Design insights & tutorials.

Blank Canvas: Students — What’s Missing From Your Classes?

Go Media has a large student readership. We’d love to hear from you regarding your current classes and offered classes — what’s missing?

I know back in my college days, it was a far different environment than it is today. The school and professors were considered reputable in their field, yet I found some of their approaches to be out of touch. I imagine that situation never changes.

What’s not offered, or not given enough time in the classes you’re taking? What’s not available to learn that you feel are important skills for a designer to have in their arsenal for the future?

Are you missing out on new web technologies like CSS and HTML5? Is designing for mobile computing environments with iOS and Android sufficiently covered? What sort of information do you find yourself turning to design blogs like Go Media Zine for?

And let’s not be completely negative here — if your university is offering some kick-ass classes in areas that you feel are part of the future of design, let us know as well in the comments below.


About the Author, George Coghill

George Coghill isa freelance humorous illustrator/cartoonist specializing in mascot cartoon character design & cartoon logos. His cartooning & illustration work can be seen at and at his cartooning and illustration blog. Be sure to follow me on Twitter here!
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We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • SzSza

    I guess HTML5 would be one of the things that it is not thought in my school / university. Another one would be jQuerry… CSS tricks (a good book though is “Bulletproof webdesign”)… hm… I guess there is a lot more, but this is what I was expecting and … nothing :D

  • Jayson

    I went back to a state school to try to pick up some new skills. It is hard to say exactly what I’m missing, because there is no clear delineation of skills for a ‘graphic designer’ in the workplace. Traditional graphic design, print design, web design, web development, application development, animation, 3D animation and rendering, CAD, photography, UX/UI, mobile development, illustration and marketing are all things I’ve seen job listings for a ‘Graphic Designer’ list as required. I don’t think that curriculum exists in too many places, if anywhere.

  • Unik Ink Specialty Printing

    When I was in school from 2001-2005 the head of the graphic design department was “old school”, as in she didn’t even know how to use a computer. The class that I had with her did nothing but typography projects, which was cool, but the same class taught by a younger professor, was doing type study, as well as learning InDesign. I still don’t know how to use InDesign. I want to punch my computer every time I try to figure it out myself.

  • Connor Montgomery

    No web development is taught at my school (well, there’s an “Intro to web design” that uses tables still… ’nuff said). I’m actually writing a proposal to teach a much more cutting-edge class myself for some credit.

    We’re missing out on all web technologies including, but not limited to, HTML5, CSS3, PHP, Javascript (and the great libs associated with it), Ruby, Rails, MySQL, and the like.

    Computer science touches on SQL, Python, C++, and Java.

    We have a graphic design department that focuses on design in media, so some UI/UX stuff is in there, but not really. It’s very disappointing, but I think it’s nice when I have to be very self-motivated to still pick up stuff I’m interested in – a good life-long lesson.

  • Barry

    To be fair, the web development landscape changes so quickly it would be difficult for any school to create curriculum that isn’t out of date by the time it’s developed.

    • Jayson

      Very true, and it’s increasingly difficult to incorporate any web design/development into a graphic design program without making it a double degree. I was reading a Linkedin thread yesterday where a commentator had just been to an educational conference about what direction design programs should head in.

    • Ven

      The school I am at focuses way too much on preparing students for what their department believes is the next step in technology while covering their bases with several low tier classes reteaching the basics of programming over and over again without context. I still see graduating students struggle with putting together a page in html because they are so distracted by thinking that it will be a better site if it was built entirely in flash anyway. Without any context and/or work experience these students are not ready to take on even the simplest freelancing gig.

