Three Lessons I Learned on my Own in Design School


So far in design school, I’ve learned innumerable lessons ranging from soft skills to hard skills. I was taught these lessons by professors, alumni, professionals, mentors, and others. Besides the lessons that were taught to me, I learned three big lessons on my own.

  1. Start thinking about your post-design school future early on, and look for job opportunities that you can learn from as a sophomore or freshman.

    If you’re a sophomore or even a freshman, it’s not too early to start thinking about your future after design school. It’s likely that you may change your mind about what your future will look like, but I strongly believe that it is important to start exploring around that time…and keep exploring until you decide what your path will be post-graduation (the timeline varies from person-to-person). I learned to start early because I was stubborn to advice from others. As a freshman, I was told over and over by several, older, more experienced people that I should wait until my Junior year to start thinking about internships and portfolios. While I didn’t get any specific industrial design internships after my freshman year, I started thinking carefully about how to get opportunities that I could learn from nonetheless. If I hadn’t done this, I don’t think I would have applied for or been accepted for a virtual reality (VR) research internship after my freshman year. At the time, I didn’t quite understand how virtual reality research would help me later on, but now I understand that it was an invaluable experience that I can now talk about as a junior.

  2. Learning how to do a portfolio is just as important as having good work in there.

    I spent the summer after my sophomore year making many iterations to my portfolio, which was something that I didn’t get much encouragement for. I was told that these sophomore projects wouldn’t go into my final portfolio that I would eventually use to apply for internships. What they said was partially true, I will admit. However, I also think that in the process of refining my portfolio at length and asking many mentors and professionals to look over it and offer feedback, I greatly improved on communicating any project that I could put in my portfolio. It is so much easier to work on portfolio projects now that I’ve had that experience, but of course, I’m still getting better.

  3. If you’re pushed towards a studio project concept that you’re unsure about, this helps to convince others to support your idea.

    In the industrial design studio, typically student designers produce a multitude of concepts in the early stages of their projects. The professor, or also perhaps other students, will review them and give feedback. Eventually, students must narrow down their idea to one concept, and in these reviews, their studio class can offer which idea they think they should go with or how they should go with a particular idea.

    Industrial design students that I’ve talked to often face the struggle of being encouraged to go a certain direction by their professor, but they may personally oppose that idea or the idea’s direction.

    In my own experience, I proceed from this situation by taking both concepts (regardless of whether they recommended two or just one), developing them both further, and presenting them as two good options at the next class. In doing this, I either gain support for the idea that I liked originally, or I begin to understand their feedback and take it in my own direction, depending on the development. I found that if you can convince others of the merit of your idea, they are more likely to accept it and support it. If they know you seem unsure, they might encourage you to go in a different (not necessarily bad) direction than what you may have realized yourself.

    Those are my three main lessons that I’ve learned from my personal experience in design school. I thought I would share these lessons to educate others on what I found personally beneficial in the hopes of helping other student designers as well. Good luck and contact me if you have any questions!