What won’t you learn in design school? How to run a business

The Design Business Association’s John Scarrott wrote a piece for us this week looking at how design businesses can work out what to charge clients.


Source: Sean MacEntee

Scarrott pulled out a few insights, and suggested some actions. One of the points he made was that many designers don’t have the basic business skills they need.

He cited the example of one designer who, in a bid to work out their rates, asked their mum to phone around other agencies to find out what they charged.

Scarrott’s point was possibly a bit of a generalisation (and the example certainly shows a good level of creativity and inventiveness) but it does highlight a serious issue.

Something I’ve heard countless times over the past few years from both graduate designers and their employers is that design schools don’t teach business sense.

This means that every summer, thousands of wide-eyed young designers emerge from universities with (hopefully) bulging portfolios and (ideally) a brain full of ideas, but with absolutely no understanding of design as a business.

As one commentator said on our story, ‘I’m coming to the end of a four-year degree in product design and we’ve not been told a single thing about the business of design or “how much we’re worth”.’

Again, this sounds like a bit of a generalisation, and there must be colleges out there that are preparing their students for the world of work, for example through placements or by inviting practising designers in to speak.

But is it happening enough? Not by the sound of it.

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  • Andrew Penaluna November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The situation is almost certainly more of a mixed bag than this suggests. At UWTSD for example it is the past students who are freelancing or running their own businesses who offer the best support – and perhaps more importantly, are really listened to when they come back and work with current students.

    In our report to Government ‘An Education System fit for an Entrepreneur’, however, we also highlighted that this is a problem right across the disciplines… even in business schools!

  • Andrew Penaluna November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Oh I nearly forgot, many students acknowledge their needs, as recommended here by NACUE Create.


  • Peter Howard November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Of all the things which we ideally want from any student who comes for placements here at PHd it is a sense of what the ‘real’ world of graphic design is like out here. We have never managed to find anyone who has any experience of the real world. We have taken students for the past 15 ears on a regular basis from both schools, colleges and universities, and without fail the basics of the business are not taught. In fact the basics of what skill sets are needed to enter the employment world in design are not taught. We have hopefully helped many students fulfil their dream and shown them the reality of our beloved industry is really like, but it would be nice if the education system would prepare them a tad better.

  • Anthony Sully November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Design courses, under pressure from their institutions, have had to shrink their curriculum since I have been teaching over the past 40 years that business is not the only thing that is not taught. The education a design student receives now is far inferior to what it was when I was a student. Less resources and less teaching.

  • Andrew Penaluna November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Last night I met many ex students and listened to their stories. Some got jobs merely because they had to keep time sheets and create weekly invoices as an integral part of their studies. Some knew more about crowd funding and social media than their interviewers and one even cited a huge increase in sales since he developed a new website and carefully monitored it.

    None of this is rocket science but when added to working with real clients – another requirement, it certainly helps.

    I also work with RCA fuel – now there is a pocket of excellence if I have ever seen one!

    I am not sure where you are based Peter, but go chat to them if you are in London.

    Hope these insights help to show that these things are possible? Educators also have the quality assurance guidelines in this to consider now… Which also makes real suggestions that can help.

  • Tony Lane-Roberts November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I went to Chelsea art school in the 70’s. Lovelyt tutors but i felt they were teaching because they couldn’t make it out there in the real world…so the last year ~I was there I had an agreement with them – “don’t bother me and I WON’T BOTHER YOU” However we had renowned visiting lecturers visiting lecturers Dennis Bailey and Derek Birdsall. The head of the department was Edward Wright – a legend. and Derek said – “what’s the most important piece of equipment a Graphic Designer has?”

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