Autodidactic Design – Crucial Assets

In the context of Vietnam’s design-teaching schools/centres being still young in terms of teaching professionality, self-education is the most popular approach. The problem is, Vietnamese students are entirely unequipped with this skill. The Internet is flooded with online materials, alongside design “tips” from fellow practitioners in the field who, at times, would contradict each other fiercely. This note will not discuss further the knowledge and self-study methods; instead, it talks about the assets needed for this path.


Self-education (autodidactism) is a word that easily provokes confusion. Many mistake “autodidactism” for staying at home – reading and watching tutorials, practicing things all by oneself, not having to break a sweat going anywhere. This is an erroneous idea in that autodidactism is the total opposite. In schools, there are teachers, friends, knowledge, and we need to consume only. In autodidactism, all those elements are completely lacking, and one who knows how to self-educate is one who actively pursues them relentlessly and persistently. They know how to find teachers for themselves, how to listen and select information to ingest, and finally, they know how to make friends.


On finding teachers, there are two types that every designer should have: one who regularly encourages, and the other who regularly “bullies”. The encourager will act as an inspirer who motivates you to maintain long-term commitment to the profession, whether the bullies will act as a disciplinarian, who identifies the mistakes and inappropriate points in your designs, as well as in your way of thinking. This method is applied to recruiting lecturers in Art Universities around the world. Aside from knowledge and teaching professionality, personality is another significant factor. The two teachers are like two ends of a ruler, one who shapes, and the other who regulates. Without one end, a student either works without a stopping point, or resigns from the profession due to pressure intolerance. These two teachers can be your fellow students, fellow practitioners, colleagues, or your superiors, etc.


As for listening and selecting information, there are two types of information that those who do creativity ingest: academic knowledge, and design feedback. Numerous newspapers, books and critics write about design online, and of course, they all think they are good writers. The challenge is, as a new practitioner, one hardly knows what is good or not so as to select. My advice is, firstly, just read, but as you have finished reading, research further the writer’s background, style, and philosophy. Who are they? What do they do? Where did they study? What are they in favour of? That is what all professional scholars do.


Regarding the feedback, find for yourself someone who knows how to do it. As we present a heart-invested design piece of ours to a person, we are giving our emotions for them to take control of; thus, choose wisely. I would prefer those of academic backgrounds to those who simply work in the industry, for they are better at putting a remark, like how their teachers once did. As with finding teachers, we need both ends of a ruler. A good feedback refers to both the strengths and weaknesses of the subject. The subject mentioned here is not only the piece of design, but also the very person who designed it. Designers, very often, mask what occurred behind their work (processes, sketch, research, inspiration, notes, etc.); regardless, receiving proper feedback on these matters is a special favour which any designer should seek and appreciate.


As for making friends, or more precisely “networking”. A creative worker cannot cover everything. To produce a fine, captivating and resounding piece, we usually have to collaborate. That is why we have the current ecosystem in the industry, with a wide diversity of areas such as graphic design, motion design, UX/UI, etc. Each design field forges a distinct means of communication on various fronts, helping message conveyance to be more coherent and diversified. The greatest shortcoming of those who are self-taught as compared to those attending academic education is Networking. For those who want to make friends, do not hesitate to find friends in the industry (through Behance, mutual friends on Facebook, Instagram, etc.), then ask them for a meeting in a café, and don’t forget to pay for them. Seek ways to learn, collaborate, and share each other’s stories – I am certain you will utter in amazement thinking why you did not do it sooner. Being alone in the industry is extremely terrifying. In D.A. classes I regard Networking as a mandatory ritual.


The three things mentioned above are the most crucial assets for any self-taught designer. Prepare for it that the path of self-taught design is not going to be easy. We must strive to make up for what schools/classes have prepared for us. Take heed of inaccurate information, quack teachers, or people whom you befriend. And above all, never stop learning.

Let’s review to see what you have prepared.

Huy Ta