On “The Licensed Designer”

This was my response to Eric Karjaluoto’s blog post on “The Licensed Designer”. I thought it was worthwhile sharing my opinion on this blog. Obviously, I feel strongly about this because I never had a chance to go through a formal design education, and I don’t think I have done worse than those who had the benefit of one.

In my earlier years I’ve always craved for a proper design mentor, I was still lucky because I did meet a few senior designers who accelerated my learning, but I shudder at the thought of being stuck with one for a year or two and he/she was not the correct fit (I really believe in this fitting thing. Get the right fit and you blossom. The wrong one and it can be traumatic). What would have happened if I broke my internship (I mean if I was in that scenario)? Would that destroy my design career at young, tender age? That is, if I had the money to pursue a design education in the first place.

My response below:

Your proposal sounds like architect training, typically five years of institutional education with three years of internship before being a recognised professional.

I feel that it is a very ideal idea, it will give us the foundation and credibility the design profession so sorely lack.

However, one of the most beautiful aspects of design is its low barrier of entry. Of course, everything is a double edged sword, with the low barrier of entry you get drones of designers with unprofessional practice or behavior.

Yet, it allows many of us, who never had a proper chance to go through formal education to have an equal shot at being an accomplished designer. I believe many of us had unconventional pasts and perhaps lack the emotional maturity to go through a structured process of education in our earlier years.

Many of us went through that serendipitous, raw process of self-discovery – that unquenchable thirst for knowledge and insatiable curiousity to learn – through lots of hands-on work and interaction with like-minded people.

If this was a profession that required such stringent accreditation, there will be many of us left out – just like I am sure there are many who dreamed of becoming architects but were unable to do so because of pragmatic restrictions.

Besides, not many accomplished/experienced designers are great mentors. Learning from someone who can be a wrong fit can be detrimental instead.

Perhaps it is worthwhile practicising design principles on a designer’s education – balancing structure with creative freedom. Or perhaps allow natural selection to take place. Isn’t it about the portfolio? A good client goes out of his/her way to find a good designer/agency (and not rely on a big-name traditional agency for example).

I believe young designers who have the desire and drive to succeed, will. Those who have plainly rely on their prestigious college degrees, or have ‘vague notions on how to improve their lacklusture portfolio’ may not be suited for this career anyway, and will not be helped by any ‘rigorous training process’.

It is easy to be a designer, but not easy to stay as one, and even more difficult to be a successful one.

Besides, every now and then, we get stunned by some young uneducated talent at the age of 16++. We wouldn’t want to be deprived of this, would we? :)