Self-Taught or GD Degree: will EITHER be enough?

I saw this question posed in a thread on the Graphic Design Forum and thought I’d re-introduce it as a new entry and expand the question.

So which is better? Is having a bachelors degree more important or do hirers in the industry care more about portfolio and experience in years? Will having an associates degree affect me negatively in any way at all once I graduate and start contributing to the industry?

This topic comes up quite a bit in graphic design circles and there is hardly a consensus of thought on it. However, I’ve recently been doing a lot of reading about the design industry and the current/future demands on designers from the marketplace and it has raised some interesting points/questions in my mind.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of timesIn many ways, we’re in the beginnings of a design heyday. Respected publications like Businessweek, FastCompany, Business 2.0 and The New York Times have run entire magazine editions featuring the huge impact of design and innovation on business. As the production of things is increasingly commoditized, the recognition is finally taking hold that people who can come up with ideas will lead and prosper in the 21st century.It’s about time! We may not all be aware of it yet but many business schools are beginning to feature design & innovation modules in their programs. There are even more innovation & design seminars aimed at teaching corporate managers how to manage creativity and create atmospheres within their organization where creativity can flourish.But what does this mean for Graphic Designers? Good question. Here are some more:

  1. Will those of us with traditional, design school educations have the training, skills and organizational capabilities to manage increasingly interdisciplinary teams of individuals for whom the design/innovation process is no longer a mystery? Will the processes we were taught in design school be enough and sufficient to manage those interdisciplinary teams?
  2. Will those of us who are self-taught be able to acquire these skills on their own? If so, how?
  3. How will designers — formally-trained and self-taught — learn to utilize tools like design research, ethnography, user-centered design, strategic visualization which are slowly becoming more common and accepted forms of the design/innovation “Discovery” period and process?
  4. How will designers know which (from the neck up) skills we need to focus on and which will be less necessary?
  5. If we designers, in general, lack the necessary design/innovation management skills to lead these interdisciplinary teams, who will emerge as the new design leaders and what will OUR role then be?
  6. How do we teach ourselves to craft meaningful experiences? Is it merely a matter of SAYING we do, or will it require that most of us will have to acquire new skills?

I haven’t a clue as to the answers to any of these problems but I think we need to start thinking about them and others.We could really be at the beginnings of a new design renaissance OR we could be at the beginnings of a new design dark ages.We could be at the beginning of rising to the level currently enjoyed by the architecture industry and even to a lesser degree the industrial/product design industry OR we could be at the beginning of sinking to the level where the illustration and photography industries currently languish.In many ways, the choice is ours.

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