What's something important that you never learned in school?

8 years ago from , Creative Director / Product Designer

I'm doing some research, and wanted to see what other people thought about this.

What are some skills or ideas that every designer should know, but that weren't taught in school?

Here are a few things off the top of my head: 1. How to present designs to clients/stakeholders 2. File/Layer management best practices 3. How to properly estimate, and bill projects


  • Sean LesterSean Lester, 8 years ago

    Everything, man. Going to design school was a really bad way for me to spend 4 years and a lot of money.

    33 points
    • Juan SolanoJuan Solano, 8 years ago

      Really? I studied Design... and I regret nothing! Also, where I studied we had specialisation studies like Digital Media, Project Management, Product design and others. I chose Digital Media and that is why I code and design for food.

      So I guess there are many different approaches to design as a profession. Uni might not be everything you wanted, but I think there is a lot to take from an academic context.

      I also started a Masters Degree in Digital Media, but I didn't finished... and I regret nothing also.

      2 points
      • Jeremy Wells, 8 years ago

        Juan, what's something your school didn't teach you?

        3 points
      • Sean LesterSean Lester, 8 years ago

        I feel like I learned significantly more, and more quickly by simply being in the field and working with other great designers. If I had it to do over again I'd find an entry level or intern position in design ASAP instead of school. However, I went to a pretty bad degree mill school - so other people probably can get way more out of design school. BUT if you can find the work (and ensure you're around talent for mentorship) I think skipping college may be for the best.

        8 points
    • Brian A.Brian A., 8 years ago

      This all the way. While I did learn some good fundamentals in school, probably 90% of what I know came from work experience and being good at Google.

      1 point
  • Aaron SagrayAaron Sagray, 8 years ago
    1. Design is about people, not about craft.

    2. The field of design is moving too fast for professors to keep up. Their advice is 10-20 years out of date.

    3. Tenacity, persuasiveness, humility, iteration and luck are more important to success than getting straight As or having a nice portfolio.

    4. The ability to succinctly express your ideas, cultivate relationships with people, and help others achieve their goals is more important than understanding the nuances of various design theories.

    27 points
  • Zach ReedZach Reed, 8 years ago


    22 points
  • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, 8 years ago

    Communication is key to everything

    6 points
    • Aaron CalzadoAaron Calzado, 8 years ago

      Yes! Clear verbal, written, and visual communication skills is pretty much mandatory.

      0 points
  • Michael GreenMichael Green, 8 years ago

    How to deal with un-creative clients. It would be so helpful to do a joint project with some math nerds or something. Like design a logo for this engineering club. Then you can learn that some people don't see your creative vision and may never.

    We get spoiled being critiques by other creatives but in the real world, you are going to do work for a tractor company and the farmer isn't going to care about your "fru-fru" designs. He want's his grand kid on the front page of the website and that is that!

    4 points
  • Edwin de JonghEdwin de Jongh, 8 years ago

    Learning to work with actual clients and how to convince them of your ideas and creative direction. This is something that I really missed at school, as the projects never really felt 'real', there was never anything at stake other than my grades.

    3 points
  • Aaron CalzadoAaron Calzado, 8 years ago

    What I did in school was the bare minimum a designer should to. Designers—especially young ones should always be hustling.

    2 points
  • Matt WalkerMatt Walker, 8 years ago

    How to develop and mature your taste.

    2 points
    • Jeremy Wells, 8 years ago

      This is a good one!

      1 point
    • Sean LesterSean Lester, 8 years ago

      Yes, my school taught very basic practical principals. What wasn't taught was what's in trend, how to spot and follow trends. How to stay current in design. How to find good work to aspire to. How to "steal like an artist". In fact, we barely were even taught design as it relates to the web. Fucking archaic.

      2 points
  • Ainsley Wagoner, 8 years ago (edited 8 years ago )

    How to solicit feedback.

    In design school we're actually pretty privileged to be under the tutelage of people who know how to give feedback, and what kind of feedback needs to be given to push a design further. We get to just make a thing and then sit back while professors and other design students come up with ideas for improvement and reflections on our work.

    In working with freelance clients, and even with non-designers, I've found myself in dangerous situations when I present a design and then just ask for blanket feedback. It can endanger the work you've done because the conversation can potentially go astray over a non-core aspect of what you've presented.

    So I've had to learn how to present a design, and how to ask for the particular type of feedback I need.

    This could also be filed under "How to work with non-designers" : )

    1 point
  • Emelyn BakerEmelyn Baker, 8 years ago

    This is a great question! And a lot of answers have nailed it — there are certain things that a formal, 4 year degree in design simply can't prepare you for.

    But, a lot of those skills have to be learned on the job. Presenting to clients, achieving stakeholder buy-in, communicating with others... the optimal way to learn these skills is by doing, and "Intro to Visual Communication 01" can't replicate that experience.

    There's a lot that a formal design degree left out for me. I wasn't taught how to use Photoshop. I wasn't taught how to develop a website. I wasn't taught animation principles, and I wasn't taught anything related to UX — since UX had just become a buzzword. And holy shit, that was frustrating! I cursed this useless education over and over again.

    But, born of that frustration, I was forced to learn how to learn. I learned by myself, I learned from others, and I kept going. And as the design landscape changed, and new skills became in demand, I learned those too — and I kept growing.

    That weird as hell, "learning how to learn" meta skill has been so important throughout my career. Although I never learned that in design school, I learned it because of design school. Not too bad.

    1 point
  • Mitch De CastroMitch De Castro, 8 years ago (edited 8 years ago )

    It may be too soon for me to tell but, I can list the things I've learned outside of my classes:

    • modern web design/development skills (as well as how to keep up with the latest news)

    • developing a particular taste

    • developing a solid process and managing time effectively

    • business-y/financial stuff like how to price yourself (hourly vs project-based rates, selling your ideas, etc.)

