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The Design Gap


May 7, 2017

Since receiving my Bachelors in Digital Arts & Design a couple of years back, I've come to realize that there is a great disparity between what graphic design graduates are taught and the demands of the overall job market. It's a crippling situation that leaves most graduates jobless or unprepared for the stressful, high-octane battlefield that is commercial design. Many students are paying top dollar for an education that lags behind their respective industry by at least a couple of years.

As I grow more within the industry, I want to offer some tips to help design institutions rethink their approach to structuring classes to help mold prospective students into effective designers.

FORGET "REAL-WORLD EDUCATION"

Try adopting a “Professional Workplace Education.” Students are taught that in the “Real World,” every job opportunity will have the latest hardware and software technology, clients have nonexistent deadlines with an unlimited budget, and that your job position solely entails working in Adobe Creative Suite. This couldn't be more of a culture shock to students when it comes to entering the workforce.

Suggestions? Halfway through the curriculum, when students are familiar with the software and have a competent skill set, have teachers throw “curve-balls” midway during projects that reflect professional workplace scenarios: reschedule deadlines to earlier appointments, add budget criteria to project specs, have creative briefs over a conference call etc. If designers can adapt to these everyday office situations, the transition to a full-time position will be relatively painless.

MORE WEB DESIGN INTEGRATION

Of the forty-two classes it took to receive my bachelors, only three courses were for web design (a mere fourteenth of the entire design curriculum). Then there's the first ten graphic designer openings listed on the Washington Post for the District of Columbia: the first three called for both web and print designers (web being the emphasis) and the remaining seven were solely web design.

See the disconnect? Our education programs still revolve around the idea that being a print designer is a highly-demanded job position. In an all-inclusive graphic design program, web design projects or courses need to be implemented into at the very least a third of the overall curriculum.

HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE WITH THE PRODUCTION PROCESS

The design process is a monopoly in graphic arts school. In my entire study of digital arts, only one class was dedicated to print production. Students need to be just as competent in creating print-ready files to clients as they are in designing the project. When time is money, you have no room for errors when handing off files to printers or clients. I would suggest classes assign projects that deal with troubleshooting slight disparities between RGB and CMYK color models, learning the various kinds of printer paper options, learning how to establish a good relationship with a local printer etc.

DON'T JUST DESIGN. BE A RENAISSANCE MAN!

Effective design in the commercial world isn't solely built upon making cool looking graphics. It also depends upon the fundamentals: mathematics, business, psychology, and art history. In doing so, students are training to become effective at budget, sales, delivering persuasive presentations, and networking in art gallery installations. You can add a ton more to the list of fundamentals but I've found those areas of study to be particularly beneficial. Course structures that teach the emphasis of becoming a “Renaissance Man” helps make students versatile to the ever-changing demands of the design industry.­

IT'S NOT TOO LATE. CHANGES CAN BE MADE. 

Just to be clear, I merely point out a recurring problem that has reared its ugly head in the relatively short time I've spent in the professional environment. By no means do I want to point the finger at specific schools for failing their students. There are truly outstanding art programs in the US that teach the design process like a science. I just stress how the “business side” of design needs to be more emphasized and how the curriculum needs to adapt every couple of years to the current climate of the job market. In doing so, we can help those who dream of being a graphic designer become well-equipped with the knowledge and tools needed to be the best they can be in the industry (after all, isn't that what higher-education is about?).



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