This famously disorienting question pops into the heads of many design school graduates as soon as they set foot outside of their school’s doors. Now, as closing doors are replaced with closing computer screens, it’s safe to say that today’s graduates are experiencing an even deeper sense of uncertainty and insecurity accompanying them as they take the first steps in their careers.
But even before we ever came across the words “Covid-19” and “social distancing”, the creative world which awaited design graduates was far from being perfectly in sync with their education paths and learning experiences.
In recent years, the transformation of technology and the infiltration of design principles into other industries has greatly broadened our definition of the practice of design. Students of design, in turn, have also changed. Today’s generation enters this phase of their life with a whole different set of expectations and understanding of who they are and what they want to get out of their creative education. As a result, art schools and traditional four-year design programs are being forced to rethink their offerings, while alternate education models are constantly coming up with new opportunities to offer students and graduates.
These issues have always been at the heart of the curriculum of the Wix Playground Academy, which took place for the 3rd time this summer, but for the first time ever online. We chatted with the program’s students, checking in on what they think and how they feel as graduates and creatives. There were clear themes and thoughts that emerged, some specific to this very special time in history, others as timeless as ever, proving that the world of design and creative education is undergoing constant examination and shifts of perspective. Read on to hear what they had to say.
Real-world vs. student life: The day after
As students embark on their first steps towards building their careers, they come face-to-face with the realization that “the real world” is nothing like what school used to be, or at least pretended to prepare them for. This mental and practical discrepancy is as evident as ever, with education still feeling very much removed from the actual work experience that follows. Even though this is a known issue that is addressed within educational institutions, graduates still find themselves perplexed as they leave school, feeling that they were left somewhat unprepared for the real world. As a result, they are always on the lookout for additional opportunities out there to help them combine learning and hands-on experience.
My education as a designer so far has been on brand identity design and other traditional design practices. However, I’ve always been interested in learning other areas such as digital design, but without the structure of a class and the feedback of professionals it was hard to improve. I signed up to Wix Playground Academy because they offered all the UX training I was looking for in such a short amount of time, and with excellent mentors. - Sebastian Flores
The web design toolkit
Web design tends to keep its practitioners on their toes. It usually calls for multidisciplinary individuals who are interested in much more than just one narrow point of view on a project — these are creatives who are interested in the whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
"The curriculum is so rich and packs so much from some of the best creatives in the industry. I was excited about learning new techniques like 3D motion design, styling and photography." - Rajlaxmi Jain
As students of web design quickly discover, the field is much more than being able to create a beautiful design for a website — it is styling, photography, content creation, animation, understanding UX, and maybe even learning to code.
I was fascinated by how Wix Playground Academy covers a wide range of areas in design, from web design to photography and styling, and I thought this program would be a good opportunity for me to connect what I learned at school with the professional design industry. - Chanjoo Tiffany Park
This multifaceted nature of web-design isn’t usually reflected in most curriculums you’ll encounter in design schools, and graduates often feel that they are not given the entire toolbox needed to become really great web designers.
I love learning all aspects of design and creativity, and web design was always the most intimidating sector. Wix Playground Academy is allowing me to learn Web Design and so much more in the most fun and exciting way from the best in the industry. - Briyana Butler
Connections and community
Being surrounded by a creative circle of friends and acquaintances is one of school and life’s biggest perks. Whether you need a second opinion on your recent design, a brainstorm session on a new project, or just a shoulder to cry on after burnout, your school buddies are there and know exactly what you’re going through. Once school ends, many graduates are left feeling alone and without this safety net. Although they continue the friendships , they’ve built, they no longer see each other daily, and maintaining this support system — both mentaly and professionally — becomes challenging.
With Covid-19, this challenge took on a whole new meaning. Graduates were suddenly left out of this very special circle, not knowing how the situation will evolve and how to keep those social connections alive. Once they were left to their own devices due to lockdowns and social distancing regulations, the need and desire for creative networking and community became even more important.
Being a student is a state of mind, not something that begins and ends with your time in school. But finding opportunities to exercise this part of your personality can be difficult — you need time, energy, and resources. Finding the right people to do it with can also feel daunting — you never know who and when you’ll meet someone and have a chance to learn and share experiences with them.
Personal growth goes beyond what’s learned in the classroom. It is found in every decision you make and the steps you take in order to enrich your life. Being able to continue growing, developing yourself, and expanding your world is what so many graduates seek during their first years after school — and beyond.
"...I [participated in] a few internships since I graduated, and while I was learning so many valuable skills there, my confidence as a designer was dwindling. I didn't feel that I had the capability or skill at that time..[I felt this program].. was definitely a great way to take a breath, refresh, try exploring new ways I've never explored in design and gain my confidence back." - Tiffany Cruz
The years spent in design school are precious, and for so many are forever one of the greatest times of their lives. Not much can replace that unique intensity, intimacy and significant transformation that students go through. But that doesn’t mean the journey ends there. In response to graduates' needs, alternate education models, like Wix Playground Academy, are pushing the envelope in new and interesting directions. All you need is to do is keep an eye out and chase these new opportunities.