Web Design: Self-Taught or Formally Educated?

When it comes to web design, being self-taught is probably the right choice. On the other hand, learning solo can be tough and despairing. While I don't consider myself as professional in the subject, I'm interested in sharing a thought I recently had about being self-taught versus formally educated in web design.

I've been in both kinds of situations, studying web design by myself at home and at school.
I was a beginner back in 2006 and we had to rebuild a website that was presented to us as an image in order to avoid cheating. So sure, I rebuilt it - but by using tables and old markup! Another time, we used Dreamweaver for the smart WYSISWYG (which didn't really teach us anything) and I remember asking my teacher what was the automated code between my tags, and she said not to pay attention to that. Later on I figured it was called CSS and that it is one of the most advanced technologies related to web design.

These are two examples for how outdated web design classes can sometimes be, and it's not the only class I took. After finishing the class, I figured it was better to learn web design solo. I started digging deeper and deeper into web design and got me to what I know nowadays.

Being self-taught in a subject like web design consists of three important features: curiosity, patience and experience.

Curiosity:
Just like any other profession learned, curiosity is the base to get good at anything. If you're not passionate enough for the subject, then you'll get nowhere. It goes from looking for inspirations and following tutorials all the way to learning from the pros and analyzing their works. You need to look forward into the subject or else it would be tough.

Patience:
I've seen quite a few situations were beginners ask for help to start learning web design and boom(!), a hundred & one different resources appear. Doubtlessly, web design is much to learn, and it takes quite a time to really get skilled at. What I'm trying to say is, people tend to get lazy when they find out how much there is to learn, so they give up on learning by themselves. And that's why being self-taught requires even more patience.

Experience:
I tend to look at experience as a simple formula:

Patience + Curiosity / Time = Practice = Experience.
Getting skilled doesn't take a week or two, or three, it takes much more, and the more you practice, the better you get (damn, I sound like my swimming coach now). Experience includes getting feedbacks, getting updated on new trends and styles, not being afraid to try new stuff, and so on...
How will clients look at you?

There's no doubt that a web designer with a qualification in his resume will be viewed better than a web designer who says he learned everything by himself.

What I believe bothers me so much is thinking that what's being taught isn't necessarily the right material. I mean, how updated will schools and universities have to be in order to get the most recent out of the world wide web? - very updated! Sadly, most of them aren't, which makes such a subject so hard to teach.

As I see it, studying a subject like web design at schools or universities results in leaving out lots of significant material or using old technologies (such as FrontPage). The fast pace of web technology makes it tough for institutions to keep up while teaching it formally. While formal classes teach you different techniques and tools, self-teaching gives you practice and experience.

Now clients, that naively aren't familiar with the subject, who contract a web designer, will probably go with the qualified one who has a degree. Well... won't you? But here's the mistake. I don't believe having a qualification makes you know better - on the contrary - self-taught professional web designers are more experienced and know the material much better.

Qualifications in web design may help you attract more potential clients and open more doors for you but when it comes to expertise - in my opinion - self-teaching takes. But after all, qualification or not, the real skill is found in people who are passionate and are driven to excel in what they do. I mean, if you're good at what you do, no piece of paper will take that away from you, right?

I'd be glad to know which of you is self-taught or formally educated, and what you prefer.

 

entry info

The entry "Web Design: Self-Taught or Formally Educated?" was posted on March 16, 2009 at 20:49 by Dor Dan.

categorized in

Design, Miscellaneous.

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99% self taught, 1 semester in art school before i realized it was a waste of time...

also learned to code by hand, without the use of dreamweaver... helps immensely when debugging or looking at someone else's code

Jeremy Mack
April 23, 2009

A great discussion, being a self taught designer its nice to know that I'm not wasting my time! I'm so passionate about design its unreal but I can't afford a formal education, all the online tutorials and forums have really opened doors for me! And I love it!

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Charles Marsh
April 15, 2009

I've got 2 1/2 years of formal education as a media designer, but mostly everything I know about web design is self-taught. The schools simply cannot keep pace to the development on the market.

Birgit
April 08, 2009

I think the only thing that should speak for you is your work, whether or not you have a formal degree.

When you go for a formal education you pay an incredible amount for being taught. Why should I pay to learn something that's outdated and not exactly what I want? Whereas if you prefer the autodidactic way of learning, you can invest all that you can afford only on the resources you need for teaching yourself like books, tutorial dvds, etc.

I prefer self-education since i can learn exactly what I want without being bound by the limits of a curriculum set by a formal course. I can decide my own direction and course. Of course this requires a lot of motivation, passion, dedication, and above all self-discipline, which I love. :)



Hence, I prefer self-education.

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Soumya
April 08, 2009

Well said.. I totally agree experience is our best teacher.

Andy
March 22, 2009

@MD: Well said! The best teacher is ourselves. We learn the way we feel is most comfortable with the techniques that are best for us. Today, with the huge amount of resources (tutorials, forums, articles, etc...), it makes it much easier and fun to learn solo.

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Dor Dan
March 21, 2009

Well great ideas and diversions. I taught myself every web design technique and ended up teaching others now. The truth, without being skeptical, is that I learn a lot from others and some articles, videos, forums etc. I contribute to a number of forums and sometimes I discover new techniques that i never taught of. In sum, academic is good but with self-teaching the sky is not a limit and you feel current. My school taught web design using tables and tables alone. The only css was used to style text within tables.

