How Design Students Can Prepare for a Competitive Job Market

For much of its first 50 years, GDUSA had a standoff-ish relationship with the design schools. We defined ourselves, and were defined, as a trade/business magazine – writing about working designers doing their work. And though the schools were always wonderful centers of learning, they were often self-consciously insular. This has all changed for the better.

MaryScottFirst, the great, progressive design schools have become muscular, career-oriented, outward looking, engines of growth in the creative community and their local communities. Second, design education is more vital than ever as the lines between studio and classroom, undergraduate and professional education, blur. Indeed, the September/October GDUSA magazine features a 50th anniversary survey on design education. It includes a ten-point summary of what working designers think about design education today. And our readers’ take on the top design schools of the past half-century.

I also wanted to hear from a leading educator about what trends he or she is seeing. There is no one better to turn to than Mary Scott, Executive Director of Academy of Art University’s School of Graphic Design in San Francisco CA.  In both her professional career and in the underlying philosophy of the program at the Academy of Art University, Scott emphasizes hard work, dedication and practical skills. Helping students achieve their goals of becoming creative professionals working within the graphic design industry is her main objective and the reason she has built and led this rigorous program. Scott, who was named by GDUSA earlier this year as one the most influential designers of the era – along with colleague Phil Hamlett who was named one of the most influential designers working today –  answers a few questions about the nature of her program and discusses the pressure students face preparing for a tremendously competitive job market.

Cecelia Hedin_Cassia The_Nadia Izazi

GDUSA:  How do you think graphic design is currently changing and where do you see it going in the next 5 years?

SCOTT:  There is obviously great emphasis being put on interactivity, mobile devices, exchange networks and motion as a part of graphic design. We have found that user experience studios want good graphic designers who know and fully understand how to incorporate UX and UI into their work. This requires great emphasis on how humans interact with websites and apps, the equivalent of “knowing” your audience and caring about their experience. However, the enduring aspects of graphic design are branding and packaging. Regardless, whether delivered through an app or through printed materials, branding strategies and positioning are huge within the domain of graphic design. Plus, we have some of the most leading-edge packaging designers teaching our students and our packaging design work is consistently shown on The Dieline, and won the best student work of last year. (A piece from the winning project, the rebrand of an OTC health and home product line, by students Cecelia Hedin, Cassia The and Nadia Izaz, is shown above.) The students have to be ready to work in any platform that’s necessary. We are training students to be media agnostics. It may be designing a website, a package or a book, building a brand — in other words using any platform to solve the problem at hand.

GDUSA:  What are some key aspects of graphic design your program teaches to meet those future needs?

SCOTT:  We have maintained a very malleable curriculum that adapts to a changing industry landscape, while at the same time teaching the bedrock skills. The design principles that are taught within the program are the same for packaging or UX, naturally, there are many different ways of applying those principles.

GDUSA:  The job market can be tough these days. How do you advise students to best prepare for the rigors and realities of a career in graphic design?

SCOTT:  One of the best aspects about our program is that we take the responsibility for preparing our students to enter the job market. They create a portfolio, a website and communication packages that are thoroughly integrated with all the marketing materials that they would need to secure a job.  This is all done under the supervision of design educators here at the Academy that prepares students to walk out the door with every single thing they will need (including coaching on their verbal skills) so they may approach anyone in the world for a graphic design position with a degree of confidence. We are an open-enrollment school. This means anyone has the opportunity to be welcomed into the program. The hard part is staying in because the courses are rigorous, but the outcomes are very often spectacular.

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