumb people — the people who read unmoderated information and believe it to be the truth without challenging the PR spin, the loaded statements, and/or the statistics blown out of proportion — make net neutrality dangerous. For the most part, people who are fighting for net neutrality tend to be pretty intelligent people to begin with. They can form cohesive statements and arguments in any direction if they tried. If said dumb person reads unmoderated, unfiltered information online and can’t discern between truth and false, and right and wrong, then net neutrality puts all of us relatively intelligent people at risk. IRL examples: Woman gets murdered after changing her Facebook relationship status. Tea Party mind control rhetoric. Kid finds recipe to make a pipe bomb and blows up the neighborhood by accident.

My conclusion:

  • Net neutrality begins internally — we must first examine our collective processes of the way we consume, interpret, and synthesize information.
  • A completely free Internet dilutes the collective intelligence required to discern truth from false.
  • To truly achieve net neutrality, we must all break down the obstacles that are in our way. Seeing as though said obstacles are finely engrained in our global infrastructure, its pursuit many actually cause more harm than good. (Will the ends justify the means?)
  • We ought to focus on closing the digital divide before we focus on net neutrality. We put the cart before the horse again.
  • Net neutrality is Utopian and worth striving for. We just need to proceed with caution.

I’m curious to see what your thoughts are on it! What’s your opinion on net neutrality?