Self Taught vs. Formal Education with Showcase of Design Schools

Self Taught vs. Formal Education with Showcase of Design Schools

Just the other day, I asked my 56 year old Dad how he managed to fix the computer all on his own. His reply: “Google!” Then it hit me. Wow! Even my dad uses Google to get answers.

These days, Google plays a relatively big part in ‘answering’ questions. Teachers and lecturers have practically been replaced, as more and more students and people in general have turned to Google for answers and information. This is particularly the case in the area of web design and development. After all, educational and informative websites, blogs and forums litter the World Wide Web in abundance. So why should you spend thousands of dollars on University fees, when you could be learning it for free?

Self Taught vs. Formal Education with Showcase of Design Schools
Images credit: White Winter Hymnal, Extra Ketchup

Some feel it is unnecessary to get a formal education because they intend to start their own web design business and be their own boss. However, there are others who feel it is more prudent to have a certificate to prove they are capable to companies they are applying to.

You could be one of those thinking of pursuing a degree in Web Design or you could be one of those attempting to be a self-taught guru. There is no right or wrong method of learning Web Design, what you need to figure out is which method suits you best so that you can make the most of it. This article explores both the pros and cons of choosing between getting a formal education and being self taught. We will also take a look at design schools around the world worth considering, when pursuing a formal education in Web Design.

The Path to Becoming a Self-Taught Guru

Approaching a self-taught education

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken)

Image credit: bengalsfan1973

The path taken by the self-taught guru definitely is the path less traveled by. However, if you are determined to go down this road, the good news is that you can set your own learning pace free of rules, regulations and curriculum distractions.

With the explosion of web design and development blogs on the internet, reading an article or two every day is a great way to understand the subject. It takes a lot of discipline and patience, but once you get into the regularity of learning on your own, you will more likely retain and process the information better than in a classroom of 20 or more.

Plunging Straight into the Working World

Those who have no formal education in design whatsoever, fret not. If you already know a substantial amount of knowledge about Web Design, you could still apply for a job at an agency. Some smaller design firms will hire hardworking and apt individuals even if they do not have any prior formal education.

Baby Bird
Image credit: glaciergirl

Your wages will most likely be lower than those with a certificate, but seize this golden opportunity to learn as much as you can from your new colleagues. Their experience and the lessons they can offer you are worth as much as those offered in schools by teachers and lecturers, maybe more.

Client: “I want it to be small enough to not be too noticeable but bright enough to draw the eye.

Client: “The grass in your rendering looks too clean cut and cared for. The maintenance crew doesn’t want to guarantee that it will be kept up that well. Can you make it more overgrown and brown with some dead patches in it.”

(abstract taken from Clients From Hell)

The Advantage of Being Self-Taught

The working world is vastly different from the sheltered and cosy one in school. Clients have the final say in the real world, unlike in school where you are the master of your creative design. Being self-taught, you are thrust into the working world without first experiencing the protective comforts of the school environment, and thus have no illusions or false impressions regarding it. This is one of the advantages of not having a degree; you do not have the preconceived notion that the working world is just like in school.

The ability to handle criticism, both relevant and irrelevant ones, is an important and useful skill when facing clients. This is something everyone, with or without formal education, has to learn when starting out. Working, you will learn to control your emotions and maintain a professional persona with clients, communicate effectively and build a rapport and your reputation with people in the design world.

Getting a Formal Education

After graduating from college or high school, getting a degree seems to be the most natural and logical thing to do next. Formal education provides a well designed curriculum specially packaged for students to equip them with the necessary skills to prepare them for the working world. Now with online degrees available, receiving a formal education is easier than ever.

Just a Stepping Stone

Getting a formal education in design is just a stepping stone. The learning doesn’t end there. Schools are equipped with the latest technology and can teach you how to use them well. But technology is always improving and changing. You must have the ability to motivate yourself to learn beyond the scope of your set curriculum.

Stepping Stone
Image credit: travelkid42

If you belong to the handful that rely heavily on lecturers rather than taking advantage of their guidance to increase your own experience, you will suffer after you receive your certificate and enter the working world.

Expanded Education

One of the biggest advantages of getting a formal education and attending design school is the opportunity you get to take up other design or art related courses. These extra courses will help you develop visual literacy skills, and allow you to practise articulating the rationale of your designs and ideas.

Image credit: fotobicchio

Finding the appropriate design education also allows you to build a solid basic foundation and inculcate good processes, discipline, and good methods of brain storming and concept creation. The right design school will not only nurture your technical abilities, but will also greatly influence the way you come up with design concepts, allowing you to find your own unique style. It is not just about the codes or how pretty your websites look.

