November 16, 2020
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Jacksonville State University
Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY
University of Toledo
Texas A&M University
Loyola University Chicago
Villa Maria College
Southeast Missouri State University
Mansfield University of Pennsylvania
College of Central Florida
Jacksonville State University
Department of Art
Chad Anderson: For our art majors with a concentration in Graphic Design, we like to create opportunities for "real-life" experiences through courses that focus on professional internships in the field and service-learning projects that often involve working with actual clients or members of the community. These opportunities allow students to list professional, industry-specific experiences on their resumes so that they enter the field with direct experience in applying their knowledge and problem-solving skills.
Additionally, in most of our courses, our students are encouraged to enter their best works into professional competitions (regional, national, and international). Our students who win various awards can list these achievements on their resumes as well. Notable battles, such as those affiliated with the American Advertising Federation and the American Institute of Graphic Arts (and many others), are recognized in the field and stand out on resumes.
While other activities may certainly enhance resumes, these experiences are a few that help bridge the gap between "school" and a professional career.
Chad Anderson: There are several possibilities in a situation like this. Specifically, one can continue to pursue self-initiated projects. Often, outcomes from these efforts yield potential freelance or other opportunities. In a similar mode, one may continue to refine their professional portfolio of design work (as a graphic design graduate) and address any weaknesses or gaps.
Some graduates who have taken a year off have invested that time in refining their brand and presence online through web and social media platforms. This may also help land freelance or other employment. Others have used the gap of time to extend or broaden their knowledge base of software and other resource tools so that as opportunities arise, they are still fresh in terms of process and technology.
Chad Anderson: The answer may be different, depending on the focus. Technology, in terms of professional culture (in this field and beyond), may continue to be influenced by changes necessitated by COVID. Remote work and related cultural shifts may cause certain technologies to not only be used more dominantly but may affect the type of work that designers are hired to create (ranging from UI/UX to print-based outcomes).
Designers are problem-solvers, so whether using the latest and most excellent pencil and paper or the latest and greatest software/device, we use our resources-as available and as needed-to create solutions. I hesitate to guess precisely what or how technology will become more critical and prevalent in the field over the next 3-5 years. Change is inevitable.
Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY
Interior Design Department
Carmita Sanchez-Fong: Be resilient. Your ability to absorb, recover, and adapt, particularly during these times of unprecedented uncertainly, will shape your future. COVID-19 has been the most significant global driver of change, and there are evolving opportunities for interior design on every front; residential, healthcare, hospitality, etc.
Carmita Sanchez-Fong: Sketch, sketch, sketch, and work on your portfolio. Use the many resources at FIT to stay current with technology, including 3d printing, laser cutting, and virtual reality. Volunteer with one of the professional organizations, attend virtual conferences, enter a competition, develop your personal/professional profile, and become familiar with digital material resources. Work on your research and presentation skills. Create a well-organized digital library of your 2d and 3d assets. Prepare yourself to go back. Take some masterclasses. Volunteer as a virtual artist-in-residence at a local school. Be creative, remain engaged.
Carmita Sanchez-Fong: The effects of shrinking economic activity and prolonged uncertainty will affect every sector of the economy. Turn these disruptions into opportunities. You must evolve and grow as a person and as an interior designer. Business models are changing. Be resilient, and don't let your passion wane.
University of Toledo
Department of ArtWebsite
Barbara Miner: The reason that students who study in the Arts are immensely employable is that they have developed a broad set of skills that are transferable to an equally broad set of on-the-job challenges. As part of their training, they have had the opportunity to work both in teams and to work independently. They must hone their time-management skills, and they engage with the process of basic research and professional practices. Arts students learn to speak about their practice of self-reflection and to set goals to move their personal work forward.
Students in the Arts learn to critique their own presentations and are therefore experienced in the routine of observation, review, and iteration of a concept/performance or presentation. At the University of Toledo, as in many other institutions, several advanced writing courses are part of the Core Curriculum, so all students are encouraged to polish their written skills. Many aspects of Arts programs rely on digital skills as part of the pedagogy, and these experiences translate into important advantages when it comes to a workplace.
Barbara Miner: While many people imagine that students with degrees in the Arts must move to either coast to be successful, it's just not the case. Arts students are, by nature and by training, curious, flexible thinkers, and self-starters. We hear from Arts grads that they find employment in all manner of jobs and communities. Those who want to stay local have often developed networks during school, and the ties that they have established with their faculty members keep them informed about the local job markets. When faculty are national and international scholars, broader opportunities are sometimes available through their connections.
