How to work around your non-existing design degree in your portfolio


Lately I’ve been a bit daunted by the fact that the world of pattern design has become oversaturated. There seem to be a lot of people who wants to become pattern designers and thousands of thousands who already are. What are the chances of actually making it (i.e. being able to live off it) in a business that seem to have become as tough as the Holloywood scene?  Especially if you don’t have a degree from design school.

If you have an education in anything design related - good for you! That’s a great start and definitely a gold star in your CV when approaching studios and companies. But if you don’t, you probably feel a bit behind, a bit disadvantaged, am I right? Well I certainly do and I can really regret sometimes that I wasn’t smart enough when I was younger to make the right decisions  that would get me on this path much earlier (there were some really strong clues that I ignored). But we should never have regrets, so let’s just move on and see what we can do about it instead.

First let's acknowledge something; having a degree from a renowned design school or any kind of design institute might not even be that important anymore. It’s a plus sure, but there are so many other factors that are much more attractive in the eyes of a creative director or purchase manager - like a great portfolio that shows your skills and design style, but perhaps most of all - an audience aka following that will sugar the deal when they sign you. I'll talk a bit about that in another post.

For now, just be comforted in the fact that your success or chances don’t depend on that diploma at least.

However - and there’s always one of those - we want to maximize our chances, so putting something in the education section in your CV or personal letter when submitting your portfolio is better than nothing at all, for first impressions, but also for our own confidence.

So what kind of magic can we do to that empty design education section?



If you don't have a degree in design to show off, how can we still make any creative director or product company want to look at your portfolio? First of all, most of them will anyway, but it would just feel a lot better if we could feel confident about that section, am I right? Here are a few tricks that I've used to make sure my artistic and pattern design skills will shine trough despite not having gone to design school:

1. First I suggest that you make a list of every school, course or class you’ve ever attended that has anything to do with arts - painting,  watercolor, drawing, sculpture. And I assume that by reading this article you have done some kind of art education, be it a semester of evening classes in water color or a weekend course in kroki. Anything like that is good and valid to put on that list.

2. Then add all the actions you’ve taken for learning pattern design - it could be a course on Skillshare or similar platforms, it can be Illustrator tutorials on YouTube - simple stuff like that. Also, try to figure out how many patterns you’ve made starting from the very beginning of your pattern journey.

Now look at that list. This is your design education. Impressed? Then someone else is going to be too.

For those of you who come up almost empty handed when making this list, well, now you know what to do. Take courses, do tutorials, make patterns - a lot of them. Go and learn and then you’ll have your self-curated design education too.

But, we can’t show a list of all those classes and steps without packaging them a bit. So see if you can summarize them into a paragraph of 3-4 sentences where you describe how you’ve become a professional pattern designer through all of those experiences you just listed. We want the reader to really understand that you're a person that has worked hard and put in a lot of time and effort into this and therefor has a lot of experience and skills. That’s the impression we want to give.

You can use phrases like: 

"I have an extensive/broad/eclectic/long background in arts and design with…"

"My artistic/design education is a long list of…"

And don’t forget to mention the ”hundreds of patterns” you’ve created over the years.

3. And last but not least, perhaps you have a background and experience from another business, like teaching, business, marketing, sales - a zoo keeper? If you want to, you can transform almost anything to become a benefit, or at least an interesting aspect that influences your current work. What makes you unique?

All these bits and pieces, presented and rephrased can beat any dull and traditional design school and make you stand out and seem like that breath of fresh air that is just what they are looking for. People - and businesses - want to have a story. And "storytelling" is a huge trend in marketing right now.

Now go make that list and be proud of your design education. Renowned or self-curated.