A Time Saver

Having teachers and lecturers to guide you definitely saves you a lot of time as you won’t need to figure out which steps comes first and what’s next. The school syllabus has been carefully designed to help you learn progressively. The fact that your lecturers and seniors are readily available to help you when you encounter problems is also a plus. The structured environment of a school also ensures that you have a constant learning pace.

Homework due dates also help students to get used to the idea of meeting deadlines without the pressures of catering to the client’s whim and fancy. This allows students to breathe more easily and concentrate on keeping to working schedules without worrying about a ruined reputation.

Play It Safe

These days, a paper certification of your abilities is important for you to be able to go far in your career. Even if you are a good designer with a lot of experience, you might be overlooked by your dream company overseas, just because you do not have any paper certification. Or perhaps, years later, you might want to pass on your knowledge and experience to the next generation of designers but cannot because you need a degree to be considered for a teaching position.

Image credit: Skoox

A formal education may not be the most ideal way to learn web design, but having a certificate is certainly the safest way to do so.

Showcase of Design Schools worth considering for Web Education

Emily Carr
Emily Carr is an exciting learning community in visual arts, design and media arts. From credit and non-credit courses to graduate studies, whether in face-to-face or online interactions, our students are engaged in a diverse community of talented individuals involved in a creative and stimulating environment.

Part of what makes Emily Carr so vibrant is the passion with which faculty, staff and students pursue their creative projects and the way they examine their practice and are involved in renewal, change and self-reflection.

Emily Carr

Full Sail University
Full Sail University attracts people from all over the world with a passion to create, music, film, games, animation, design, and live events. They come here to learn in an environment that is essentially one of the biggest entertainment production facilities on the planet, and to be part of a community of like minded peers.

Full Sail’s students and instructors share a passion for this unique blend of art and technology, where gear and creativity come together under one roof. But most of all, students come to Full Sail seeking fulfilling careers doing what they love.

Full Sail
Parsons School of Design
Parsons School of Design focuses on creating engaged citizens and outstanding artists, designers, scholars and business leaders through a design-based professional and liberal education.

Parsons students learn to rise to the challenges of living, working and creative decision making in a world where human experience is increasingly designed. The school embraces curricular innovation, pioneering uses of technology, collaborative methods and global perspectives on the future of design.

Central Saint Martins
An art college and cultural centre in one, Central Saint Martins is internationally renowned for the creative energy of its students, staff and graduates.

They have an outstanding reputation for educating foundation, undergraduate, postgraduate and research students. Fundamental to study at the College are experimentation, innovation, risk-taking, questioning and discovery, within a highly supportive learning environment, no matter which discipline you choose to study.

St Martins
Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design
Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design’s education focuses on learning by doing, on a balance of theory and practice, and developing a student’s individual voice when solving problems for people.

The School of Design offers undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees, as well as a minor for undergraduates and a summer program for high school students. Students have access to excellent facilities, as well as various opportunities to study abroad.

Carnegie Mellon
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) believes in the value of a holistic education, one that balances the emphasis on the professional major with an equally important expectation that a student be versed in the humanities, literature and the social sciences. RISD recognizes that not all students will ultimately be practicing in their professions: they may in fact choose other professional endeavors.

Students receive an educational experience underscored by rigorous requirements and reviews, complemented by fully one-third of their program concentrated in the Liberal Arts. This combination ensures that focused study is supplemented by a broad understanding of the context in which artists, designers and art educators pursue their chosen fields of work.

Rhode Island School of Design
Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) provides a career-oriented education which helps graduates find employment in their chosen career, in an environment which uses the latest technology to make learning stimulating and enjoyable. QUT has close ties with government, industry and professional associations, thus ensuring our courses are relevant to the real world.

Queensland University of Technology
George Brown College
In its 40 years of being in the heart of Toronto, George Brown College has become woven into the economic, cultural and social fabric of Toronto. George Brown College is one of Canada’s largest, most diversified and highly respected colleges, serving a broad and vibrant student body with an incredibly rich program mix of apprenticeship training, certificates, diplomas and degrees.

Drawing from its close relationships with industry, George Brown College creates and continually enhances relevant programs and curriculum to serve the needs of both students and employers by producing workplace-ready graduates who are highly sought after. Comparative research of Ontario’s colleges has revealed that nine out of 10 George Brown graduates get jobs within just six months of graduation.

George Brown College
Arizona State University
Arizona State University is an internationally respected college that develops competence in disciplines critical to today’s technology-based economy. The faculty is widely published and highly regarded both in academia and the private sector.