  • Geoff Burns

    I know when I was going through school, I thought I was learning everything I would need to succeed, and then I had a class during the first 3 weeks of summer that incorporated an internship at a printing press. The class was on printing, and trying to get us to think outside the box when it came to direct mail and everything else under the sun that can be printed, needless to say, after 3 weeks at the printing press, I realized that I would learn more there than I would in school, and I ended up getting a job, working there for a year. Best thing I ever did! I realized very quickly that I learned a lot faster in a working environment, where I had to find solutions to problems on the spot, and back in class a lot of what we studied was more theoretical. I think this is one of the reasons that I’ve contemplated going to a more “focused” school like VFS or Gnomon, to get another degree…I like the idea of being in a more “real world” environment to learn.

    I will say, that I think it’s hard for professors to stay up with all of us kids, and stay ahead in design, because everything is in warp drive! But yeah when it comes to web design, we didn’t have any classes offered, other than an intro to Flash class…it was Flash MX! There I just dated myself!

  • Cat

    I finished school in 2007, but I really wished there had been a basic HTML and CSS class. I’ve managed to pick them up in my spare time since; but there’s something to be said for not having heard of CSS until my last term in school. When a guest speaker told my class that we MUST know it to get a design job. All I got was a crash course in slicing up a Photoshop page.

    • Simon H.

      Same here. The web design class was too short (only offered over the May term, so last “semester” of the school year, the month of May) and could have gone more in depth.
      Also, some profs are still teaching tables in our age of CSS layouts.

  • kaet

    designing for mobile devices would be nice, but what I really feel is missing is printing. How to prepare files for print, how to find good printers, differences between the different types of printers/printing, paper, and colour management. We cover some basics in regards to our projects, but not-so-much insofar as anything more than “go to kinkos/calcopy and get x printed”. We can feel the difference between different weight papers, but not why sometimes some papers will print easily and others will cause no end of problems. Colour management, not just for printing or different print processes, but for the interwebs as well. Calibrating, and all the different ranges of monitor presets. There could be a class on all the different ways of managing colour alone.

  • joey

    I am going to school for web design and interactive media, I think what is missing is that the teachers( not all ) all have their possessional careers outside of the classroom and they are teaching to supplement their income.
    I go to for profit school and there is not enough attention paid to the individual student, I am always waiting for my emails to be answered, and by the time they get back to me I have already found the answer or did not do the assignment correctly.
    There is no real world stuff (most of the classes are just the teacher lecturing the class instead of building an application in class, or a web site.
    I find that I have to go the web and find tutorials myself and learn more that way than at school, it’s the piece of paper that I am paying for not the education. I’m not saying that I haven’t learned anything going to school, it’s just that I learn more on my own.

    • Jayson

      Yeah, adjunct faculty who are unable to make ends meet as full time designers are pretty common. On one hand it’s good because they’re more in touch with the career, current developments, etc. On the other hand it should be very telling to anyone entering a design career as the employment prospects.

  • Jade

    I’ve been doing web site for eons – well since 1994 and graphic design since the late 90′s. The thing is that the basics of HTML and CSS have been around since 2002. To say a college doesn’t even do that much is not because the media is ever changing, it’s because that program isn’t very good. If a person was to expect to be competent in both print and multimedia is asking a lot. if you broaden your horizons too much don’t expect to be an expert at everything. Unfortunately many employers don’t know what it takes to put a website or a media project together and oversimplify the process – which makes it harder to achieve on a realistic level.

  • Jake Stevens

    A magic crystal ball that could tell the future of design is the biggest thing that was missing from my classes during school. lol

  • Tori

    Html5 css…like a previous poster mentioned its hard to get that without taking out a double degree.
    For my part I supplement my classes with tutorials, books, and outside classes to keep me well rounded and up to date. Things change constantly and I look at design education like a doctor would…taking constant extra classes to be up to date at any given moment. I personally think it essential for us to be self starters.

