Should Designers “Course”?

08 July 2017 | Compass of Design

Darian Rosebrook

9 min read

Should Designers “Course”?

Not a debate of learning code, software, or tools.

It has never been easier to set up an online course. Places like Skillshare, Coach, or Gumroad make it insanely easy to put content up in this manner.

We hear all the time about crazy launches of how you can earn tons of money and revenue from launching them. While it has worked for plenty of people, I feel like the buzz of getting content out for the sake of “creating my first course” will cause a lot of people to burn out from the idea of paying independent creators for in-depth material that they are willing to share.

The buzz of getting content out for the sake of “creating my first course” will cause a lot of people to burn out from the idea of paying independent creators

Where the perceived crime comes in is when someone is teaching on a topic they don’t know a whole lot about. It’s attractive to people to have that kind of revenue at launch, but in all seriousness, you have to either hit a pain point really hard and be one of the few who do, or you have an audience that trusts the amount of value that you are capable of providing.

Either way, it starts with you. You have an idea for a course that sounds really good, and you begin to start creating content for it without regards to whether or not you are equipped to teach upon that topic or without research on if there’s anybody who’s struggling with this topic right now.

You should be teaching what you know.

There’s no better person to teach someone how to do something than someone who came from the path that you are going through right now. This leads to two levels of effective teaching.

There are the seasoned travelers who have traveled many paths; possibly the very one you’re going down right now. They then decide to invest their time into sharing wisdom on how they got to where they are now by sharing where they’ve been.

Then there is the gritty reality of someone who’s just been through the fight and is sharing experiences based on recent events or relative issues. These topics could pertain directly to the very things you are struggling with and are therefore invaluable to continuing your journey.

Both of these people seem to know how to survive the things you are going through right now.

I stand behind the idea that these two types of people are the ones who will make the most effective teachers. Creators should pull from their experience and research they are working through in order to effectively reach out to their audience who struggle here.

You have the map

Design is a career path that is always changing. All the time there seems to be someone who finds the new way we should be doing something; that we should all learn to use new software or drink La Croix and eat Avocado Toast every morning. Things pop up all the time to challenge the status quo.

The thing is, all you need to know to be able to teach something is more about a topic than another person. I believe (and it’s probably through the seanwes brand that I have this mentality) that someone who is a bit ahead of another is the best person to learn from because the relevancy of their experience is recent enough to relate to the struggles of a beginner. I think that is why I’m turned off by some marketers and all their advertisements that tend to show people that you can make great money, all while being there at the apex themselves. They are fighting a different fight than us.

You have the map for someone who is trying to get to this step you are at in your journey. You have had to reroute your learning, rewire your thinking, and build your own path at some point to shortcut to it. Things that you may have been told to do no longer work. You have the actual map that others should follow.

I, myself, am a self-taught branding designer who has spent the last 2 years pouring over around 500 podcasts, 300 to 400 YouTube videos, and nearly 20 books to get the frame of mind I have and the skills I need to get my work done. What I can offer is a way to take what I know now from all of that content consumed and applied experience to allow others to shortcut having to dig through whether all of the same material wondering if it’s actually going to help or not.

Opening a pathway that allows people to circumvent this learning curve should be available at a fee. The content already exists to come to the same conclusion, but should they decide to not sift through years worth of content to get there, they should value the amount of knowledge from them to be worth more than the price of the course.

Things that help people come to their own conclusions by going through short findings or curated resources should be free, but actually giving them the content from you is up to you if you charge or not.

The value exchange

For anything to be exchanged in any deal, one must value something more than what they are willing to give up for it. Chris Do explains this really well in his review on this book: 101 things I learned in business school

As I’m reading through the comments on this thread, a lot of people are on both sides. They feel that there are a lot of undeserved paywalls that people put up around their content. Others advocate that even with the combined cost of courses on topics, they wouldn’t come close to what it takes to get a formal education in design.

This is the sole reason I chose to continue being a self taught desinger, the amount of free resources out there are too numerous to weed through in a single day. Therefore you can create your entire education based on free content.

Why people sell their findings as a course (and this is based off of those who truly add value) is how they position the amount of value within. The value that is perceived is a way to circumvent having to know what content is good and what content is utter crap. Only someone who goes through the material and distills that info and attempts to implement it knows whether this was a good way to do the thing or not.

To a course creator, they price their course content as a way that the value they get is more than single handedly walking people to resources or taking on personal mentorship (which is usually more money than the course in general). They feel they can help a larger audience by creating this content in a manner that allows people to consume it through course material.

Should a designer course?

No. If we are basing off of the general public designers, a designer should focus on adding value based off of what they know. If they know nothing, they should be more focused on honing in on their craft. If they do know things that would allow people to avoid the pitfalls and learning curve in a non-repetitive manner, they should be sharing that content.

Should a designer charge for their content?

If the content is a shortcut to their years worth of work and hard learning, yes. If the content is part of what they are learning currently or is novel and totally accessible through other resources, no. That’s better off as content that puts value back into the community.

I get that there’s a lot of people putting out courses. I am one of them. I put out tons of free content, I curate and share tons of resources, I am putting together resources to sell for new designers including courses because I feel like there are people who could learn from what I’ve learned as fresh and passionate content.

I don’t plan on teaching things I know nothing about or have very little experience in, so as I test things and observe/research other areas, I present my findings. My course is going to be drawn from everything I’ve learned in the past 2 years, so sorry if I choose to charge for short cutting those 2 years of floundering out there on my own.

I feel like having someone pay for something means they should be serious about moving their skills forward and will more than likely use the skills and knowledge they acquire. So if you are willing to give the keys out, you should expect that someone who needs that info enough is at a point that the value from the course outweigh the value they pay for it.


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Darian Rosebrook

Brand Consultant at @itssomagnetic, running designer network at @compassofdesign I ate a whole large dominos pizza by myself once. 🍕

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