Ongoing relationships with industry partners provide extended learning opportunities for students. With facilities such as the Altitude Chamber, Flight Simulator Labs, Digital Printing Lab, Photovoltaics Testing Lab, Microelectronics Teaching Factory and Haas Technical Center, students are engaged in real-world projects using cutting-edge technology.

Arizona State University
College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (University of Cincinnati)
The College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati is charged with undergraduate and graduate education in the design, environmental and art disciplines. It is committed to: responsible change and development in those disciplines; excellence in teaching and learning, research and creative works; and sharing the benefits of these activities with the university, the allied professions and the general community.

Undergraduate and graduate programs empower students in our School of Design with a core of knowledge that provides a solid educational base.

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology is one of Australia’s original and leading educational institutions, producing some of Australia’s most employable graduates. As an innovative, global university of technology, with its heart in the city of Melbourne, RMIT has an international reputation for excellence in work-relevant education and high quality research, and engagement with the needs of industry and community.

With more than 60,000 students studying at RMIT campuses in Melbourne and regional Victoria, in Vietnam, online, by distance education, and at partner institutions throughout the world, the University is one of the largest in the country. It has built a worldwide reputation for excellence in professional and vocational education and research. A vibrant alumni community now stretches across more than 100 countries.

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
Swinburne University of Technology
Swinburne University of Technology provides students with the skills and knowledge that will help them find employment in their chosen career and provides an exciting environment that makes learning fun. Students have access to a number of sporting, computer, library and student welfare facilities at each campus and all campuses are in close proximity to many forms of public transport.

Undergraduate students have the advantage of working closely with industry through our Industry Based Learning (IBL) program. Most degree courses include IBL which provides a free-flow information between the University and the future employers of our graduates.

Swinburne University of Technology
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
The School of Design (SD) at PolyU has an excellent setting in the East-meets-West culture of Hong Kong and its close proximity to the Chinese mainland and the rest of Asia. In addition, PolyU’s academic culture warmly welcomes interaction with the SD, thus prompting collaborative programmes and projects with the fields of engineering, business, sociology, medicine, textiles, manufacturing, multimedia, and hotel and tourism.

Hong Kong Poly University
Köln International School of Design
The Köln International School of Design (KISD) is an institution of the University of Applied Sciences Cologne and is offering an interdisciplinary study program in the field of design. Their approach is to understand design as a complex process. Therefore design education should always adapt to the challenges of life- and work environment.

Köln International School of Design
Curtin University of Technology
Curtin University of Technology is recognised nationally and internationally for excellence in education and research. Accordingly, extensive grants have been given to Curtin in recent years to build facilities and conduct research utilising some of the most advanced technologies in the world. Students have access to innovative advancements in research and development in areas such as engineering, health, physical and theoretical science, astronomy, information technology, sustainability and business development.

Curtin University of Technology
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
For almost two centuries, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has maintained its reputation for providing an undergraduate education of undisputed intellectual rigor based on educational innovation in the laboratory, classroom, and studio.

Driven by talented, dedicated, and forward-thinking faculty, Rensselaer has dramatically expanded the research enterprise by leveraging our existing strengths and focusing on five signature research areas: biotechnology; computation and information technology; experimental media and the arts; energy and the environment; and nanotechnology.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA)
Over the past 70 years, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) has been viewed as a leading arts institution in Singapore. The academy has been a driving force in the development of the visual arts scene and in nurturing talented artists. NAFA shall carry on its indomitable spirit and strive to achieve the status of world-class art institute, with which to groom top-notched artists talents in Singapore.

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

We’re All Different; Choose Wisely

There are many ways to learn about design and everyone learns it differently. We have to choose the method of learning that is best suited to ourselves and will benefit us the most. Education is an ongoing process; we learn everyday of our lives.

Besides the Design Schools included in this article, what other schools would you recommend to go to? Perhaps you could share with us the school you graduated from.

We have shown you two different paths, which path would you choose?

Charlotte’s interest is in web interface and design as well as motion graphics. Her absorption with her work is mostly due to her attention to detail and passion for the world of design. Winding down after work, which consumes much of her time; she enjoys traveling, exploring new places, gastronomy, and fashion.


  1. / Reply

    I think self learning is the best but this is but we cant even overlook the formal education so best thing according to me is to get the formal education of what you love.

  2. / Reply

    Excellently researched and well-balanced post. Though I did attend higher education I agree that learning is personal choice. Whether you are self-taught or school-taught is irrelevant to whether or not you are a good, competent designer.

