Looking back around 2000-ish when I was in high school, Friendster was the first social media app that was trending at the time. Similar to Facebook, Friendster was a place you could create an account, post anything on your wall, add friends, and even customize your profile page. People used different themes on their profile pages, others designed and built something unique from scratch.
Back then, you were considered a professional when your profile was customized with snappy graphics and silly animations. I remember being so excited about the endless possibilities to spice up your profile, so of course I decided to try everything out. For the first time ever, I installed and used Adobe Photoshop (I was using version 8 CS at that time), began studying simple photo edits and manipulations, and did some research on how to do HTML and CSS.
Every time I remember this from the past, I consider it to be the first time I found myself absolutely in love with designing.
Years passed by and I enrolled myself in a tech school for my college degree. The school offered engineering, computer, and design courses. I took a BS in IT with a specialization in digital arts, so I had tech courses with a major in design.
There’s a LOT to learn in the design field — from photography, creating 2D and 3D graphics and animations, editing photos and videos, building websites and mobile applications, and so many more things! All of the courses I had taken taught us more about introductions, tools to use and just the basics.
Four years later, I graduated and began the hunt to find my very first design job. I thought anything related to my degree was fine and worked for me. But turns out, it really wasn’t. There were so many job openings for design graduates, but I couldn’t seem to find anything that fit my skills and the experiences I had. At that moment, I was sure I was having a quarter life crisis and I went as far as to start questioning if I was on the right track (the story of every fresh grad, really). I was so overwhelmed with the skillset requirements that I thought, how am I supposed to know any of this?
I started to analyze and check every skill and ability that I had, until I remembered the moment and the reason why I chose this career path. That’s when I felt clarity on what I wanted to do.
I created my portfolio, took more online courses on designing websites and applications and then I started submitting CVs again. After being unemployed for months, I finally landed my first job as a junior web designer.
Regarding the question: Should you go to design or tech school? I honestly think it doesn’t matter. I believe it depends on the person and how they want to learn; whether they want a structured way by direct access to learning with professors and classmates or are hugely motivated to push at self-learning, the importance is the willingness to discover a new set of skills. Some might prefer learning through experience rather than through education.
There’s a plethora of different paths and ways to get training experience – you can take online courses, watch masterclasses, attend conferences and try new tech tools. Others have limited access to education: it might be expensive or difficult to manage in time. Others might be thinking to switch careers.
In my case, I entered tech school to learn extended areas of the design space, choose what field to focus on, and continuously learn my specific skills in UI design. If you’re applying for a job, what people might want to see is the experience you have.
Unfortunately, there’s no answer on what exactly you should do to become a designer. The advice I will give: don’t hesitate to try things on your own. You will find joy by doing the job you love and see yourself grow by continuously learning.