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7: Part two - The $150,000 Question About Design School

Published 1/16/2015

On today's episode, I talk with Nick Morrison and Kody Dahl, both students about to graduate from the design BFA program at Georgia State University, for the second part of our interview.

Kody and Nick are both incredibly hard-working folks who happen to also work at Whiteboard.

In part two, we have a discussion about their professors, design software, life skills, and we (try) to answer the $150,000 question.

A big thanks to Nick and Kody! Follow them: @Nickm717

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hello everyone and welcome to Developer Teaepisode 7 part 2. This is the second part of the interview with Nick Morrison and Kody Dahl. Nick and Kody are finishing up their degrees in design school. In the previous episode we talked a little bit about if they thought that design school was a good value if it was a good decision for them. We're going to continue the conversation in this episode. Can you tell just for everybody to know because I don't know exactly what the program is called but where and what is the program that you're in? So it's actually a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design from Georgia State. I guess the dynamic of this program that makes it really competitive is probably between 50 and 60 people apply for every rotation and you bring in your portfolios that you've prepared through intro classes and out of that they select I think it was 21 for our class. Yeah, 21. So there's 50% attrition, right? Which is pretty competitive. Sure. Yeah, so there's 21 people that you're constantly kind of, well it's in your class 21 people. How many people are in the program at one time? I'm assuming probably around 60-ish? It's 40 actually. 40, okay. So we have juniors and seniors. It's to get into the BFA like you make it in and then there's two years. Okay. So you have the underlings and the upperlings as our professors make a point to kind of create. Okay. So yeah, every program has its own culture and so for anybody who's listening to this wondering why they're not you should go on to design school really. Unfortunately, I'm going to go ahead and give you the punchline. We can't give you an answer. There's not really a perfect answer to this question. For some people it's a good idea. Obviously, for Nick and Kody, they thought it was a good idea. Do you feel like now here's the million dollar question or I guess probably however much 50,000? Do you feel like you made the right decision by going to formal school? Now keep in mind that most people who go to school will defend their decision to go to school. It's a sunk cost file. So we kind of expect you to say yes, but if you have any thoughts on why you think it was a valuable decision that I think listeners and I am very interested to know. I think for me, the value of it is a little bit more intangible. So it's challenging for me to say in a moment whether I would go back knowing what I know, what I know now, what I've lived through, I guess. That sounds really harsh and tragic. No, I think that's a good thing because a lot of people try to base it off of, does it deliver a dollar value? This is why I didn't give you these questions beforehand because you would have said something about the dollar value. That actually is a better answer to me. You had human experiences that made this, it has very little to do necessarily with your professional life, but you had human experiences that made it something different than it would have been just professionally. Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, it's been a matter of, I've been put through a little bit of a fire on a technical level, on a personal level. It's just a hard thing that you go through just because of all the time and effort that you have to put into it. I would say that it has definitely resulted in benefits and made me a better designer on a professional level and on a human level. I would advocate for it, I think, in some cases, it depends on the kind of person you are, obviously, but you're, it worked well for me. I think it really brings out the best and the worst characteristics in yourself and sort of helps you realize those two. If you're bad at time management, you'll learn really quick that you're bad at time management and you will get better because that's what you have to do to succeed. You really get, it's like a, almost like a personal study as much as it is a design program. So you learn what your strengths are in design and what your weaknesses are so that you can very quickly work on them and learn to improve so that when you do enter the workforce or at whatever point you enter the workforce, you are prepared and well educated to, I mean, really just be the best person that you can be or the best designer that you can be. Yeah, designer, not person. I don't focus on that. But I would argue that at least for my, for my formal education, a lot of the skills that I learned had less to do with my technique and more to do with my being a human, right? Like what you were saying about time management, Nick, is that's totally true. Like I had, I had to deal with a bunch of projects and you guys did too. I know because we talked about it. So many projects where I was like, dude, I have no idea how in the world I'm going to get this done. And there is a deadline. Like in the professional environment, you know, depending on who you work for, deadline sometimes can move and shift and a really valuable work or knows how to come close to a deadline. Like it seems kind of like a really concrete thing to define, but that's a, that is a value to bring to the table that you've, you've had the discipline to go through a relatively rigorous process to get a degree, right? And that's even if it's just to prove to yourself, that's a really valuable thing to prove to yourself that you have the discipline to do all those projects and to get them in on time and to not fail classes. To