What Design Schools Don’t Tell You

Design education had undergone years of evolution. Especially with the emergence of the design industry, both existing educational institutions and new ones alike have increasingly given more focus to design education.

In Singapore alone, the educational institutes that offer design (be it bachelor’s degrees, diploma courses or short, instructional courses) reach the hundreds.

Most of these courses are extremely specialised and focus more on techniques and skills, barely touching on the practical application. As competitive as the design industry has become, it is simply not enough to be skillful.

One needs a mastery of how to apply design effectively and translate it to success. Below is a list of things that design schools usually don’t tell you.

These are the points that First Media Design School specifically targets in order to optimise a student’s experience, and ultimately improve how the industry presents design education as a whole.


1. Design can be taught within 2 years instead of 3 years.
Traditionally, it has become a norm that design is taught in a span of three years. Polytechnic universities usually employ this timeframe. But actually, a quick read of the traditional academic calendar of these programs shows that accumulated holidays reach up to 12 months in a 3-year period.

Extending the program to 3 years wastes valuable opportunity costs for students, foregoing the possibility of being in the industry as a professional for an entire year. At FMDS, diploma courses last a maximum of 2 years (with an option to pursue a BA for a mere extra year at a partner university). This allows students to finish their courses ahead of the norm, ready, willing and able to compete against their contemporaries in the professional field.

2. The job as a designer has an expiry date as many design firms don’t usually employ older designers.
The truth of the matter is that one’s opportunity to enter the industry as a designer has an expiry date. As is known, the design is a skill-based job more than an experience-based job. This means that if a 23-year old learned and optimised the talent and skills of a 40-year old, the 23-year old will more likely get the same job opportunity, regardless of how many years experience the former has. To add to this, firms know that older designers can not commit to longer hours, have lower energy, and have higher salary expectations. Thus, there is an expiry date to one’s desire to enter the design industry. It is best to do in one’s earlier professional years.

3. The best way of learning design is through experiential learning and consultation.
In traditional polytechnics and other design schools, class size ranges from 40 students and beyond per class. A study was made basing students’ attention span against class size. For a 3-hour class, it has been found that a 20-student class only allows 9 minutes of pure undistracted attention. 30-student classes allow 6 minutes, and 40-student classes allow a staggering 4.5 minutes of attention! It is much easier to engage students when the class is smaller.

FMDS realises this and makes it a point to keep classes smaller in size. To add to this, smaller classes equate to more one-on-one consultations between students and lecturers. Consultation is one of the best ways to instruct/learn design as it allows students to make mistakes, personally get constructive criticism for these mistakes, and gives students the autonomy to experiment and discover their own styles, knowing fully well that the lecturer is close by to consult with them personally.


4. Design schools usually excel at teaching design skills, but not life skills.
FMDS not only provides students with technical skills needed to be competent designers, but the school also focuses on soft skills (such as management, communications, real-life problem solving) in order for students to become successful designers. Below is a diagram illustrating the standardised way FMDS provides more than just design skills, but the proper application of these skills in order to obtain a good position and sustainable progress in the industry as a professional.

5. Most Design Schools don’t have a proprietary design thinking system.
Actually, FMDS is the only school that has gone this far into establishing a standardised, almost fool-proof design process that students and practitioners can apply in each design project. From a project’s origin all the way up to its measurement, FMDS has made legitimate steps in providing a holistic process that can students, teachers, and even practitioners can use as an approach towards design projects.

6. Most Design Schools teach you how to design, but not how to manage your design projects.
Design management knowledge is integral for any designer. This is in conjunction with obtaining life skills that can be translated to success far beyond just technical skills. Most schools are extremely technical based, thus making students from these programs learned designers but lacking the knowledge and spirit to turn their skills into profit/business. Such is one of the targets of FMDS: to create industry-ready students, be it practitioners in firms or freelance.

Have a quick browse through of FMDS’s design management module at https://firstmedia.edu.sg/programmes/design-management/


7. Most Design Schools end their responsibilities with their students immediately after graduation.

Truth be told is that most design schools finish their relationships with their students immediately after they graduate. Schools provide students with skills and lessons but leave them to fend for themselves in the professional world. Students are then forced to create their own networks from scratch and attempt to compete against each other to land job opportunities without any support besides their own. At FMDS, students are offered temporary placements at legitimate design firms during their program in order to not only acclimatise them to working professionally, but to also network them to make job placement post-program a lot easier. To add to this, FMDS also has a lot of different tie-ups with firms and businesses that focus on design that it can recommend its students to. With this, FMDS gives its students full support to become design professionals after their stint as students.


8. In learning design, Industry Experience is more important than Classroom Experience.
While classroom experience is indeed important, nothing can replace actual industry experience. Traditional methods of teaching such as lectures, homework, and class participation are simply not enough to equip students with the proper preparedness for the actual design industry. Thus, students coming from most design schools have difficulty adjusting to the ins and outs of the industry once they become design professionals.

And with the much faster pace of dynamics and change that design undergoes, it becomes even harder for graduates to get used to their professional life. FMDS understands this and has built industry-based curriculums to simulate real-life design situations. Students are allowed to visit and get integrated in the processes of real design firms and are subsequently given projects based on actual problems that these firms experience.

The live projects give students very important experiences that will ultimately make it easier for them to work in a professional setting in the future. Additionally, most of FMDS’ lecturers and teachers are actual practitioners in the design industry, giving students valuable, first-hand lessons on how the industry really works. Culture shock is usually something that can make or break young professionals entering a brand new industry without experience. FMDS has created curriculums that will minimise culture shock and allow students to make it in the long term.


9. Design Schools teach students to use their right brain hemisphere only.
It is a common fallacy that successful designers are purely right-brained thinkers. Actually, successful designers, while indeed possess a powerful right hemisphere, have already learned to hone and apply their left hemispheres. It is important to be a whole-brained designer for one to be successful in this field. It is not enough to be creative, but one must also be able to apply this creativity to put one’s self forward into success. This, again, is in conjunction with FMDS’ drive to create course curricula and learning experiences that will not only hone students’ technical design skill and creativity but also develop a sense of entrepreneurial spirit, able to translate skills into a business, business into profit, profit into personal successes. With courses in Design Management, a proprietary teaching pedagogy, design applications turned to life lessons, FMDS truly puts emphasis on the importance of being whole-brained thinkers beyond the traditional right-brained designers. In the end, any designer can be creative, but not all designers can obtain fruitful careers. It is the mastery of left-brain application that will get one there.