Future Design Careers: What You Need To Know Now

I’ve often heard it said that today’s college students are studying and preparing themselves for jobs that don’t exist yet. Could that really be true?

Technology has changed everything.

The folks at Fast Company interviewed a dozen leaders in the design world to get their take on where we’re heading, and what design careers to plan for. No plan is perfect, but 5 Design Jobs That Won’t Exist In The Future clearly identifies some of the changes future designers should expect.

I asked Tom Gattis, Dean of the School of Design at CCAD for his opinion on how design fits into our continually changing landscape. Clearly, it’s a high priority issue for him. “Reflective of what’s happening in the marketplace, [design] disciplines are changing daily,” he explained. The basic technical skill set of the past is today’s minimal requirement to gain entry. “UX and graphic design are morphing together. Product designers and graphic artists all have to have the breadth of knowledge to work across what used to be discreet disciplines.”

In other words, design fields are simultaneously merging and broadening.

Schools across the country are adapting to meet the needs of industry. They’re integrating their creative disciplines, including more social science and research into the curriculum, exposing students to international cultural norms, and incorporating business basics that today’s employers demand. They’re also providing learning opportunities that extend well beyond the studio and classroom. The skills of “collaboration, professionalism, and networking,” are all important interactions that make for better professionals and employees, stated Tom. Employers are looking for an “amalgamation of skills beyond just being creative,” he added.

The bottom line brings good news: the world is waking up to the problem-solving value that designers bring to the table. Creative opportunities lie ahead!


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An Artistic Success Story

I’m often fascinated by life’s journeys. The twists, turns, and road bumps that direct and redirect us often lead us exactly where we need to go. I’m especially drawn to the journeys of artists. Unfortunately, many people today still question whether artists have viable paths to career success.

The SmitheryAnne Holman and Jen Townsend are two artistic success stories merged into one. Their individual winding paths are full of life’s hiccups and misdirection, but those paths led them to CCAD and each other. The serendipity of it all has built a friendship, a business partnership, and The Smithery a unique and welcoming retail store, artist’s studio, and workshop in Columbus, Ohio. Clearly, they’ve landed in the right place at the right time.

I was fortunate to meet Anne and Jen earlier this summer, and learn their story of how they got to here and now. Each had a passion for making art growing up. And they each pursued a creative college education, but neither in the medium of metalsmithing that they’ve come to love. Anne combined studies of printmaking and sculpture into her own jewelry major before CCAD had one. Jen’s path included transferring from a regional state university where she wasn’t being artistically challenged.

The two met when Anne was a guest lecturer in Jen’s Studio Professions course. Anne’s suggestions for the different ways artists could make a living after college – including working in industry or selling at art and craft fairs – were spoken from personal experience. And they struck a chord with Jen.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Their paths crisscrossed a number of times again before they recognized a similar work ethic and began sharing studio space and a passion for creating a place where they could sell art, make art, and teach making. “We wanted it all in one space,” Jen explained. “To make stuff, teach, have our studio, sell, and support other people making things – all in one building.”

Timing is everything in life, and when Anne was trying to sell her handmade jewelry at an East Coast trade show in January of 2014 she turned her downtime into recruitment time, researching and networking with other artisans who could someday sell their handmade art at her dream store. With little personal business experience, the two found an out-of-town entrepreneurial business course for creatives, requiring weekly late night drives to Cincinnati. They wrote a savvy business plan and secured funding, then obtained a prime location for their creative endeavor, beating out other companies with solid reputations in competing for the same storefront.

The Smithery opened in October of 2014. “The idea all along was to open a place where we could showcase our own work and that of other artists,” Anne affirmed. And that’s just what they’ve done. Thanks to the relationships they’d built over time the store is filled with curated artwork representing artists at all different stages of their creative careers. The majority is jewelry, but it also includes textiles, ceramics, and hand-made prints. “A lot of these artists don’t sell in Ohio, many don’t sell in the Midwest, and some international artists don’t sell in the United States at all,” added Jen.

make artAnne explained that the part of making she enjoys most is having her “hands in the material.” Unfortunately, running a new business allows less time for that, although she and Jen do make time to design custom jewelry. Workshops seem to be the most fun because that’s when they can teach their craft to other burgeoning artists and get the next generation of designers excited about making.