Barbara Miner: Current and future Arts students are exposed to technologies very early in their educational process: therefore, it is critical that educators remain up-to-date and conversant with the industry standards in any area of study. The rapid change in technology makes it very difficult to predict what will be possible in the next five years. Suffice it to say that technology will never replace the hard work that goes into perfecting a skill set; however, technology is, and will be, a critical piece of all creative jobs going forward.
Texas A&M University
Department of Art & Design
Nancy Miller: As faculty teaching graphic design, keeping up with the ever-evolving shifts in technology, and forecasting occupational trends in professional practice can be overwhelming. When predicting post-graduation employability for graphic design students, I'm obligated to recognize that there is an over-saturation of entry-level designers in the applicant pool. As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020), "Employment of graphic designers is projected to decline 4 percent from 2019 to 2029. Graphic designers are expected to face strong competition for available positions." Despite this statistic, a degree in Graphic Design can kick off a creative career with many exciting professional roles available. Students can become tomorrow's fulfilled and accomplished professionals, with a better understanding of the workforce that they are entering into. No matter what the market conditions, to be competitive job candidates, students must possess relevant technical skills and developed creative and strategic competencies.
At a minimum, technical proficiency in industry-standard software applications like Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat are expected for new graduates. They should be able to use these applications for composition and layout in creating various print and digital touchpoints. As social media continues to rise in importance to companies, students will need to stay abreast of changes with popular social networking sites to constantly appeal to users and engage audiences across the board. Behind social media design, knowledge of marketing fundamentals (research, tactics, media, copywriting), interactive user design (websites, apps, interactive displays), and motion design (animated graphics, videos, ads) are also critical to applicants in setting them apart and making them more competitive in the candidate pool. Strategic competencies such as creative problem solving, visual communication, and the ability to parse information uniquely and originally will allow candidates to seize career opportunities and stand out in the current labor market. In addition to successful coursework and projects, students should aspire to showcase work done for clients, in order to establish a record of imaginative, creative strategy in response to client needs and/or business goals.
Many of the aforementioned skills should be evident in the curated work shown and supported in the new graduate's professionally-vetted portfolio website. In her book, "Stand Out: Design a personal brand. Build a killer portfolio. Find a great design job.," author and Assistant Professor, Denise Anderson (2016, viii) declares, "In the field of professional design, your portfolio is the single most important apparatus you have for demonstrating your talents, skills, and body of work." The visual portfolio is a critical and non-negotiable part of a job application for new graduates. Students should support their polished works with concise and reflective contextual statements to give potential employers insight into their challenges, process, and solutions for each project. In the typical hiring process, the portfolio is the apparatus that allows the student to be vetted for the ensuing in-person or virtual interview. It is in this more intimate opportunity that the student will sell their interpersonal skills in collaborative dialogues with professionals. They are establishing a level of comfort talking with professionals and clients before this juncture that will prepare students for exceptional performance in this defining employment situation.
Nancy Miller: Typically, there are more opportunities in the creative field in or near larger cities or metropolitan areas. Major coastal states like California and New York have the highest rate of employment for graphic designers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020). Most large cities, throughout the nation, host a higher concentration of companies or organizations using in-house creatives for full-time and part-time Employment.
Many of these areas are also home to creative staffing companies like Aquent and Creative Circle. These companies place marketing and creative talent in a variety of positions, from full-time direct hire to remote freelance. With the pandemic, it appears that more employers are offering the opportunity for creative employees to work remotely. If this trend continues, graduates may have more flexibility in choosing their home-base location now and in the future.
Nancy Miller: Technology has made graphic design tools and studying design processes more accessible to anyone interested in the discipline. Adobe applications are now available under a more affordable, cloud-based subscription model and many alternative learning platforms demonstrate the use of these technologies. With so many people dabbling in design, I suspect competition for available positions will continue to be stiff in the upcoming years. I hope that employers will continue their strong preference for, or the requirement of, the bachelor's degree in viable candidates for graphic design positions. This will allow new graduates, with a formal design education, to rise and to continue to float to the top of the candidate pool.
As a discipline tied to technology, the nature of graphic design is ever-evolving, and today that evolution is happening at a more accelerated pace than ever before. I suspect that pace will at least double in the next five years. Students will be designing more in artificial spaces (augmented reality and virtual reality), in addition to two- and three-dimensional spaces. The digital design will continue to be important, as more companies and brands heighten their focus on digital and social media presence. Future graduates will be under more pressure to display proficiency in a range of innovative software solutions to showcase their creative digital solutions.
