7 Flaws of College Educated Graphic Designers

I am not a hater of college-educated graphic designers. I love people who went to college. I think it’s amazing that you went to college. I’m proud of you, and you have an opportunity over people who are self-taught. 

I am not college-educated, but I have worked very hard to get where I am today. You have an even bigger opportunity if you’re college-educated, but that doesn’t come without some disadvantages. 

So, today’s video is going to be about why graphic designers who are college-educated can suck. That doesn’t mean they all suck, but some of them do. So without further ado, let’s roll into it.

My Story

Today’s video topic is about how graphic designers who are college-educated can suck — and how you can actually use your opportunity of being college educated as an advantage. Because you have an advantage.

I want to start by telling you a story: how my career has developed over the last 15 years. My career as a graphic designer started as being a hobby. And then I opened up my first graphic design and print shop, doing printing and sign work. I was doing all the graphic design at that time.

Well, when I actually sold that company and started my marketing agency, I knew I was going to have to take myself out of the cog and wheel of doing all the graphic design myself. I gained a ton of experience.

I’d built a huge reputation over a four-year period of being an award-winning graphic designer. So I wanted to take all that experience, and teach other people, and bring in other talented graphic designers I had seen on Instagram; people who are college-educated, people who are self-taught. I wanted to bring those people into my company and share their talents with the world, and offer amazing services.

As my company grew, I started to hire other graphic designers. Some of them were self-taught, but the majority were college-educated students. I would put out ads on Indeed and Craigslist, and the people who would inquire were mostly college-educated, from prestigious universities. People who had a graphic design bachelor’s and even master’s degrees.

I would get their resumes, and some looked amazing. I wondered to myself: “Man, how is this person even looking for work, as gifted and talented as they are?” 

I did the interviews. Everything seemed amazing. They had great personalities. And then we got started — I threw them their first project, and in doing that, I was able to find out, within just two or three people that I hired, what a disaster I had walked into. 

What I couldn’t even tell going into it was that I was going to have a huge dilemma.

Here are the seven main flaws I’ve noticed in college-educated graphic designers over the years.

1. Overthinking and Over-analyzing

I came from the retail, print, and design world, where I was designing a flyer in an hour or two, or designing a business card in 30 to 45 minutes at the most, or designing a logo in three or four hours. Between research, colors, and all of those things, I was putting projects together in less than a day. 

But when I handed these projects off to graphic designers, I noticed they were taking a week, two weeks, and sometimes even three weeks just to get a concept down — not even a finished project. 

I started asking myself: “Why is this happening? What is it that’s going on with these college-educated students?”

These college-educated students were overthinking and over-analyzing the situation. They were creating moodboards, and putting together hours and hours, days and days, worth of research, just to try to come up with a concept that was original. They were so focused on being original, they were overthinking and over-analyzing the process. 

Many college students are taught a certain method and a certain process, and it’s very hard for them to deviate from that. Overthinking and overanalyzing can be a downfall for a college-educated graphic designer. 

That’s something that I never fell into. Because when I’m doing graphic design, I get a feel for who my customer is as a person. Once I understand that, I’ll do a little bit of research — maybe 30 minutes to an hour’s worth of research — and I’ll get inspired.

Then I get to work creating, whether it’s sketching, or doodling something out. I won’t overthink it. I don’t analyze it. And that’s just part of being a self-taught designer.

That is one of the advantages that self-taught designers have, which college-educated students could do more of. They’d have a lot more success, and be able to turn around projects a lot faster. You don’t have to overthink the process. Just get inspired. Find something you like, move on, and start creating. The goal is just to start creating.

2. An Employee Mindset

Graphic designers are taught in college to be employees, not entrepreneurs. 

They’re taught to follow directions; to follow a specific process they were taught in school, not how to build a business. And that is part of what my mission is. 

My purpose here on these videos is to help fellow creatives, fellow graphic designers, go from being employees to being entrepreneurs. To be able to do this for yourself. To offer rates that you never even thought were possible. To be able to sell your work for $150, $200, $,300 an hour, based on per-project work. 

So, being able to actually understand how to price your stuff, how to structure your deals, how to go get business, how to attract customers, how to build a brand… college doesn’t teach you any of those things.

