Ask Emily: When Your Professor Gives You Crappy Advice

I should start this off by noting that the person who inspired this post didn’t say her professor gave her crappy advice. I said that. Here’s the actual question I got from “Shirley” (not her real name) via email a few weeks ago:

“My question is related to the fact that I gave up hand lettering due to professors telling me what was “really” going to make me successful in the design industry, and I’m wondering if you had an experience like that ever, and how did you determine what to do?”

Oh man. Have I ever had experiences like that! In fact, the first semester I took printmaking in college, our school’s beloved printmaking instructor was on sabbatical, and the class was taught by a visiting professor. This visiting professor and I did not see eye to eye on many things. I remember she gave me a C+ on the piece pictured below, a general linocut assignment, because she didn’t think words belonged with imagery in fine art.

Vintage Me: Linoleum print, circa 1996

Vintage Me: Linoleum print, circa 1997

I mean.

This isn’t Picasso, and yeah, maybe it’s a little sacrilegious (I was 21!), but making a statement like “words don’t belong on fine art” is just a silly, narrow-minded thing to say. It’s a similar statement to “hand lettering isn’t going to “really” make you successful in the design industry,” in that I think it reflects a very narrow and dated idea of what “the design industry” is all about.

As someone who has experienced a few different facets of the design industry, there is one thing I know: There is no one path to success, especially in design. I mean, yes, if you want to get a staff design job at a design firm or an ad agency and work your way up, you need to know Adobe Creative Suite, etc. (and I use Photoshop every day, even though I’m hand-lettering), but beyond that, it is totally up to you what to focus on and what kind of designer you want to be. And if you don’t want to follow that traditional path — like, if you want to make art out of condiments and take pictures of it and put them on Instagram and eventually end up with a book deal, or if you want to draw pictures of famous cats, or if you want to turn your blog into a product line? There are ways to do that now that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

I honestly believe this: the thing that is “really” going to make you successful in the design industry is the thing you most love to do. If you want to be successful, whatever you do, you’re going to be doing it a LOT — because that’s generally how successful people get that way –so you’d better love it and you’d better have fun doing it.

(And to that particular professor who says you can’t really be successful in the design industry doing lettering: I think Jessica Hische, Mary Kate McDevitt, Erik Marinovich, Katie Daisy, and Gemma O’Brien would beg to differ. I know I would.)

4 thoughts on “Ask Emily: When Your Professor Gives You Crappy Advice

  1. Great advice, Emily. I can relate to having art professors who were just out of touch with the new ways of the world and the DIY design career path. Thanks, Internet!

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