    Which is why I have to add that the topic of this post is slightly misleading — the word ‘versus’ leads me to believe that these two things are in opposition. I do not think they are, as a well-answered brief in either environment is valued in a real-world context.

    Personally, I love school. I have been attending the University of Portsmouth for nearly five years now studying design — did a Foundation, a Bachelors with Honours and now a Masters. The reason I love school is simple — I like theory, I am bookish and I love studying.

    University gives me the freedom to research and visualise what interests me within an environment that encourages me to do so (I am a massive procrastinator and tend to do nothing when the chance arises). So, I will think about how relevant what I love is to the real-world when I get there. For now, I am just enjoying myself and enjoying the company of my intelligent, resourceful peers and educators.

    To elaborate on what I am currently doing: the MA at Portsmouth focuses on risk-taking, the design process, design terminology, the application of theory and research methods. It is also worth noting the MA is brand new, so I am meant to be setting an example. Apparently ;)

    1. / Reply

      Thanks Lilian!

      I remembered how much I completely dread the theory side of design during my foundation year. But when I’m into my 2nd and 3rd year, I realized how important it is to support my designs with rationale and appropriate terms.

      Being in the pioneer batch, you get to set a bench mark for the course’s reputation. I think that’s really challenging and stimulating for you and your friends.

  3. / Reply

    I’m a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, but this is a question that I have often pondered.

    I could have learned the theory and technical skills on my own, but would have missed out on the experiences and relationships in Savannah.

    You summed it up best…

    “We’re All Different; Choose Wisely”

    • patrick,
    • January 5, 2010
    / Reply

    A very interesting post. As someone from the self-taught camp I am constantly looking for new forms of non-traditaional education. I have learned a lot from books and tutorials put out by Networks like Smashing, Envato, Sitepoint, and some work with

    I have enjoyed doing freelance a thousand time more than work I’ve done based on my degree.

    That said I do see the benefit in structured learning. I am looking for help with my designs skills and structure. Can anyone recommend an online resource for beginner designers.

    I look for forward reading more of your post Charolette.

    • brandon,
    • January 5, 2010
    / Reply

    i attended Full Sail University for graphic design and wish i could have spent another year there. i loved everything about it. i still live in Orlando and make a trip back now and then to catch up with instructors. if you want to be a designer i would recomend FS very highly.

    on top of the great education, i made a lot of friends who i keep in contact with. the people around me pushed me to be better, and continue to inspire. if theres a job i dont have time for or cant do i pass it on to a former classmate. that seems to be how tight the Full Sail community is for most.

    shout out to DADA club!

    1. / Reply

      Sounds like a very friendly and approachable culture at Full Sail University. I have to agree that it is important to always keep in touch with your instructors, who you could consult even though you have already started working.

      I must say that the amount of effort put into the design of FS website have already spoken so much for the University. I would love to visit the school one day for myself.

      • James,
      • January 7, 2010
      / Reply

      I went to Full Sail for the Digital Arts & Design Bachelor degree. It’s a very hands-on approach to design. It’s also very intense. The school is open 24 hrs, so you may have lab or lecture at 1am or 9pm and the classes change monthly. The teachers are the ones who make the school. Most are industry professionals that have a passion for sharing their experience. I enjoyed my time at Full Sail, but it comes at a hefty price. Being self-taught before I went made it seem like a waste of money, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Plus, who wouldn’t want most of their projects to be about gadgets, movies, or video games? That part was awesome as well.

        • James,
        • January 7, 2010
        / Reply

        Forgot to mention that they also offer online degree programs now.

  4. / Reply

    I’m a self-taught designer as well. Although unlike most who will read this blog, I started out in journalism as a writer, moved to newspaper layout, and recently began freelance design.

    In my experience, when it comes to looking for a full-time design job at a business or agency, having that formal piece of paper is essential. It seems if you don’t have a degree or certificate, you can’t really get a fair shake and that you won’t be taken seriously.

    These experiences have led me to believe a certificate (at the very least) is going to be necessary if I ever plan to do design work full time. However, finding an online program has been tough. Each one promises a quality education, but how can you know for sure? Locally, there is SCAD (hello from Pooler, Mike), but good grief, they cost an arm and a leg.

    I’ll certainly check out some of the online programs mentioned here. Thanks so much for posting this article.

  5. / Reply

    A very interesting post on an ongoing and much discussed subject. I myself graduated from Art Center College of Design and am a bit surprised that it was not included in this list. ACCD has had a well-earned respect and reputation among the design community for quite a long time, with many successful alumnus.