actually, you know, stand up to all the critique from, from the professors that you guys were talking about earlier, which leads me into my next question. So you talked about your professors being the most valuable part of your education. And I'm really interested to hear a little bit more about kind of the characteristics of who they were, right? So people think of professor and immediately what I think, when I think of a design professor, I think of like a 60 year old white hair dude. Yes, I do think of a man that's just what comes into my mind, that call it sexist, wherever you want to call it. That's what comes into my mind. And so think of this guy who like designed a typeface, you know, like 30 years ago, and because he designed some typeface, he's become a professor now because everybody thinks, hey, he designed a typeface. So tell me how wrong I am, please. Well, so running through the list in my head, we had a professor who was a creative director at CNN, another professor who worked in the film industry, producing a film of his own. He's worked with NBC and a bunch of other like major news networks to do like motion graphics. And then on the other spectrum, we have a professor who is like a illustrator who does editorial illustrations and he's been freelancing his whole life. So he has a totally different perspective. And then I think the rest of them, they just have worked in the industry in various fields doing all sorts of good work with good people. So I think it's a very well varied and diverse group of professors. So you really get a good spectrum, wide spectrum of learning from every single person. And there's actually two women for the record. Good. Good. That's great. Yeah. And where are any other notes you wanted to add to that list, Kody? No, I think they covered the cool. All right. Well then. So that's an interesting thing to me because I think most good design schools probably have that same kind of list, right? It's not going to be a bunch of the same like print design guys who focus on how to make a good poster. It's going to be people who probably have a pretty significant amount of academic influence. So they've done some kind of academic work in the design world. But also people who have quite a bit of practical hands on the job kind of experience. So I think that in my degree, in my master's degree, it was a little bit different for my master's degree. Actually, most of the people who taught there were pretty much entirely academic. So it was a really interesting difference from the average kind of design program. It is a really interesting environment. The formal education environment is really interesting. And there are things definitely that you can get out of a university environment that you just can't get out of an online environment. And I know that that sounds kind of like old school of me a little bit. But everyone I've talked to who has been a part of that university environment, they have stories similar to what you guys are saying, which is related to these individual people that have been just really influential in their lives, especially in their education. And I have those stories and people like you have those stories. And I'm sure a lot of the people who are listening to this who had formal education, have their stories as well. So I can come out and say, I'm for it. Again, I might be biased because I also have a significant amount of debt from my education. So it's not a cost. So I don't like to think that that was a bad idea. But I do, I have legitimate reason, I think, to appreciate formal education. So just for the sake of completeness, is that a word? Confucian? Confucian, I don't know. Confucian. Yeah, there we go. For the sake of a well-rounded conversation, let's talk about a little bit of the education that you've received since you've been at school that wasn't because of the school. So you guys have been working with Whiteboard, but you've also been working on freelance projects of your own. What are some things that school never could have taught you that you had to learn kind of on your own or on the real job at Whiteboard? I think one of the bigger things that I've learned kind of peripherally is how to really fight for, I guess, a value that's important to you in the context of a project, whether that be against a professor's opinion, against your studio mates' opinion, or even against one of the clients that we're put up with. They're getting free work, so it's kind of a lesser consequence context, I guess, so you can kind of go, this is actually how an idea should be represented. This is the best way to do it, and this is why I believe in it, and you can make a case for it without, I guess, having a fear that I imagine probably a lot of us have of, like, I don't want to offend this client, or I don't want to make this relationship go sour. Obviously, there's still a relational aspect to it, but it's less of a, if you screw this up, like, this was your only chance. So I think maybe willing, being willing to take a stand for that kind of thing was a really invaluable lesson in the context of education. Sure, believing in your opinion. Yeah, exactly. And it's validated in the end, because nothing falls apart, you know. This is the seventh episode of the very first podcast I've ever created. So learning to value my opinion, I've done that seven times now in the course of this particular thing, and it's a tough thing. It really is a hard thing, and it's extremely valuable once you decide to pull the trigger on your own opinion. Absolutely. You realize that other people sometimes they actually agree with you. Sometimes your opinion is not that crazy or that unfounded. On the more technical side of things, as going into the program, you think, oh, I can't wait to learn Photoshop and Illustrator and InDesign. Wow, I just, like, lectures on software. I'm so excited to actually, like, dive in. There's like 5% of your learning is software based. So in the intro classes, they'll tell you like we're going to be using Photoshop. Here's