Do you need a degree to become a designer?

by Mar 10, 2015
DesignWithoutDegree

Do you need a degree to become a successful creative? Nat discusses. 

Having a degree isn’t everything. Over my years in the industry I have learnt that just because you have a university qualification doesn’t mean you are going to be the best at your job or in fact get a job for that matter.

Most creative folk take the university path that’s laid out to us as being oh so important, myself included, but when push comes to shove, is this the best way to take up a creative career? I have met so many designers that are self taught, having been given that lucky break from a willing employer taking a chance on someone they think may one day sparkle. These designers don’t have the looming student loan debt hanging over their heads and in fact, have a lot more industry experience that the average graduate. So why do people do a degree at all? Well without a degree it’s a game of luck. You do need to push harder, knock on more doors and be proactive in your approach to gain access inside the big shiny golden advertising gates. All of this without forgetting that you need to hunt down that one person, your future boss, who is willing to take a chance on a clean slate and spend time to nurture and grow your skills. But if you are willing to take the risk then it could pay off to your advantage.

To gain some background into this topic I asked a few of the self taught designers I have met along the way to answer a few questions on their experience in the industry:

Jeff Osborne
I worked with Jeff for many years and his talent for 3D design and animation never ceased to astound me. His work has been featured on Creative Bloq, Advanced Photoshop Magazine Cover and even as the front cover of Time Out magazine. You may have also seen some of his creative skills around town for Virgin Media and NSPCC. So how did Jeff start out? Well it wasn’t at university.

What’s your role?
Senior 2D/3D Graphic Artist / Animator

How long have you been in the industry?
24 Years

How did you get into the industry initially?
I left school and got an apprenticeship as a four colour planner (the equivalent to a modern day artworker, but using film instead of a Mac).

Do you ever feel like you are at any disadvantage because you don’t have a degree?
Not at all, if anything it’s an advantage as I wasn’t influenced by anybody else’s ideas or what looks good and what doesn’t. Apart from that I didn’t have a whacking big student loan wrapped around my neck like a millstone!

What’s the one bit of advice you would give someone without a degree who is thinking of pursuing a role as a designer?
Firstly if you are thinking of taking a design course, think wisely about it. Sum up the pros and cons of what you will gain and look at companies for an apprenticeship scheme. This way you will be learning from seasoned professionals, learning from the bottom to the top and most of all, earning whilst learning, not paying off a huge debt when you start work!

Secondly, be thirsty for knowledge. Learn, learn, learn. Master programs and don’t think you know it all, because no one likes a big head and there is always someone else who is better.

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To find about Jeff and see see more of work visit his site here: behance.net/osbjef

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James Andrews
James is a very talented illustrator and graphic artist of who I also used to work with and watched grow rapidly over a short space of time. His graphic skills are top notch and with his constant passion for design he is always looking to improve his talents and push the boundaries. James now works at well known ad agency WCRS for clients such as Sky, Warburtons and Betfair.

What’s your role?
Designer

How long have you been in the industry?
3 years

How did you get into the industry initially?
I followed a company called Monorex for a long time and I spent a lot of time working on my portfolio before I mustered up the courage to apply for an internship. I did and luckily they took me on. I learnt a hell of a lot there which gave me great grounding to move on to other things. I am also fortunate to have family in the industry which gave me a foot in the door later on down the line but you still have to be able walk the walk once you get through the door.

Do you ever feel like you are at any disadvantage because you don’t have a degree?
Yes, initially. I spent a lot of time working on my portfolio and not really getting anywhere but I guess I was almost doing my own degree because I was still doing the work and the research and had an inherent interest in the subject just like the people who were studying. If anything I guess I probably had more freedom. I knew what I wanted to do and eventually all the hard work paid off. I got rejected from uni twice!

What’s the one bit of advice you would give someone without a degree who is thinking of pursuing a role as a designer?
> Put the hours in
> Research what you’re passionate about and the areas of the industry you would like to work in
> Have a list of your 5 favourite companies and make it your goal to get into one of them.
> Speak to people and make connections
> Have belief in your ability

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To find out about James and see more of his work visit his site here: intheblockhead.tumblr.com

In conclusion, at the end of the day there will always be a way to get where you want to be in the industry, whether it be by doing a degree or pursuing other paths. As long as you have a thick skin, determination, passion and will power you will eventually find your lucky break and the rest will fall into place. Good luck.

Words by – Natalie Jahangiry

[Imagery courtesy of Jeff Osbourne & James Andrews]

About Natalie Jahangiry

Natalie is half Persian with a Geordie accent. Although small in stature, she makes up for it with a big personality! As a Graphic Designer you will often find Natalie gushing about her passion for all things creative and sharing her ideas with everyone and anyone who will listen. If she’s not decorating her house you will find her cooking up recipes from her foodie family or propped up in a cocktail bar in town.