The New Design

A few times a week, we get emails from students and young designers looking for an internship or full-time opportunities at the studio. We’re not quite ready in terms of needing outside help, so these are unsolicited inquiries. We don’t make any mention of not accepting them as we like to keep the conduit for dialogue open — and we do file away the more notable prospects for future reference.

Something I’ve noticed, and as an industry we all have, is the disconnect between “The New Design” and what’s currently being taught in schools. Interactive designers, also called UI, UX or visual designers, are in short supply. The young guns are emerging, but product-driven start-ups and companies are searching high and low for those who have experience.

The New Design is a multidisciplinary approach to design. This means the skill set a designer should have coming out of school (and should continue to fine-tune after graduation) is one that gives them a well-rounded understanding of how design is a multipronged route to a goal. A designer should no longer showcase a purely graphic design background, or print design or what schools are labeling “new media” design. Like the studios they’re applying to, designers should possess a similar set of tools in their toolbox. It would benefit a young designer to learn the basics of all three, thus developing a highly desirable and capable set of skills that allows them to think in many mediums.

The disconnect in schools is strong — many schools and colleges separate the tracks with little to no overlap. Students and young designers are left to learn on their own, postgraduation, what studios really are hammering away on and how the industry is shaping up. Alarmingly, portfolios are lacking web-related or screen-based design. Let’s say for a moment print design is on its way out — traditional mass magazines and publishing houses will shutter and move toward a screen-based medium. The current crop of designers coming out of school are ill-equipped to design for screens — especially screens that change as fast as they’re released.

We live in a time where the world changes overnight.

It’s no surprise the web industry will innovate and fill in the gaps where the schools fell short. If we as industry professionals have learned anything, it’s that the web is one of the few places left where invention is still alive and innovation happens daily. The rise of self-created conferences, workshops and gatherings, held by those who actually practice in the field and are captains of the industry, are perhaps better than what schools can and are able to do now.

Some stellar portfolios have come our way lately. Bodies of work that perk me up and get the brain ticking. Some beautiful print and graphic design pieces leading the pack — setting the tone for hope. That initial reaction fades, though, as I reach the end of the list, only to find one or two interactive projects (self-initiated, for clients or otherwise) essentially buried beneath the good stuff. Those pieces are glossed over, barely worth mentioning, something of an afterthought to the lovely print collection. What’s worse is that in some cases, interactive examples are conspicuously missing.

These portfolios are geared toward the typical path students tend to travel — from graduation to an advertising agency or a print publication or a more traditional graphic design shop.

It’s like they’re set up for failure in a world where The New Design is now ruling.

We do a lot of interactive work here, of course. It’s integral to the studio, so the portfolios young designers send in should reflect as such. Understandably, in some cases these are just form emails. And certainly, some have identified with a selection of the work we do, but perhaps they haven’t fully recognized that a more likely match will come from having a body of work aligning with our own.

It’s not just their fault or ours. Here’s what we both may be able to do.

For the students and young designers:

  1. Build a well-rounded portfolio illustrating a range of capabilities. Aptitudes you should highlight, if possible: user interface design, branding, graphic design and print design as a start. Everything else, from information architecture to user experience, can be icing on the cake. Establish a solid foundation first.

  2. Writing is good, preferred even. If you can write well (and especially if you can’t), it’s good practice to put your thoughts together to help the collaborative process or to explain concepts. It’s essential for storytelling too. All great things have great stories attached. Learn to tell them.

  3. If you’re missing one of those things, create self-initiated assignments on the side or do pro bono work as a “passion project.” If you’re going to design for free, do it for something or with people you can learn from and can get fired up about. Often these projects are more interesting anyway. The other client-driven stuff shows off your skill; passion projects underscore your personality and spirit.

  4. Learn about who you’d like to sweat for before you approach them. Flattery is nice, but why you’d be a suitable match will get you further. Demonstrate that you did some research about the prospective employer.

For the schools:

  1. You need more diverse tracks. You need to blur the line and distinction between the types of design. You need overlap. Many studios describe themselves as multidisciplinary; your school and your students should too. Don’t leave them crippled.

  2. Get new blood up in the schools — our industry is full of people who share their knowledge every day in blogs, print, seminars, lectures and presentations. They’re ready to shoulder the load, are you?

For us in the industry:

  1. Let’s be willing to take a chance and develop and nurture talent. Do you see potential? Let’s give them the conditions and environment to let these young designers bloom.

  2. More workshops, conferences and the like? I think so, yes. We’re doing a bang-up job already, and the number grows every year. We’re self-starters. We’re do-it-yourselfers. Let’s keep on keepin’ on.

This conversation is far from over. As The New Design has become everyday design — in our pockets, bags, homes, cafés, restaurants and everywhere we go — the very reason why we design will be changed and manipulated as the future becomes the past. This industry is no longer separate and disparate — no matter the form nor the medium, design is one hot, sticky mess, and we’re elbow-deep reveling in making it our own.

Everything old is new again. Rinse. Repeat.

Note: this article was written in 2012, republished on Medium, and posted here for posterity. The studio is no longer the 8 people it was back then, and is just me, myself, and I.