Must Designers Go to School?

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Can you guess what this cover (below) is “selling”? If you were starting a career in the late 1920s or early ’30s (the period of Great Depression) or you wanted to make a little extra or any money, for that matter, and you had artistic aspirations, this cover and the booklet it graced would have been for you.

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This is the Your Future catalog of the Federal Schools, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the largest commercial art correspondence school in America and a division of The Bureau of Engraving. Many of the nation’s design and illustration forefathers and mothers got their training from their courses.

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The full title is Your Future and How You May Realize It In The Opportunities Awaiting the Trained Commercial Designer. The booklet would convince you that “Commercial Illustration” was “A Well-Paid Profession” and that “Through Training you can grasp this Real Opportunity. And Training is purposely spelled with a capital T. You can learn to draw if you have talent. People who like to draw usually do have talent.”

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You would also learn that “’Natural’ Genius” isn’t needed for true success because “Men win out by using normal brains to think beyond their manifested daily duty.” And you would be told to “Hitch your wagon to a star” because you cannot fail to go farther on the road to success “than if you never looked at the star.” You would find out that women could do this hitching, too.

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“The man or woman who obtains a thorough training [lower case is theirs] in commercial art, and gains experiences in actual practice can reasonably expect to earn an income of $40 to $75 a week and even $100 a week. Many artists earn more than that . . .”

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You’d also read that Federal Schools was way ahead of its time in terms of distance learning, which is so popular online today: “The leading great universities of the country are rapidly expanding their spheres of influence through ‘extension’ (correspondence) courses, which bring to any home a good share of the work offered to resident students.”

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And you’d be assured that original style will develop. “The most successful commercial artists and illustrators develop striking individualities of style and technique” and your own “must not become freakish and odd. . . never forget that your work must tell a story. . . rather than impress people with your cleverness as an artist.

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Just a few months of study with the faculty/practitioners (above) and voila, you’ll be a commercial designer.

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Print’s February IssueDon’t miss the newest issue of Print, the Sex & Design issue. Take a tasteful look at issues surrounding sex and design. Read Steven Heller’s feature article that explore the relationship between sex and advertising through the years and much more.

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About Steven HellerSteven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →