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Design in Tertiary Education: Graduates Unprepared for the 'Real World' of Marketing

Design in Tertiary Education: Graduates Unprepared for the ‘Real World’
June 18, 2017 Sarah

For a long time, the practice of Graphic Design has been perceived by the general public as ‘glorified art’ and not something you want your child to have a career in.

This ridiculous notion is finally starting to dissolve with the increase in the value placed on marketing in business, and the rise in recognition that everything we see that convinces us to consume (advertising) is designed (presumably by a designer).

Without Graphic Designers, the brands we all know, covet and love would not have the iconic logos that we recognise them by – and would not have any campaigns to convince us to consume them.

And while our world is changing (very gradually) to recognise the necessity and power of Graphic Design, one of the shortfalls that is leaving young designers struggling to keep up with the pace of the marketing industry, is the increase in design education’s priority on a concept known as ‘Design Futures’.

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Design Futures is a philosophy which is gaining some traction in the design world. It can be described as the recognition that the social and environmental disasters we are faced with as a society have largely been caused by design in the past (eg. consumerism promoting a waste culture; plastics design causing pollution; technology causing social issues etc.), and the practice of designing for sustainment. While this is accurate, the shortfall of these new-age design degrees is the fact that the rest of the world has not yet caught up to this way of thinking. In order to exact the social changes required to live a life of sustainment, the mindset, upbringing and cultural ways of every person on earth would have to change to those encapsulated in Design Futures philosophy.

Now, the argument of the Design Futures theorists is that by teaching these ways in a University design context, they are creating the revolutionaries who will bring this knowledge and practice into the world and instigate real change. The issue with this idea is that there is only so much room in the world for entrepreneurs, particularly in the combined industry of design and revolutionism. The simple fact is that those revolutionaries need a job when they emerge from their undergraduate degree with a piece of paper and a font of knowledge that won’t help them achieve that in the present world.

By taking up so much time in a Bachelor with Design Futures centred curriculum, graduate designers are finishing their degrees with next to no knowledge of the practice and elements of marketing strategy.

And the institution is not just denying them the practical skills of good designers, but also fostering an attitude of unwillingness to work in the field that employs them as it is seen as the enemy of the Design Futures movement. Are design schools robbing the world of good designers by devaluing the skills essential to a career in marketing, and prioritising skills that apply to a fantasy world that does not yet take root in reality? The reality is that marketing is where the work is for a Graphic Designer – using their skills to create artefacts which influence people’s decisions regarding the products or services they may wish to consume. It is for this reason that ‘good design’ is required – an outcome which many emerging graphic designers may struggle to fulfil, due to the focus on Design Futures above the practical application of design elements to market an idea.

There is still hope for Design Futures philosophy. However it does not lie in the hands of young designers trying to exact change from an entrepreneurial vantage point, but from graduate designers taking this knowledge into any context of employment, and allowing it to influence how they choose to create what they design. This will result in more gradual change that may have a chance of taking root in society, without scaring society off with fits of radical thinking.