insights

7 Things They Forgot To Teach You In Design College

mausam jamwal

Writer at Oneistox

July 22

07 mins read

When an 18-year old me dubiously signed the forms binding me to architectural education, the 5 years seemed to stretch endlessly in front of me: a vast ocean with no hint of land on the other side. I thought to myself, ‘What could they possibly be teaching for 5 entire years?’

Cut to 6 years later, and I’m decidedly unimpressed. Despite the extensive hours and mind-bending workload, design colleges in India manage to skate by some of the most crucial aspects of professional life by ignoring:

1. Design Software Platforms

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How many of you went to colleges which taught you how to open Photoshop and then assumed you’d figure out the rest on your own? Most design courses pay alarmingly little attention to the study and dedicated practice of software platforms, through which most of our work is carried out. Instead, they depend on the students to acquire very necessary skills of their own accord. In their defence, management often pulls-out the old ‘allowing flexibility of design representation’ argument, but they can hardly expect many worn-out kids to hand render drawings in the face of hard-lined deadlines. In any case, teaching a design software does not automatically force its usage on the student!

2. Time Management

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Not all students come under the worn-out category, of course. Some blessed ones come to college with time-management skills integrated into their functioning, while many others learn it on the task. But for those of us who tried and failed to imbibe the magical world of efficiency (and there are more of us than you’d think!), it would’ve been super helpful to have some pointers towards the same. Another skill that curriculum-writers assume will develop on its own, time management is often the bane of a designer’s existence and has the power to define our career. More than that, it can often be the difference between an enjoyable college life, or a taxing one.

3. Writing and Research

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Where I come from, Research 101 was a harried 30-minute lecture once a week in Year 4, much of which was spent by the belligerent professors berating us on the poor content of our papers.

With all the emphasis on visual representation, design colleges in India do not pay enough attention to academic writing and often actively discourage written expression of design. This pedagogy often leaves the potential of story-like design narratives unexplored, and restricts potential journalism aspirants as well as research-oriented individuals. In the professional world, juries for large projects often ask for detailed written descriptions of your work; not to mention the countless mails you will write to clients requiring conciseness and diplomacy!

4. Communication I: Effective Branding

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This brings us to the holy grail of things that college forgot to teach us: pitching, presentation, and branding. Following the questionable ‘throw you in the deep end' method of teaching, the management assumes that giving several design juries will eventually teach us you how to give a good design pitch. Building a strong brand identity and being able to acquire like-minded clients through it is arguably one of the most relevant and enviable skills to have for a design professional. So, it makes sense that our colleges would train us extensively for it, right? Apparently not!

5. Communication II: Conversing with Workers

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The flip side of communication, the collaborative nature of design projects requires us to engage with skilled workers from all walks of life. Many construction workers, craftsmen, etc. use vernacular lingo on the job, our unawareness of which creates a communication gap between the designer and the executor (Kharanja? Marla? Kanal?). Our exclusive, English-based education provides little exposure to effective on-site execution and does nothing to encourage the flow of intersectional communication.

6. Budgeting and Money Management

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This one needs no explanation, really. Most graduates are unaware of even the basics of the tax system, accounting, and investment; budgeting a project is glossed over by most design colleges in India. Unless we want to return pre-historic times, money is an unfortunate reality of all transactions, and understanding its systems are key to a smooth(er) professional experience!

7. Self-employment

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The possibility of independence as a designer, exercised by freelancing or self-employment is a great privilege which is not extended to all professions. Being the master of your life, however, is as tricky as it is fulfilling. It involves proficiency of all the subjects discussed above, with an extra sprinkling of focus, patience, and passion owing to the financial uncertainty of the field. While most colleges teach us the basics of professional practice, it’s essential to learn how to practice as an independent unit (as it is likely that we will do that at some point), and to deal with the challenges which come with it.

Design colleges in India can limber-up their programs by offering flexible learning opportunities to their students based on their interests and skills for a more wholesome educational experience. Allowing students to partially-construct their own course through parallel design-studios or multiple electives would empower institutions to offer more avenues of learning within a limited time-frame. They could also consider augmenting traditional subjects with soft-skills such as time-management and communication, as this could truly revolutionize the way the design field works in the country.

mausam jamwal

architect
Mausam graduated as an Architect from SPA Delhi in 2019. A bookworm army kid who took an interest in writing, she advocates environmental and social activism through architecture, and strongly believes in the congruence of words and design to inspire thought and revolution.

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