    In my own case, I had graduated from another design school and realized I needed to take my skills to another level. Art Center pushed me to work harder and exposed me to design influences I would not have likely been exposed to on my own. I have no doubt my career has been vastly improved because of my education.

    As I once told a junior designer, there is the hard way and the harder way.

  6. / Reply

    Hi Charlotte,
    I was lucky enough to stumble upon design when I was living in London for a year; I randomly got a job doing data entry at and had the opportunity to sit next to some amazing designers and after working in that environment I knew that this was the career for me. I asked lots and lots of questions, watched the designers all the time and got my hands on a copy of Photoshop and Illustrator and started to learn.

    90% of the designers that worked at Pod1 pretty much said that studying was a waste of time and the most important thing was to work in the real world and keep on top of new trends and technology on the web. When I returned to Australia I decided that I was going to study graphic design and learn as much as I could because I figured it would have something to offer. After 6 months of study and having teachers who really weren’t that passionate about design and a lot of them where really BAD BAD BAD designers, I decided to leave and pursue my own career.

    With the abundance of high quality tutorials online, books, and blogs it’s really pretty easy to find out what you need to learn but it does take a lot of discipline and a route I wouldn’t recommend to a lot of people. But the only route for me!

  7. / Reply

    Thanks for the collection…

    • lisa,
    • January 5, 2010
    / Reply

    Great article – what about online courses? I know the parts you’ll be missing when doing a distance course, but unfortunately I’d like to ‘formally’ study web design and I live in Greece. The courses we have here available are nowhere close to providing inspiration so I’d like to try international courses. If anyone knows a university with good online design/web design course, please let me know :-)
    Thank you!

    • Brian Jones,
    • January 5, 2010
    / Reply

    Excellent post – thank you. I myself am self taught (still strong in my studies for the last year). It is tempting every time I receive an Arts Institute post card in the mail to enroll, but with the standards and trends always changing I am not sure the schools can keep up with up to date material. I definitely can see the benefits of having a formal education, with the processes that you go through, having the presence of the class instructor and peers to fall on. However – having experienced being self taught – I feel any company should not look as whether you have a degree or not, but rather look at your thought processes and portfolio.

    • Josh Ames,
    • January 5, 2010
    / Reply

    The important thing to remember is that nobody should be ostracized for choosing a different path of learning. All learning is valid. People who choose to not get a formal education are actually taking a bigger risk. It is more important than ever for them to prove themselves. These people should be given the same amount of respect as people with degrees or certificates.

  8. / Reply

    excellent article, thank you. i myself have started down the road of self-taught. i have over 20 years of computer programming, networking and database experience. i like the idea of working for myself and have tried several times to get a freelance career going.

    i am on my third try, this one looks a bit more promising. here is to a sucessful 2010. thanks for the encouragement!


  9. / Reply

    I was self taught, and while for some people the regiment of education may make a big difference, I’ve found more creative people who are self taught – ime.

    I find it amusing that the bulk of those education websites are poorly designed in themselves..

  10. / Reply

    I agree with Derek Land there, the websites are so poorly designed it makes you wonder whether or not they really are true creatives or just university generated robots that all have the same style.
    I’m currently a student at UAL, and imho, CSM isn’t that big a thing anymore around here, quite the opposite, in fact.
    I always find that I gain more experience by teaching myself things, University is there to give you a hand if you are stuck on self-teaching.

    • E.W.,
    • January 6, 2010
    / Reply

    I’m a print designer with a BFA. I’ve recently worked side by side with a few web ‘designers’ that were formally educated in another subject altogether. These designers struggle with the fundamentals that 2-4 years in a design school would have ingrained in them and made intuitive. They struggle with fonts, balance of objects, composition, color interaction and more. Those are tough lessons to learn on the fly, when a project is already underway.

  11. / Reply

    Self Taught can be good for learning software programs, however the more important elements of design such as color theory, typography, layout, problem solving, etc. are best learned through formal education. If you put some effort into your studies, you will get a lot out of school.

    I’ve found that the educated artists that I have collaborated with over the years have been the better designers. I’m sure this is not the case across the board, but school will expose you to many elements of art that you may not think of as valuable at the time, but will prove to be valuable later.

  12. / Reply

    I would have to agree with E.W. and Harry, here.

    Being self-taught is great with software, but I’m finding a good many web ‘designers’ are not as fluent in the basics of design as they should be. Without these fundamental skills, they will stay just that–web designers and certainly not graphic designers.

