Clients have always thought they knew as much about design as designers themselves. Most everyone thinks their design ideas and their sense of taste are equal to those whose talents and training make them more qualified. As you know, though, in the past, it was the technical aspects of the job that kept the amateurs at bay. Regular people didn’t have the tools, the computers, the software or the knowhow to do much of anything as far as bringing their (often terrible) ideas to life.
Today, though, everyone owns a computer and has learned to use it. Everyone has picked typefaces in MS Word and moved things from here to there. With only slightly more effort, those same people can make their own PowerPoint slides and use prebuilt templates to make things in MS Publisher. And all of them have, at one time or another, taken things down to the corner print shop to have something copied.
As far as these people know, we experienced and trained designer don’t do much more than that. We just use different, more expensive software. The fact that these people really still don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to technical expertise and, especially, design talent and ability, is lost on them.
Concurrent with all that, it somehow became cool to be a designer. Way too many people without the basic abilities enrolled in small for-profit design programs that began pumping out less-than-qualified graduates into a field where there just weren’t enough jobs to go around. They were hired by naive clients for increasingly lower wages as the laws of supply and demand kicked in and, well, it got us where we are today.
I think it requires a different viewpoint to make it in this field than it did a couple of decades ago. I think it’s still doable if it’s approached right. For example, if a designer also has great marketing and people skills and wants to set up his or her own company, it’s still doable. If a designer knows the right people and is very talented, it’s still possible to get work from larger, more savvy companies that appreciate and need original, high-quality work. If a designer wants to start out at $16 per hour at an agency or in-house situation and work one’s way up the ladder, a good living can still be made. It’s a lot harder than it once was, though.
Honestly, though, some of the online build-your-own-website sites are heading this whole thing in the direction print has gone — making it easy to create one’s own basic website with little technical knowledge. And also similar to print, the whole UI/UX thing is shifting from smalltime website design to the higher-end clients who need specialized sites with custom scripting and programming. Even so, the whole online thing is still a growth field for design (at least for now), whereas print really isn’t except in a few specialized digital print niches.