Doing myself a favor as well as hoping to help some of the design enthusiasts out there, I am sharing a few thoughts about getting in at one of India’s best Design school. Honestly, I decided to write this post in the hope of saving myself from a lot of troubles of repeatedly telling each and every individual who asks me on ‘how to prepare’ for the examinations, the design aptitude tests and the interview. By the levels I’ve witnessed who reached out seeking for help, it seems many of the students are still new to the whole concept of ‘design’ and being a ‘designer’, well at least as far as I can understand. I’ve the modesty to say this because I think I’ve gained quite a considerable amount of knowledge as a designer in the past 1 and half year of my career. This fall I will be joining the Master in Design Program at the Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay and although I still have not joined yet, I believe this post will give a foothold to the aspirants; at the same time, when someone asks me the ‘how to question’, I could just share this link. Most probably, I would keep this post updated as I walk through the experience once classes starts, but until then, here we are.
Design, as a matter of fact is subjective and some people may disagree with what I’m going to tell you here but nevertheless I believe you will gain some insights on the whole idea about it anyway. With saying this, it would rather be the wrong approach if you are looking for a crash-course or something of the kind hoping to get through design examinations and to become a good designer. Although towards the end of this post I’ve shared a couple of ’Quick notes‘ which you can go through if you are looking for a quick reference but let me remind you no amount of study materials I share or anyone else for that matter will cover the design substance a great designer needs. I would prefer if you would understand the approach, the attitude and the mentality of what makes a designer from within!
One thing for sure with any design aptitude examination (like the CEED or NID entrance tests) is, it doesn’t work like many other examinations prevailing in India or elsewhere. Usually you’ve an option to sit down for 3 months locked in your room with a pile of books and prepare for them. For design examinations you learn wherever you go or whatever you do. The world is your help book. You learn from the surroundings and the buildings, you learn from the people, you learn from street signs and traffic symbols, you learn it from personal experiences or so on, and the key to learning almost everything ‘design’ is – observation.
Next time you visit a mall or a movie theater, observe the ‘Men’s Room Signage’. Try identifying the font face used. What shape is the men’s and women’s glyph in it? Can you sketch out the glyph to depict ‘for disabled’ on the same line of design? Or when you make a payment at the counter in the mall, observe how the cashier handles the payment. Is the monitor stand a little too high for the cashier who’s a short person? How would you solve the issue so that both a tall and short person can handle the experience with ease? Would you redesign the table, or would you redesign the monitor stand or would you use a standing platform for the cashier?
Everywhere you go, there’re a lot of questions you can ask yourself. Learn to frame the right questions and try to solve those issues or simply redesign them to make the existing system or product better. Learn to question the convention about anything you see or use everyday; it could be a logo, an object, a vehicle, an interaction or experience and so on. Start questioning why is your pen shaped that way? Why is the button on the right instead of on the left? Is it even required?
There’re a couple of things you need to be habituated yourself to. As a designer, some people even believe that having a certain level of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is essential and it’s indeed acceptable. Are you someone who cleans up your desktop icons regularly? How do you categorize and manage your files? Do you have that urge to change the orientation of the money note which appears upside down in the bundle?
With this post or in fact anyone’s, the most it can do is inspire you or motivate you, or at least give you a leadway. If the urge doesn’t come from within, it’s going to be tough for you to set yourself with a designer’s mindset. Let me share you some materials with which you can hone yourself for the examinations but trust me if you get the gist from the few paras above, that will help you a lot more in the long run. With the exception of quite a few points mentioned below, the information I’ve provided here is not about any design test or examination in particular. It’s more about making a better designer out of you. The test or examination comes later and let me remind you, not getting in at a design school does not mean you are not a good designer.
- First, start preparing your portfolio at once.
- Select a few examples of your best works. Even if you’ve dozens and dozens of works, try to minimize it to only some 10 or 15 pieces. Include one each from a different media or subject. For instance, try to avoid creating a portfolio which consists of only sketches just because you’ve lots of them. Choose a couple of the best ones and put them and try to create one which shows variety of interests and skills.
- Specific to CEED, while giving my interview at IDC, I’ve noticed some people bringing dozens of sketches, photographs or art works during the interview (and I’ve witnessed they are excellent), but do not let those intimidate you. The interviewers will have time to review only a handful. So instead of carrying dozens of your work, show your 2 or 3 best works. In most cases, you will probably be asked about things you’ve written or sketched on the written examination and not from your portfolio. The point is, it’s you who matters, not the number of leafs in your portfolio. If you’ve something to share with the interviewers, start talking first. Do not wait for them to start asking questions, instead tell them you’ve something to show and show it.