    I’ve also heard my share of university and design school students complain about their education while in school (me included). These days, there is so much to see on the web that it looks tempting to go out there and stake your own claim. It looks so easy. Well it isn’t. While you are in school you are so immersed in your own world that you aren’t able to see that design schools are building your knowledge base. These are meant to help grow your design instincts and give you a basic foundation to expand yourself creatively. You need to learn to walk first.

    Soon you may find yourself stuck in a career with very few options. Without a college degree, they are even narrower.

  13. / Reply

    I’m a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute alum (’01) and I’m glad they made your list. I love-love-loved the Electronic, Media, Arts & Communication program and the things I learned there have served me well over the years.

    In the end, I think any program is only as good as you make it which is why self-taught designers can be just as successful as those who went through a specialized program. Personally, I would stay in school forever if I won the lotto. Having an excuse to churn out some awesome, unedited, totally blue sky work for a few years while being surrounded with equally excited and curious peers is a great luxury.

  14. / Reply

    This is a very interesting article! Everything I’ve learned about SEO and marketing has been on my own, so it goes to say a lot that universities are sometimes overhyped

  15. / Reply

    I also belong to the ‘Self-Taught’ group, and I have found that since I first learned HTML back in the late 90’s, things have been changing rather quickly. While many of you argue that you can learn coding principles by self-teaching, you also say that design principles are shunned. For me, every single one my clients comes to me after having dealt with University bred “designers”, and each of the designs are downright horrid. I believe the key is to dedicate yourself to learning the grid, typography, and other graphic concepts just as you would programming concepts.

    Web designers tend to stem from Computer Science majors, when it would be much more effective to have a degree in Graphic Design and learn the computer science on your own. Many colleges have yet to deduce that the two go hand in hand.

  16. / Reply

    My wife and I do all of our web design projects together. She has formal education in design and I was self taught. I have spent most of my focus on software and she focuses on design. I feel the mix of backgrounds has been great for us. I am also slightly colorblind, making me very dependent on her. I would say that having a mix of both for anyone is great. It allows you to be independent as well as learn the things that a self-taught person would have skipped because they thought it was unimportant or useless.

    • Leif Stout,
    • January 7, 2010
    / Reply

    As a self-taught designer with 12 years full-time experience, I see more and more people choosing the self-taught route.

    These days there are practically no barriers to anyone becoming (or calling themselves) a designer; computer hardware is cheap, software is easy to get, and there are limitless learning resources available for free.

    The reality is that *anyone* who uses a computer can be a “designer.”

    So the question for me is not whether it’s better to be self-taught or formally educated… The real question is: is the concept of professional design even relevant?

    • Rex Xu,
    • January 7, 2010
    / Reply

    Going to school is like a subway train ride where you will board from one place, and alight at the destination of your choice. Just like you choose what to study, and you board with the bunch of commuters, much like your classmates. Its mainstream, and nothing special about going to school. On the contrary, a designer is someone that has to know what is main and non-mainstream…

    Going to school guarantee you to your accreditation, however, metaphorically explained, when you alight at your stop from the subway station, you still need to know, how to travel to your specific destination thereafter. by bus? walking? where are the short cuts.

    Some good designers may come up works that fascinates the modern crowd but eventually its not a timeless work.

    At least in school, they will teach you how to effectively judge and crit a design work that should work for it’s purpose. Competition in school also increases the tendency of creating works that are often, trend following. Maybe a good thing, may be a bad thing too, this fact is open to your interpretation.

    Self-taught people; face these facts. You are unable to finance yourself for education in a champion university or you may be in a situation that dis-allow you from being a student (maybe you’re too old and you think). But hey….you are most passionate, most inspired, you seek competition not from classmates but from the society, you are highly driven and a fast learner, if you were ever given a chance to attend uni, you will ace the class.

    This is by far the most thought intriguing post I’ve read, well done!

  17. / Reply

    Thanks for this article. For myself, I want to pursue formal education prior to having work experience. I know a lot of people who have taken formal education who have the theoretical knowledge of design, but don’t have the technical knowledge that comes with composing it on a digital medium. I would go back to school only to learn the conceptual ideas behind design and learn it by textbook.

  18. / Reply

    Allen G has some valid points. As “Artists” we are each born with varied degrees of “Talent”. Artistic talent is not something that is taught.

    That said, I still believe that everyone can benefit from an art education.
    When I went to college, personal computers were still many years away from being invented. Our art education was mostly design theory, and we did all of our projects by hand. We studied art history as well in great detail.

    I am mostly self taught in the software that I use, but I still went to school for “Continuing Education” to get better at them.

