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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Is Graphic Design an Option for Your Teen?

I’m beginning to think that graphic designers rule the world. Seriously.

trader joes salsa

Think graphic designers don’t influence you? Guess again. Do you choose a product at Trader Joe’s because you like the label design? Thank a graphic designer. Do you read the nutrition fact panel on the side? Thank a graphic designer. And we haven’t even left the grocery store. The art form has applications in every field from advertising to education, science, healthcare, and more. Skillful graphic designers inspire us, keep us safe, and change our lives. They work with line, color, shape, form, space, and type in every medium. They’re master communicators hiding in plain sight behind a pen, pencil, or keystroke.

So who becomes a graphic designer? And is it a plausible career path for your teen? Here are some observations to consider.

tour de franceDesigners are inquisitive at their core. They’re creative makers who can spend endless hours devoted to perfecting the details of a drawing or design. Yet they’re also keenly aware of the big picture and how the whole fits together. They have an aesthetic awareness and appreciate connections that others may not perceive. And they’re often drawn to the conceptual or visual applications of math. Think geometry instead of algebra.

Graphic Design USA recently announced the top graphic design programs across the country. There are many familiar names on the list and some not as well known. It’s a great place to start a college search if your teen is intrigued by the world of graphics. Do your research to ensure your family finds the best college fit. Also, make sure to check our ValuePenguin’s list of the best cities for graphic design careers and the salaries that accompany them.

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Carnegie Mellon University: School of Design

Touring Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in autumn is a great idea. I was fortunate to visit last week when the trees were starting to sparkle in all their autumn glory.

This private university’s persona is larger than life, but its undergraduate student body is a very manageable 6200. I’ve toured the campus before, so got to focus on the College of Fine Arts this time around, meeting with representatives from the School of Design and the School of Art.

School of Design

School of Design

The School of Design (SOD) has a stellar reputation. I often recommend taking rankings with a grain of salt, but these you should consider. LinkedIn named the school Best for Designers (October 2014) and Design Intelligence named it among America’s Best Architecture and Design Schools (2015).

Steve Stadelmeier, SOD Associate Head, defines designers as those who build things for the greater good; things that help individuals and companies tell their personal stories. Whether it’s the car you drive, the Netflix shows you watch, the graphics of your favorite app, or the layout at your favorite clothing store – they’re all influenced and guided by designers, and they all help you tell your own, individual story.

sophomore communications students

sophomore communications students

At CMU students gain that knowledge through a unique and interactive structure that mirrors real life. Freshmen begin studying across three concurrent areas: Communication Design (graphics), Product Design (industrial design), and Environments (virtual and physical). Sophomores continue in two of the three, juniors narrow it down to one, and senior year unites the entire cohort as they apply what they’ve learned to services and social innovation. Here, the application of design moves from focusing on one item to a grand and global scale. A junior explained it this way: “If you design a lawnmower as a sophomore, then junior year you’ll address the yard and lawn chemicals. Senior year you’ll question, “How can we change the system?” (Ex: how can we water lawns more efficiently to improve water usage?)

junior product models

junior product models

This is a rigorous program; with class time divided approximately 60/40 between design classes and general studies courses. That ratio is typically found at small art and design schools across the country, not large universities. Also similar to art and design schools, SOD teaches a number of design-related general education classes. Examples include design and economics or design and anthropology.

Applications – through the Common App – are directed to the SOD itself, not the university. Portfolios are a required part of the process. Images can be uploaded through SlideRoom as well as delivered in person. Personal interviews aren’t required but are highly encouraged.

Accepted students are the lucky ones. Approximately 650 applied to the program last year, with 35 matriculating. Graduates earn a Bachelor of Design (BDes), and according to Mr. Stadelmeier, all graduate with a job.

Want to learn more about the SOD? Drop me a note or contact the school directly. Have a preference for the School of Art? Stick around. I’ll share what I’ve learned next week.

Graphic Design Programs

GD USA is an excellent resource for those working in the field of graphic design. In January, the online publication spotlighted their top picks of graphic design students to watch. 29 talented individuals made the list as tomorrow’s trailblazers and game-changers. Their collective contributions and experiences are already quite impressive.

This month GD is following it up with a list of 35 colleges – the ones who’ve nurtured, supported, and guided the previously-listed top students, plus a few more outstanding schools. The list of programs is diverse, including non-profit, for-profit, art and design colleges, and public universities. It provides a clear testament to the wealth of quality graphic design programs across the country.

You may ask what is graphic design, and what career paths will be available to those studying it?

As far as careers go, the sky’s the limit. Graphic design is the sharpest tool in today’s design toolbox, used to communicate ideas and information. Through images and typography, graphic design informs, inspires, and persuades in every field imaginable. Science and technology, healthcare, entertainment, education, business, hospitality, and government all need graphic design to communicate, advise, and guide us.

If graphic design sounds like your teen’s passion, GD’s list is a great place to begin your exploration of “best fit” programs.

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Declaring A Major

Untitled by Daniel Well 2011 Foundations Exhibition

Untitled by Daniel Well
MICA 2011 Foundations Exhibition

Back in the day when I was a university student (go dawgs!), we didn’t need to declare a major until the end of sophomore year. That gave us plenty of time to try out different interests. For me, art history preceded textile design.

Expectations are different today; and programs vary. Some colleges require students to declare a major as part of the application process, while others offer a semester or two to decide.

I spoke with representatives from four art colleges and found four different approaches to the “when to declare” question. Foundation courses play an integral part of each methodology, providing students with additional exposure to 2-D, 3-D, 4-D and art history courses. Some colleges also engage freshmen in a choice of studio electives.

The College for Creative Studies (CCS) requires that students select a major with their acceptance into the college. Amy Armand, Director of Recruitment Services, explained that for undecided students “a semester of exploring often puts them a semester behind,” requiring scrambling to catch up. The good news here is that CCS readily provides counseling for the “best fit” for a major, based on each student’s portfolio, goals, and current work. That means you can still change majors once you’re on campus.

Pratt applicants also apply into a specific major. However, the college does accept “undecided” students. According to their website about 15 percent of students apply “undecided” each year. Michael Barry, Admissions Counselor and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, explained that some programs are larger than others, causing those who declare their major after starting classes might “get closed out due to space limitations.” An example: the Graphic Design program is larger than the Industrial Design one. If you want to declare ID after you’ve already enrolled, you can do it, but it may cause timing and class sequencing conflicts down the road.

According to Lucy King, Associate Director of Admissions, at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the first semester of freshmen year is pretty intense. It requires hard work in drawing, design and spacial dynamics, giving students experiences to self-discover “what makes sense and comes naturally, what comes as a struggle, and whether or not they enjoy that struggle.” Following that intense semester – in March of their freshmen year – RISD students declare their majors.

MassArt Foundations Class

MassArt Foundations Class

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) students experience a full year of foundation courses before needing to declare a major. The benefit? “Sometimes students think they know what they want to study, but change their minds,” explained Greg Bartlett, Admissions Assistant and MassArt alum. A year of exposure to multidimensional art and design helps confirm their passions and direction. I didn’t ask Greg, but maybe he knows from his own experience.

There are benefits to each system. By declaring a major at the onset, you’ll be able to jump right in, and immerse yourself at the beginning of your college experience. Conversely, if you’re not 100% sure of your direction, taking a bit of time to decide will expose you to other paths which you might not have previously considered. Also, keep in mind that each institution is unique, and has sound reasons for their curriculum structure. I don’t know that one philosophy is better than another; it’s what works best for you. My suggestion is to add this to your list of decision factors as you research your options.

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