My Girlfriend Wants To Go Back To School For Design...and I'm a lousy guidance counselor.
February 4, 2011 1:00 PM   Subscribe

So my girlfriend wants to get into a design field and go back to school for it. What's the fastest and most affordable way for that happen in a meaningful way?

My girlfriend has decent job as a legal secretary and hates it. She had been planning on going back to school in some way when her mom got sick. She spent two years caring for her, she passed and took about a year to get back to decent place. Now she wants to get back on track and I promised to help her with it. She wants to go to a job everyday that she loves and she needs to find a way to get there.

She says: "I don't know for certain what precisely that will be I know for certain that it will involve some form of design, and because I find myself so often with ideas that really must be translated into some tangible image (ie. a drawing or model) I've decided that it only makes sense that I learn to draw/draft…but mostly draft in a technical sense. To give you a little more context, here are a few things that interest me and/or I'd like to accomplish with this new direction: a) Industrial designer; specifically gadgets, furniture, medical equipment b) Architectural drafting; specifically renovation, revitilization w a bend towards recycling and high enviromental standards c) Set design for theatre or film d) DWELL magazine contributor/writer :)"

She's been considering Los Angeles Community Colleges, DeVry, ITT Tech, Academy of Art University and Otis. She's not sure which one is the most feasible. What she wants is the one that will get her to place that will give her a skill that can actually be be useful as a career.

I personally vote for the one that she can do while holding onto her current job so that she can ride out the economy but that's me. I'm not sure her ambitions make the most sense in their focus but this isn't really my expertise. I'm hoping one of you out there in the technical design fields might be able to offer a little more clarity.

So what should I tell her to do here? What's the coursework or school that makes most sense for the things she's talking about? Or do I need to get her to settle on something before she can start taking classes in it?
posted by rileyray3000 to Education (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As far as I know, there is still a good market for designers in Southern California. The #1 thing she needs to do is decide on a field, and start putting together a portfolio. Community college, or night courses at an art school, are a good way to do this. She can consider Art Center in Pasadena as well, and maybe look at Long Beach State.

Up to you guys whether she works and goes to school at the same time. It's entirely feasible, and maybe advisable so long as she is still unsure as to what field she wants to go into, and still needs to build a portfolio.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:08 PM on February 4, 2011

All creative careers are obscenely competitive, and extremely varied in what they need. Before she jumps into a career path it would be a great idea to talk to the school's alumni offices and see what alums are currently working in fields that she is interested in.

Often Alumni will be willing to make a lunch date and have an honest conversation about what it took to get there, what really helped and most importantly what the job actually entails. Admissions often will offer to hook you up with students to talk to, which will help you get an idea of the vibe of the institution- but that's not the same as being in the middle of carving out a career.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:12 PM on February 4, 2011

A friend's husband went back to school for the second option. He already had a degree in the first option. It was expensive, long, but a wonderful opportunity for him. However, it took a long while for him to get hired, get fired, get hired again, get fired, and get depressed. Very limited and competitive field. Sorry, being realistic so she can asses if it's worth it or not.

Portfolios matter. So does networking. Stating the obvious because it's a difficult career to get in but these two things are how you get in.

Writer seems to be a better outlet.
posted by stormpooper at 1:17 PM on February 4, 2011

I work in videogames. We have a lot of environment artists, character artists, cinematic artists and technical artists from Art Center, Otis and even a couple from Santa Monica College. Some of our senior staff run lectures at Art Center and Otis.
posted by Joh at 1:19 PM on February 4, 2011

There are two IDs in my immediate family, a brother and sister-in-law. Both are working designers: he designs hardware for cabinetry, she is the head of design for a name-brand housewares company.

Both went through university courses specifically in industrial design, multi-diciplinary schools that draw from the architecture, fine art and engineering schools. In Canada, there are ID programs at Carleton in Ottawa, The University of Calgary and the University of Toronto.

The program my brother and sister-in-law went through required HS marks in the same range as required to get into the Engineering school, with a similar mix of math and science courses. They also had to have portfolios and each did personal interviews with the departmental selection committee. The programs were four year at normal rates for engineering undergratues.

Both were hired with-in months of graduation, as was most of their class. Neither has ever been out of work for any length of time, even changing jobs multiple times.
posted by bonehead at 1:37 PM on February 4, 2011

I'm not an expert in determining her field, but I just wanted to add Interior Design to the list. From what I know, they do a lot of drafting of interior and exterior spaces along with designs for furniture and 'stuff' (vases that go on tables, etc etc)

Whatever her decision regarding field and school, I advise that she take it on without having to work, if she can help it.

Being a recent design graduate (from FIDM, a great school imo), I saw a lot of my friends who were falling behind or turned in work that was below their potential because they had to work and couldn't dedicate enough time to the what they loved. Honing technical skills is a large part of design school and it is quite time intensive.

I was lucky enough to be able to live at home and focus on school fully. Design school is not easy. If you're serious and work hard, it will take up all of your time, but you will love every moment of it.

Good luck to her!
posted by p1nkdaisy at 2:13 PM on February 4, 2011

Santa Monica CC has an entertainment design dept. Most of this is going to be computer assisted design, rather than drafting/sketching, etc.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:14 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've decided that it only makes sense that I learn to draw/draft…but mostly draft in a technical sense.

Most technical drafting these days is done using a CAD program like Autocad or Vectorworks. She can start messing around with SketchUp right now, it's free to download. Lots of architecture also like good hand drawing skills, it sort of depends on the tenor of the company. It's alsoways good to start with basic drawing and composition classes. I would look for ones that satisfy college transfer requirements, unless she just goes straight to an art school.

At some point a real degree/certification is required with architecture generally; not sure about interiors only, but at the very least to pull permits for anything that requires structural demo/work they have to be signed off by an architect. So if that's what she wants to do she needs to look at programs that will get her to a place where she can take the exam. Otherwise interior design requires no certification, AFAIK. Industrial design- I can't imagine doing that without a degree. It's a very intense discipline.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:18 PM on February 4, 2011

My advice would be to take classes at a community college, and SMC happens to be a good one. Art schools like Otis will charge you an arm and a leg and you'll end up with a mountain of debt. Not affordable.
However, if she is determined to change her lifestyle into a creative one, she can make it happen at a CC I believe. Most of it is practicing nonstop and networking.

Try hitting up AIGA ( for info and help!
posted by xtine at 4:10 PM on February 4, 2011

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