    I am very thankful for my education

  19. / Reply

    Every self-taught designer or illustrator will once think about going to a professional course to try to make it like big guys do. You can’t go without it.

    • Brian Jones,
    • January 9, 2010
    / Reply

    This post has been an influence. Since posting a couple of days ago, I have had serious considerations of going to school to find out what I may not find in my self taught studies. During this time, I have received a phone call from Rasmussen, an email from Art Institute of Tampa for their Open House, and a letter from IA of Design & Technology. I have been studying design & development as well as interface design for the last year, and while I feel I am close, I just know there has to be more to learn. While rolling your sleeves up and just doing it is the best form of learning, direction and the true ins and out’s is also beneficial. With serious thought and consideration, I would like to enroll and plan on doing so. IA Academy does not have anything on Web Design & Development, and I am opting on AI of Tampa, Full Sail (Inspires me) or Rasmussen. Does anyone have experience or know of any negatives or pluses of either one of these schools?

  20. / Reply

    thank you very much for sharing all the design schools with us! i very appreciate this list. i was looking for a list like this since a i want to join an international design school!!

  21. / Reply

    My school doesn’t have too many courses on what I feel is important for what I want to do and know. So I’m learning on my own. I’m learning a lot, and I think that’s the most important is to learn. The second is to practice practice practice. Those two are the foundation of success, but they don’t necessarily hand success to you. You have to know how to market yourself.

    • Hannah,
    • January 14, 2010
    / Reply

    I am currently in a certificate program at UCLA extensions. The teachers are all people with a vast amount of experience in the field. After 5 years of part time self education, I have been surprised by how much I helpful knowledge I did not know.
    Looking back at the work I did a few years ago vs. now, I definately see the improvement. I’m sure with a thorough self education the same skills can be learned, but you can’t rely on website blurbs and tutorials to teach them to you. It requires reading books, talking to those with experience, and applied practice.

  22. / Reply

    This is a great post. I taught myself web design about seven years ago. I’ve always offered my services for free or a discounted price (of nearly nothing) to friends because I felt I wouldn’t be able to really make any sort of living being a self taught designer.

    This year I decided to go for it and offer my services on a freelance basis to small businesses and artists in the area. It comforts me to know that many designers learned on their own and that I am just as capable as someone who learned in a classroom to be proud of/expand my knowledge and make a living. Great post! Thanks!

  23. / Reply

    i am a self-taught web designer and it gives me great confidence after reading your article… though i still feel I desperately need a certificate for a better job.

  24. / Reply

    Many schools are unable to keep up with the rapid advancements of the web. Real world experience and learning about what’s happening right now on the web is very important.

    Of course not everyone is able to focus enough to teach themselves, and for them formal education is a great option. School also gives you the chance to interact with many other teachers and designers you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

    If you think you can learn it yourself, you can; if you know you need someone to teach it to you that’s fine too.

    For anyone who is nervous and thinks they need a degree to get hired, stop worrying. We do not require a degree for any freelancers we hire. Often times studios choose the designer with a few years of real world experience over someone who just got a degree.

  25. / Reply

    Web design freelancer and self taught all the way, had some thoughts of getting a degree in the beginning, but all that was gone once I became more successful.

    Self teaching is very convenient in all aspects, but you have to be quite self disciplined. Anyway as soon as the orders are piling up, there is no choice but to learn and move forward.

    Relationship/interacting with other people wise, there’s nothing that can be compared with spending a few years in an university or design school.

    • George Stanhope,
    • February 4, 2010
    / Reply

    They say that formal education is the best way to recieve a degree, therefore stating that formal education is the most effective way to produce a smart and useful worker. I say that the real world is something that has to be mastered, and can only be mastered by experience. Without a formal education, one will be able to work in the real world starting as a young child, getting different values and philosophies than a formal student. In formal schools, the teachers baby and take care of their students, and always strive to put the student’s best interest first. In the real world, a man or woman must have the ability to take critiscism, and transform it into instructions without having a mental breakdown. How do you propose that one can be more successful in the real world than one who has grown up with the real world conditions?

  26. / Reply

    A very interesting article.

    I am a self taught web designer, and I love the technical side of building a functional website.

    It was a great confidence booster reading this article as it reminds me of all the hard work I put it to continuously do better in this very competitive industry.

    Well written.


    1. / Reply

      Thanks Krishna :)

      I’m sure all the hard work you have put in is definitely worth the time and effort spent!

