Keep learning, keep giving
Study an array of subjects in addition to design and be involved in current affairs. Throughout your career, you'll work with multiple audiences: A broad understanding of business, the arts, the sciences and technology will be essential for wise leadership.
In the future, design courses should ideally be treated like pre-med, pre-law, or pre-MBA classes—as preparation for an advanced degree. Think about it: If leaders in medicine, law and business had been trained first as designers, their views today might be richer, broader, more innovative. Steve Jobs is an inspirational example of bringing a designer's perspective to the technology of computers. In his case, it changed the face of business. How and what can you learn now that will prepare you to learn about design later?
Big ideas are made up of details. Your intelligence is demonstrated in those details. Put design elements together in a deliberate way. Be aware of how your notes and files are organized, how your thoughts are layered, how you present yourself and how you take care of others. All of those details are part of craftsmanship and will help you succeed.
Be a student for life
College is only the beginning. Use your college years to learn broadly and build a portfolio that opens minds and doors. Ask your professors to challenge your work; go beyond what's required. Attend design conferences. Study industrial, product, architecture, fashion, theater, film/video and interactive design. After college, stay involved; keep learning, questioning, growing. Knowing how much there is to know will keep you humble, and creativity and humility make a good pair.
Volunteer for your professional design association. Mentor, write articles, teach. Use design to change minds about critical or controversial topics. By giving, you will get much back.
This essay originally appeared in the 2010AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries.