5 Things Every Design Student Should Learn

Five things every design student should know coming out of school (but probably won’t get taught)

It’s a wonderful new advertising world. Advertising agency shows like Mad Men keep the art school humming with hopeful young minds, flooding out the doors with some truly amazing ways to approach creative problem solving.

It’s just that often, they come out not knowing how to actually prepare a file for print, or web, or anything.

Here’s a little practical knowledge I would love for schools to put into the lesson plans.

  1. FILE PREP – TRADITIONAL: It just makes sense that if you’re gonna design something to be published in print you should know how to set up the file for print. Simple things like live area, trim, and bleed need to part of your vocabulary. Most printing is done in CMYK not RGB and you need to understand the difference. Your file should be set up accordingly. Oh! It needs to be the right resolution too. Here’s a great resource covering the basics.
  1. FILE PREP – DIGITAL: With the advent of the desktop age came the eventual dumbing down of all of us. No more do we have to know how to actually build the piece of art. The programs seem to do it all for you. We WYSWYG it till we like it and hit save. Knowing things like PPI and pixel dimensions and the particular color space used are crucial. Make a point to locate the specs. They’re easily found and keep in mind that they’re different for almost every platform. Oh, and they change often. physical requirements needed for your file to be able to actually run on a printing press. Things like DPI and trim and bleed. Study page imposition versus readers spreads. Frankly it helps to get to know a seasoned printer and talk a project though with them as you go. Here’s a good resource to look over before you call your printer.
  1. PAPER: The mechanics of printing is one thing but you need a working knowledge of paper. Paper has textures, sizes and weights. The options are astounding. Unfortunately the homogenization of printing has a lot of young designers leaning on “online” printers. They have their place for sure. They commoditize the process so simple jobs, done in bulk, end up saving everyone money. That’s a good thing. But they usually leave no room for a creative use for the amazing papers out there. Look up a local paper house and get to know someone in the sample room. They have a room full of great swatch books and cool printed examples plus information about what can be done. Athens Paper in Nashville, Dennis Paper in Nashville
  1. HUMILITY: You became a designer because you believed in your talent, but you don’t know it all yet. Look to the ones that have been in the business a while and ask questions. Maybe even look for a mentor. Your ideas are fresh and valuable, but you’re still green in the process. Even those of us that have been in the business a while have plenty to learn. Good reminders for us all.

Without context these lessons are hard to internalize. I hope you take this advice. Take time to search out this for yourself. It’s not the fun, heady stuff of design classes, but it will impress the heck out of any future employer if you walk in with killer design and concept work and mention that you know the fundamental processes. It could easily set you apart from all the other candidates.


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Image created by Nicole Ngo