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Profit Design: The Design Degree Assembly Line
By: Emory Brown
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Scene One: A young adult is sitting on the couch watching television and suddenly a commercial comes on. The announcer speaks, “Earn 45,000 dollars a year or more as a graphic designer.” Images of creativity fill the screen with great working conditions and perks. The young person becomes smitten and declares in that moment, “I’m going to live the good life. I’m going to become a designer.” This person enrolls in school and then comes the day of truth: a portfolio show in which this kid doesn’t realize he or she doesn’t have a chance of becoming a designer because their portfolio is just that bad. They’ve been manufactured to believe they’ve done their best because they’ve made it to graduation and have a body of work to show willing and waiting employers that will give them the $45,000 the commercial promised.

Is this a case of false advertising? Well, it could be considered so, but at the same time, if the instructor provided the necessary tools for a student to become a successful designer and the student didn’t follow through…it’s not the instructor's fault. Maybe the poor kid never had the chops to make it as a visual artist. So where do we draw the line between creating great design practitioners and lousy design practitioners?

We can draw a line with setting graduation standards. Are not-for-profit art schools setting the bar high enough? Are not-for-profit schools setting the bar high enough? In the last several years I’ve seen the books of many design students that were awesome and some that made me think to myself, “They let you out of school?" The latter is sad because these students normally become very disgruntled, frustrated, and finally hate the entire discipline because by the time they realize that they just blew $70,000 in students loans, they’re in front of a creative professional that is tearing their life’s work to shreds. They’re the product of mass assembly degrees in disciplines that are actually glamorous and exciting career options, which in reality aren’t just simply handed out to anyone that shows up to a company’s doorstep with a degree in their hands.

Creative Directors, Design Directors, and everyone else in the decision-making process are choosing the best of the best. We all know this to be true. It’s not an industry secret. It doesn’t happen like Jay-Z once said: “We’re a secret society. All we ask is trust. Within a week watch your wrist freeze up!” Kids are graduating with Rocafella dreams for design and it’s cool when you got the “Motts." But it’s not cool for the kids who aren’t truly artists and have been sold a pipe dream that’ll make it because they know enough Photoshop to lay an image on an eight and a half by eleven sheet of paper.  

However, I think we may be able to curve the learning curve by telling aspiring designers the truth. If you want to make it in the field, you want to be the best. Share a few words of wisdom and some tips on what it takes to become a real designer and not a degree holder who has been pushed down an assembly line without a clue how to succeed.


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About the Author
Emory Brown is an award-winning creative director/writer whose mission is to spread the gospel of what great marketers can do when they put their heads together and work together for the greater good and not the bottom line. Working with many esteemed clients, his portfolio of work ranges in genre from conservative to ultra-modern including American Family Insurance, United Airlines, Mazda 6 and RX-8, Illinois Lottery, Tyson, Miller Genuine Draft, Nike Air Force 1, and Mercedes Benz, to name a few.  
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