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10 Tips For Surviving Design School

10 Tips For Surviving Design School

Surviving design school is more than just avoiding all-nighters and managing to get your projects done on time. It’s smiling when you want to cry, venting about your professors to your friends, and trying not to break down when your model doesn’t save properly. Being a design student is something few people really understand, so it’s important to surround yourself with peers who can help you get through it with a smile on your face. There are a handful of other tips that will make it easier to survive, and maybe even enjoy, design school.

1. Design Friends

They don’t necessarily have to be in your exact major, but make sure you make some strong connections with your design school cohorts. You will need people on your side, not just for group projects but for conversing about new ideas, assignments, professors, classes, etc. There are a myriad of reasons why having strong friendships will help you survive design school.

2. Caffeine

A main tip for surviving design school is, obviously, caffeine. Late nights working on projects are just a given when you study design, so make sure you have a good supply of coffee, tea, or any other caffeine that you like. I was never without a travel mug of coffee when I went in to studio, and if it’s midterms or finals then all previously followed caffeine rules go out the window. Espresso at 2 am? Definitely. Even better if your school has a great espresso machine (see tip #6).


10 Tips For Surviving Design School

3. Tools

You’ll definitely need a laptop with at least a 15-inch screen, for working on projects. A large printer capable of printing 11×18 pages is also a great tool, and will save you trips to the ever-stressful printing lab on campus. In addition to technological tools, you’ll need actual tools. Find your favorite pencils and pens for sketching, notebooks and sketchbooks for jotting down ideas, and all the other special tools that will be required for your classes. 

4. A Good Workspace

Most design majors have a studio to work in, where each student gets a desk and chair. If this is where you plan to do the majority of your work, really make it your own. Keep snacks and extra supplies in the drawer, and hang up old projects or a mood board to help you stay inspired. If you don’t have a studio, or know you’ll be doing a lot of work at home, invest in a big desk to work at. It’s okay if the desk is in your bedroom, just make sure you have adequate light and enough room to work. Sometimes design school is really hands on, so having a big workspace will be nice.


10 Tips For Surviving Design School

5. Find Inspiration

When your inspiration for projects is waning, find a few places you can go for inspiration. My favorite is the art museum. After a visit I always feel invigorated with fresh ideas. Going on Pinterest is another great way to find inspiration. Create boards for each project so you stay on track and on brand. Sometimes shopping in inspiring boutiques or art stores can stir creativity too. Either way, surviving design school only happens when the inspiration is abundant and flowing. 

10 Tips For Surviving Design School


6. Study Abroad

Study abroad is important for everyone to do once, in my opinion, but especially so for design majors. The opportunity to study in another country means broadening your horizons, in life and in your education. The chance to study with people from other cultures, in another culture, will stimulate your mind and open you up to a whole new world. In addition, being in a new country means seeing whole new design techniques and styles at play. Imagine walking through a palace with your teacher, pointing out the details of the historic architecture. There’s no better way to learn, if you ask me, and you’ll be refreshed for the rest of your design classes when you return to campus.

7. Good Relationships with Professors

When you get to know your professors, and in turn they get to know you, your working relationship will just be that much better. There’s nothing nicer than a professor who understands their students and cares about them inside and outside of the classroom. These kinds of professors aren’t guaranteed, but if you’re kind and respectful in every interaction with your professor, it will help you in surviving design school. Ask questions and keep a good relationship with your teachers and things will be that much better.

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8. Be Prepared to Teach Yourself

Something I didn’t know going into design school was that a lot of things, like new software or techniques, would have to be figured out on my own. Some classes just give you the basic tools then expect you to learn everything else on your own. This can go really well or horribly wrong, depending on how committed you are. Set aside time to learn software on your own, watch help videos on the internet, or learn together with a couple friends. Just know going into it that not everything will be easy (or taught).

10 Tips For Surviving Design School

9. Internships

If you really want to get to know the profession you’re entering, find an internship. You don’t have to wait until junior or senior year when the internship is most likely required. Starting sooner is not a bad idea. Even if it’s just a couple days a week, this glimpse into the industry will be more than valuable for the rest of your college years. Surviving design school is more than just the school aspect, it’s coming out alive after graduation with a continued passion for the industry and the knowledge of what it’s really like.

10 Tips For Surviving Design School

10. Have Thick Skin

Surviving design school means a lot of big presentations in front of your classmates, professors, and guest judges where you’re showing your work to the world. It can feel very vulnerable to share your ideas with the world like this, but it will make you stronger in the end. To survive design school you definitely need to have thick skin. One bad comment or judgement on your work isn’t something to be upset or frustrated about, because it will just help you become a better designer. Learn to take criticism and funnel it into being a better designer! 

Are you surviving design school and have other tips? Leave them in the comments below! Forward this article to all your design friends so you can survive and thrive together.

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