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Scan almost any online graphic design discussion board and chances are that you’ll quickly spot a common set of questions being asked. What are the skills I need now? And, what is the best way to get them? While, concerns about how to stay current in our industry are not new it is safe to say that current economic conditions, rapidly changing technology and evolving demands in the design profession overall have certainly ratcheted up the conversation level.

Graphic design industry veterans and members of the GraphicDesign.com Advisory Board Karl Heine, principal of creativeplacement® — a talent recruitment firm dedicated to fulltime and project based placements in the design industries, and Matthew Hocking, Director of the Shillington School, took time to address some of my questions on the topic.

1. What skills do designers need most now? Some trends I see are mobile design, UX/UI and video.

Karl: For emerging graphic designers — mobile design, UX/UI and video knowledge are valuable and in high demand in many agencies. The core skills needed — part chameleon, part acrobat and visionary. To have adaptive behavior, staying nimble with all technology and adding design thinking, these are the new skills. All professional designers still need a strong knowledge of typography, color and production as it applies their discipline.

Matt: A lot of potential employers are ask for skills and experience in UX/UI, mobile, video, etc. whether the role actually requires it or not. Designers love acronyms and love using them out of context too. I believe that while years of experience designing for a particular type of project is great, having a general understanding of the limitations
and capabilities of these technologies is sometimes more important than being necessarily a ‘UX/UI designer’. Designers shouldn’t feel overwhelmed when applying for these roles. Technology will always be changing but design principles aren’t.

2. What are your thoughts of demands/expectations on the “graphic designer” role in the marketplace? Reasonable, unreasonable, etc.

Karl: Graphic designers are under a lot of pressure to create and produce an idea from start to finish, no questions asked. Our advances in technology and bringing our ideas to market in a faster world, requires shorter deadlines. All of these scenarios add more pressure. The fear of always having to say “yes” to keep a client happy is not a partnership. Design professionals want to deliver quality work in a reasonable time frame. The demands for lower fees and tighter deadlines have added to the challenges designers face.

Matt: It’s reasonable to expect that if people need something designed, a designer should be able to design it – It’s our job. However graphic designers need to value the service that they bring to their clients, before their clients will value them. There is nothing wrong with saying it’ll take a bit longer or cost a bit more. Designers need to learn to educate their clients on the value that they provide and simply say no if the demands on them are unreasonable.

3. What are your thoughts on cost of continuing design education versus potential earnings?

Karl: Continuous learning is critical for design professionals to keep up with the demands for changing applied technologies, design thinking and current trends. In many fields, it is required to advance through learning and degrees for higher earnings. The costs associated with continuing education vary from online programs like lynda.com to full programs MPS (Masters Professional Services). The potential is based on how your advanced knowledge will benefit your present or new employer.

Matt: When a designer decides to invest in their education and learning a new skill, essentially it should open up a new revenue stream or make you more appealing to an employer. However, it’s impossible to keep on top of every new technological advancement and expect that you can learn it all. Understand how to design for the technology, but find others who have complimentary skill sets and collaborate on projects so you both can learn from each other. No one is expecting you to do it all yourself and pay for it.

Schools also need to look at what they are teaching and update their syllabus inline with what the industry is crying out for. A lot can be achieved in 4 years (degree) and to walk out of an institution without a basic understanding of the technology the graduate will be expected to work with is unacceptable. Design theory is great, but the ability to execute is also valuable. Therefore, the weighting in the classroom should reflect that of the workplace.

Notably both Heine and Hocking, independently of each other, pointed to qualities and traits rather than rattling off a laundry list of skills revealing deeper insights. Though both agreed that a solid foundation of core design skills was prerequisite, ultimately it seems that adaptability, a willingness to learn and embracing change as a challenge rather than an insurmountable obstacle are part of the keys to unlocking design success. That said, client education and graphic designer’s ability (or lack thereof) to successfully communicate the value of their services and by extension the graphic design profession have an equally important role to play.