What we did
We conducted an online survey of Australian design students to capture their mood, their opinions and, most of all, their responses to a series of questions about the way they communicate, how they rate their course, and their take on design itself – both now and into the future. The survey was open for one week. During that time we received 375 responses. From these we collected 44 pages of data and comments, which we painstakingly sifted through and crunched down into this article. The image above sums up the average student.
Where the responses came from
75% of students use Macs, while just a quarter are PC:
24% of designers are still using a ‘dumb phone’ – I’m guessing they are the same students still using a PC:
Their use of social networking
Almost everyone uses one or more forms of social networking. Facebook is king, followed by blogging and micro-blogging, i.e. twitter. Despite this trend, students were divided 50/50 when asked whether they thought technology will make traditional forms of communication redundant:
How they communicate
You could almost argue that Facebook is killing face-to-face communication, with 97% of students communicating via Facebook, compared with only 30% talking face-to-face. But perhaps they are communicating more, any way they can:
Their most important design consideration
1. It is usable
2. It is innovative
3. It is appropriate
4. It is beautiful
Their age at graduation
The youngest graduating age was 18 – the design equivalent of Doogie Howser – and the oldest was 59. As the graph shows, people are still being attracted to design at later stages in their life, with 115 graduating in their late 20s through to their 50s:
What inspired them to choose a design path
Who inspires them
Most students drew their inspiration from artists/illustrators (71) and graphic designers (52), while others were inspired by filmmakers (11), architects (9), musicians (8), industrial designers (7), photographers (6), philosophers (6), writers (4), fashion designers (4) and last, but not least, God (4).
Still others’ creative passions were fuelled by people as diverse as Greens leader Bob Brown, Fat Duck chef Heston Blumenthal and ex?Guantanomo Bay in-mate David Hicks.
No Australian made it to the top 5. Perhaps the latest crop of students can turn that around in the next 25 years.
Sixth on the list of people to inspire students were industrial designer Dieter Rams, graphic designer Paul Rand and artist Salvadore Dali.
Ranked 7th were four Sydneysiders: photographer Alexia Sinclair, and designers Mark Gowing, Christopher Doyle and Vince Frost (our favourite UK import). Ranked alongside them were Saul Bass, Jan Tschichold, Leonardo DaVinci, Tim Burton and Hoefler and Frere Jones.
Ken Cato, David Pidgeon and Jackson Mussett were the only Melbourne-based designers to be nominated – each receiving a single nomination. They were just as popular as Antonio Banderas and Lady Gaga.
The best thing about their course
1. Course content – 60%
2. Lecturers – 18%
3. Other students – 14%
The worst thing about their course
1. Cost – 33%
2. Workload – 26%
3. Facilities – 14%
Changes that they would like to see
Of the 104 suggestions we received, 37 were industry-related, with students wanting more industry experience through an internship year on graduation, or part-time internship throughout a course, and more contact with mentors and teachers with practical industry knowledge.
There were 17 suggestions for changes to course content, again much of it industry-related, including a compulsory intern semester, industry-relevant briefs, teaching different production methods, more training for core design skills such as typesetting and use of software, additional time to complete their course (i.e. a four year degree), less group projects and less workload overall.
Students were highly critical of the push for increased school enrolments, requesting smaller class sizes and stricter selection criteria for new students.
‘Make the course more difficult to get into.’
Having taught as a sessional lecture, I believe that making the selection criteria more stringent for both local and international students is pivotal to raising the standard of design graduates. To illustrate this, I recently had to explain what Pantone colours were to a third year student!
Lecturer response to a 3rd year student that does not know what a Pantone colour is…
Factors that will impact on design
What they’re worried about
Students were extremely worried about ‘not being original’, with 155 separate comments about their inability to come up with original ideas and designs, or to sustain a level of originality:
‘Most ideas are taken or done already.’
‘Its hard coming up with a new look for an already exhausted concept.’
‘Creating something new in a world full of diluted ideas and designs that you see everywhere.’
Sounds bleak? It is, especially if you are a prospective employer.
Their second major concern was not being able to find employment, despite 84% believing that their course had adequately prepared them for a career in design.
Students identified the environment and the impact of technology as other major concerns.
What they won’t be designing
We asked students what they won’t be designing in 25 years time. If their responses are correct, there won’t be any forms, annual reports, business cards, or new books.
While I can live without forms, I’m not sure too many businesses or government organisations could function without them. I’d like to think we’ll still be reading books, in one form or another.
How outside influences will change
We asked students to rank four major influences on design today and what they might be in 25 years time. The biggest change they saw was the environment overshadowing society as a major influence.
While it may seem obvious that design is driven by economics – clients who want 1. bums on seats, 2. products sold or 3. better public perception so that 1 and 2 can occur – students ranked the economy as having the least influence on design.
I’m not sure what students are on, but I want some! Students are wildly optimistic about graphic design and the benefits it can bring to their lives and the lives of everyone else around them. This unbridled enthusiasm is a fantastic thing for any employer – anyone hired with these übermensch qualities would surely provide an incredible morale boost for the studio.
My biggest worry is that schools are over-selling design (the bums on seats economic scenario), setting up students for a great big crash once they hit the workforce. It might be time for some plain packaging laws for design schools.
Design will make me rich
Research shows that design is not the easiest road to riches. According to the latest AGDA Industry Survey?1 40% of designers earn less than $50k, while just 5% earn more than $150k. As a graduate expect $40k. That will rise to an astronomical $70k for senior designers. In the uk 49% of design studios have an annual turnover of less than £50k?2.
I will be working in design 10 years from now
The reality of the situation is that 25-34 year olds make up 46% of the industry workforce and that by the time designers hit their mid 40s, this number is reduced to just 10.5% of the workforce.
Design will reduce the no. of useless products being added to our world
Um, isn’t industrialisation the reason we have piles of ‘things’ in the first place? According to Phillipe Starck (in his reality tv show – Design for Life), better designed products have greater longevity, and they are ‘sexy’.
Design will improve the economy
According to Design Victoria, the design sector contributes $7 billion to Victoria’s economy, and businesses that use design are more likely to show profit growth, as well as higher rates of profit growth.3
Design will be part of the average australian’s vernacular
When travelling overseas, particularly in Europe, one of the things that was a real eye-opener for me was how design is an integral part of society. It is expressed in the way people think, talk and live. They are positive and proud of their design heritage, rather than seeing it as ‘a wank’. I think Australian designers have a huge job ahead of them to make design a positive part of our vernacular.
Design will save the environment
If the trucks roaring past my parents’ house in Tasmania are anything to go by (1 every half hour) – loaded up with old growth Myrtles, King Billy Pine and ancient gums, en route to the woodchippers – design isn’t going to save the planet any time soon.
Design will flourish
Design can flourish, but it seems it can’t be BIG. According to the Design Institute of Australia?4 : ‘Small business pressures dominate the industry and the high levels of competition make it difficult to grow larger business structures.’ Their survey found there is an average of 3.1 people per design business.
Design will make communication between people better
This is what I keep telling my wife but she just won’t listen to me.
Design will improve our lives
We’ve been repeating this sentiment since we first worked out how to use a rock to club an animal over the head for dinner. Everything we do has a consequence – design is no exception.footnotes 1 AGDA Industry Survey (2010)
2 UK Design Industry Research (2010)
3 Five Years On: Victoria’s Design Sector 2003-2008
4 DIA Industry Survey (2004): www.design.org.au/index.cfm?article=112&id=102 END!