Design yourself a brighter career

Posted October 13, 2011, by Andrea Riddell

As Aristotle once said, ‘There can be no words without images’, and in today’s world there can be no images without designers. Design professionals are visual communicators, turning spaces and words into visual messages and works of art.

The design industry is a fast-paced and creative environment, and the never-ending growth of technology has opened up the field to a variety of new design channels and techniques.

Some popular faces of design

Design is a far-reaching industry in which you could find yourself creating anything from graphics and websites to clothes or furniture. Here are the main areas that you could find yourself working in.

Design that communicates

This field is often referred to as visual communication or communication design and involves the process of conveying messages to targeted markets through various media channels. These design disciplines explore the idea that complementing text with imagery has a greater effect on the audience. Designers work with typography, visual arts, layout and composition to transfer knowledge, ideas or suggestions to the audience. Visual communication encompasses graphic design, illustration and book design.

Designing for physical things

The physical design discipline involves designing and constructing physical objects such as buildings, fashion, furniture and the physical environment. Designing for tactile objects or surroundings means that designers need to incorporate form and functionality into their designs. Designers in this area aim to enhance the relationship people have with products and their environment. Physical designers can specialise in fields such as fashion design, interior design or industrial design.

Design applications

Technology has opened up a myriad of new platforms for design. Designing for the Internet, digital media or for games requires technical skills and strategies as well as creativity. Design applications emphasise user interaction and designers of applications need to create designs that are clear and functional yet engaging and often interactive. You could find yourself working with animation, audio and other interactive content. Design fields in this area include game design, software design and web design.

So you think you want to be a designer?

While the world of design may seem like a fun environment and a great way to blow off some creative steam, it is a challenging and fast-paced industry. To succeed as a designer you need a genuine interest in art and design as well as creative flair.

‘Obviously design requires someone who’s creative, but also someone who can be creative on demand, often quickly and catering to other people’s tastes,’ says Carla Zapel, a mid-weight graphic designer for a national fashion group.

Designers also usually work closely on projects with several other people, so being a team player and having strong communication skills are a must. Tight deadlines and full schedules are typical in this industry, so being organised and confident in your abilities are also necessary to stay afloat.

‘An obsessive–compulsive nature is essential in order to achieve success, motivation to not only start things but to finish them, and self-confidence to the point of being egotistical. Having an attitude and an opinion is essential,’ says Justin Fox, senior web designer, director and founder of Australian INfront.

Work–life balance

Achieving a work–life balance is difficult in any career, but in the design industry it may seem just a little bit more elusive. Overtime and long working hours are common as many designers work to meet deadlines.

‘This industry is very demanding and you have to set boundaries between your work and your life, otherwise you might end up being unhappy without even noticing it,’ says Raquel Noceti, art director for an advertising agency.

Despite being a demanding career path, designers put in the extra yards because they’re passionate about their work and love expressing their creativity.

‘All industrial designers work long hours because they care about the outcome of their projects. If they are good, they feel a strong sense of ownership and responsibility for both the finished product and the project,’ says Philip Guilfoyle, project manager in research and development for Rheem. ‘Also, designers never stop thinking about those design problems that need resolution – at breakfast, on planes, in the shower.’

What qualifications do you need?

Tertiary education is key to launching a successful career in the design industry. Studying a design course will give you necessary experience in using design technologies and programs, as well as introduce you to the thought process required to design at a professional level. Study is also a great way to meet like-minded people.

‘You meet a lot of people at college and form great friendships. They can even become great contacts in the industry for you when you finish,’ says architectural consultant and freelance interior stylist Ellin Kennard.

Choosing between studying at university, TAFE or at a design-based college will depend on where you want to take your career. While a university degree may give you a solid foundation in thinking conceptually as a designer, you may not receive the same practical skills as you would by studying at TAFE. It is up to you to decide what suits your lifestyle and your career goals, and any qualification you receive will be your starting point for professional experience.

‘If you want a job at the best firms, you’d be mad not to do tertiary study. You’d have to have a knockout folio to be considered otherwise – and guess where they get knockout folios…’ says creative director Dan Pike.

Freelance versus working for the man

A good portfolio is a must-have in the design world, particularly if you are keen to move into freelancing. While most designers start out working in a design studio or for a company, after a few years of work designers can move into freelance and gain better control of their work–life balance.

‘Freelance is challenging, never a dull moment. You learn negotiating skills. You never know what comes up around the bend. There’s more time to do your own stuff. You can sleep in. You don’t answer to anyone. You have absolute control over the quality of work,’ says freelance graphic designer Lilian Darmono.

The possibilities are endless

Design work can be found anywhere and everywhere. Designers are often employed by design studios, publishing companies, printers, marketing firms and advertising agencies.

Although demand for designers is quite high, your job prospects will depend on your level of talent and skills. As demand has risen, so too has the level of competition and this requires designers to be confident and more assertive in their work.

‘Don’t be intimidated by competition because every designer is unique and has their own taste and style. The client will approach you for the way you work and because they like your style,’ says Kennard.

There are also many opportunities to pursue work overseas as design technologies and processes rarely differ from country to country.

‘The differences lie more at a social level. You realise that what people find humorous changes slightly, as well as all the things you draw upon from growing up: TV shows, favourite brands from childhood,’ says graphic designer, Ben Shuar.

Having experience working overseas, especially in cities at the forefront of design, will also give you an extra advantage when it comes to looking for work back home.

What are you waiting for?

While working in design may seem like a life choice as opposed to a career choice, there does not seem to be a career path that is more rewarding or offers higher job satisfaction. So if your head is bursting with 1001 ideas and you’re looking for a career you’re passionate about, then consider studying design and see where it takes you.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a designer, check out our design courses and start your journey now.

Andrea Riddell

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