If you’re thinking of a career as a professional designer, there are some important things you need to know before making your decision.
The good news is that design – in all its many fields – can deliver great challenges, give you an outlet for your creative drive, and provide you with the satisfaction of seeing tangible results from your working life. ‘Look! I designed that!’
There’s nothing like the buzz of creativity, especially when it’s your own.
The bad news is, that for exactly those reasons, many other people just like you all want careers in design too.
The design industry in Australia has been growing rapidly for the last twenty years – and while that might sound like great news, it’s not that simple.
Competition has become the number one issue in the design professions. The plain reality is that there are many more designers around than there are jobs.
That high growth rate in terms of advertised design businesses and people recording their job as 'designer' tends to hide the fact that the design industry also has an abnormally high under-employment rate. There are a great many people attempting to find a position or make a living from self-employment.
As a consequence, not only is it really hard to get a decent job in the first place, but there are hordes of experienced designers and design companies all competing furiously for what work there is available.
That often means prices are forced down, and unless you’re at the top of the design tree, your salary gets cut accordingly.
Starting salaries for a graduate designer fall at the bottom end of graduate salaries. The average salary for an adult designer with five years experience is currently (2006) slightly below the average adult wage in Australia.
Another major problem throughout the industry is that there are many people calling themselves ‘designers’ who simply don’t have the necessary skills and qualifications.
This has the effect of lowering customers' confidence in the quality of work they will receive from a designer and decreasing their willingness to pay well for it.
The design industry is not protected by any form of regulation as to who can claim to be a designer. In the absence of government regulation (which is highly unlikely), there is nothing to stop people with no training jumping into an already overcrowded market.
In addition design education continues to be extremely popular, so universities, TAFE and private education providers continue to pump out thousands more design graduates every year.
Design is a project based activity with constant production deadlines. This can frequently require working long hours and hours outside of normal working time. If time pressures and working flexible hours are not for you then maybe design is not the right profession.
That’s the bad news – take a long, hard, serious look at your real chances of building a career in design before you commit yourself.
Having said all that, there will always be people who are willing to take the risk, who are committed to their personal goal of being a designer, and people whose talent will enable them to shine in any circumstances.
If you’re still keen to carve yourself out a career in design, you need to decide which type of designer you want to be.
What type of design discipline do you want to work in? Read the various job descriptions in the section 'Design Disciplines'.
Each design discipline serves a particular industry. Industrial design is involved with the manufacturing industry, interior design is involved with the building industry, graphic design has a very broad client base and works across almost all industries.
The industry each design discipline works for can give you clues as to the future viability of your career choice. For example what will be the effect of the continued pressure on the manufacturing industry from low cost imports. What effect will booms and downturns in the building industry have on the need for interior design.
What exactly is a designer anyway? Are you certain that you understand what you'll be doing in your day-to-day work? Read the section 'What is a designer'.
Design is much more than the ability to draw. A great deal of a professional designer's time is spent specifying and documenting things for manufacture, construction and printing. Design requires attention to technical detail, a great deal of person to person consultation and communication, and a great deal of administration.
Design embodies the full range of problem solving skills from those that are strictly rational, analytical and objective, to those that are inspirational, artistic and subjective.
Do you think you'll enjoy the technical, administrative and communication parts of the job?
You can get more specific information about most major design disciplines from elsewhere in this website.
Career advisory bodies and various government agencies can also provide more information.
Many designers coming through tertiary education are now doing three and four year degrees. This means that many employers consider a degree as the minimum level of training they will consider when hiring a designer.
The DIA in its role of encouraging higher standards in professional design encourages students to complete four year degrees. In the entry requirements for the professional stream in the DIA a three year degree is the education level that entitles you to Associate membership of your professional body immediately on graduation.
Most design graduates will probably try to find work first as an employee with an existing business, design company or studio. This is the best way to become a fully rounded professional designer. There are many aspects of being a designer that you will only understand or learn by working with other experienced designers.
However, you are free to start out on your own, running your own design business straight away. It is likely to involve a huge amount of time, money and learning all sorts of general business skills before you even get to a comfortable level of self employment.
If you’re trying to land a job as an employee in a design business, you’ll need to make sure you have a brilliant portfolio, know how to talk to people, how to sell yourself correctly, and what to do to give yourself the best chance of getting at least an interview – and maybe even a job! Check out 'Finding Employment in Design'.
You can find out all sorts of valuable information on how to prepare for job interviews in th eDIA practice Note 'PN027 Design Employment'.
Once you've started your tertiary design course you're eligible to be a student member of the DIA. This will give you access to all sorts of information (and people) that can smooth your way into the industry.
Good luck with your chosen career!
‘ “It looks good” is the worst feedback you can get.’