Higher education for web designer.
August 1, 2006 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Is advertising a good field of study for a web designer with an interest in infographics who writes well and wants a career where she gets to call (some of) the shots? What schools should I look into? Tell me my future.

I've asked a similar question before, but the "back to school at 40" question brought all my thoughts back to the forefront. I'd rather go to grad school but am willing to return to undergrad if it pays off:

I'm a web designer who loves visually presenting information. I like typography and layout, but am not a talented artist or illustrator. I was looking into graphic design departments, but those are almost exclusively in Fine Arts programs, a field that I am very wary of getting into because of the long studio hours and emphasis on basics/core classes that I really don't want to do. (Drawing for 4 hours a day 3 times a week? No thanks.) Visual communications is a small field that I see more at community colleges, therefore I am not sure it will challenge me and sufficiently prepare me for the next level.

Advertising looks promising because it seems to combine a lot of my skills, but I don't know much about the structure of the discipline. Would it be a good choice, and what programs out there are good fits for my interests?
posted by lychee to Education (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well... speaking from some experience (spent two years selling radio advertising) you don't need a degree if you're interested in sales.
Of course, I primarily wrote spots - the only real design I did was creating banner ads for promoter websites.
Print advertising is a little harder to break into - not much, mind you - but they're equally disinterested in your college education. All they want to know is that you are deeply in touch with your primary motivator - money - and that you're sick of being poor and you'd do anything at all to make a buck.
The whole "capturing the front of mind, enticing the consumer, creating excellent campaigns that move product" schtick is a distant, distant second.

My first run at an advertising sales position was with a regional magazine. I showed them all kinds of spec spots and sweet promotional demos I had put together and left them with an awesome portfolio. They never touched the stuff.
The second interview, the sd asked me what was the most important aspect of my work.
I pulled out my wallet and slapped his desk with it. I said, "This is all that matters to me right now."
That was it, he gave me a job. I learned all about radio advertising in about two weeks.

Of course, I discovered that advertising is a soul-suckingly evil profession that will destroy everything you love and leave you a tattered husk of a human being - I now work in a church - but it was an interesting ride.

Made a lot of money.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:36 PM on August 1, 2006

Yeah. I'd definitely recommend staying away from advertising. You get paid to lie to people.

What about being a development manager for a non-profit or something where you're doing pr work for a good cause?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:37 PM on August 1, 2006

What about studying information science? I bet you could focus on visually communicating information and I doubt there'd be any artistic expectations.

Also, if you haven't had luck finding viscom departments at major universities, you might want to see if they're buried in the journalism school.
posted by 10ch at 3:48 PM on August 1, 2006

10ch, I've looked into information science--there's a lot of programs out there that focus on heavy-duty "management of information" or librarianship stuff, hardly any touch the visual communication aspect. At least, I haven't found any.

Baby_Balrog, that's a scary anecdote. But I do like money. Doing PR work for a non-profit would be great, but I don't have any of the skills to do so effectively, and I am very much a "go to school, study the theory, practice the discipline" sort of person, not someone who dives into a field/job without preparation.
posted by lychee at 4:15 PM on August 1, 2006

I've worked in both advertisting and information design. I don't believe that advertising is a good field of study for someone with the background and aspirations you mention.

You might consider Carnegie Mellon's graduate program in Communication Planning and Information Design. It's a joint program between the School of Design and the Department of English. I worked closely with students from that program while studying Interaction Design at CMU.
posted by Jeff Howard at 4:21 PM on August 1, 2006

I am very wary of getting into because of the long studio hours and emphasis on basics/core classes that I really don't want to do. (Drawing for 4 hours a day 3 times a week? No thanks.)

I don't think you'll like advertising / visual communications (at least on the creative side) if you feel that way.

On the other hand, you could always get your MBA and become an account executive, and then be able to tell all those designers what and how to design. ;)
posted by jca at 4:33 PM on August 1, 2006

JCA, if I'm in class working on laying out ads/editing photos/etc., I'd love it. If I'm doing life drawing and painting in class all day, not really for me.
posted by lychee at 7:10 PM on August 1, 2006

The fact that you mention design and writing would suggest to me you do a bit of digging until you find your dream job.

I went into advertising (with two degrees in it that are totally unnecessary) because I thought, "Hey, I can draw and I can write and advertising will let me do both!" Unless you work for a suck shop, you'll be forced to choose whether you're a writer, a designer or a "web designer." If you're doing what you'd think of as advertising, you don't have that flexibility. I write for a living and draw for fun, even with an MFA, my opinion on design means as much as my account exec's (with an MBA).

The reason you see "visual communications" in community colleges is that it's a catch-all class without a lot of depth. It's considered an intro course to graphic design as she is practiced commercially.

The ad creative tends to be a lot more ideas rather than execution, which also might bore the heck out of you given your interests, but a design studio might be more in line.

If you do want to pursue advertising, or anything related and you don't want to sit through foundation courses, I'd look at Portfolio Center, Creative Circus (both in Atlanta), or the portfolio (not the degree) programs at Miami Ad School or Academy of Art University. Everyone's advice is right. No one cares about the degree if you prove you can bring the goods with a great portfolio. (Not that I'd recommend against a degree for everyone, but with some experience under your belt in a related field, it's not going to matter.)

Good luck.
posted by Gucky at 7:27 PM on August 1, 2006

How about Interface Design? That's an interesting kind of art/communication/psychology combo that can lead to all sorts of interesting places, like working at Google. I was just browsing these jobs today, thinking how interesting they sounded.
posted by Joh at 8:53 PM on August 1, 2006

Lychee, you may want to pick up "Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This" by Luke Sullivan -- an excellent introduction to the creative side of the business, focusing on copywriting. You might also want to look into "Inventing Desire" about a pivotal year at Chiat/Day as well as "Where The Suckers Moon" about an infamous Suburu pitch. Those two books are a bit out of date, but they will give you a good overview of what agency life is like. Also check out "Pick Me" by Nancy Vonk -- a friendly guide to getting into the biz.

Gucky's educational options are excellent. But if you put together a killer, and I mean killer, portfolio, you can skip that step.

The business is not for everybody, and a lot of what you hear about it is utter bullshit. Good luck.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 6:46 AM on August 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

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