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How We’re Different

The house is on fire and no one else seems to be noticing.

Not to scare you, but it’s dire out there. If you’re trying to make a living by using your creativity, you’ve probably noticed.

According to design blogs and pundits, design is experiencing a golden age. Everyone everywhere values design thinking. Designers are in high demand in Silicon Valley. Big companies like Google and Facebook are acquiring entire agencies because they can’t find enough designers to hire.

But on the ground, the story is different.

Maybe you’re one of those countless new designers who’s struggling to get hired. Or, you feel like you fight for every last shred of respect but often end up buried in revision requests anyway. You hear from clients who discover new, cheap alternatives to hiring designers—and so they don’t hire you. Employers only hire junior designers with 3-5 years of experience, for entry level jobs. Or, just look at how design is being degraded and reduced into low-paying grunt work on places like 99designs and Fiverr.

Hearing about how there are so many great opportunities in the design industry sucks when none of them are coming your way.

And the truth no one will tell you is that you can get stuck like that. You can get stuck working for low rates for clients who don’t appreciate what you do.

Or, you can earn your way to the top of the design industry where there truly are incredible opportunities for skilled designers.

Breaking into the upper levels of the design industry is hard, but that’s what Proximity School is here to help you do.

Here’s a little more about how Proximity School aims to help you succeed as a designer.

Design Thinking Doing.

Proximity School teaches design practice.

Proximity School will teach you how to make design. We teach designers the practical skills they need to make it in this profession.

Designers too often learn high level strategies like design thinking, UX, and others, and then upon looking for jobs or clients discover the opportunities to do those things are rare, especially for people with less experience.

Design education doesn’t prepare new designers for the work they’ll actually need to do or how to make the best of entry-level roles. The story happens so often it should be a cliche, but no one talks about it: new designers learn abstract theories and processes and then—if they do manage to get hired—find themselves being asked to do petty tasks like changing colors and font sizes all day. They feel stuck and lost, unable to implement the “proper” methods they’ve learned.

Employers and clients expect the designers they hire to be able to do visual design, manage projects, and work with developers, copywriters, and marketers, but new designers don’t learn these things so they struggle—often, alone.

There’s a gap between the skills necessary to do everyday design work and the skills new designers are learning.

Proximity School is about filling that gap.

We teach you to do, ship, and make. Sure, you’ll need to think. But you’ll also get your hands dirty, solve tough problems, and learn to make a difference with your skills. You won’t just draft research summary documents, make wireframes, and write plans to hand off to someone else. You’ll learn to make real things—not concepts but actual design.

Join Proximity (our free design bootcamp is the best place to start) and we’ll teach you to be the kind of designer who everyone wants to hire. Eventually, if you do the work, you’ll have employers and clients knocking down your door to get a taste of your awesome skill. Because designers who do and make are always in short demand.

A Different Kind of Design School

Design takes time to learn and master. Because of that, Proximity School isn’t structured like a bootcamp or a university. Our courses are self-paced because everyone learns differently, and instead of trying to churn out graduates, we support our students over the long term.

Design education sucks, so we redesigned it:

Skill over knowledge. Proximity encourages students to improve their skill over time through practice. Reading about design or watching a talking head in a boring class at 8am isn’t the same as making design. We push students to make design over and over because it’s the only way to improve. Learning research shows that in skill-focused professions like design, practice is more important for improvement than any other kind of learning. So we place heavy emphasis on practice and provide accountability to keep you practicing so that you continue growing over the long term.

Accountability over mentorship. Feedback is less helpful than you might think, but design education is almost entirely based on it. The mentorship/critique model sounds valuable, but research shows that feedback can be damaging if it isn’t done the right way. Design education rarely structures feedback and critique sessions properly. Many design education “mentors” barely have more experience than their students, whether it’s the numerous college professors who lack experience with real client work or online bootcamp mentors whose only experience is graduating from the very bootcamp they teach at. The mentorship model is broken, so at Proximity School we focus on providing support and accountability, so that our design students never feel alone but still make progress. Proximity School students are held accountable for learning and practice without being overly influenced by a single mentor’s perspective.

How we teach design

Self-guided: We empower and encourage you to do the work to improve instead of pretending we can hand you success on a silver platter. The opportunities are out there, and you can earn them. We’ll give you a map and point you in the right direction if you’ll do the walking.

Skill-focused: We emphasize gaining experience and developing your design process. We want you to gain lasting skills instead of learning fad topics that will cycle out of usefulness more quickly.