  • Elisha Cheverie

    the name of my diploma is visual and comunicative graphic design. it was a one year program which contained a whole 6 days of photoshop. and thats it. that was taken in dawson Creek BC Canada

  • Web_Instructor

    As a Web Development teacher for a technical school, I feel I must defend the teacher to some degree. Most college programs have less liberty to deviate from the curriculum set by the state. If the framework is out-of-date (and many are), the teacher has the burden of ‘adding’ the latest technologies to an already burdened course load. Students must then be willing to go above & beyond the course outline.
    This industry demands teachers encourage students to be self-motivated, passionate, and innovative. Students (and teachers) need to be encouraged to prowl the web to stay current and explore new avenues. A book can only teach the fundamentals; internships & on-the-job training must be part of the course work in order for students to succeed. Completing client projects should be a big part of any development curriculum.
    If you consider the scope and breadth of what it takes to be a successful web developer, you’ll see that your education must extend well beyond the classroom.
    Coding (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) is a fundamental skill that prepares students for the use of more technical languages (PHP, Action Script, using libraries (JQuery), etc.).
    Add to the list- SEO, marketing, interface design, accessibility, visual communication, blog & forum creation/modification, CMS (WordPress), the inclusion & creation of shopping carts, database design, security & legal considerations, graphic design, and so on.
    It is impossible to cover all of this in the time frame allotted. The bottom line is that teacher must help students develop a thirst for knowledge that will sustain them in this industry as it continues to evolve. Find a teacher that is passionate about this industry and you will find a program that prepares you to be successful. Visit the classroom before signing up for the program…if the teacher is not experimenting with the latest & greatest, keep looking!

    • Jayson

      While I can’t speak to your school, your program or your course work personally and I do understand operating under the constraints of bureaucratic inertia I am still finding fault with design eduction on a systemic level.
      All higher education is run as for profit business, regardless of whether a school is state run or private. All schools advertise their programs as the gateway to career success for the attendees. While there is no actual guarantee of this, it is implicit in nearly every other aspect of how colleges and universities market themselves.
      Therefore there is a level of trust engendered in the student body that what they’re doing is worth the time, money and effort because they’re is a direct causal relationship between their degree program and their employment in their field.
      No school would ever say what you’ve said about a program’s fundamental inability to prepare a graduate for the workplace. It is one thing to tell your students to be self-motivated but unless you explicitly tell them what you’ve told us here (and I am not saying you don’t) then issue of inadequate education continues to be compounded.

      • Web_Instructor

        Or two years at a technical school… six hours a day, everyday. Plus loads of ‘homework’! :)

  • Alme1304

    Personally I think that I (along with 99% of the GD students in my school) need more education in the actual production part of the project (papers, pantone, dealing w/ printers, etc.). I also think that we should be thought how to design for electronic devices in mind (resolution sizes, UX, etc).

    And for those of you asking for php, js, and sql. I hope you realize that you are in a graphic design program and not in computer science. I think that very few, if any design program are going to offer anything more that what anyone can already learn by themselves by looking at tutorials. I believe that learning something such as wordpress( or another popular CMS), html, and css would be more favorable that waste time learning other more complex languages. Not learning enough about php, js, sql and still launch a site could potentially open a big can of worms (security issues, data loss, bugs out of your scope, etc), so it would always just be better to hire someone who does this professionally. On the other hand, if you can minor or double major on CS, it would put you in a really good position when looking for a job.

    If you are a graphic design student you must realize that this field changes, and it changes fast, and technologies come and go, and it is hard to predict which will stay from the time they are conceived up the end of your graduation. So it would be incredibly hard for any school to keep a curriculum that can change as fast as technology does.

    A big problem that this field has, is the misconception of employers, expecting graphic designers to do everything from a bus. card to programming, accounting (or other random field).

    • niko

      Alme1304 I couldn’t agree with you more. If anything, it would have been nice to receive some real life production experience, dealing with printing processes and the end production aspect. Apparently that is something you have to ‘learn as you go’ but it would have been nice to understand how things work on a production level which can ultimately affect your design work and how you’ve put it together. Maybe a course offered where students get to experience design to actual production from beginning to end, with limitations and specs on how the project has to be handled would be beneficial. I think too many times students are allowed to express their creativity without limitations … now lets see how well that awesome expressive design that you did really holds up in the production end of things. Not that creativity is important, but in this business, it should go hand in hand with down and dirty production.

