An insightful question that clearly keeps everyone up at night.
Ah, the age-old question that has plagued aspiring designers for centuries (or, at least, since the advent of the internet and the proliferation of free tutorials and online how-to videos). To go to design school, or not to go to design school, that is the question.
On one hand, we have the hallowed halls of design schools, where young minds (and some older minds) are moulded, and nurtured into becoming the designers of tomorrow. It's a place where you can learn the fundamentals of design—colour theory, typography, composition, and branding. On the other hand, there is taking it on yourself with the help of thousands of experts who will share their knowledge with you online.
Attending a design school will mean learning from experienced instructors that can guide you towards finding your own style, being able to think critically and helping you understand what will be expected of you in ‘the real world’. You will also get to experiment with expensive design tools that you may not have access to otherwise.
Moreover, having a degree or certificate from a reputable design school can be a major selling point when it comes time to enter the job market. Employers know that a student who has gone through a design programme has been exposed to a wide range of design techniques and theories. This can give a student a leg up in the job market.
You also can’t forget that attending a design school will give you the chance to share your ideas with your peers and learn from each other. And, most importantly for some, will give you a student experience that a lot of people treasure for most of their lives—those special moments when you’re puking cheap alcohol up in a gutter at 3 am. Who can forget?
But, while this all sounds really good, there is a big factor that can really make the pros of formal education pale in comparison: The cost.
There are a lot of people who opt instead to learn on their own through the power of the internet and their own natural talent. An obviously necessary route for people in difficult financial circumstances. The access to information online has levelled the playing field somewhat so that you don't need to rely on searching for a long-lost rich relative that can front you the money. Or, alternatively, pay off your loan until you retire.
Learning on your own does have other advantages besides the very obvious one of costs. Like being able to keep pace with the rapidly changing design industry. You can also focus on your specific niche, rather than having to spend time on areas of design that may not interest you.
The answer to whether to go to design school is not very satisfying. Because, like all things in life, there is no one right answer. Your specific individual circumstances and learning style and financial situation will determine the right answer for you. But, the important thing to remember is that neither option will be the wrong one. And no matter what route you choose, you’ll still have the potential to become a really successful designer.
The great thing about design is even if you don't have the money to attend a fancy design school, you can access so much information online. This makes it a career that is accessible to a lot more people—an important fact as the cost of living crisis makes paying for studying further out of reach for some people. The proof, for design, is as they say, in the pudding. Your portfolio will be the way you prove yourself.
And the design industry is constantly evolving and changing. What was considered good design five years ago may not be good design today. It's so important for designers to stay current and to improve their skills continuously. Whether you attend design school or teach yourself, make sure you are always learning and growing as a designer.
The key to success as a graphic designer is a combination of talent, drive, and hard work (and being a man doesn’t hurt. Read: The Gender Gap in the Design Industry), no matter what route you take to get there.