The importance of giving back

Last week I spent the at a local university judging student work for their annual design department show along with two other design industry folks. It was a fun day meeting the other judges and a great group of students. It was a little bit strange walking into a room full of people I know had been instructed to google me, but I had some wonderful chats with the students at the end of the day. The experience reminded me that while it sometimes seem like extra work, giving back to the community is so very important. Especially when it comes to students.

Sadly, most schools and programs — even those teaching web design specifically — are behind the times as far as current industry practices goes. It’s a constant struggle. But all is not lost! We can be a positive influence and help overcome this gap by actively participating in what the schools are doing. There are two ways in particular I think us web designer types can especially be helpful.

The first is just sharing your story and why you love what you do. It’s important to encourage students to look beyond their classwork and be aware of what’s going on in the industry. Having a grasp on the bigger picture is invaluable. I’m sure many of their instructors tell them this, but trust me, it sounds a heck of a lot different coming from you.

The second is giving what you do some visibility by guest lecturing, being an industry judge or other similar things. Sadly, web design and it’s related areas are still looked down upon in many traditional graphic design programs. It’s glossed over so much in their curriculum that the students just assume there’s really nothing to the whole thing and that it must be terribly boring. Many students have no idea of the variety of roles involved in modern web design, or how much the design thinking and craftsmanship they learn in other classes still applies to the web. Some of their instructors are a bit in the dark about this too, unfortunately.

It’s not all about giving though. You get something out of all this too! Getting involved with students or teaching even just a tiny bit is incredibly rewarding. There are some amazingly bright and talent students out there who are a ton of fun to spend time with. And you’ll rarely leave any kind of mentoring or teaching session without learning something new yourself. It’s all win-win.