Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Professional Studies


Information Management


Jeffery Hemsley


communication design;future of education;graphic design;higher education;MOOC;online learning


Graphic design students no longer need to attend institutions of higher education (IHE) to gain entry-level skills for a variety of design related areas with the rise of new learning platforms like YouTube, edX, etc. A recent series of studies found that 70% of respondents (working designers) reported learning their craft online. This study examines these do-it-yourself designers (DIYD), and the implications of their educational choice for both the practice of design and for traditional design education. Due to the changes in educational opportunities, what and how designers learn is important to the design industry and IHE. Enrollment in formal design education has steadily decreased, and topics like design thinking, critical thinking, and strategic design may become diminished, posing a significant threat to the ideals within the field and higher education. The research uses a mixed-method, multi-case case study approach, centered on 30 semi-structured interviews along with visual analysis to explore the differences between self-taught and college-educated designers’ portfolios and analyzes the data through the Principle of Least Effort. Findings from the interview phase include, one: questioning the value of a degree and employment readiness, two: the nature of the topics that self-taught designers are learning and not learning, and three: the experts’ portfolio assessments which mirror the findings from the interviews about a priority value shift towards software techniques. These findings indicate that software skills are emphasized over creative thinking, which will shift the design industry’s values and reputation and how the impact of this shift in thinking will manifest in the design industry and IHE. The study uncovers a gap in content in online learning which creates a shift towards aesthetically centered design at the expense of critical thinking skills, for example. As the value of a degree in higher education has never been more publicly questioned, this study becomes more important than ever in opening a dialogue between the profession and education to assure that their mutually beneficial relationship is maintained.


Open Access