Is university the only way to get into design in Kenya

“If you want to work as a designer three decades from now, get used to constant self-learning”

Those wanting to completely eschew university learning might choose to teach themselves. Self-taught designers are in good company. It’s arguably easier than ever to teach yourself the necessary skills to be a designer – YouTube videos, how-to guides, and unlimited other resources exist online to coach budding creatives through Adobe Suite and more. Self-taught creative director and designer Karen Cheng has written an entire guide on the subject. (Yet some people will make the point that it takes more than technical skills to be a good designer). Taking charge of your own learning is a good trait for any designer to have. Being a designer “means that you can never stop learning”.


Good design education should give you a “period of experimentation and discovery”


People should think twice before committing to the completely self-taught route. Developing on your own as opposed to a university setting means you’d become “a conventional client-pleasing designer”. Experimentation and discovery come with good design education.

But a good design education doesn’t necessarily have to come from a traditional classroom. More practical learning, through the likes of mentorship and internships, is available and this has really taken off during the last 18 months. 


“With the undivided attention of a teacher, you’re able to learn at a much faster pace”


For a more structured experience that exists outside of a university setting, short courses and online schools are helpful. There are a variety of options – the likes of FutureLearn offer courses from university partners and are often self-directed, while courses like those from Blue Sky Graphics offer one-to-one teaching.

Blue Sky Graphics’ individualized approach allows them to condense what could be a two-year or more course into seven months, according to course coordinator Noah Wildman. “With the undivided attention of a teacher, you’re able to learn at a much faster pace,” he explains.

This is especially helpful for those without a background in design,. Through a mix of one-to-one teaching and homework, where students are able to answer briefs and explore their creativity, the course aims to take beginner students to a proficiency level equivalent to that of a junior designer. Students are taught by practicing professionals, and the curriculum is structured around Adobe programs.


Open access to design thinking


“Encouraging people to use and recognize design thinking in their lives and work, even if they don’t have a background in it. Not having a university education should not be a barrier to design.”


“The world needs both the strategic and the technical to flourish”


Of course, these courses aren’t designed to necessarily produce technically proficient designers. More so, they’re supposed to help people understand the strategy behind design work.

It is, for this reason, designers with a degree need not feel put out, having spent considerable time, money, and effort studying their craft. There’s, of course, going to be a lot of debate on the subject but ultimately the world needs both the strategic side of design and the technical side to flourish. It’s important that everyone involved works together, with their different strengths, because we need it all.

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