    Despite these things, I think it's important for every designer to get an understanding (and appreciation) of design history. It's upsetting to read blogs and tweets where designers are putting down artists and print designers as if they never had any value.

    1 point
  • David MDavid M, 8 years ago

    I'd say one of the most valuable things I learned outside of school was how to talk to people.

    I went to art school, and while I learned plenty about space and form, not too much about how to speak to others, eye contact, actively listening without waiting for your turn to speak, maintaining relationships, and how to monitor how you come across to others.

    My crash course started in the midst of the recession, where I learned about interviews, handshakes, follow-ups, taking rejection with grace, speaking up for what you want without being a dick, and the list goes on. I took odd jobs in retail, sales, and I'd have to say I learned a ton from being a cashier at a bakery. didn't pay much, but there was plenty of free espresso and conversation. also, humility :)

    1 point
  • Lene AlexLene Alex, 8 years ago (edited 8 years ago )

    Analyzing the design industry nowadays and the trend. To understand where and why you and other people exactly are is really crucial for you to find your niche.

    1 point
  • Oz ChenOz Chen, 8 years ago

    Working with stakeholders and knowing how to present to a specific audience.

    For example presenting a design to executives who want a high-level, goal oriented view vs presenting to fellow designers who will call me out on my lack of white space

    1 point
  • Taso Petridis, 8 years ago (edited 8 years ago )


    Design is a stressful field. It got weird immediately after I left school. Why didn't I get a lesson on how to balance design and a healthy lifestyle?

    I know it sounds silly but we shouldn't forget to be happy.

    0 points
  • Eric CozartEric Cozart, 8 years ago

    How to balance a bank account..

    Seriously when I freelanced, (very brief) finances were the worst part.

    Thankfully there are a ton of free resources online, but in the end, I think those real world issues need taught in every class, not just biz school.

    Even if it were 2 hours total, as long as they communicate a brief outline of what to do, that would have been very valuable.

    0 points
  • barry saundersbarry saunders, 8 years ago

    Making a design decision is easy. Articulating and arguing for a design decision is difficult.

    0 points
  • Brian A.Brian A., 8 years ago (edited 8 years ago )

    I have three big ones (phrased like how I wish someone had told me):

    1. Design has lots of that pesky "business" stuff attached; how do I deal with it? Unfortunately, real life isn't getting to do only the projects you want all of the time. More likely than not, you're going to have to deal with stuff like "business goals" and "ROI". You'll also probably have to take a few freelance projects that you hate because you need to pay bills.

    2. Real life isn't all print work and you should learn how to code All of that print stuff is fun—and it teaches a lot of fundamentals—but the money isn't there in real life. If you want to have any semblance of a decent career, you need to break into digital work and learn to code.

    3. You'll probably learn more in one year on the job than in the four years you spent at school Sean nailed it. Design school wasn't a total waste, but I've learnt probably 90% of what I know from working and Google.

    0 points
  • Matt SoriaMatt Soria, 8 years ago

    Going to college isn't the only option.

    0 points
  • Paul ScrivensPaul Scrivens, 8 years ago

    How to make money.

    This includes:

    • How to show value
    • How to market that value
    • How to find the right audience
    • How to build an audience
    0 points
  • Robert ElickerRobert Elicker, 8 years ago

    That an effective synthesis is needed to make creative decisions appeal to a demographic target market's collective psychological buy-in.

    i.e. Math + Science + Writing + Design = Target Influence

    0 points
  • Steve McKinneySteve McKinney, 8 years ago

    A lot of corners get cut

    0 points
  • Mathieu MayerMathieu Mayer, 8 years ago

    Value dreams.

    0 points
  • jj moijj moi, 8 years ago (edited 8 years ago )
    • How to work with real clients, bad clients, and the good clients
    • How to get work done and not caring so much about being perfect
    • Business and finance
    0 points
  • Sam GerberSam Gerber, 8 years ago


    0 points
  • Nick HileyNick Hiley, 8 years ago

    I think schools should be teaching more real world skills like taxes, mortgages, self employment and general finances. But the most important thing I never learned in school was how to write code.

    Since leaving school, I haven't once used the Pythagorean theorem

    0 points
  • Thomas PetersenThomas Petersen, 8 years ago

    That your network is more important than to the potential success of your future than your grades are ever going to be.

    0 points
  • Bruno CamposBruno Campos, 8 years ago

    I wish they've taught me more about how to run a business.

    0 points
  • Gabriel BrodersenGabriel Brodersen, 8 years ago


    0 points
  • Norman TranNorman Tran, 8 years ago

    I want to talk about some of the "soft" skills and life lessons that don't come directly from a formal education:

    1) Relentless curiosity: untangling the web of assumptions that bias everything we think about and do

    2) Mindfulness: being aware what things at work trigger me (i.e. negative feedback) and responding constructively

    3) Happiness: being happy is actually quite hard if you don't have good habits that cultivate it (gratitude, balanced perspective, etc)

    4) Learning to learn: understanding growth mindset vs fixed mindset, spaced repetition, difference between memorizing and understanding, etc.

    0 points
  • Yannik Schweinzer, 8 years ago

    That I don't need anyone or anything to do X.

    0 points
  • muhammad usmanmuhammad usman, 8 years ago

    How to use git for version control.

    0 points
  • pjotr .pjotr ., 8 years ago

    How to work with other people. Sure we did critiques and often times were given some type of project handicap but those pale in comparison to the real world.

    Clients are not rational like other students and design instructors are. This leads to you often having to create impossible designs that look terrible. I think incorporating something like this into courses would be beneficial. It's not all about usability and clean UIs.

    0 points