Facing the job market can be daunting for new graduates, especially during a pandemic. They must do everything within their capabilities to give themselves a competitive edge in this labor market. For graphic designers, this often comes down to polishing, curating, and refining their portfolios and self-promotional materials. New graduates should look at aspirational job postings and represent their technical skills, creative abilities, and strategic competencies to align with employer demand.
Department of Mass Communications and Design
Melissa Sgroi: There will be some enduring impact on most working people, I imagine. So many employment sectors are changing-education, retail, media, and more-and these changes will impact the availability of jobs and how we work in those jobs. Currently, the pandemic is putting a hold on many employers' hiring plans. For last spring's graduates, that means increased competition from new groups of graduates throughout this year and until hiring returns to a more normalized rhythm.
Melissa Sgroi: I think smaller, localized news media companies throughout the US are feeling the impact of the pandemic the greatest, and the virus only compounds their longtime struggles. So I believe those areas are not the richest sources of job openings. I think, however, location is not as important as before, as many media employees remain in work-from-home or distance arrangements. I'm confident in telling new graduates to apply for every job for which they have qualifications, regardless of where the graduates are living now. Of course, the growth of remote work raises another issue: the mentoring and camaraderie that arises when people work together in shared spaces. The lack of those relationship-building opportunities can negatively impact new workers' growth and future career opportunities, over the longer term.
Melissa Sgroi: Certainly, we are seeing an explosion of technology-driven work styles right now, and workers have found myriad ways to leverage technology to enable them to perform specialized work tasks from almost anywhere. Some of that will almost certainly continue over the long term. I know some media leaders who were skeptical of distance working, before the pandemic, which have come to believe that workers may increase their productivity in work-from-home arrangements. I also believe technology will cause job titles and descriptions to continue to blur. For example, teams of television journalists and videographers have consolidated into MMJs, multimedia journalists. Another example is social media management. One should be a decent photographer and graphic designer as well as a marketing/public relations strategist to work as a social media strategist or manager. I think these types of position consolidations will continue.
Loyola University Chicago
Department of Fine ArtsWebsite
Michel Balasis: The field of Graphic Design is constantly evolving regarding the use of technology. New graduates must be up-to-date on the latest trends in Web-Based design applications. The shift in design outcomes from print-oriented deliverables to screen-oriented continues to accelerate and has only been enhanced by Covid-19 protocols. The ability to self-manage their work from home is a key element for recent graduates who will work remotely. Being prepared to align themselves with creative directors and colleagues ,who may not be as prepared to communicate remotely, is a task that will take some on-the-job training.
Michel Balasis: This has almost completely changed in 2020. The trend for new graduates to find Graphic Design positions in the previous 15-20 years has been to locate themselves in the huge metro markets of New York (East Coast), Los Angeles (West Coast), and Chicago (Midwest) for positions in Design, Marketing, Advertising, Tech Start-Ups, etc. Working remotely from home is not new, but in the last six months it has become a practical necessity for the company's required to follow strict Covid-19 guidelines. Now new graduates can find remote design work both in the USA and Internationally, especially with firms who will be cutting costs and shifting to lower payrolls.
Michel Balasis: With the constant tech evolution trend continuing to accelerate, Graphic Designers must be even more diligent in keeping up with how their audience (amongst even wider demographics) receives and shares their information. The number and variety of hand-held devices with screens of all sizes, and higher resolution for graphic information, has increased to a point where it is difficult to keep up in just the last five years. We can only imagine the next wave of innovations, all of which are tied to tightened economic forecasts. It is both challenging and unfortunate that the next wave of designers will be in an almost constant catch-up mode.
Department of Art
Tori Jordan Hord: We all have felt the wrath of the coronavirus pandemic in our lives, but the good news is that I do not believe there will be much of a long term negative impact for recent graduates in the graphic design field. I don't think we will see a huge decline in job opportunities, but we may see a shift in how those opportunities are being offered. I think there will be many employers that choose to continue to offer remote jobs, and we are fortunate that the nature of our work can exist and even thrive in a remote environment.
Tori Jordan Hord: Many students have the tendency to flock to a "big name" area, like New York City, upon graduation. While these areas have excellent job opportunities, they can quickly become oversaturated, making it difficult for recent graduates to get their foot in the door. I would suggest cities like Raleigh, NC, Nashville, TN, or Austin, TX. These are areas that are up and coming, as far as population and industry are concerned, making them prime places for new graphic designers seeking work opportunities.