where you can learn, and you go online, and you use online classes to learn. And then the professors teach you the things that are conceptual or art theory or design theory. They give you resources. They show you work they've done. So if you're going into formal education solely to learn software and learn the technical aspects of things, that's not what it's most valuable for. The value we've got out of it was like we talked about earlier was like concept and real world learning and stuff. So you have to kind of be a self starter and be very motivated so that you can keep up with new software and keep up with upgrades in software and just even learning. Like I still learn new things every single day in software that I had no idea existed. So you have to really be able to motivate yourself to learn and be a fairly fast learner or a very dedicated learner, I think. Nick, I'm going to be real with you. I think you're the only person in our program who's excited about learning about InDesign. I didn't say I was excited. That was my hypothetical wanting to get a formal education. Wow, InDesign. If you're learning InDesign, don't stop. There's a lot you can do with it. I think I don't really know. Oh, it's awesome. The paragraph styles and the character styles. Yeah. So and to prove your point, sketch has become like super popular in the last year, year and a half, two years. And you guys, if you had gone to design school and already graduated and sketch popped up on the market and you decided, hey, you know, at our agency or whatever, we're going to start using sketch exclusively. And guess what? Although that training or a lot of the training that you got in Illustrator and Photoshop, it's kind of useless. Like not entirely because you learn kind of some fundamental ideas behind how to use design software. But it really becomes like understanding design software and understanding design are two different things. And I think that's kind of what you're saying. Software is constantly going to change. But there are some things that you can learn about design that will stick with you. Yeah. I think it was Frank Shamar, wrote an article about it a long time ago, a couple of years and years. I was the first time that I've ever heard the proper pronunciation of his name, by the way. Shamar, Shamar. Shamar, I don't know. I'm wrong. Shamar. Anyway. I think the title of it was No New Tools and his, like, I read that. Yeah, it was a really cool concept. It was just like realistically, I already have what I need to create the work, like, why get bogged down and learning a million new pieces of technology. And I think that's honestly a valuable thing that our professors tend to abide by. Sure. That's a useful precept. So I'm going to go into the last kind of question concept, wherever you want to call it, because I know we've gone way over our initial plan for this conversation. It's just gone in so many good directions. So on this podcast, I talk about learning a lot. And I'm going to continue talking about learning a lot. So because this is an education themed episode, I'd be interested to know, how do you guys view learning now that you're about to exit your formal education? What do you think is the value of learning now that you're kind of leaving that forced the learning environment? How do you adopt learning in your day to day design work? Because it's different for everyone, so I think it's valuable to learn about learning. Well, cultivating a good library of resources is important. And then having a good friend group or a bunch of colleagues and coworkers that you can bounce ideas off of or share resources and constantly be talking about more new things and things, talking to them and learning from them or sharing what you've learned. So I know at Whiteboard, we've done lunch and learn or different talks. And I think those are really valuable because you can learn from what other people have to say and then you can also contribute your own things that you've learned. So really spending some time every week reading about something you didn't know about or setting out to learn something that you didn't know that you've been wanting to know for a long time, I think is important so that you stay current and fresh with keeping your brain nice and stimulated. Stimulated, yeah, that's the word. And I guess just to bounce off of that a little bit, I feel like it is really, really important to have a community of people that are interested in learning or at least interested in the things you're interested in around you. It kind of motivates you, it keeps you accountable to learn. Like I know you, Jonathan, you've challenged me a lot to learn new things just because of the way that you learn new things. And I think that's a really invaluable thing. So if you're listening to this and you don't have that, it's worth finding. And then honestly just going after the things that peak your interests, I guess, in your industry, because I mean, I would hope you got into it because you were interested in it on some level. And those are the things that you're already good at. And that's one of the really nice things I think about not being in this forced induction, learning environment, because you can be more self-motivated and self-directed in it. So I think those little hints and leanings are things worth listening to. So if you're really into interaction design or I guess maybe animation heavy CSS stuff, I think it is worth pursuing that kind of stuff and not just slogging through something that you don't really care about because someone told you you should. Absolutely. Thanks so much to Nick and Kody for their time. And for joining me on Developer Tea, episode seven, I thought they had a lot of insight to add to the conversation about formal education. I hope you enjoyed this podcast. Let me know if you have any thoughts or any comments about the podcast in general. You can get at me on Twitter at at Developer Teaor you can email me at Developer Tea at gmail.com. Until next time, enjoy your tea.