A friend of mine passed me Andy Rutledge’s “The Opposite of Professional,” a diatribe that argues, among other things, that design professionalism cannot be instilled through higher education. After reading it a few times, a couple lingering questions remain:
- What IS design professionalism (according to Mr. Rutledge, at least)? He never really defines it; he only sketches the roughest of outlines by describing what it is not. At some points, it sounds like Rutledge’s professionalism is what I might simply call “customer service.”
- Is there really a debate about this issue? I personally have never heard anyone argue that higher education can teach professionalism. But maybe that’s because I went to a school without a superiority complex (the Savannah College of Art and Design). All the educators I’ve talked to agree that there’s no substitute for good ol’ fashioned experience.
Those issues aside, Mr. Rutledge makes a pretty strong claim about freelancing right out of school:
As a general rule, I believe no designer should begin his or her career as a freelancer. My experience and observation shows that doing so amounts to a very unprofessional beginning and greatly limits one’s potential for growth as a professional.
The sort of requisite experience spoken about earlier is not found within a freelance practice. In a solo practice, one is largely beholden only to one’s own (often shallow, naïve, ignorance-based, and misguided) standards. The solo freelancer is denied the right sort of formative environment and pressures necessary early on for positive growth as a designer. I suggest that aside from being a very unprofessional entrance into the profession, starting as a freelancer does great harm to both the individual and his or her clients. This sort of mistake lays a poor foundation for what must follow in professional growth.
It is therefore best that beginning designers limit the harm they may do to themselves and their clients while maximizing exposure to the wide spectrum of designer/client dealings and details of business operation—inside of an agency with professional peers. Starting in an agency allows for a very important step in any trade or craft career: apprenticeship (or what passes for it in the design profession). Apprenticeship is a fixture in trades and crafts because it is proven to work, being a vital component to progress and, especially, integrity. Of course, in most agencies apprenticeship amounts mostly to mentorship, but the principle still applies.
At this point, it’s very important to note that Mr. Rutledge is making some sweeping generalizations that may not apply to motion designers. In major markets like New York and LA, many freelancers physically work in the offices of the studios and agencies that hire them, thereby exposing themselves to a “wide spectrum of designer/client dealings and details of business operation.”
In fact, one of the best reasons I’ve heard for freelancing right out of school is because it exposes you to different clients, different work-flows, different management styles and different responses to pressure. Freelancing in this way can be thought of an as extension of formal education—a residency program of sorts—that helps you figure out what you, as a design professional, value and want to pursue further.
Mr. Rutledge has opened up a couple interesting cans of worms here. Since there’s apparently no way to comment directly on Mr. Rutledge’s site, I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts about this stuff here.
Thanks to Umy for the link!