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Back-to-School Advice for Art and Design Students

By Charles Purdy

It’s that time again. After a summer of vacationing, interning, summer jobbing, relaxing, creating, waiting, dreaming, and perhaps (just a little) dreading, it’s time for art and design students everywhere to head back to classrooms and studios. But what do they need to know in order to succeed?

As we here in the Adobe Studio were saying farewell and bon courage to our fantastic summer interns, we went in search of some wisdom to share. Then we realized we could ask some of the seasoned creatives we’ve featured in Adobe Inspire this year to share their advice. So we sent them some emails—and here’s what they had to say:

BECKY MURPHY SIMPSON

1. Have fun with your projects. Embrace this time when you can inject your personality into your work. You are the client. You make the rules. 

2. Say no to multitasking. Either commit to the work or commit to rest. You'll find the worst version of both when you try to work and play at the same time. It's okay to turn off the computer and enjoy friends or TV, but don’t kid yourself by thinking you can have both at once.

Get more inspiration from Adobe Creative Resident Becky Murphy Simpson in our profile “We Are All Artists.”

TIMOTHY GOODMAN

Approach design as a practice, not as a profession.

If you want to write, then write. If you want to draw, then draw. If you want to make something weird, then make it. There are no rules.

You gotta make stuff a long time before you can make stuff like yourself. 

See what Timothy Goodman is working on these days, in “Sharpie Art Workshop.”

MARIA GRØNLUND

One of the best things about education is you get in the habit of learning. Some of what you learn during your education is timeless knowledge (or at least long lasting) and some of it might be outdated already on the day you graduate. So learning is really a great habit I can recommend you make a lifelong one.

Education and learning are some of the most life-changing things you can experience. At its best it broadens your horizons and your view on the world, initiates new friendships with like-minded people, and gives you access to new, interesting experiences and an exciting career where you hopefully advance and move into new areas.  

So remember education is a gift you give yourself. Make the best of it.

Watch Maria Grønlund at work in “Creatives at Work: Maria Grønlund’s I Speak Fluid Colors.”

JEREMY PACKER (ZOMBIEYETI)

Learn the theories and the tools, but think for yourself. The academic merits are great—but how you use them is what’s going to separate you from your peers.… Also, don’t trust the MAN!! (Daffy Duck woo-hoo sound effects as ZombieYeti bounces off into the horizon.)

Focus on what you don’t know and unlearn what you do know. Fresh perspective is sorely lacking from the educational cattle farm. Don’t trust the MAN!!!

But seriously, do as I say, not as I do.... Don’t trust the MAN!!!!"

And lastly, become a hermit. Work your ass off now so you can work your ass off later but for a decent wage.

Learn more about Jeremy Packer (a.k.a. ZombieYeti) in our video profile “Zombies, Yetis & Pinball.”

NADINE CHAHINE

Learn new words.

Design is a language. Every time we see an interesting design solution (a great typeface, a powerful combination of color, an exciting layout, and so on) we learn new words. To design is to speak this language, and we cannot speak well if we have limited vocabulary. As it is in any language, the fun part is when we put these words together and we come up with something interesting to say. To do this, we need to be keenly aware of the world around us, not just the design discipline we practice. And we must make the effort to discover what other designers have said before us. The role of design research is important, for it teaches us the design language, even if all we plan to do is design in completely new styles. So for this new academic year, go hunting for those words, and don’t forget to have fun while doing so!

Learn more about Nadine Chahine in our video profile “Arabic Type Designer Nadine Chahine.”

MIKE WINKELMANN (BEEPLE)

I would say the biggest piece of advice would be to continue learning outside the classroom. Don’t just sit back and rely on them to “teach” you everything—you need to do tutorials and work on your own projects outside of school. These will give you the freedom to explore whatever you are most interested in and help build your portfolio as well.  

Also, start an everyday project :-)

Read more about Mike Winkelmann (a.k.a. Beeple) and his seven-year everyday project in “Best of Behance: Beeple.”

NICOLE JACEK

·  You don’t know shit. Stay humble. Be curious.

·  Remember, it’s not about grades; it’s about your passion.