    • Susan,
    • March 21, 2010
    / Reply

    Thanks for the article! I came across this while helping my daughter look into schools for web design. She is very interested in the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Does anyone have personal experience with the school or know of anyone that has?

    I am a self-taught web designer with an associate’s degree in graphic arts (a dying art) from a community college. I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and am now the graphic designer/director for a Fortune 200 company.

    That said, I still have fears of being ‘found out’. I’m told that most designers have this fear whether they have a formal arts education or not. Although I feel secure in my job, I worry I would be overlooked if I had to apply for another job. I would hope my 12 years of graphic web design experience would be enough but I know my own company would require a 4-year degree to replace me. I am trying to go back to school but, at 47 and working full time, I figure I’ll graduate around the time I’m looking at retirement!

    If you can find a way to afford it, I would recommend starting out with an education even if it is only an associate’s degree. Learning new things without the threat of missing a deadline is a valuable thing!

    • Mark,
    • April 12, 2010
    / Reply

    There may be no right or wrong as far as how you get your education in web design is concerned, but some ways are better than others. I think getting a formal education in graphic arts is the right start to a career in graphic design. Also, the dynamics of the current job market are such that employers prefer to hire someone who has a college degree, relevant experience or a body of work to show, and demonstrates an ability to work in a fast changing business environment. It is not just desirable, but expected that you have a graphic arts degree for a well-paid web design job.

  27. / Reply

    Really there is no better way than the self education.Its true that the education institution provide guidelines but sometimes maintaining their instruction seems boring and then the learning does not seem interesting.Learning seems interesting and fruitful when there is no specific bindings.

  28. / Reply

    thats really good design school showcase

    • Jon,
    • August 26, 2010
    / Reply

    Great article. Personally, I’d lean toward the self-taught side of education – it’s worked for me. Also, I want to suggest another educational institution that you might consider adding to your list. Madison Media Institute ( is a private, digital arts college in Madison, WI that has a specialized program for students interested in web/graphic/media design.

  29. / Reply

    Follow me on twitter-

  30. / Reply

    some cheap softwares does not offer good online technical support so i would caution about using them “,*

  31. / Reply

    Yes i agree and i go for self taught, The old school method just gives the idea for the author who written before 5 to 6 years, But i self taught method we can learn many things via Google and other search engines. We have number of articles, blogs, tutorials online to achieve this. Hope this world will completely change to self learning. I am not sure where tutors will go…LoL…Thanks for sharing.

  32. / Reply

    The dilemma you’re facing is a case of “You get what you pay for” I suspect. There’s nothing preventing an individual from learning the necessary skills for designing certain types of vessels by reading and asking questions and studying successful designs and by their own trial and error. But by being involved in some sort of organized, structured curriculum with mentors you will dramatically decrease the number of mistakes you have to make (and the time it takes to make and learn from them) and probably in the end make you a better designer. You will, no doubt, be told of the designers who produce perfectly adequate, and even some exceptional, boat designs who are self taught, at least predominantly. But it’s most likely that that structured curriculum was replaced by access to a mentor, teacher or just a very generous and pedogogical colleague.

  33. / Reply

    Great article. Well, I come under the Self-Taught designers. I`m proud that I belong to this category, as web designing being the most attractive industry at my beginning and the cause of not having financial help to learn by going to any school, I have self-taught web designing.

    I still know that there is much for me to learn and still learning many things. And its been 2 years of me working as a web designer and I still love the field im IN

  34. / Reply

    College was one of the best experiences of my life. I’m so glad I took this route because teaching myself would have been completely overwhelming. There’s a good article on whether you should attend college or not as a designer on Student Guide here:

    I know lots of designers who haven’t taken a single design course in their life and are still very successul.

  35. / Reply

    A very interesting post on an ongoing and much discussed subject. It is not just desirable, but expected that you have a graphic arts degree for a well-paid web design job.

    • Guest,
    • April 2, 2013
    / Reply

    Very good article and its very interesting.

  36. / Reply

    It’s very knowledgeable article, sure self studies motivate the people.
    Especially in the field of graphics self-taught is very important, it gives self

    • Larry D'Almeida,
    • May 24, 2013
    / Reply

    Great article. Really helped me out. Thanks Charlotte!

    • Shark,
    • July 16, 2013
    / Reply

    The pic about roads diverging actually shows roads converging :D .. Nice article btw!

    • Moynul,
    • September 13, 2013
    / Reply

    It’s very great article ….

  37. / Reply

    The different between self taught are really formal. Very nice.

  38. / Reply

    The stuff you are using that is very useful and helpful,
    Thanks for sharing a very informative article…..

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