Should I study HND graphic design?

Jon asks whether doing HND graphic design is the best option for being a freelance designer.

I have had an interest in graphic design for a few years. I took the subject in GCSE at school and also completed a week of unpaid work experience. I decided to become more involved with the subject by researching and reading a lot of tutorials, and using design software, building up some skills and knowledge until I have become able to freelance a little. 

However I understand that most graphic designers have a higher qualification, such as a HND, BA Hons. I wish to study on a course to gain a HND qualification (or equivalent), so that I can apply this to forwarding myself into the industry and pursue a full career in graphic design.

I currently live in Manchester, and I haven’t had much luck finding HND courses, either to study on campuses or distance learning because there appears to be so little on offer in either.

For example, there is the MCHEMT (Manchester College of Higher Education and Media Technology), which I had messaged and received no response from ,and I have also been made aware of bad reviews from others about.

I found a distance learning option for a HND in this subject, offered by the London College UCK, which I recently learned has been suspended until the end of 2013.

Having looked at numerous websites about this, it seems there is little on offer for HND courses in this subject, either in Manchester or Distance Learning.

What is the general opinion on HND courses? Is this a worthy qualification to pursue if I want to work in freelance graphic design? And if so, do you know where I can study for one either in Manchester or via Distance Learning? 

Alternatively, do you know who I could approach that may have more information on this?

Many thanks,

— Jon White

Expert answers

Benjamin Hobson's reply:

While I cannot comment on the availability of courses in Manchester or their quality, I think it’s worth highlighting that you should be able to learn/develop skills from even a ‘poor’ course. 

Briefs that don’t inspire you, people you don’t gel perfectly with, sloppy feedback, limited support. These themes are the real world of design in the workplace and, in all fairness, will be present in ‘good’ courses ‘bad’ courses alike, only maybe in different measures… If you are trying to judge a course, look at its resources and technicians. 

Saying that, it sounds like you have your own kit and are happy to develop through tutorials on your own, so such a deficit may not affect you too much work-wise (socially maybe). Any course is better than none! If it has good resources then great. 

What you should be getting from courses is, in a word, exposure. A chance to meet (and interact with) the competition (imagine that all the homework submissions are pitches for work), make mistakes and understand them, explore approaches to work around well formed briefs, handle feedback and the inevitable deadline. Writing about it makes me miss it. 

On the wider point of ‘do you need an education to be a freelancer?’ - the answer is awkward. The literal answer is no; clients will not ask you about your education. The real answer is that real clients (by that I mean strangers with non-flexible deadlines who will pay the full rate) can tell if they are dealing with a capable supplier. Further education gives you more presence, more confidence and capability. 

The skills from the course should enable you to explain your work and why it does meet the brief. They will show you how to take it further - or give you the wisdom to see where you should not take on a brief without help and the contacts from the course from which to get help.

Design education may feel pointless when you can learn things for free, but at your level of exposure I think you will find it immensely useful.


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