Whether you hone skills you’ve already got or learn entirely new ones, continual training and development is vital for the designer who wants to stay on top.


Design is a fast-paced medium. Ideas and trends come and go; new technologies emerge and completely change the way we work, meaning that it’s terrifyingly easy to fall behind.

Staying up-to-date isn’t just about name-dropping the latest style or technique: it’s a matter of survival. While keeping abreast of trends and new ideas is instinctive to many designers, keeping up with the ever-changing technological landscape is more challenging.

However, client expectations evolve almost as fast as the technology, meaning that the designer who hasn’t taken the time to learn Web design, for instance, is increasingly likely to lose out on business to someone who has.

For any ambitious designer, ongoing training should be a crucial part of professional life – just as important as perfecting your pitching technique or honing your portfolio.

There are dozens of training companies that specialize in courses for designers, offering the chance to increase your marketability by learning a new package (such as a Web design program if you’re already an experienced print designer), or improving your skills on packages you’re already familiar with.

Types of course Training comes in three main forms: scheduled courses, held at the training company’s facilities; tailored or bespoke training, where you specify the course and specialists will often come to your premises; and computer-based training, using online or DVD-based courses.

Of course, each has its own advantages and drawbacks, and the one you choose will depend on what you can afford (in terms of both time and money), your particular needs and your study habits.

Scheduled courses are particularly good if you need to learn an entire program or package from scratch – for example, Dreamweaver or Flash – as they are intensive and will allow you to progress beyond the basics in a short time (typically a day or two).

Many centres also offer advanced courses in standard graphics packages. Although these may be too general for many graphic designers, they can be useful for brushing up on rusty areas or honing skills in less frequently used packages.

However, training like this isn’t for everybody. For self-employed people, setting aside a full day – or even two – can be difficult. With courses costing upwards of £150 a day, this can be an expensive way to train more than one staff member.

Training centres tend to be based in London or other major cities, which can mean that designers based in more out-of-the-way places can have trouble reaching them, and will have to splash out extra on overnight stays and transport.

Finally, scheduled courses tend to address general needs, so if you have specific requirements, such as a particular project for which you need a skill, consider a different form of training.

Many companies that provide in-house training also offer tailored courses, which can be excellent if you have specific needs. With tailored training, you tell the company what you want to learn and they structure the course around your needs, often after assessing your working practices.

Many companies offer tailored training sessions from within their headquarters, and will also come to your premises which is especially useful for those based outside London – although, of course, you’ll pay extra for the privilege.

Training can be undertaken individually or in small groups, making this a good option if you’re planning to start offering a new service or are moving to a new software package. As with scheduled training, this is a good way to get to grips with a package in a short, intensive burst.

However, if it’s tricky for a freelancer or a member of staff in a small design practice to give up a day of their time for training, then organizing for all a company’s designers to do so simultaneously is even harder.

Another potential issue with in-house bespoke training is that in order to learn the software, you must have it – and investing in a program before you’re certain your company will get on with it is a risk.

Finally, although this method of training is more cost-effective for groups than sending each person individually on training courses, it’s still fairly pricey: costs are calculated on the size and level of the group, the length of training and the distance the trainer must travel.

If you find it difficult to set aside the time and resources for face-to-face training, there are plenty of computerbased courses – available online or on DVD – that you can complete at your own pace, as and when you have the time.

Typically, these courses are affordable and pretty comprehensive; they’re also divided into bite-sized chunks, so that you can complete a ten-minute tutorial on a specific subject each morning, or whip through several when you have more downtime.

These courses are particularly useful if you already have a broad knowledge of a package but are aware of gaps in your knowledge, as you can complete tutorials on those specific areas.

In some cases, you can even download just those modules from the course Web site, making it even more affordable. Many of these courses are impressively broad, as they can cover far more topics than a one- or two-day course.

Self-guided learning isn’t for everyone, though: it can be hard to stay disciplined and motivated enough to complete the course, and there’s nobody to ask if you have difficulty grasping a topic.

As with in-house training, you must invest in the software, too. Of course, with online courses, it’s essential to be connected to the Internet, so you can’t work on them during long train journeys, for example.

Whichever method you go for, you’ll feel the benefits: both in your newlyhoned design skills, and your ability to reach for the skies – and that juicy new contract.

TRAINING COMPANIES

Face-to-face training

Academy Class
www.academyclass.co.uk
0800 043 8889
Aimed at creatives, Web designers and 3D specialists, Academy Class offers advanced training from centres around the UK. Its Zero to Hero courses, which take beginner users to advanced level in two to five days, are good for learning new skills; it’s possible to take the most advanced levels of these courses as standalone modules. It also offers bespoke training.

Aquent
www.aquent.co.uk
020 7393 1390
Aquent offers intensive courses in a variety of graphic design and Web design packages from its London centre. Advanced courses aimed at professional users are available, lasting two to three days. Bespoke training courses are also available.

Certitec
www.certitec.com
0800 078 9462
Certitec’s five-day Masterclass are a ‘boot camp’ introduction to a whole field, such as Web or video; other specialist courses include sessions dedicated to PDF workflow and other production tasks. There are centres across Britain; bespoke courses are also available.

Corps Business
www.corps.co.uk
020 7222 8484
Another specialist in training for creatives, Corps runs scheduled courses covering beginners to advanced users. They also offer tailored courses, including Power User programmes, for experienced users, and migration from Quark Xpress to InDesign. Tailored courses can be given in client studios or at their London centre.

Cryptic Peach
www.crypticpeach.co.uk
0844 800 9584
Offers basic and advanced courses in the full range of video, Web, 3D and graphic design programs, as well as production and colour management. Courses generally last one or two days, and can be taken at the company’s regional centres; the company will also create bespoke programmes.

Space Media
www.spacemedia.org.uk
0208 525 4330
Space runs regular courses in graphic design, Web and VFX packages from its London centre. These are affordable (around £60 a day); although the level is rather basic for many graphic designers. For more advanced users and groups, the company also offers bespoke packages.

Others to consider include:
Escape Studios
www.escapestudios.com
Highlander
www.highlander.co.uk
PMA
www.pma-group.com
Ravensbourne College
www.rave.ac.uk/shortcourses
Transmedia Training
www.transmedia.co.uk
XChange Training
www.xchangetraining.co.uk

Computer-based training

Lynda.com
www.lynda.com
This site offers online training and DVD-based training in an impressive range of video, Web, 3D and graphic design packages. Individual tutorials on particular tools or techniques can be downloaded, too. Subscriptions offer users the chance to dip into any course or tutorial, as and when they need to.

Digital-Tutors
www.digitaltutors.com
Specializing in 3D animation, Digital-Tutors’ courses are available on DVD or as downloads. Modules tend to be extremely specific, making the courses suitable for advanced users.

Photoshop Café
www.photoshopcafe.com
As well as offering bite-sized online tutorials on individual tips and tricks, this site offers more in-depth DVDs exploring elements of Photoshop, Flash, Final Cut Pro and other applications in more detail.

Talented Pixie
www.talentedpixie.com
The sister company of Corps Business, Talented Pixie offers training in graphics, video and Web applications. Courses are available on DVD, but individual chapters can be downloaded. Each course consists of 12-16 tutorials, each lasting five to ten minutes.

Others to consider include: Digital Media Training Series
www.digitalmediatraining.com
Total Training
www.totaltraining.com

Illustration tim.lee@pvuk.com