The Lay of the Digital Design Land

Students and junior designers have been on my mind a lot lately. It seems many, if not most, are struggling with the changing design landscape.

Their college education or limited experience pigeon holes them into traditional graphic design disciplines like print and identity design. The problem is, there aren’t jobs available doing these disciplines anymore. The few people that have them are holding on for dear life because the sand is quickly eroding underneath their feet. I talk to designers regularly who’ve been unable to find employment even after six months of searching.

Conversely, there’s a major shortage of digital designers. (By digital I mean: web, interaction, product, app, mobile, etc.) At least once a week I hear some design studio or agency manager decrying the lack of qualified and capable digital designers. Even in a city the size of Chicago, a talented, experienced and available digital designer is a precious unicorn.

Young designers and students, in this discrepancy lies tremendous opportunity. So what if your school didn’t teach you HTML? Neither did mine. Not very confident in your user interface chops? Work on it and get better. Honestly, with as hard as it is to find good digital candidates, a few good personal projects in your portfolio is probably enough to get you a gig. No joke. But having only posters, logos and letterhead in your portfolio is a sure fire way to get dismissed immediately from consideration.

No one’s going to create a path for you to be sustainable and successful in your career. It’s up to you to decide where in design you want to spend your time and effort. I’d encourage you to spend it in digital design. The reason’s abound:

  1. There’s so much work available.
  2. It pays better than traditional design.
  3. It’s challenging in ways you wouldn’t expect and will continue to be challenging as future technologies evolve.
  4. You can make some really cool shit.
  5. (Most) web things have a longer shelf life than (most) print things.

The resources to improve your skill set are readily available online or through special schools like The Starter League. But honestly, it’s not that different. A solid foundation of design principles and thinking should easily translate to any and all mediums. And it does. What I see most are confidence issues. So please explore digital in your personal projects, build that confidence, and get that ca$h.