How do you pick a design specialism?

Andy knows he wants a career in design, but doesn't know how to pick a specialism.

​Hey, My name’s Andy and I’m about to start my second year at uni studying product design. It’s a 4-year course which provides a sandwich year, which is arriving faster than expected.

I have A levels from college and GCSEs which relate to design and art with standard grades C-Bs. This led to university because of my passion and the advise I got from many friends and teachers.

The question is how do you find your specialism in design? I’ve been looking around and I don’t know which area really suits me. I’ve rolled out the ‘no’s for sure, but it’s the small few which I find hard to pick. I’ve moved from college straight to uni so I’ve haven’t had any real design experience.

I want to get straight into design and enjoy the role and experience of changing the world and what I can achieve, but I’m just lost in picking the right area. Are there any helpful tips or advice?

— Andy

Expert answers

Martin Roach's reply:

Hi Andy,​

By selecting a course which is mainly concerned with product design you have already ‘suggested’ a potential specialism. The issue is of course that product design covers a lot of great stuff and has a huge overlap with your design ‘cousins’.

Personally I wouldn’t really worry about specialising at this point but … if you must there are three areas you need to look at:

[1]     What do you love doing?  I loved typography so I devoured as much of this as I could. I call this the overarching discipline - you’ll probably have this until you die and it could well be transferable to other design areas. It’s more detailed than product or graphic or fashion - it’s the bit[s] within it that get you enthused.

[2]     What are you good at? You might be good at condensing things down to make them understandable or you might be great at time management - whatever it is make a note of it. I distinguish this from what you love doing because these may be very different. There is a secondary reason for doing this - you’ll also be noticing what you are not good at. This isn’t the end of the world it just means that you are noticing how you can be useful within a team.

[3]     Who do you want to work for? This really does dictate what you might work on in the future so make sure you understand how different industries work. From consumer goods to industrial through to the public sector - your skills as a designer can serve all of these [and more] but the outputs, the process and the players can be very different. 

Once you have these 3 areas documented [which would involve some self observation AND trying some new things] your path may emerge over time.

Be mindful though - hopefully your career will be long and varied so ensure that you continually observe what you are good at, what you enjoy and where you wish to work.

Oh - and don’t forget to have some fun along the way!!


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