Learning the Business

Coming out of art school, I was one of the fortunate ones. A professor offered me a job in her shop as an all around junior designer/office manager. It was a great opportunity and I went for it. I didn’t make the most of it, though. I left the position after only three months.

When I was discussing my departure with my former professor, now boss, I lamented the fact that I didn’t feel like I was prepared to actually work as a designer. My college education prepared me to be an art director and I draw on those skills every day, but I was lost when it came to working through a client relationship, or working with business stakeholders.

In that conversation, I wished that the curriculum had included a class that I would have called “The Business of Design.” The class would have been an introductory business class for designers, walking art school kids like me through the mechanics of client services, product teams, sole proprietorship, basics of business taxes, and other business basics.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but this conversation I had with my old boss came back to my mind this morning when an article surfaced from the Wall Street Journal, highlighting top arts schools now provide classes for their students on the fundamentals of business of the arts and pairing students with funding sources like grants to get their early business ideas off the ground. The article focuses on artists and musicians, and my experience was in design, but the same rules apply.

On the one hand, the lessons you learn while fostering the business relationships necessary to your craft are the lessons that come with experience. These are best learned in the field. On the other hand, even an introductory course in business probably would have gone a long way in providing some much needed context for a young whippersnapper like me when I first graduated.