Illustration by Andrea Manzati

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The First Five Years: How Do I Learn When I Don’t Have Cash to Spend?

Illustration by Andrea Manzati
The First Five Years: How Do I Learn When I Don’t Have Cash to Spend?
Published June 4, 2019 by Mitch Goldstein

Getting started in your creative career is tough. You’ve got boatloads of ambition and energy, but you lack experience, the kind of knowledge that feels like you can see into the future because you’ve been there before. In his column,“The First Five Years,” Mitch Goldstein, a professor of design at Rochester Institute of Technology, answers reader questions that will allow you to get the benefit of hindsight. This month, Mitch explains how you can continue your education, professional development, and learning—beyond 99U of course—when you don’t have a lot of cash to spend. Enjoy these useful resources that don’t cost an arm and a leg.


Q: How Do I Grow Without a Professional Development Budget?

A good designer is a student forever — your education does not stop when you get your degree. The good news is that there are many ways to keep learning once you leave campus. Speaking of campus, even after graduation, schools still have a lot to offer. Almost every small city has at least one college or university with a design program, and those design programs often bring in visiting lecturers, which are almost always free and open to the public. You should go to as many of these as possible — including talks that are outside or tangential to the discipline of design. Larger cities with more than one school could keep you busy with lectures every week, so take advantage of that!

I am a huge advocate of art museums and try to visit them as often as possible, especially when I travel. An excellent way to be a better designer is to go see work outside of design. Some museums are free, but even those that require admission usually have free or discounted days you can take advantage of. Another (often overlooked) public resource are libraries, which are free to use and the larger the library, the larger the selection of books and periodicals they will have about art and design. As an added bonus, most libraries also carry movies on DVD or Blue-Ray — for free! Colleges like to keep their alumni happy, so if you live near your alma mater they may allow you to use their library even after you graduate. Many libraries also offer a bonus hidden perk: a free membership to’s video tutorials on software, which is an excellent resource to keep up on new tools. Of course the Internet has a ton of stuff for free (YouTube), but I really love Lynda’s well-organized and structured lessons, which include downloadable exercise files (and for those of you who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, all lessons include written transcriptions). Skillshare is another great online resource, and a quick Google will find you lots of promotion codes for free trials.

You can also get involved with your local design community and learn from your peers. There are often morning coffee or happy hour meet-ups put on by local AIGA chapters which are free to attend (even without a membership). There are also local Slack communities and other online venues where you can talk shop with other designers. Another great resource is your local Apple store, which often have free sessions teaching their professional software. Lastly, you should talk to your employer about covering costs of continuing education — they might be happy to pay for a Skillshare subscription or even cover the cost of the occasional conference or workshop.


More about Mitch Goldstein

Mitch is an Assistant Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he teaches in the School of Design. Over the past decade, he has also taught at Rhode Island School of Design, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Maryland Institute College of Art. He works in collaboration with his wife Anne Jordan on select client projects.

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