Tori Jordan Hord: In the graphic design field, the majority of what we do revolves around technology. Software and tools are updated daily, so we always need to be aware of, and adapting to, new technology and approaches in order to stay relevant. Remote work is not a new concept for graphic designers; however, I do think we will continue to see a rise in remote work opportunities. Because of this, I envision there to be an invigorating focus on creating and improving technology that fosters collaboration in the next few years, which is a wonderful thing for designers.
Villa Maria College
Fine Arts & Design Department
Robert Grizanti: From my perspective as an educator, I don't believe there will be an enduring impact, but an impact nonetheless. From an academic perspective, most students I engage with have transitioned nicely to an online or hybrid model of learning. Their ability to quickly adapt and utilize online learning management systems and virtual classroom software will definitely be an advantage in the new workplace of the future.
On the flip side, some students may look back at this time in history and feel they missed out on many of the social aspects of their college experience. Our institution, as have many around the country, has made every effort to create a safe environment for students to engage in social activities. I'm hopeful graduates will look back with a sense of pride and accomplishment in their ability to meet and overcome any and all challenges faced during this historic moment in time.
Robert Grizanti: I have not conducted any research in this area, but consulting with our Advisory Council and as a member of our local American Advertising Federation chapter, I know many ad agencies, design firms, in-house marketing/design departments, and printers are always looking for skilled graphic designers. Of course, larger markets around the country will have more opportunities, but there are many small and mid-sized companies with "hidden" opportunities for many entry-level positions. I would encourage all recent graduates not to overlook these and would add, the growth of a virtual workforce may provide regional, domestic, and worldwide employment opportunities also.
Robert Grizanti: The advancement of technology in the field of graphic design has been a major factor in its development over the last 40 years. With the refinement and creation of new software applications, increased Internet access, and bandwidth capabilities, and the explosion of a virtual work environment due to the COVID-19 epidemic, our collective workplace paradigm has been upended.
The ease and accessibility of video conferencing software, flexible work schedules, and the incredible rise of a remote workforce show no signs of slowing down in the immediate future. With this in mind, I believe we will continue to see technology grow in these areas, which will provide a wide variety of employment opportunities for our graduates in the field of graphic design as they enter the workforce. I will add, though, as more virtual workforce opportunities exist, so will the competition to fill these positions.
Southeast Missouri State University
Louise Bodenheimer: It's always hard to predict the future, but trends are being seen. The multimedia field has gained traction in the last few years and will continue to need designers with excellent aesthetic skills. While the paper is still being used for public outreach, the immediacy of communication through digital apps, social media, digital marketing/advertising on the web, and the environment will expand their usage and need for sound designers. Expertise in photography, digital video, animation, and motion graphics will make one more marketable. Understanding how to work well within a team framework with marketing professionals is also vital. While software changes, it's helpful to be familiar with industry standards and those available as Open Source programs.
Louise Bodenheimer: I sensed a real concern in graduates during the initial phase of the pandemic and before they graduated. There were, and still are, a lot of unknowns. My communication with students was online during quarantine, and all of their projects, final portfolios, and any additional learning of software, conceptual development, etc. were online. It was not the ideal teaching and learning set up, but the students were stalwart in their studies and became more determined. Some lost motivation, but with some encouragement, they came back around. The pandemic has pushed a lot to online in many areas. Designers have worked in the digital realm for several years, creating work digitally and transferring them to clients for dissemination. I think it has motivated graduates to get creative in making themselves visible to the profession. The main thing is not to give up. Even if the pandemic "ends," the skills and methods that the graduates have gained during this uncertain and challenging time will serve them effectively. They have lived through a historic and sobering chapter in their lives. Failure is evident in giving up because there is an opportunity out there, regardless of the pandemic's economic impact. The saying "Seek, and you shall find" still applies.
Louise Bodenheimer: Hopefully, they have had internship experience like that makes any transition from school to the profession more seamless. I recommend that they pursue as many open positions as possible, even sending resumes to places that may not have openings but may have something later. Follow up with their contact and HR person after applying, in about a week to 2 weeks. There are graphic design needs in various places: government, in-house design facilities for multiple companies, advertising agencies, marketing firms, etc.