That said I believe formal education is quite important for eg learning Creative Design etc. That is a good start. You are the best teacher of yourself and no one can teach you better if you don't teach yourself.


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MD
March 20, 2009

I definitely agree with Heath. For years, I got turned down for gigs just because the other guy had a degree - then when I would see the final result - it was GARBAGE! They would charge $5000 for a site that looks like something a high school kid did - and in order for me to be able to get a contract, I would have to severely reduce my prices, and then for me to be remembered, I would deliver $5000 quality for say, $1000.
But like Dan said, there's no substitute for a formal education - after 10 years of self-teaching and discovering, I'm in school and I'll admit, I've learned a lot of little things that tie what I know together. It's nice to learn the theory and history behind graphic design, the different techniques - stuff I had been doing for years actually had a name behind them!
Overall, I think self-taught is definitely the way to go ONLY if you are truly passionate about it. That way, the hours and hours spent reading and doing tutorials and practicing are genuine, not money driven. Once a self-taught designer is comfortable enough in what they're doing, a formal education has to come into play in order to take it to the next level. After that, you have such a higher advantage than both a pure self-taught designer and a pure college taught designer.

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Tiana Palmer
March 18, 2009

So why pay for a couple of years being in a classroom full of other inexperienced people learning outdated web design with limited old technology? I can think of only one answer - something to show off with in case you want to get a job or impress a new client.

I wonder how it would be like if schools and/or universities will be more involved in the web design industry, will it then be more justifying to get a formal web design education?

Lots of true stuff are said here, thanks for donating to the discussion.

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Dor Dan
March 17, 2009

When I went through college I noticed a lot of people getting degrees in IT simply because they knew the jobs paid well. About a quarter of the people going through the program had no motivation to do IT outside of money - and it reflected in the quality of their work. The same might be said for formal education now days for Web Design. Having a formal degree in Web Design will not make you a good web designer.

Self taught people are more likely to have a true 'passion' for their work than those not self-taught. They have a natural 'craving' for the knowledge needed to do what they love to do. Self-educating themselves in not a decision they contemplate - it is just something that happens.

Formal training on the other hand doesn't require 'passion' to graduate from - it presents the opportunity for some people to just squeak by and then walk out into the world proclaiming themselves to be Web Designers.

Heath Huffman
March 17, 2009

I took some classes that would be considered formal education...self-taught is the best though and also working in the industry. I have learned more in a week at my current job than I did in a semester in class. Plus, they are really far behind on technologies.

Jared
March 17, 2009

I have a degree in digital art, but everything I have learned, I learned from breaking websites.

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murrydan
March 17, 2009

I can imagine that having a classical, formal education in art or design would only benefit anything self-taught in web design. Most formal classes for web design are going to be out of touch with the present, but if you have some fundamental training to fall back on, then that can only help.

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Stuart Thursby
March 17, 2009

Totally self taught over the last couple of years. Can't really see that it matters too much though; people care where you're at, not how you got there.

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Harry Roberts
March 17, 2009

I'll vouch for both formal education and self-taught but I'm leaning more towards self-taught because the curriculum on design, especially web design is so primitive and infantile. And let's not forget...it is damn expensive!

I think people should take 1-2 years of foundation classes in design and then go find a job, start at the bottom and work your way upwards.

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Khoa Tran
March 17, 2009

I think that people who are formally taught are probably going to vouch for formal education while self-taught people are going to justify self-teaching, but for what it's worth I started down the path of formal education (in computer science) and ended up teaching myself web-design later on after receiving my degree in a non-related field (physics).

I did get the Csci Minor though, which means I took enough classes to know what a Csci major is all about. There are a few things I retained and use in practice today, but I would say the vast majority of what I know now I learned in the past 2 years informally. There wasn't a web-design focus available at my school at the time I started my CSci major (at the University of Minnesota) and most of the courses were taught in either java or an obscure language like scheme, lisp, or cobalt. What we were being taught were the principles and practices that translate across all languages, which is great if you're going to be a computer scientist but there wasn't any focus on practical applications - only toy problems.

The most important thing I learned in college was how to learn. Physics was a fairly demanding subject and we were introduced to a lot of abstract and difficult concepts, so when I started on my own path to learn web development I was probably better equipped for the process than someone who never spent any time at a university, but even that's debatable. One could also say that had I not gone to college I could have dove into the field 4 years earlier and been that much more skilled today.

In response to Dan Long's comment that self-education cannot be a substitute for formal education, I'd remind him of all the self-taught uber-programmers out there like John Carmack and David Hansson who learned how to do it on their own. Formal education, for some people, can actually be more of a road block than a benefit. If you're not the kind of person who thrives in an environment where you're being preached to by 1 person in a classroom of people in neat little rows, self-teaching may be better than a degree ever could be.

As for clients and what they prefer, I do not believe a formal education even comes into play when they are considering you. Typically all they want is to see what you've done in the past and how you can do it for them now at a great price. They understand all the credentials in the world can't makeup for poor results.

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Mark Nutter
March 16, 2009

I've found that if you have a solid portfolio, no one cares what your background is. If you carry yourself like a design school grad, just professionally and affable, then clients will treat you as such.

This coming from a guy whose formal education did nothing but re-hash the stuff he learned on his own years ago

Shaun
March 16, 2009

I think that being self taught is great, but there is no substitute for a formal education. Clients look at you completely different if you are only self taught and have had no schooling. Of course, as a designer, you are always learning. Everything that you do, you learn something from.

Dan Long
March 16, 2009

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