The future of the design industry?

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Whether you’re already in the design industry or are a design student, you must have come across the news about government cuts within the arts sector. It’s been rumoured for a while, although right now, as we’re in the midst of it, there’s more and more concern over what this will mean for us and the future of design.

In short, courses for the arts will be subject to a massive 50% cut in funding. That will mean that the variety of courses will be diminished, and resources will be harder to come by – and many colleges and universities will be forced to remove classes from their curriculum altogether.

While the future of design may be uncertain, all this did get me thinking about how things have already changed – design is constantly evolving, and perhaps this is just another change we will need to adapt to. I wanted to share some of my views – and experience - about where my design journey began and where things might be heading.

How designers used to work 

‘Online’ wasn’t really such a big deal when I started in design. It existed in some alternative, far-off way, but not many businesses were up to speed with it. People used to fax each other, which was about as technical as things got. Back then, we spoke on the phone.

Running a design studio before the internet was a different animal. If you wanted people to see your work, you had to have a physical portfolio, which you took to meetings. It took a lot of time and effort but also made building a rapport with clients much more straightforward. In that respect, we’ve both gained and lost something.

The truth is marketing and the design process, in general, have been made much more efficient since those days. Still, the changes in technology have also made the industry much more saturated, easier to access to most people, and made it seem ‘easy’. But this also means that design has been somewhat lost as a professional skill and appears to be more of a hobby, something that everyone can learn to do. And I think that’s a dangerous thing.

The internet years

Undoubtedly, the introduction of the internet has changed a lot for our industry over the last couple of decades. Before the ’90s, when I was in university, most design was print-based. Most marketing was done via printed advertising, flyers, posters, etc. And that’s a very different skill to designing for online media.

A large proportion of a designer’s time now is spent on websites and digital media – and that’s reflected in the types of higher education courses available. Perhaps that’s why more students are opting for the arts and less in the sciences now – is it perceived as the attractive, easier option? Everyone has access to the online world, making design seem so much more accessible to people. There are plenty of new programs and apps to aid design – and marketing – it might seem like easy money.

We can showcase our work online with a ‘set it and forget it’ web page and manipulate it to serve our needs.

What technology isn’t able to do, though, is come up with real, human ideas. We still need our brains to do that – and that’s the skill formal education is vital for. And that brings us nicely back to our original point, right? Those pending government cuts and what they could actually mean for us.

How could the cuts affect designers?

According to government statistics, our country needs more people to do jobs like nursing, science, teaching, and other skills to keep the economy (and humankind) running to its best. To address this problem, they need to put more resources into attracting new students to study for those jobs, taking resources away from more oversaturated courses, arguably the arts. That includes music, classical arts, photography and film, and, of course, design.

I’ve visited a couple of universities over the past couple of years, and I was astonished at the number of design students that will be released into the industry. I saw the sheer oversaturation for myself, so I can appreciate the issue the government are facing. Still, while the cuts will solve that in the short term, over time, it will mean that we will have a massive shortage of people who can do those jobs well.

Will AI triumph in that case? I certainly hope not! Perhaps we will see an influx of ‘imported’ design, done fast and cheap. What a grim thought…

Of course, these are just my ramblings. Your view may be different. But things are set to change, and I don’t see it being for the better.