Economy and Education & Workforce Development and Manufacturing & Technology and Media & Marketing

VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Talent, education are keys in competitive field of design

November 7, 2005

"Individuals with little or no formal education in design, as well as those who lack creativity and perseverance, will find it very difficult to establish and maintain a career in the occupation," warns the department through its currently posted Bureau of Labor Statistics Outlook.

While I do suggest that designers of the future should take their career outlook seriously given the current and expected competition, I certainly would not want to discourage them. Creativity and perseverance are among those traits, like a good sense of humor, that you are either born with or not. But education is attainable to anyone willing to put in the time, energy and effort. Plus, the experience and knowledge gained while earning a solid education breed confidence and resolve-the foundation for true success.

As in any field, healthy competition produces big benefits for service providers (in this case designers) as well as consumers. Not only is competition the cornerstone of any thriving industry, it also gives rise to innovation, offers consumers more options, motivates professionals to work harder and keeps niche skills such as graphic, interior and software design in demand, which in turn, increases salaries.

In fact, among all of the design specialties, the Department of Labor predicts that graphic designers will have the most

Like many professionals, interior designers and graphic designers have a difficult time transcending their professions and making a name for themselves outside their industry circles. Fewer still become celebrities.

Yet, two designers have successfully made that leap. Inte rior designer Ty Pennington is now a household name and much sought-after spokesperson since becoming a celebrity on the hit prime-time television series, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

And, Joe Duffy, a visionary graphic designer, revolutionized the marketing world by pioneering the integration of branding with advertising for Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Starbucks and Sony.

So, what is the secret of Duffy's and Pennington's success? All evidence points to a well-blended mix of raw talent, a drive to succeed and the credentials of a formal education in their respective fields.

Sound like the American dream? Well, would-be designers planning to follow the trails blazed by Duffy and Pennington should take heed. The U.S. Department of Labor recently predicted that interior, software and graphic designers of the future will face fierce competition when it comes career opportunities because of the rapidly expanding market for Web-based information and the expansion of the video entertainment market, including television, movies, video and made-for-Internet outlets. These digital media complement the still-booming sector of traditional graphic design venues: print advertisements, direct mail, signage and corporate branding elements such as logos, brochures, business cards and letterhead.

The American Institute of Graphic Arts reported 2002 median annual earnings for staff-level graphic designers at $40,000 and senior designers earning as much as $55,000. Freelance and contract designers reported median earnings of $55,000.

Design directors, the creative heads of design firms or in-house corporate design departments, earned $85,000. Graphic designers with ownership interests in a firm or who were principals of the firm in some other capacity earned $93,000.

This is serious money. As traditional, manufacturing-based economies, such as the one that originally put Indiana on the map, give way to the digital trends of the "new economy," graphic design and software design positions will start to rapidly outpace old-economy career options.

That's good news for our future graphic designers who recognized Joe Duffy without needing to be reminded of his professional pedigree. Prospective designers of all specialty groups should view the Department of Labor's prediction as good for them, too. Because within the warning of an increasingly competitive job market, is the solution to success.

Pennington, for example, is one of the rare reality TV stars with both the realworld experience and the formal education (he is a graduate of the Art Institute of Atlanta) to give credence to his wellearned place in America's spotlight.

That being said, interior designers can earn a good living with or without a TV show to propel them to national fame. In fact, in 2002, median annual earnings for interior designers were $39,180, with the top 10 percent earning more than $69,640.

And, as our friends at the Department of Labor tell us, the interior design field is growing, just as every design sector is expected to continue producing vast opportunities.

So take heart, prospective designers: your dream is within reach. But do yourself a favor and get formal training first. A degree from a reputable school lends credibility and refutes the notion that artists are born with the innate talent and creativity to succeed. A formal education also signifies to the market place that research, training, methodology and discipline are behind every flawlessly executed design project.

Plus, a degree may be what sets you apart from other talented designers who have their eyes on the same job you want.


Mediate is the president of The Art Institute of Indianapolis. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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