Be willing to relocate. Some past students have moved to cities they want to live and work in, and have taken less desirable positions while working on connecting to the community of designers in those cities. Some take advantage of freelancing opportunities. Don't be shy to reach out to previous mentors and other designers for information. The primary key is not to give up applying and always continue honing design/concept skills in the interim time. Review available positions on various job websites and social media professional platforms such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor, etc. Create a professional website with the variation of programs available to get started showing your design capabilities in a digital portfolio.
Mansfield University of Pennsylvania
Michelle Lockwood: Flexibility, adaptability, and problem-solving. I would say that these three characteristics will be essential to all recent and upcoming graduates' survival and success, obtaining degrees in design and applied arts. Flexibility is their willingness to look at all situations, projects, and job opportunities through a lens that considers multiple approaches, solutions, and out-of-the-box thinking. Adaptability -- in their understanding that the ground beneath them will continuously change, and they need to move with that change and balance themselves amid a career, which will likely look nothing like it does today, a year, or two years from now. Problem-solving -- in their use of intelligence and intuition to look carefully, listen actively, and continuously learn about the tools, technologies, and issues from which their projects and areas of focus will arise.
Michelle Lockwood: A year ago, even six months ago, we would never have expected our lives to have taken the turns they have, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that same sense, we cannot know what obstacles we will encounter in the next year, six months, or even next week. The aspect of technology that seems most important now is software that can bring the human experience of connection into our individual and separated lives. Technology has enabled those of us in design and applied arts, to continue creating and communicating. As always has been, technology is a tool, but it is not usually the entire idea. Yes, every message is altered and influenced by the medium with which it was created. Still, those beginning in this field need to remember that their uniqueness comes from the union of what is in their mind and their heart, and how they articulate and communicate that union.
Michelle Lockwood: Oh, yes! There will be an enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on graduates, and all of us. It has already changed so much about how we interact, do business, socialize, learn, love, and just plain live. There is no way that it could not impact the future of this field, or any area, in my opinion. I think the job market will look very different in the months and years to come. We will adapt, and there will be more opportunities for creativity, more problems to solve, and more chances to engage and inform. But those practicing will need to remain flexible, adapt gracefully to changing circumstances, and find pockets where they can solve problems, and use their unique skillset to illuminate, inform, and delight -- just as we have always done -- only differently.
Graphic & Interactive Design
Kristy Pennino: I don't believe so. Our industry adapted to the workplace changes very rapidly, and we're doing a great job of exposing our students to the technology that is already used widely by our industry (e.g., Slack, remote storage, etc.) to successfully collaborate and communicate virtually. It's already commonplace for creatives working in face-to-face workplaces in our industry to have clients and teammates who are not locally convenient to each other.
I believe the only impact the pandemic has had on the graphic design industry is with the loss of available work for those who design primarily for the hospitality and entertainment industries. There have been many layoffs in these industries. However, I do not see this as an "enduring" impact as entertainment and hospitality industries recover.
Kristy Pennino: All major cities in the U.S. have been known to offer the most employment opportunities for graphic designers, simply because that is where there's a greater concentration of paying clients. I guess the silver lining - as a result of the pandemic - is that people will be less likely to select their employers, clients, or residences based solely on their location. With our program internship requirement, I have already witnessed students being hired to work remotely for employers who are not local and who are not even located in the same state or country. I helped three graduates get employed in the past 48 hours for companies who are not local and eager to hire our graduates to work remotely.
Kristy Pennino: Our industry is more likely to be the driving factor and innovator of technological change, than to be impacted or have to adapt. We're designers, so when we see the need for better, more efficient, more user-friendly, or more human-centered technologies, we tend to be on the frontlines as design thinkers, making it happen.
College of Central Florida
Dr. Sarah Satterfield Ph.D.: I was once told, if you do what you love, you will never "work" a day in your life. I have found this true in my own career and hope our VPA graduates will find it true in theirs as well. The arts offer such a unique means of engaging and we, as arts educators, have an ability to "reach" those we have contact with, in a unique way.
Dr. Sarah Satterfield Ph.D.: Technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we experience the arts, generally for the better. I anticipate great strides in the fields of digital media and digital music. Technology affords us the opportunity to connect with a larger, more global audience on the one hand, and also kindle, in a younger generation, an interest in the arts.
Dr. Sarah Satterfield Ph.D.: A positive result of COVID-19 is a "coming together" of the academic community to embrace and adapt to the "new normal" - from instructors, to publishers, to instrument manufacturers. Each of the above has taken a difficult challenge and used it to push the arts forward, offering for example, livestreams when the concept of a live audience is not feasible. We have approached the challenge with creativity because that is what we do.