They may graze on some of those topics, but they don’t go into depth on them. So, a lot of these people who are college-educated graphic designers are just designing themselves to be employees, and to be a cog in the wheel at a marketing agency. They’re just helping out as a part of another process. 

If you want to get out there and actually make more money than you ever have before, you have to start thinking like an entrepreneur. That can make it hard to fit in as an employee, because you’re going to want to offer your own insights or your own input, and your own ways to do things better.

A lot of businesses, although they may be successful, don’t have the graphic design processes down correctly. There are areas of my business that even I don’t know 100%. I need people who are experts to come in and give me that advice. 

So, when you’re thinking like an employee, you’re not thinking like an entrepreneur, and giving good advice that can be used to help move that business forward. And that’s where you can go from being an hourly employee to being a person who actually offers real lifetime value.

3. A Lack Of Urgency

It’s important to have a sense of urgency. Be somebody who loves to just knock things out quickly and move on to the next thing. Having that campaigner personality, that sense of urgency, is incredibly important. 

When I had these former employees who were college-educated, they would go into a project like: “Okay, well, I’m just going to spend half my day doing research on a logo design. I’m going to go spend half my day looking at business card designs I like.”

They’re spending way too much time researching. Again, overthinking. Doing all these other processes and color theories and emotions. If you know who the customer is — you know their personality, and you know their brand — you shouldn’t be spending a day or more on research alone. 

I understand that you’ve been taught a process, and there’s a way to do graphic design the right way. I’m not asking you to go against that. I’m asking you to be open-minded. To be a little bit fluid, and to have a sense of urgency when you’re doing these things. Spending an hour or two hours, or even a couple of days, researching something, is overthinking it. And there’s no urgency in that.

You need to understand that time is of the essence. The faster you can knock these projects out, the more money you can make, and the sooner you can move onto the next project. 

Now, obviously, if you’re making more money, you can spend a little bit more time on each project, but there still needs to be a deadline. If you don’t have a deadline set, that means you can go and look at some things on YouTube. You can go look at some things on Instagram. 

Having a deadline gives you a couple hours to get to work, and maybe you can start sketching things out or doodling while you’re watching the research. It’s about being productive — it’s about being efficient with your time.

I see a lot of college-educated people not having a sense of urgency, because they’re being paid hourly. They’ll run up the clock making things look as good as they possibly can. That’s just not the right mentality. You want to get the job done. You want to do it quickly, so you can make the company look good. 

The faster you can turn that project around, the better the reputation of the company you’re going to work for, the more clients you are going to attract, the better work you’re going to get, and the faster you’ll be promoted. If that’s your dream, then the way to do it is to show a sense of urgency. To be a problem solver.

4. Struggling To Adapt

Many college-educated graphic designers really struggle to adapt to different learning methods and processes in a business. Because of that, their work suffers in the long term. So you have to be quick on your toes.Be able to adapt to different methods and different processes. Be open-minded to learning other ways.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. Even though I’m self-taught, not college-educated, I’ve developed processes for myself which I think the college professors should be teaching in universities. These methods help me to move the ball forward faster, without ever compromising the quality of the design. 

You have to remember that if you can’t adapt to situations, you end up like Toys R Us: out of business. You have to be able to adapt against the people who are in foreign countries, who are willing to work for 10% of what you’re willing to work for, and willing to work twice as many hours. Again, it goes back to having an employee mindset versus an entrepreneurial mindset.

You have competitors who are working 16-hour days. Being self-taught, I know that I have to work twice as hard to be able to compete against somebody who is a college-educated graphic designer, because they have more experience and more knowledge.

Being a self-taught graphic designer has helped me be very fluid, and helped me learn on the fly. And I’ve been able to create award-winning designs. Can you say that you’ve won award winning designs? If you can’t, you need to understand that I just get to the next project. That I do my absolute, very best. I put my heart and soul into every project I do. 

That’s what’s most important: that you really care about what you’re doing. That you care about the project. If this was your mom’s logo, if this was your best friend’s logo, how would you want it to look? So don’t overthink it, don’t over analyze it, and just be willing to adapt.

