Letter to Students: Art/Design Career Opportunities

by Gordon Drummond | December 13, 2010

Dear Students,

I’m Gordon Drummond, Chief Academic Officer at Sessions College® for Professional Design. This letter is the fourth in a series on issues for prospective students.

This week’s focus is the hot topic of art and design career opportunities. As the U.S. economy begins its long, slow climb out of recession, it’s natural for anyone researching college programs to ask: What are job prospects in my chosen industry? What are the salary trends and long-term prospects for career security?

First, the good news about the visual arts. According to the Federal Occupational Handbook for 2010-11 the market for professional graphic designers and artists is expected to expand in the teeth of tough economic times. Graphic design and artist jobs are expected to grow 7 to 13 percent over the next ten years through 2016. Though keen competition for jobs expected (there will many more graduates than positions), the total labor pool of more than half a million designer and artist positions nationally is expected to grow as fast as average. For graphic design jobs, designers with Web design and animation experience are predicted to have an edge.

What can a designer expect to earn? According to the Federal Occupational Handbook, median annual wages for graphic designers were $42,400 in May 2008, and senior designers/art directors could earn $60,000-$90,000. The AIGA/Aquent salary survey offers generally consistent but more granular salary information searchable by position. Salary expectations are always changing and you should take account of regional variation. At career site Indeed.com, for example, a “graphic design” or “Web design” by zipcode reveals not only a list of jobs in your area but also average regional salary. Doing this I found that the average salary for graphic designer in New York City was $75,000 compared to $47,000 in Kansas City. It’s a fun game to play if you are considering changing careers and relocating!

Long-term career prospects are a little harder to predict. AIGA, the U.S. professional association for design, compiles a quarterly design leaders’ “Confidence Index” that is currently pretty bullish about a design recovery: “Of surveyed design leaders, 57.9 percent estimated that the economy will be better six months from now; 36.8 percent expected it to be the same; and only 5.3 percent believed it would be worse.”

The one thing that seems sure is that there will be a demand for good design regardless of the technology or specific business sector. Visual identity and advertising design will be keys to business recovery. As new Web standards or graphic standards evolve on the Web or mobile devices, talented designers who can adapt to the technology will be in demand. The remorseless advance of computing power (summarized in Moore’s Law) will continually change what digital artists can do, but the fundamentals of art will stay the same—and remain the real challenge for anyone who wants to be a professional artist.

And what will the employers of the future be looking for? Probably the same things they are looking for now, in some new medium: a high-quality portfolio of work, a credential such as a degree or professional certificate, specific software or technology skills (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign or HTML, CSS, and so on), work experience, and business/communication skills. The importance of those factors will vary from position to position but in design, the quality of your work speaks for itself and should be any student or graduate’s first priority.

I hope that this letter was helpful identifying some questions for your art/design college search. If you’re interested in Sessions College, ask one of our knowledgeable admissions advisors about program options and check out our online career center for more information on creative jobs.


Gordon Drummond
Chief Academic Officer
Sessions College

Gordon Drummond is the President and Academic Director at Sessions College. He's passionate about education and the arts and likes to surround himself with more talented people.

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