Time flies, man. It feels like a hundred years ago that I made the big decision to go back to school, and now here I am, finally graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Design under my belt. It’s been intense, it’s been stressful, but as I sit back and reminisce about my experiences during my four years of design school I’m truly astounded at my creative journey of where I started to where I am now.
The following is as best a recap as I could muster; there are literally hundreds of projects that I sifted through to find this batch of images, and I could talk for days about all the little bits of know-how I picked up along the way. In the interest of the reader with a relatively short attention span, I’ve condensed it to a selection of my favourite pieces, along with some choice words to help narrate my path, process, and key takeaways.
Flip through the full gallery of images at a glance here, and keep scrolling to read the full entry.
When I decided to go back to school in 2014, I was super reluctant at first to be giving up so much of my time to pursue something that most people my age had done almost a decade earlier. Was post secondary education going to be worth all the time and effort and sleepless nights and over-caffeination? Would I gain the knowledge, experience and opportunity that I knew I needed to push my career to the next level?
The answer is a resounding “hell yes.” Over the course of four years, I grew from a secluded one-man band working from a lonely home office into a part of a thriving community of designers with big ambitions for the future. I won’t lie, at times things got pretty tough and overwhelming — being the first cohort of a brand new degree program brought its own challenges for both students and faculty, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I gained a family of designers that I went into battle with every day, and four years later we’ve come out on the other side with the chops to take on the world.
What I loved most about the Bachelor of Design program at Conestoga College was the progression in focus from strategic design to entrepreneurial business throughout our classes. The first two years of BDes were comprised mostly of design theory and application, while years three and four introduced much more in-depth study of business framework and practices in correlation to the design industry. At the end of the day, this composition of courses, projects and extracurricular actives provided a robust platform from which to learn the skills needed to succeed in the world of professional design. Here’s a few of my biggest takeaways from the last four years.
Lesson 1: Design Theory and History
Early BDes courses such as Visual Design, Typography, Colour Theory and History of Graphic Design really helped to solidify the importance of theory and history in my mind. I came into the program knowing my way around Photoshop, and my self-taught approach had served me pretty well in the early years of my career. That chip on my shoulder abruptly disappeared, however; I quickly learned that I had no less than one metric shitload of things I needed to learn about the practice of design before I could truly call myself anything close to a design professional. With that in mind, I cracked my knuckles, poured myself a cup of coffee and got to work.
A deep love for the history of graphic design and its many artistic movements was awoken in me early in my time at school. Particularly through typography and illustrative elements, this historic aesthetic now informs much of my work as I find ways of bridging classic motifs with modern applications. I must have bought a hundred reference books in my first year at school — anything from authentic type specimens from the last two hundred years to Louise Fili’s collections of vintage Italian, French and Spanish shop signage. This early adoption of historic inspiration was definitely one of the strongest motivators for me in finding my own identity as a designer, and the many facets of design theory finally helped me link a “why” to the “how” in my approach to design.
Lesson 2: Know Your Type
Ellen Lupton states that “typography is what language looks like.” If you’re a designer and you don’t know who Ellen Lupton is, do yourself a favour and pull up that Google machine and figure it out. I see typography as one of the most integral components to a design, and certainly the vehicle I use most to get my point across with my work, pretty much regardless of what I’m designing. For better or worse, I’m a massive type snob, and school definitely helped ingrain that into my psyche. From anatomy to hierarchy, kerning to classification, I absolutely love this stuff.
Lesson 3: Expand Your Toolkit
Looking back on my frame of mind before I started school, I’m the first to admit that I was overly confident despite being under-experienced, particularly in regard to software and industry-standard practices. I worked as a designer for a small local magazine a few years ago, and every month I’d design the entirety of the 30+ page printed publication in Photoshop. PHOTOSHOP. For layout design? Are you kidding me?? Thank God I figured my shit out and learned how to use InDesign. And Illustrator (properly). And a bunch of Adobe’s other design-forward software. Oh, and I bought a camera too.
This experimentation outside of my comfort zone began in school as I introduced a camera and greater understanding of software into my workflow. From staged studio shoots to on-location photo essays, photography and post-processing became a huge part of my methodology at school and continues to be today. Filmmaking and video production came naturally as the next frontier for me to explore, and the projects that I worked on at school really helped me to overcome my intimidation when working with new tools, software, and creation techniques.
Lesson 4: Actively Seek Opportunity
I’m a big proponent of the phrase ‘what you put into life is what you get out of it’ — this rang as true as ever for me during my time at school. From a work perspective, I treated my school projects with the same dedication as I would any client project. As often as I could, I would actually incorporate client work into my school projects, which gave the work an additional level of importance above and beyond that of a grade on my transcript. If the project brief called for deliverables that I felt could be applied to something in the real world, I’d jump at any opportunity to get my clients involved.
Being introduced to the RGD (Association of Registered Graphic Designers) was another huge factor in my wealth of opportunities during school; attending the DesignThinkers conference in Toronto every fall opened my eyes to the amazing community surrounding the design industry in Canada, and I’m proud to be an ongoing member of the community as a Provisional RGD.
I was also fortunate to come into various opportunities to travel as part of my education. From visiting top-tier design agencies and studios in New York City to photographing the streets of Tokyo and Shanghai, these experiences really made me realize how much I could get out of school if I went the extra mile.
Okay, if you’ve made it this far, I wholeheartedly congratulate you on your commitment to reading my ramblings. I find that writing helps me sort out all the thoughts bouncing around in my head, and my experience at school was certainly one that deserves some verbal and visual reflection. I learned a lot over the past four years, lost a ton of sleep, made a bunch of good friends, drank at least three times my weight in coffee, and graduated with a real sense of accomplishment and excitement for the future. I’m crazy thankful that I was able to take this journey, and hopefully my experience leaves a few nuggets of advice and inspiration for anyone on a similar path. Can’t wait to see what comes next — until then, keep it real and thanks for reading.