5. Being Closed-Minded

Next, let’s talk about being open-minded, and not being closed-minded. This is something I notice in a lot of college-educated designers.

As a self-taught person, I’m very hungry, and I’m very open-minded. To what? To learning. To being a student. I’m always reading information, watching YouTube videos, and taking tutorials. I want to continue to improve my craft, and I work on a daily basis toward getting better. 

Even as a graphic designer (even though I don’t do a whole lot of graphic design), I am still always trying to improve my graphic design skills. And I’m looking at people who inspire me on Instagram and other places.

So it’s important to stay open-minded, and always be a student. If you have gone to a four-year college, and you think you know it all — you know nothing. Your competition is practicing every single day, constantly getting better.

All the great people of our world are always students. I want to encourage you not to think you know it all, just because you graduated from the greatest school in the country for graphic design. You need to remember that there are other people out there who have been doing this longer than you — for 20, 30 years. 

So you need to be open-minded. You need to be a student. You need to always continue to learn.

6. Perfectionism

If you spent money on a college degree, you didn’t do it just to make money. You want to make a mark in the world. You want to be great at what you do. And in order to do that, you tend to be a perfectionist.

That is something that even I struggle with as a self-taught graphic designer: being a perfectionist. But it’s not about perfection. It’s about progress. You’re not always going to get it 100% right. You’re going to look at the stuff that you spend way too much time on a year from now and say: “Man, what was I thinking?”

It’s all about objectivity. Once you step away from it, once you get too close, it’s hard to actually get objectivity. So you need to focus on making progress and continuing to get better with each project. Not every single project has to be perfect. You’re going to have some projects that are amazing, that are award-winning — and you’re going to have some projects that are just okay. 

That’s why it’s important to focus on quantity over quality. Because with each project you do, you’re going to learn something. And that’s what you really want to do. That’s what’s most important: making progress and learning something new with every design project.

I look at every new branding project and every new design — whether it’s a flyer design, a business card design, or an ad — I look at every one as an opportunity to try something new and to do something different. I’m not trying to perfect something. I always tell myself: it’s progress over perfection.

7. Being In It For The Job (Not The Craft)

I saved the best point for last: I want you to love your craft more than you love your job. 

I’m not saying I don’t want you to love your job, but I want you to fall in love with being a graphic designer, or with whatever you’re doing.

I want you to fall in love with being that person. Most people are just doing it until they can get to the next role, the next promotion, or the next page. It’s all about the job for them. They get to the next increase in pay or 401k, or whatever it is, so they can get to their one year-mark. 

Focus on just becoming the best in your industry, and loving your industry, and investing into your industry, and being an industry advocate. That’s a new word I’m going to start using: be an industry advocate in whatever you’re doing. I want you to fall in love with your profession.

I want you to love your job, too. It’s very important to love the people you work with and to love the role that you’re in. But you also need to love the industry that you’re in, and support the industry you’re in. Contribute to articles and forums, and offer your advice to people who are younger than you!

A lot of what I do is mentoring. I do this because I want to help people, no matter where they are in their career. If they’re college-educated or self-taught. Maybe they’re just trying to make their own mark on the world.

I want you to be able to help people like that. That’s what I want to encourage you to do. And that’s the thing I want to leave with this earth with: really encouraging you to fall in love with this industry and to help other people follow that same passion.

Keep Working, Keep Learning!

Alright, so there are the seven reasons why college-educated graphic designers can suck. I’m not saying that all college-educated graphic designers suck, but I am saying there are things that can limit your career and your success.I want to help you smash through those ceilings, and reach the highest level of success that you’ve ever had in your life.

If you’re a self-taught graphic designer, then you need to be aware that I’ve just armed these college-educated grads with some great knowledge. You need to understand that you’re going to have to work harder, because they do have an advantage. They were taught all the color theories, and all the things that you may not know about. You may be highly skilled — and that’s awesome — but you’re going to have to work harder. 

So continue to work hard, continue to pour into this industry, continue to pour into yourself, and you’ll be great.

Thank you guys so much for watching with me today. Please pass this along to a fellow college grad or to a self-taught designer. A lot of people need to see this. 

Hope you guys have a great day, and as always, keep looking up.