“Should I study graphic design?” Jobs, Career, Money

Having a suitable personality is only one part of the decision to study design. In these economic times (Economic Crisis during 2012) students thinking going to design school need more certainty that there are jobs, careers and money after graduation.

There are jobs in graphic design in the skills NZ employers want. These are; advanced web, mobile, and cross-media design. There are some jobs in other media and the competition for these jobs is fierce.

In 2012 Web design is no longer a specialist role – it is now part of the overall package expected of an entry level designer. Many first jobs expect a cross-media designer who can apply a consistent visual look across many mediums. Specialist web design roles require advanced HTML/CSS with at least one of the following; mobile design, front-end development (such a jQuery), serverside skills or CMS skinning.

The NZ Government Careers advice section now says:

Number of design graduates increasing, which has created more competition for jobs. Because of the high numbers of design graduates, competition for most entry-level design jobs is high. Employers often prefer to hire people who have specialist knowledge and/or experience with design programs. People wanting to enter design jobs may have work on a short-term or freelance basis, or volunteer their time, before they can get full-time work.
Why is website gloomy? Their definition of graphic design is narrow and outdated. Print is seen as key and web only gets the barest mention. This does not reflect the reality of the job market.

Now entry level jobs pay less, expect more and require new hires to be immediately profitable. There is no time or patience to train because employers can be choosy. A new entrant designer might earn just over minimum wage until they have proven themselves. Employers now use word of mouth to fill entry-level positions because they do not want to deal with the hundreds of unsuitable applicants who apply to any and every design job ad. How does this affect the decision where to study design?

Does the design school have specific training in the skills, mediums and technology that are currently employing. One red-flag phrase you might hear is: “Technology changes but good design does not”. This view ignores the rising role of the aesthetics of time and interaction and neglects how a viewer's relationship with a medium affects communication. Each medium has its own peculiarities that require specific skill masteries. Furthermore, that red-flag line would be unaffected if the students were trained in more employable mediums. It is simply no longer enough to hope an overall strong aesthetic sense will be enough without employable media skills. Consider also how the school is working with future technology. Graphic design and technology have always gone hand in hand and big changes are coming.

A good design school will have a strong visual culture. Most will claim they do but check the work by attending their graduate exhibitions. Look at the typography. Look for a variety of work in different styles. Look for consistency of design across mediums. The work should be aesthetically rounded and conceptually pushing boundaries.

How successful are graduates of the school jobs in design? While finding you a job is not the design school's role, the percentages of graduates transitioning from study to jobs in graphic design within six months of graduation can be telling. Beware of the super-star stories; “Famous Person studied here”, "we have graduates working for Famous Company". A few super-stars is not a good indicator of an excellent course because some people will just succeed despite their education. Instead look at what happens to the average graduate. How are the B students doing?

There are far easier ways to make a living than graphic design but it is a very rewarding field full of change and challenge.

Read more articles about graphic design careers.