·  If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will. Stay focused.

·  Make sure to always work hard (always, always, always!!!) and to surround yourself with the right people.

Learn more about Nicole Jacek in our Q&A “The Thoughtful Design of Nicole Jacek.”

JEN ADRION & OMAR NOORY

Finished is always better than perfect. This is true both in school and in real life, so now is a great time to get into the habit of getting things done. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture. You could sit and tweak a project forever, but if it’s not finished, your instructors (and future clients!) won’t be happy. 

School assignments are only the beginning. It’s so important to make time for personal projects, even if it feels like you don’t have enough hours in the day. While schoolwork teaches you how to solve problems within the boundaries of an assignment, personal projects help you build your own artistic voice. Both of these skills are equally important for a designer, so do whatever you can do strengthen both sides. 

Jen Adrion and Omar Noory, (a.k.a. These Are Things) talk about success in this installation of  our “Fail” column.

SNASK

So you’re back at school ready to learn and excel in the world of design and creativity. An industry not always easy to navigate, especially not as a student. However, a few years of employment in the industry, and you realize quickly that it’s a slow-moving giant ruled by old, conservative men with too much power. Much like the rest of the world. So what do you do now?

1. Become a doer before you start to talk.

You’re at school. You can do whatever you want. You are free, and you have an incredible amount time. You don’t think so, but once you’re in the industry you realize how much time you had to do stuff when you were a student. Start your own club night. Organize concerts. Create events. Make your own brand. There are thousands and thousands of ideas that you can realize, and you will never have so much time to develop and experiment as you do when you’re a student. Also, when you graduate remember that most experienced creatives have families, and that means they have less time than you do and less freedom. So take advantage of that as well and put your time and effort into being groundshakingly good. Become invaluable.

2. Kill the competition.

Like I said before, the industry is conservative and slow. Do you want to wait for them, or would you rather go your own way and simply walk around the competition? What I’m talking about is being online—using the advantage of your generation. We live in a world where most agencies don’t know what Behance is and don’t have more than a few hundred followers on Facebook. We get constant attention, as well as work, by being on online networks. We get zero attention from our local industry—we’ve never been booked to talk at a Swedish creative conference, but we are headlining some of the worlds largest.

Get more wisdom from Snask in “Failure Is the Main Reason for Our Success.”

ANITA FONTAINE

Make things. Every day. Experiment. Find your crew. Help us save the world.

Watch Anita Fontaine experiment and make things in “WTFIT: Anita Fontaine.”

AMI VITALE

My advice to young creatives is to find a passion project that you really care about and work on it obsessively. Make it yours. Make it unique. Don’t create what you think people are going to like. Create from your heart, and find your own style and passion.

The second is not to feel as though [a photojournalist] needs to travel to a foreign country to tell a good story. I see so many portfolios that are superficial travel images that all feel the same. You have to work on a story for years. Work on something in your backyard. It allows you to be there often and cover the issue over time. And if you do want to cover a story in a foreign country, go live there and commit to the story. It’s very difficult to go deep into a story when you only parachute in and out. The biggest misconception about getting to work for National Geographic is that people feel they need to cover a foreign country for it to be interesting. That’s not how it works. Photography is really about intimacy and getting to know a place. Going deep is essential. 

Last and maybe most importantly, be generous and help others. It’s not a zero-sum game. Especially when it’s on these big issues, everyone will tell a story in a unique way. Sure, others may be your competition now, but if you care enough about a story and keep working at it, you will be able to do that work and find a home for it. The more generous you are, I find the more it comes back to you.

Meet photojournalist Ami Vitale in our video profile “It’s About the Stories.”

AARON DRAPLIN

I remember kids sleeping in class. Either out of exhaustion or lack of interest. Do this: Figure out precisely how much each hour of each class costs, and then remind yourself how much it costs in your life to earn that amount. That’ll make you savor each minute on the clock. Take it seriously, work hard, and make your teachers work for it! And pay off the poisonous school loans as soon as you can, by any means necessary.

Get more advice from Aaron Draplin in “10 Pointers for a Somewhat Fail-Proof Existence.”