  • Corbin Fraser

    While I’m only 6 months in, I can’t totally judge everything that will be taught, but thus far my college has covered a good mix of everything. Gradient Meshes, Brushes, Photoshop, Illustrator, CSS, HTML5, Motion Graphics (After effects), Branding Manuals, Logo Design, Video Editing, Flash Animation (I hear next quarter we’ve got 3d, actionscript, more css, and a buncha other stuff)

    While the teachers are fairly good, the one thing I feel that is lacking is the whole “encouraging people to be more passionate about design”. I feel that with the exception of myself and a few other students, everyone seems to be blissfully unaware of the current trends in graphic design. What’s being taught to these students that aren’t passionate enough to hop on the web and hammer out a few tutorials feels a little dated at times.

    That and I feel our teachers suck at telling students their designs suck. Sometimes I want to step in and inform them… however I chose to chuckle to myself. (suck = insane gradients and bevels on everything…yes, we have those and just plain sucking at technology). There’s a lot of “Oh…that’s nice”. Which is just cheating students out of their money. And making the school look bad at the same time.

    Phew…didn’t realize I had this much to vent on the topic. Thanks GoMediazine!

  • Study Chinese in China

    The technology has been improving by leaps and bounds with every passing day. I think that this will without a doubt keep changing at a constant rate with the advent of new technology at su8ch a high rate.

  • Davirus

    Here in Mexico… everything!

    I tried to study on college for 3 years, I learn nothing, I have now 5 years as freelancer, I have learn a lot more from working directly with clients and companies than any college on this horrible country could teach me.

    Its just horrible, believe me, its… its awful, I regret all single days of my life for waste 3 years on those horrible colleges.

  • Davirus

    Here in Mexico… everything!

    I tried to study on college for 3 years, I learn nothing, I have now 5 years as freelancer, I have learn a lot more from working directly with clients and companies than any college on this horrible country could teach me.

    Its just horrible, believe me, its… its awful, I regret all single days of my life for waste 3 years on those horrible colleges.

  • Anonymous

    The future lies ahead for designers for any fields.
    Specially for web graphic designers- lots of knew web sites- too much graphics to be done in future. weeb….web…web…..

    Media also needs graphic designers- there is no end to it.

  • Web_Instructor

    This article and your comments are of great importance to me as I am currently working with the Dept of Education in my state to rewrite the state frameworks for web development. The line between graphic design (we call it digital design) and web development has been a hard line to determine. Schools and students are beginning to see that web development and graphic design are merging in a BIG way. Your comments and my research lead to the conclusion that in order to be prepared for successful employment, designers must have a good foundation in web development. Client projects (real or fictitious) and internships would help students develop real world experience and build a portfolio. I am also gathering that specialization in one or two areas, with a solid foundation in a broad range of skills would be ideal for many of you. I am curious if any of you consider industry certifications an aid to employment success.
    Please continue this discussion and consider joining a schools advisory committee. All schools and the Department of Education consider the advice from members of the industry an important part of the process. As a teacher and a member of this industry for over 20 years, I understand your frustration and am doing my part (however little it might be) to correct it. Thank you for the insights!

  • mark

    I think the problem with my school is that they are trying to teach too much. My major is interactive media and that encompasses everything from programming to video to graphic design. We touch base on a lot of different subjects, but I feel like that is the problem. Since they are trying to cram so much information in so little time, we only learn the very basic skills. Not enough that I would be able to work with in the realworld. I would rather learn specific skills and know what i’m doing. Rather than try and learn everything possible and not know what i’m doing. I’m taking a web design class next semester and I’ve heard from other students that they had to design for mobile platorms, which is good to hear. Not sure about using CSS3 or HTML5 though.

  • Filip Allberg