- Again specific to CEED, check out the old questions papers available at the CEED site at http://www.iitb.ac.in/~pge/2k12/ceed/ (link changes form year to year).
- Do not just eye surf them all at once. It may look easy but just try solving one first and find out where you stand. Check out the pattern from 2 or 3 previous year questions and keep the remaining with you. Learn all the stuffs mentioned in this post and come back to the rest of the question papers later and see if you’ve learned anything at all.
- The timing and the examination pattern has changed starting this year (2012) so make sure you are aware of the proper format & time schedule. Multiple choice questions and negative marks have also been introduced.
- Do not bother to carry water colors at all. Instead get yourself with a simple and cheap mini pencil or crayon color set. Trust me it’s a lot light and a lot less clumsy than carrying water colors, managing the brushes and the water or so on. You would instead be wasting time in the examination hall. Imagine using the water colors – pick the color, put water (which you’ve brought in a small bottle from home), mix it then paint it then wash the brush, take out another color, mix it again, now wait for the paint to dry and then paint again. You are not giving an art examination. Express your ideas – that is what’s important, not your ability to paint.
- Start observing famous logos & graphic designs
- Logos are one of the most essential entity that makes up the design scene in the world. Collect your own logo designs (for CEED most importantly of the Indian logo designs). Observe their shape, proportion, contours, white-space, color or so on. Keep the habit of observing the designs that comes on the newspapers or television or on billboards etc.
- Learn about the famous mascots and fictional characters
- Character design is another important aspect of design. If you choose to become and ‘animation designer’, it’s the integral part of it. So try to understand these characters, what do they represent or so on. Try creating your own mascots for say the Indian National Games or the IPL for example. You can find some Indian mascots at the D’Source website.
- Learn some light object sketching.
- Focus on perspective & proportions. You do not have to be a genius on your sketching abilities. Many students seem to be afraid of this but just keep in mind, the perspective, the way of presentation and the proportions are more important than the overall looks of the object you are sketching.
- Read the color theory.
- Learn the basics of Typography.
- Make sure you do not find terms like ‘ligature’, ‘ascender’ or ‘descender’ foreign to you. Once you get accustomed to the typographic elements, you will be able to identify type faces which is a whole world in itself. Trust me, to an untrained eye, it’s as difficult as some alien language but to someone who have the basic typography knowledge, a serif is more than enough to identify the difference.
- Study the Principles of Interaction Design.
- Learn the Principles of interaction design, Basic Interaction Design Principle (pdf). You’ll come through a couple of general principles and laws such as Fitt’s Law, Hicks Law, Gestalt’s Principle etc. Understanding these principles and laws will help you in taking better design decisions.
- Join creative networking platforms.
- Join sites like Coroflot, Behance, Dribbblr or Forrst. Follow artists, check out their portfolios, observe what they are doing. As you get to learn more about the existing trends or what the world is talking about design, your interest will grow and that helps.
- Keep updated about the latest design media.
- Design in India is one specific place where you can learn a lot about the design scene in India. The internet has made it all possible that you are updated with the latest design news, ideas or innovations. Join sites like twitter and start following professional designers. Listen to what they say, you will find a lot of substances or useful materials that will enhance your design skills.
- Discover, read and learn
- Use a feed reader like Google reader or feedly. Start following some design related blogs like Core77, FastCoDesign, Yanko Design, 99percent, A list Apart, Adaptive Path, Noupe Design blog, Design Taxi etc. Once you add up these sites, Google Reader will automatically keep suggesting relevant other design sites. Keep adding them and follow them. You will gain a lot of insights from the articles from these sites. Take your time reading them. It pays.
- Watch design videos, shows and documentaries
- Watch the design related TED talks. Make sure you check out my list of 10 TED talks for Designers and Creative artists.
- Also check out these documentaries: 12 Art & Design Documentaries. You may have to buy them though.
- Try reading inspiring books
- Some of the best known design books are worth a read. Design of Everyday things, Helvetica: Homage to a typeface, Lateral Thinking by Edward De Bono etc are some books you can add to your library.
- Watch and observe cartoons and read comic books
The links I have shared will definitely guide you through to gain much of the design knowledge to make you a better designer. I certainly hope this article will help but in any case if you have any inputs you want to add or share, please do so in the comments.