Which brings things full circle. Art school taught them “the practicality of being in the studio every day and just making, making, making constantly; and realizing how much time goes into figuring things out,” explained Jen with excitement in her voice. That is where it came together for these two artists. I wonder where their paths will lead them next.

More information about The Smithery can be found on their website.

5 Tips From Portfolio Day

Portfolio Day review

Portfolio Day review

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to observe Portfolio Day, up close and in person. What a great experience!

Sitting alongside Thom Glick, CCAD’s Associate Director of Admissions, I witnessed first-hand, how beneficial the advice and guidance of a good counselor can be. Thom will be offering up his own portfolio guidelines for burgeoning creatives in a future blog post, but for now I wanted to share my take on a few of the tips he handed out for those working on their portfolios.

1 – Try to focus your work. Most colleges are looking to see your skill level as well as your passion. If you concentrate your work in the areas you’re most passionate about, admissions personnel will be better able to guide you towards a more successful college path.

2 – Work to develop your own voice. This sounds easy, but takes time and dedication. It’s about expressing what you see and how you see it. We all have artists, artwork, and design styles that influence us. Creating your own voice begins with finding the multiple influencers that speak to you, then interpreting them, and incorporating that interpretation into your own work. Thom Glick said it clearly. “Don’t copy exactly what you see; find multiple influences, make them yours and your style will develop.” Clara Lieu is a visual artist and Adjunct Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. She describes it this way; “the best way to find your own individual style is to try out as many different ways of working as possible.”

3 – Having a theme can be a good idea. That doesn’t mean paint only trees, but maybe nature and scenery in different seasons, from different perspectives, created using different mediums. Stretch yourself. Nature can also be portrayed as a hurricane-damaged environment or new growth after a wildfire. Consistency shows planning and forethought which means you’re filtering and thinking strategically. Admissions personnel and professors love to see those traits and skills.

4Your work doesn’t need to be finished. Well, not all of it at least. But including unfinished work actually shows professors how you think, how you process, and what draws you to a subject matter. Besides that, your goal is to attend college so you can perfect your artistic skills. They don’t need to be perfect when you walk in the door.

CCAD Portfolio Day 2014

CCAD Portfolio Day 2014

5Review your portfolio. And as you do, ask yourself does this reflect my interests? Does it line up with what I want to study and create? If fashion design is your thing and you only draw static items (think: classroom still life) you’re not expressing what sits at the core of fashion: people and clothing that move. Taken a step further, you’re also not expressing your stated interest. That sends a conflicting message to those reviewing your portfolio.

For objective advice and counseling, Portfolio Day is a slam dunk! Sophomores, juniors and seniors can all benefit from the time invested. Find one near your neck of the woods, grab your portfolio, and go visit. You won’t regret it.

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Design Thinking: In The Classroom

design thinkingWhich colleges are integrating Design Thinking into their undergraduate Industrial Design (ID) programs?

Here’s one: The Methods of Design Research at Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) was offered this past fall semester for ID sophomores. Paired with a spring semester studio class, the two courses combine to help students grasp the strategic rationale behind the design of a product and the process required to get to that rationale, in order to design a more successful product. “The goal is to simulate a real-world project scenario that incorporates insights, strategy, and then design,” explained John Youger, Director of Insights and Strategy at WD Partners and CCAD Adjunct Professor. 

Last semester’s project: design a future gas station, something that will exist 5 – 10 years from now. The process includes understanding and defining the challenge, generating ideas, and conducting research, followed by prototyping and testing. The night I sat in on the class had students flushing through their methods for gathering their primary and secondary research.

As if responding to a real-world RFP, students considered myriad details including vehicles of the future, fuel types, technology, and spatial layout of a gas station. They also dialogued over how to conduct their primary research (teams of 2 – 3 were formed), and discussed the market groups that will feel the impact of a design change; consumers, employees, and stakeholders. Finally, they planned for the presentations of their findings.