Judicious: We encourage you to learn the right techniques at the right time during your career. So when you’re just starting out, we’ll advise you to avoid advanced topics, and later on, we’ll teach you how to handle clients and explain your work, which are things most design schools don’t teach.

Demonstration-focused: Our training shows the entire thought process for creating design—we want you to learn to make decisions on your own. So, we demonstrate concepts thoroughly and show you how to evaluate every tiny detail. We don’t edit out the bad ideas and ugly versions but show you how to move past them and find better ideas.

Inclusive: No matter who you are, you can learn design. Psychologists suggest that everyone is born with creativity. That means you already have the innate creative ability necessary to become a great designer—you just need to learn how to apply your creativity through design skill.

Research-driven: Proximity School works with professional educators (who work in a separate industry called Instructional Design) to develop our training. We use education research to inform how our courses are structured so that students learn efficiently. Not all training is created equal. We strive to teach you the right things the best way possible.

Form healthy habits to support an entire career’s worth of growth

Practicing making design is the only way to grow, and that takes time. So just practice. Even if you don’t buy our stuff, just practice. That’s how you’ll learn and improve. (But if you don’t want to practice alone and want some guidance and practical knowledge, we’re here for you.)

Design is something you learn over a lifetime. So don’t trust the places that say “we’ll take over your life for a month and at the end you’ll be a designer.” It’s just not true. You can’t learn all of design in a month. No one can.

So instead of expecting something so unrealistic, start your career by learning in a healthy way. You don’t need to know everything about design all at once. We’ll teach what you need based upon your level of skill, so that you keep growing in the right ways instead of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated when you try techniques you’re not ready for yet.

You don’t pick up a guitar for the first time and immediately expect to shred like Hendrix. You learn an easy song first, play it really badly for a few weeks, and slowly build up to playing more difficult songs. Design is the same way, and anyone who claims they can teach you to be a designer in a month is lying to you.

Your Design Happy Place

Design should be a joy, and that’s how we teach it. We don’t run critique sessions that end with people crying, for starters. Proximity School is a safe space for creativity. We feel that brutalizing new designers for bad ideas—like traditional design schools seem to be proud of doing—is the wrong way to teach design. Instead, we foster a positive environment where bad ideas aren’t seen as failures, but just another step towards having great ideas.

As a new designer, you’ll make lots of ugly-looking things, and that’s ok. Our goal is to help you make it past the challenge of being a new designer, and slowly improve the quality of your work. We won’t beat you up for making ugly stuff; we’ll show you how to get better.

Feedback about your work is hard to hear, and you need to learn healthy ways to handle that, but improving as a designer also doesn’t require that you endure cruel critique sessions. We aren’t afraid to tell you what you need to hear, including where your work needs to improve, but there’s no reason to be mean about it.

Design is about breaking the rules just as much as following them.

If you were to learn to follow the rules and become a mirror image of other designers, that would be a terrible shame. We want to help you find your own perspective, not ape someone else’s.

We will teach you to be your own designer. We’ll help you unlock your ability to make the exciting, daring design you envision.

We will teach you to make your own creative process, so that you can march to the beat of your own drum and make design your way. Your new design process will conform to you, not the other way around.

We’ll teach you the basic principles of design and encourage you to follow them, but we’ll also encourage you to break them. And that’s because we want you to unleash your incredible creativity, not become another graphics or UX monkey.

You are a designer.

Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, the design profession will take you if you have the skill. The great unifier in our industry is skill. If you have skill, you’ll make it, no matter where you live, what you look like, or who you are. But if you don’t have skill, you’re out. Don’t worry, while it’s hard work, we’ve taught many people how to design: programmers, marketers, writers, artists, business nerds, and more. Whoever you are, you can design. And we’ll teach you. You’ll succeed if you do the work.

Browse Our Free Design Guides

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About Proximity School

Proximity School is an education site. We are not an accredited university. You might believe you need a degree to be a “real” designer, but the evidence of countless successful self-taught designers is proof otherwise. To make it as a designer, you need skill, not a fancy piece of paper from a 4-year school. We’ll support you while you do the hard work of earning that skill.

Proximity School is made by Jarrod Drysdale. Jarrod is a designer, writer, developer, and product maker. He’s written 4 books, founded 2 startups, and writes a weekly design newsletter to over 20,000 subscribers.

A practicing designer for over 12 years, Jarrod has completed work for companies like State Farm, LensCrafters, McDonald’s, Kraft Foods, New Line Cinema, Domino’s Pizza, Scottrade, Intuit, Bloomberg, and startups and online businesses of all sizes. Many millions of people have directly experienced his design work.

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