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Five Key Things Design Graduates Should Know Post-COVID

by Rudy Sanchez on 08/25/2021 | 5 Minute Read

Graduating from school and embarking on the beginning of one’s design career is already fraught with enormous trepidation, not to mention the very real panic that is student loans. But like so many other things, COVID-19 has made the process of entering the workforce as a newly minted grad much different than in years before. It's no longer just about cleaning up your portfolio and finding a smart outfit for your interview, as you need to familiarize yourself with the industry and how creatives work in the here and now.

Adjusting to changes to a world you’ve yet to enter can be daunting. But according to Andreas Markdalen, global chief creative officer for global design agency frog, the first thing for graduating designers entering the workforce to know is that the industry is full of opportunities right now.

Design is in High Demand

According to a recent report from research firm Forrester, the design industry is valued at $162 billion and growing. They also noted that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics revised its pre-pandemic outlook for design-related fields such as “digital interface designers,” doubling its 10-year growth projection. The need to redesign this unexpected world and future that emerged post-COVID drives much of the increased demand for design professionals.

That means there’s no shortage of work, whether you’re looking to live the freelance life, work in-house, or at an up-and-coming studio.

 The World is in a Dynamic State of Flux

Brands big and small have made changes across the board, from their operations and visual identity to adapting their business models to the COVID pandemic. “We have new types of problems to solve,” Andreas says. ”There are new types of clients out there. They're asking us new things. And just being able to capture the momentum, I think, is the first key thing.”

Making such shifts quickly, with rebrands, a change in distribution, or the repositioning of existing products, requires an embracing of these dynamic and exciting times. So you have to be adaptable to whatever the design world throws at you, especially with so many new and unfamiliar challenges.

“It's about bracing yourself for continuous change, being open, and having that ability to encompass some ambiguity as you get started in your career," he says. "There's going to be some real excitement that comes with that, and sometimes a little bit of discomfort. We don't know what the way we work will look like exactly. I think just navigating that is going to be key,” Markdalen notes.

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Managing Your Time is More Than Just Tracking Deadlines

Effective time management is something new grads hear about ad nauseum, and usually, that advice focuses on things like being punctual and staying on top of deadlines. But it also means using your time efficiently.

“Managing time and being intentional with time is going to be extremely important right now," he says. "So just having a crisp approach to that, and thinking about how you want to design your week, that is really critical,” Andreas explains. That includes time spent not just on projects but personal and professional growth, striking a balance between both work and personal lives. That is particularly important now that we're often working with our homes, blurring an ever-increasing line when it comes to work-life balance.

Always Keep Learning

Related to embracing change is constant learning, but not just honing your skills and craft (though you'll want to do that, too). You'll also need to be prepared to redefine the designer role itself as the space experiences growth and change as projects will demand newer sets of skills and wearing multiple hats.

“Being loose in your definitions of design and picking up and learning new things is going to be extremely important,” Andreas says. As the design industry grows, the role of designers and expectations will grow and change as well.

The need for social distancing, for example, has accelerated the race towards the metaverse, digital and virtual overlays over the real world. Such meta spaces will require custom interfaces with unique design requirements that blend and rely on multiple technologies and media, and designers will want to understand and leverage them as they continue to evolve.

Staying up-to-date on core competencies while learning new ones and knowing how technology is transforming the creative arts has become intensely significant in this post-COVID climate.

Communications is Key

The final bit of advice for post-COVID graduates might not be something young designers want to hear but remains good advice nonetheless—work and build your written and verbal communications skills. Even the prettiest projects that intoxicate the eyes will need their stories told effectively, and these days communication can happen in-person, over Slack, on Zoom, email, and, of course, social media.

“The keyword is storytelling, right? Being able to understand, learn and pick up what are the most efficient ways in which you can tell a story or communicate an idea in this new hybrid context of working from home and the studio, being able to adapt your storytelling and your presentation skills accordingly, is very meaningful,” Andreas says.

Writing, like design, is a skill that is improved over time by doing. "Tweet about your work! That's a low barrier entry point to start writing, and you can write threads on different topics,” Andreas offers as an example. “Capture the moments that excite you. Get into a constant mindset of writing and producing content. It's a great way to get started.” Another place designers can solidify their communication skills are their portfolios and projects. Revisiting your best work and clearly mapping them out with an easy-to-follow narrative will improve your storytelling skills.

As COVID wanes, the market for skilled designers is clear, and agencies like frog are scrambling to hire talent to meet client demand. Being adaptable and continually curious will only improve your chances of landing a gig.

"Whether it’s graphic design, behavioral science, or architecture, what we look for is a kind of human-centered or human-centric approach to design work," Andreas says. "If we see that a candidate comes in who might have an interesting approach or process, and we see that they have some chops in graphic design, we can then work with that candidate over time to bring them into user experience design or something else."

"It's all about having the mindset of always thinking bigger, always putting the user at the focus while having that core craft capability," he adds. "I think that's the recipe for success.”

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