Excerpt from Alice Smejkalova's research presentation

Excerpt from Alice Smejkalova’s research presentation

End of semester results and presentations for this collaborative group were impressive. Now, engaged in their studio courses, the same students are focusing on the impact their research has made on their design choices, and will have on the look and feel of their future fuel stations.

Their research and the process they utilized to obtain it have provided them with the tools to create good future design decisions, in class and throughout their careers. The process can be repeated and utilized to solve project after project. If ID is on your radar, inquire at other colleges. Ask how they integrate design thinking into their processes. For me, I can’t wait to see what the end of this semester brings.

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Design & Business: Moving in the Right Direction

I’m frustrated by the minimal attention given to the study of business in art schools across the country. It seems that too few schools value the mix of art and business. However, four programs that understand the benefits of intertwining the two caught my attention. Here’s the dirt I dug up on three of them:

CCAD - logoCCAD is undergoing a structural change in how they integrate business courses into their curriculum. Currently working from a professional practices model, students now gain business knowledge as it relates to their major – learning what it takes to be successful within that discipline. An example is Studio Professions for Fine Arts majors. It’s geared towards entrepreneurs, focusing on the business of making and selling art. Courses such as Professional Practice for Interior Designers, and Advertising Portfolio and Professional Practice follow a similar path.

The future looks quite different – and better from my perspective – as the school shifts to an institutional model where the curriculum will include key business courses. Business professionals have already joined the faculty, and individual classes in Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Business Law are now available as electives. As the school refocuses its educational model these five will become the rule, not the exception.

Vice President for Academic Affairs, Kevin Conlon, wants students to be prepared for careers as independent artists as well as careers outside of the creative community. To help integrate them into the larger marketplace, the school is on track to offer a “Business and Entrepreneurship” minor beginning in the fall of 2014.

logoOTIS has very few universal courses. “They’re very specific to the major,” stated Brooke Randolph, Assistant Dean of Admissions. “However, business and professional practice is built into everything we do here. Students aren’t entrenched in the theoretical; they’re engaged with practical creative challenges, producing work that prepares them for real jobs.”

When searching through their course listings I found proof to her statements, along with some very interesting requirements. Economics in the Product Market is required for all Product Design majors. The course is a survey of microeconomic principles like supply and demand, consumer preferences and costs – essential considerations to those creating new products. Toy Design majors are required to sign up for Business Practices, where they receive an overview of business strategy, economics, finance, and marketing, and then apply lessons learned to writing their own business plans.

A Professional Practice course is required for all Communication Arts majors, while those studying Digital Media acquire practical business concepts from accounting and personal finances to business communications and networking in Career Planning & Personal Management. Each course presents issues relevant to that particular marketplace, integrating business practices into the design process.

scad logoSCAD‘s mission states that the school “exists to prepare talented students for professional careers,” and I believe they do. At first I struggled to locate the business courses on their website, but I took advantage of the school’s online chat offering, and connected up with Joanna, an admissions representative, who pointed me in the right direction. The college follows the professional practice model, with a minimum of one business course associated with each discipline; some are required courses, and others are electives. An added benefit; some business classes are offered online.

Commercial Practices for Industrial Design, Business Practices for Photography, and Animation Professional Development are just a few of the courses I found for applied art majors. Fine artists will also get support and direction with the Illustration Self-Promotion course, Professional Practices for Fine Art Photography, and Fibers Portfolio Preparation.

And the kicker, SCAD offers a Business Management and Entrepreneurship minor, providing students with the fundamental lessons of art in the business world. Students not wanting to complete the full minor have a whole host of courses they can take individually.

CCAD, OTIS and SCAD provide a great representation of the varying type of business and professional practice courses available to art students. Each is serious about creating artists and designers who can successfully apply their crafts in the real world. I think they’re proof that we are moving in the right direction. Ringling College of Art & Design has taken it one step further. I’ll give you the low down next week.