my name is Carlos Campo, I am 27 years old and I am interested in studying Graphic Design in Spain, still deciding if I do Higher Vocational Training, or the University Degree.
I have some doubts, if you would be so kind as to give me your opinion:
. I am somewhat concerned with the amount of jobs there are as a Graphic Designer in Spain, and Europe, is it a profession witha few jobs, or does it have enough professional opportunities?
I am willing to become a UX / UI Designer, but I am also very interested in a more artistic and creative branch (posters, album covers, branding with interesting brands).
. To those who dedicate yourself to it, what experience have you had with freelancing, and what professional experiences with larger or smaller companies or agencies?
. Finally, what is your opinion on the escalation of the use of Artificial Intelligence in this area? Do you think it is a profession that in the future may be affected by these technologies?
Thank you in advance for your time, and have a good week!
I’m sorry for the long answer, but you’ve asked some big questions. I live in the US, but I suspect the situation in Spain and the rest of the EU is similar.
Much depends on the school curriculum, philosophy, and instructors. However, as a general rule vocational schools teach students how to use tools to accomplish tasks. Universities provide a broader education in many subjects. Even with a design major, the learning will focus more on learning to see and think like a designer and less on how to use the tools.
If you want to learn the practical skills needed to get a production-oriented job in the design or printing industry, vocational education will provide you with the basic skills needed for those kinds of jobs and similar jobs in related fields. If you want to learn how to think through design problems and solve them, a university education is probably more appropriate. If you want to work in an agency environment (in-house or otherwise), a university degree has become nearly essential (the competition is very steep).
Also keep in mind that graphic design is and always has been a rapidly evolving field where production tools and skills completely change over the course of 5–10 years. What you learn in a vocational school will be partially obsolete within months if you don’t continually keep up with the changes. Of course, the necessity of keeping up with technology is also true for university design program graduates, but skills related to problem-solving and thinking like a designer, don’t change that much from one decade to the next.
Which educational path to choose probably depends on your situation and what type of work you’re ultimately hoping to find.
The field is saturated with new designers (it’s become a cool field to enter for some reason). There’s also lots of competition from developing countries (mostly low-paying crowdsourcing work over the Internet). This competition doesn’t affect the middle and higher ends of the profession as much, but there’s a knock-on effect that drags down salaries and opportunities for the entire profession. No matter how you look at it, the competition is steep and the beginning salaries are quite low.
I suspect those with vocational skills looking for production work will locate that work easier than those depending on their design skills to make a full-time living from designing things.
I’ve been a designer for around 40 years. I loved it and made a good living from it (after the first few years anyway). Most haven’t been as lucky. In my undergraduate university design program 40 years ago, around 50 students started. Only five of us graduated. Today, as far as I know, only two of us are still working in the field. Success today is even more difficult.
Again, separating design production work from design work, every designer wants to design posters and album covers. For the moment, in 2023 and for the next few years, you’ll likely have more and better-paid options sticking to UI/UX. How that will change between now and then is open to debate, which leads directly to your next question.
AI is poised to revolutionize every aspect of graphic design, but I think it’s too early to say exactly what will emerge. Then again, I think AI will affect most professions. Manual labor sounds immune. I can’t see it replacing farmers, carpenters, landscapers, etc. For those of us working in office/studio environments, I think we can all plan on having the rugs ripped out from under us. Some will survive and thrive in whatever comes next, but many won’t.
I’m just going to point out that every Voc Ed student we have hired has more practical knowledge and knows how to think things through far better than the right-out-of-school college degree student. The tech schools here teach design by making the students work in the print end (most of the schools have a small print shop) for at least one year before starting to teach them the design end of the business. That early skill is invaluable. While it isn’t the industry norm, I’d rather a tech student than a college student. But I’m also in a weird corner of this industry.
Posters are usually part and parcel with much larger projects. Album covers? Unless you are talking about the indie market, there’s very little chance unless you work for an agency that handles art for major labels, and even then, a newbie? Not a chance. Plum projects get snapped up by the pros with more experience. And the indie market doesn’t pay all that well. Branding with interesting brands? Every beginner designer thinks branding is making logos. There’s far more involved. And again, unless you are just doing little jobs here and there for mom&pop retail, you would have to work for a major agency to work with ‘interesting’ brands.
You mention ‘creative’
Graphic Design requires being creative, but it also requires being able to bend your creativity to fit into another mold other than your own. It’s all about the client’s bottom line and reeling in their customers, not about your creativity. Too many design students find that out too late.
Like B, I went to design school many moons ago. Far more of my class graduated (because that was the early beginnings of participation trophies.) Of the 50+ students in my graduating class, only 2 of us went on into design, and both of us are in production. The alumni page of my college seems to suggest that ‘Bank Teller’ was the most common career shift for others in my class. Go figure. Most designers can’t do math to save their lives.
Just to clarify what I meant in my extra-long post. In most university design programs, students are taught to think like designers, which is usually more conceptual than practical. A vocational school tends to focus more on the practical side than the conceptual. Both require significant thinking skills but of a slightly different sort.
Universities often shortchange their students by not giving them more of an education in the practical aspects of the profession. I went through four years of university design classes and two years of graduate design studies and never once took any kind of production or software class — they weren’t even offered. Everything I learned about those skills (that would have been covered in a vocational program), I learned on my own or through experience. From my perspective, this is a shortcoming of many university programs, but not all university design programs are as conceptually focused as mine were.
Some of the best, most well-rounded designers I’ve met spent two years at a technical or vocational school studying the nuts and bolts of the production end of the profession before enrolling in university design programs to focus more on the conceptual side. If one can afford it and has the time, doing that covers the best of both worlds.
Just as important as any of that, however, if one’s goal is to work in an agency studio setting (in-house or otherwise), a 2-year vocational degree or certificate will leave you at a disadvantage because those places are increasingly looking for designers with university degrees. For those preferring to get their hands dirty in the nuts and bolts world of production and printing, a vocational education might put one in a better position with more practical, hands-on skills. Both are equally valid; it just depends on one’s goals, interests, and job preferences.
In addition, I wouldn’t discount the general education benefits of a university. History, geography, literature, writing, mathematics, etc., might not be directly related to graphic design, but a well-rounded graphic designer is interested in more than graphic design, and that general knowledge plays a key role in developing one’s creativity and frame of reference.
It’s actually still kind of rare to see the tech-education to college-graduate designer.
Tech education or Vocational education has the stigma of “that’s where the students go who aren’t ‘college material’.” It’s been changing. Slowly. But that’s also why there is a dirth of tradesmen and women out there. For a long time it’s been a push to college.
But B is right, without that degree, in the US you would likely not be considered for a design position. In the printing trades, definitely you would be considered, but not at an agency.