Ah, a subject near and dear to my heart. Without turning this blog into a gripe session, I wanted to talk about many of the reasons as to why in current times, designers are expected to do more, get less and/or get out. Some explanations are completely obvious, some are more from gut feelings.
A Reasonable Explanation Would Be The Economy
Yes, we are in a recession. To some degree we have been since the dotcom crash of 2000. One of the first things that companies look at in a recession is trimming jobs to save money. A company may have had many designers working for them, and as workers are eliminated, the remaining employees are then required to take on additional roles. A print designer may now be required to also design for web, or to do some creative writing. They are doing more yet their salary more than likely has not increased. In some cases, the salary may have been cut even though the workload hasn’t.
Looking at the requirements for new jobs, employers want designers to know print, web, mobile, photography and more. Can anyone really do it all well? And gone are the days of a great portfolio and years of experience landing designers a job. No degree—no job. Many older designers only have an associate degree. They didn’t need a bachelor degree to do their jobs, yet suddenly it’s imperative to have one.
A Glut Of New Graduates Competing With Seasoned Designers
OK, I’m just going to say it. Being a graphic designer sounds sexy. It appeals to a lot of young people that think that designers play all day long and the job is easy. Of course we know this to be the opposite (we do get to play at times). But with so many design schools cropping up and wooing students to come and be in the exciting world of art, designers are being bred like bunnies. This does not mean that every graduate is a top-notch designer, but they are hungry. They just spent XXX amount of dollars for a career and off they go to forge one.
Getting back to the economy, employers are flooding the market with unpaid intern positions or positions that pay $12 or less per hour. Giving away my age here, those were the wages back in the early to mid-eighties. No experienced designer is going to want or be able to work for those wages. We all have families, houses and bills to pay. The younger set may be taking these jobs, but the older generation of designers are being forced to start their own businesses, switch careers or seeing no other choice, they are taking these positions. What a boon for the employer, all this experience at a bargain basement price. Why would they go back to paying $50k or more for a seasoned designer?
Note the graph on the right that I found at http://www.onlinedegrees.org/. It is easy to see the appeal to new design students yet I don’t feel it is very accurate—not in today’s market. The second graph from http://www.graphicdesignsalary.org/ is a much more realistic salary range. But again, looking at the job postings over the past five years in the United States, I feel that you would be lucky to find anything offering more than $25k per year where the prospective employer is asking for experience with three or more creative disciplines
The Perils of Crowdsourcing
For those not in the know, crowdsourcing is the fast food of the design world and essentially outsourcing with a twist. The job doesn’t just get sent outside but becomes a competition. Designers from all around the world spend their own personal unpaid time creating work for companies with the hope that their design will be chosen from thousands of entries and then be rewarded with ridiculously low pay. I have no clue how many crowdsourcing sites are out there, but I know there are too many of them.
These sites can appeal to an inexperienced designer in hopes of easy money. Nothing easy about working for free. This also appeals to smaller businesses and startups that want to have it all, but not have to pay for it. There are so many drawbacks to crowdsourcing, but that is another article altogether.
The Computer Age
My computer will have to pried from my cold dead hands when the day comes. I love the computer and how it has changed the design industry. No, wait—maybe I hate the computer and how it has changed the design industry. Let me explain. Just because I have an expensive chef’s knife, pan and ingredients, this doesn’t mean I will produce a meal worthy of Le Cordon Blue. The same goes for design. Just because you have a computer, Microsoft Word and the font Comic Sans doesn’t mean you should be doing the work of graphic designers. We now have to compete against anyone and everyone with a computer that thinks the software they own does all the design work and they can market themselves as designers. There are enough people out there that really don’t know good design from bad and how it can affect their businesses. Design software in the hand of a talented and experienced designer can be amazing just as proper tools and ingredients are to a chef.
In the end, this may sound like all doom and gloom, but the times they are a changin’. We need to analyze the situation and adapt. Some scenarios may go back to the way they were when the economy recovers, but some, such as crowdsourcing, probably will not. There will always be people that understand the importance of design, and others will see it as just a cheap commodity.
I’d love to hear additional insights as to where you think the industry is headed for both younger and more seasoned designers and how we can adapt.