By: Craig Harshman

I’m sure everyone feels that same shock going into work on the first day of his or her internship with no legitimate professional experience in their field. You get your first assignment and instantly have five questions about what to do just so you don’t mess it up. That shock and anxiety comes from the feeling of not knowing where to go next with the task or even how to start it. Maybe you’re so nervous that your college skills have somehow unknowingly disappeared and you’re left trying to gather your thoughts on how to get it done right; you find yourself thinking back to the notes you copied in class and trying to remember what your professor said to do when you received a project like this. Thinking back can help, but there are always going to be concepts you can’t learn in college that present themselves in the workforce.

I am a visual communication design major at Kent State going into my senior year. I started my internship with AKHIA a month and a half ago and feel that I have learned more about the industry in that short period of time than my years at school. No offense to Kent State; they do a fantastic job teaching fundamentals of content and form, but when it comes to aspects like business processes in the real world design industry or presenting work to a client, I was caught off-guard.

Below are a few insights that give any designer a look into what to expect after college.

Real World Business Processes

Most likely your professor didn’t tell you anything about the “real world” processes and focused instead on your self-indulgent, semester-long project. The college experience gives you far too little insight into working for a client as a designer or how the industry functions. Factors like managing time for printing, scheduling photo shoots, the proofing process, product billing or pricing, obtaining client feedback, and more, are principals that are taken for granted or not addressed in college, but become essential in the real world. The steps in the design process will double or triple once you’re out of college because many different designers and writers will look at your work and provide feedback. The work has to make it through a number of steps all before a (usually tight) deadline. Learning the process, politics and degree of collaboration that transforms a blank piece of paper into a final product going out the door with a worldwide audience comes with experience and that can be difficult to teach in college.

The Client is the Real Boss

Learning how to work with a client is one of the best skills you can have as a designer that doesn’t get much attention in college. Realizing that you are working to solve the client’s problem, not just to make an awesome piece for your portfolio, is a big step to entering the real world. The client will always want changes that you may not agree with (remember, you are working for the client, not yourself), but you need to give the client what they ask for. It may not look the coolest, but if it solves the problem for your client and they are happy then you have done your best work. You can’t completely ignore what you have learned—it’s our job to advise clients why you suggest certain choices and surface any ideas that could strengthen the project. Bottom line—make the most of your time at school and enjoy the time you have pushing boundaries, becoming a better designer and creating without commercial limitations, because once you enter the reality of the design industry you won’t have as much freedom.

Presenting your work

Something that you may think you have nailed in college is presenting your work, but showing it to a group of likeminded, young, inexperienced design students is the easy stuff. Presenting to clients is a totally different atmosphere—they do not have a background in design and may not see it in an equal light as you or your peers. Sometimes listening is the most important aspect of presenting to clients. Listen to the critique from everyone, designers or not, so you can understand others’ perspectives. If you get a grip on what they are seeing and what they want, you can create the concepts they are looking for. Some say it’s best to give rationale first then show the work; others say reveal and then rationalize. When your work goes public you won’t have time to explain it to everyone before they see it, so use that idea when presenting to the client—reveal first. The way you respond to feedback is crucial because it can help understand what ideas are liked and what ones to toss. When it comes to presenting you work, put yourself in the client’s shoes.  Understanding the client’s business, vision and needs will be critical to your success.


In colleges today you see students graduating with specific concentrations and skills, developing limited versatility in the design industry. I am a visual communication design major and focus most of my schoolwork in two Adobe programs leaving me needing more skills (e.g. Microsoft® Excel, PowerPoint, writing, photo manipulation, and many more areas that are involved in graphic design at the professional level). Take time in school to broaden your skills and abilities so that when you are looking for a job you can showcase a more robust skill set beyond what you learned in the classroom.

What insights do you have about the design industry that should be taught in college?