I have loved design since I was a kid.
I would draw for the entirety of my childhood, a notebook under my arm would be a must at any event and people at school would recognize me for it. I would design flyers with environmental messages in them that I would then put up on the wall in front of my house when I was about 7, when I wasn’t handing them at the park, leading my group of schoolmates.
I absolutely loved flipping through expensive fashion magazines at stores only to contemplate the composition of the ads on them, the sheer perfection of their photography, typography and colours, I used to find them to be so beautiful. I would draw comic books with my best friend when I was a teenager and I embarrassingly illustrated one too many fanarts. When it was time to pick a career, I knew Graphic Design was the perfect combination of art and business, at least in my opinion back then.
I didn’t knew any designers, but I knew I wanted to become one. You see, in Mexico it’s hard to get into any sort of creative careers without the constant reminder of how little money you’ll make, a reminder sponsored by all your family members.
Back then, I thought, I don’t care. I will figure it out.
Things worked out, if only because I studied a diploma overseas and learned about the booming possibilities of Digital Design and the ways to fit my work into that world through User Interface and User Experience. I wanted to learn it all and it was a dream come true for me to work in the tech industry for a couple of years.
However, I would see the odd thing popping up here and there, about 99designs and other crowdsourced platforms. I didn’t pay much attention, because when you’re at a full time job, your position is (relatively) secured. You are part of a team that develops a brand, and as they grow, the expectation is that you’ll be there to help them expand their image. So it matters that their design team tags along with them.
The stark slap in the face about the place that the industry was in didn’t came until I started working for myself. Where I had been a valued asset of a team at a company, being a freelance graphic designer turned out to be a very challenging chapter. Not only small business owners thought that they could do it all themselves, this time around, they could actually get work done for a dollar. Platforms such as Upwork have requests to get a logo design for as low as $5. Even more, sites like Fiverr already have people offering the service at this price. Additionally, the design and development of websites had been massively taken over by sites such as Squarespace and Wix that allows anyone to move things around and build something, plenty of times the outcome is terrible, but it is something nonetheless.
When it came down to it, the shift had sneaked upon me while I was too busy creating designs for YouTube content creators at my day job.
The saddest part of it all to me is how hard it is for talented and well-experienced people to leave the corporate sphere and make money off their practice independently right now.
The commodification of graphic design is a problem that is way beyond a solution at this point. There will continue to be agencies and individuals with such a distinctive brand that they might still make sizeable amounts of money, but this industry and its opportunities are getting smaller and smaller by the hour.
How To Grieve
It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to be disappointed. It’s OK to cry every once in a while. It’s OK to go through all the waves of emotions involving very expensive student debt creeping on you.
However, and this is a however that depends greatly on how much you’re willing to evolve your practice, I think this might be teaching us a more important lesson on our ability to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the industry that we committed ourselves to.
While Graphic Design has been appropriated, there are new windows of opportunities opening up, in which our knowledge can converge to create something remarkable.
Technologies involving mixed realities (AR, VR) are on the rise and it will become more apparent as devices that allow for portable experiences find the sweet spot on price and look for mass consumer adoption.
These technologies are on their initial stages, which means they’re a blank canvas, with new rules and design ideas waiting to happen. Waiting for you to make them happen.
User Interface and User Experience design continue to be relevant players, but our skills need to expand. It is wise to learn as much as possible at this moment. Pick your own adventure. Whether it is web development, iOS development, Unity, ARKit, Social Media Marketing or even 3D Printing, there is a gap to be filled with your expertise. Don’t let it go to waste and get curious about the path we are headed to.
As long as people continue to have problems. there is an opportunity for design solutions to be incorporated and explored.
It’s just a matter of powering up with new skills and abilities. Just as logo design has gotten to an all-time lowest pricing, the same has happened with knowledge, and it’s being shared often for free. It’s worth looking for these hidden advantages in the chaos.
The last suggestion is, don’t grieve for too long, figure out where your strengths are and how to make them work at your advantage. Brainstorm and mind map your next steps. Think to yourself, and think big, what would your ideal job would look like in the next 5 years and work from there.
The death of graphic design is a design problem.
It’s on your hands to figure out how to thrive in the adversity using the power you already hold within yourself.