Two higher education thought leaders talk employment, skills, and where the market’s heading.
So you want to be a graphic artist? According to the “Occupational Outlook Handbook” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor, employment of graphic designers is projected is only expected to grow 3% through 2031—slower than the average for all occupations. Despite limited employment growth, about 24,800 openings for graphic designers are projected each year, on average, over the next decade.
To get a feel for the state of the market, we sat down with Bruce Leigh Myers, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Packaging and Graphic Media Science at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT); and Carol D. Jones, Print Production Consultant, SCMEP, and Senior Lecturer Emeritus College at Clemson University.
How has the field changed over the years, particularly in terms of a print focus?
Dr. Myers: There are fewer graphic arts education programs, with more closing each year. On the creative side, graphic design essentially was design for print. Today, it includes other types of media. Choices for majors in design have also become more specialized and diversified.
At RIT, students can not only major in Graphic Design, but also 3D Digital Design, New Media Design, New Media Interactive Development, and other areas. Many graphic design programs have de-emphasized designing for print and have focused their curricula on the aesthetic nature of design.
Jones: Graphic arts has seen tremendous leaps in technology, both in the number of outlets and the areas in need of graphic arts professionals. We have had to expand the offerings within Graphic Communications at Clemson University to meet the demands of industry and business. Up until the mid-90s, it was mostly print technologies that had changed dramatically.
Creation of still and motion imagery also has become a large part of graphic arts. It is no longer adequate to capture images just with cameras and scanners for use in print. All sorts of media and marketing campaigns require many different types of imagery to be captured in both a creative and technically sound manner. This had to be addressed and incorporated into the students’ wheelhouse.
Why do you think fewer students are pursuing careers in print design?
Dr. Myers: The printing industry in general suffers from a PR problem. Many don’t recognize the breadth and depth of printing, which remains one of the largest manufacturing industries in the world. Many people associate print with publications. The declines in that area, particularly with newspapers and magazines, has given the impression that print is dead. But there are growth markets in packaging, signage and direct-to-garment—all which are overlooked.
Jones: The allure and instantaneousness of other media—digital video and still imagery—have been well promoted. There also is a much broader array of options to exhibit their design skills. It is perhaps not only that there is less interest in print design, but that there is so much greater demand for talented designers in general and this impact is felt overall.
How do you teach print design to your students?
Dr. Myers: We offer a BS in Print and Graphic Media Technology, and an MS in Print and Graphic Media Science in the College of Engineering Technology. Our focus in on applied science, not the aesthetic nature of design. We teach printing technologies at an industrial scale.
Our graduates benefit from the robust career opportunities in those areas, largely working in leadership positions on the production side of the industry and for the vendors that serve them. Undergraduate students in our curriculum are required to take courses preparing them to communicate effectively with the creative community.
Jones: They are taught the fundamentals of design and mechanics, and how the print processes affect that design. The functionality and versatility of the designs are stressed. They also are provided with real experiences on printing equipment expressly for their laboratory use.
Has the shift toward digital media made a negative impact on the print design industry?
Dr. Myers: I believe the shift to digital has had a profound effect on the print design industry. High school students are attracted to new media and view print design as staid. Many concerns involving designing for print can largely be ignored when designing for digital media.
Digital media can add things like animation and a level of interactivity that supersedes what’s available in print. These factors likely make designing for digital attractive. Issues like trapping, image resolution and crossovers are not the concern of the digital designer. The demand for skilled print designers, however, has never been higher.
Jones: Yes. Younger designers have grown up digesting digital media to a much greater extent than in the past and are more familiar with that arena. They don’t see the connection with print as readily as they do digital. There seems to also be a pay differential for digital designers dependent upon which area they pursue. UX designers in particular start out at higher salaries and increase their salaries at a more rapid rate as they gain experience and have a better potential for promotion to management and senior positions than do print designers.
How can we ensure future design professionals are proficient in digital and print?
Dr. Myers: Graphic media is cross-media. Brand owners and content providers demand quality and consistency across print, web, mobile and social channels. I think communication is critical, and that all designers should have required exposure to print production. They should speak to recent graduates about career trajectories. I don’t believe that every student enrolled in design programs has a realistic chance of having a career as a designer.
Jones: Graphic arts programs must have the support of the industries seeking future graphic design professionals. This means that financially, industries should be assisting high school STEM programs, technical colleges, 4 year colleges and universities through grants, scholarships, paid internship opportunities, current technologies and equipment, and consumables. Graphic arts programs with printing as a large or primary part of the program at any level are very costly to run and many have disappeared in recent years because they aren’t financially feasible and don’t get any greater support than other disciplines.
What does the future look like?
Dr. Myers: Print design requires that is integrated into high school, community college and bachelor’s degree programs. Today, the superstars in the design field are more like fine artists than commercial artists. Meaningful careers abound in print, from creative to production positions, for those with the right skill sets.
Jones: There will always be a need for print design, even if print systems go totally digital. The variety of substrates, colorants and types of printed products—especially packaging—will always need to be considered when designing successfully for print. In fact, as we strive to utilize more recyclable materials, and reduce waste and our carbon footprint, this will become more challenging. Printing of some sort will always have to exist for consumer products and their packaging.