Did you need your design degree?

May 24, 2017

Lisa, UX and graphic design:

“During VCE I finished a Cert III in Multimedia, as my high school was seriously under-resourced and didn't teach what I needed. The Cert taught me basic knowledge of digital design, web/UI design, and animation. From this experience, I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer, and I knew I wanted to continue my education in TAFE.

I’m like Nick and Carla, in the sense that I’m a hands-on learner. I understand the value of learning and practising skills. Lectures and essays put me to sleep. When I got out of high school I ended up working full time, but still wanted to study, so I enrolled in a night course (an Advanced Diploma in Graphic Design & Advertising). This was a good introduction and I learnt a lot, but I then struggled with my work/study balance. So after 2 years, I dropped out.

Then after a year off, I went back to RMIT and started an Advanced Diploma of graphic design, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to transfer my results (due to course codes or some other administrative problem). I was encouraged to do the associate degree, but I decided to stick with the diploma, mainly due to money constraints.

So, in the end, should you choose a degree or a diploma? TAFE was right for me. I really enjoy technical work, I’m a pretty logical/precise person, and I also wanted to get out into the workforce quicker. At TAFE, the required hours of work experience are great for forcing you to get there… I even got my agency job because of it.

A TAFE course is set up so that it’s fast paced and mirrors hours similar to that of the workforce. This helps you get into the right rhythm and become mentally fit for work life. The teachers are a lot more approachable and the class sizes are smaller.

I appreciate the strengths in a degree. For some people, that’s the right path. You can get more conceptual, have more time to develop on your own, and work out your personal goals/areas of design that you want to get into.

But on the other hand, a degree is very long and expensive. All of my friends that are still doing one (after a pathway from the diploma) complain about it, and most have dropped out. It’s still a huge amount of work, with bigger class sizes, and from what I’ve heard it’s harder to get time with tutors, so I feel you’d have to be a lot more self-driven and self-sufficient.

In the end: Yes, I needed my diploma. The diploma was right for me and I didn’t need a degree.”

Nick, UX, UI and graphic design:

“Short answer: No, I didn’t need my degree.

Longer answer: Maybe I would have needed my degree if I had applied for long-term jobs. But all I knew coming out of highschool was that I wasn’t suited to full-time work. Ironically, I started my own business instead, which makes 'full-time work' look like a flippin’ discoteque.

Starting at Box Hill TAFE gave me a really good understanding of multimedia and hands-on training with all the toys. It was a Cert IV in ‘Interactive Media and Print Design’.

It was perfect for understanding what the industry offered and the skills that were going to be required later on.

The year at Box Hill got my skills and folio looking pretty tight, which helped me get accepted into an advanced diploma course called ‘Electronic Design and Interactive Media’ at Swinburne. Two years of intense, hands-on, design-focused, project-based work had me producing 3D character animation, websites, video games, UI design, video production and graphic design.

After EDIM, I jumped across into the 3rd year of a BA in multimedia at Swinburne Uni. It basically felt like being at high school again. Comparatively, a lot of the students were disinterested smartarses, teachers were a bit jaded, facilities were dated, and lectures were zzzzzzzz.

Once I was done with studying, there were a couple of jobs that were on offer. My degree may have influenced the first company to interview me, but it was definitely my folio of work that got me the offer. I didn’t take the job, so I couldn’t say for sure how much my degree played a part. The job I did take, however, was 100% based on my folio of work and referral.

To be honest, nothing that I produced in that 3rd year of the BA was added to my folio. But because I was more focused on building a business, the degree really didn’t apply. It was much more about referrals and proving the value I could bring to someone. Still, to this day, that’s how most of our business comes in.

So, I think there’s definitely more effective pathways when it comes to study. But it does depend on what you’re trying to achieve. Come to think of it, I actually have no idea who of our team has a degree. So in our case, no, you don’t need a degree. Personality and potential are much more important.”

Carla, graphic design:

“I studied graphic design at RMIT. I chose to do the two-year associate degree over the the full bachelor. The bachelor degree is more conceptual, whereas the associate degree is structured more like a diploma or TAFE. People told me I would come out with better practical skills, and I think I did.

The bachelor degree also required some prior knowledge. They don’t teach you the programs, so you need to be a little be self-taught.

The diploma/associate degree was more intense and we did more hours than the bachelor degree students. It’s also less wishy-washy, and because we did full days it was tougher to balance work, life, and study.

You could theoretically self-teach. But the feedback from your tutors is so valuable early on. Plus, when your employer sees you're backed by a uni, it gives them more confidence in you.

Another good thing about the associate degree is they make you do internships, which is so important. It’s the only way to get a foot in the door and attain some experience, which you can then turn into another internship, or a job. And then that job becomes more valuable than the degree, because you can learn more on the job than at uni, no matter how good your uni is.”

Light Creative is a Melbourne-based creative, content, and digital agency.