Don’t Major in Design! Do This Instead.

If you want to be a designer, don’t be a design major. Here’s why.

Written by Billy Frazier
Don’t Major in Design! Do This Instead.
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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UPDATED BY
Hal Koss | Jul 26, 2022

A few years ago, I gave a writing workshop for students who were interning all over St. Louis and, after we wrapped up, I had the chance to get to know some of them. After commenting on the artistic doodling skill of one young woman in particular, I asked if she was a design major.

“Nope. I’m actually minoring in design.”

I was baffled.

To be honest, I didn’t even know someone could minor in design.

Why You Shouldn’t Be a Design Major

Design is important, but it doesn’t deserve its own major. Design should act as a plug-in for other disciplines and industries. In fact, design isn’t a field of study at all — it’s a way in which to study and address problems in other fields.

She went on to tell me she was majoring in biology and decided to minor in design so she could eventually go on to be a user experience designer in the healthcare field.

As a junior in college, my head was so far up my ass, I couldn’t even manage to look a few months ahead, let alone a few years.

Unfortunately for me, I tend to learn things the hard way.

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Advantages of a Design Major

Despite the title of this article, I majored in design. It was 2007 and I was an undeclared freshman sitting in my advisor’s office. Like many lost teens around this age, I was trying to figure out which major to choose. In my case, it was between design or painting.

Since my advisor was a pretty straight shooter, he asked me three questions:

1. “Do you want creative freedom?”

“Hmm…I mean, that’d be nice, but isn’t that a little unrealistic?”

2. “Do you like people?”

“I freaking love people! I love talking to them, working with them, hanging out with them.”

3. “Do you want to make money?”

“Well…it’s never been a big motivator for me, but if I do have kids, I want to be able to put food on the table.”

“Design it is!”

And there you have it. Those three words changed my life forever.

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Disadvantages of a Design Major

When graduation rolled around, I found myself dissatisfied with all of the conventional options after college:

  • Unpaid internship
  • Full-time job at an agency
  • Graduate school

Instead, I decided to take a stab at full-time freelancing. After almost a decade, I (somehow) only have one regret:

I shouldn’t have majored in design.

Let me explain.

Design is one of the most important fields out there. From designing more effective medical tools to creating a more diverse and inclusive community, design plays a part in just about everything we do.

Design is important, but it doesn’t deserve its own major. Instead, design should act as a plug-in for other disciplines and industries.

In fact, design isn’t a field of study at all — it’s a way in which to study and address problems in other fields. Studying design is like majoring in the scientific process — no one actually studies it because it’s a system we use to understand the world around us. This is why design pairs well with other industries and acts as a supportive layer to enhance the study (and experience) of other fields.

I shouldn’t have majored in design.

If I could go back knowing what I know now and create the perfect college education (for me), it would look like this:

  • Major in computer science or business
  • Minor in communication design
  • Minor in creative writing

As you can see, the first category is a field of study that requires a deep dive into one specific topic. The last two are methods of communication which enhance any area of expertise.

This isn’t to say that design or writing is easy. On the contrary, any method of communication takes time, energy and practice to improve.

The thing is, you don’t need a degree to practice design. All you need is a little guidance, a lot of patience and enough curiosity to create your own career as a designer. 

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