Voxpop – What can be done about the high unemployment rate for graduate designers?

A new report shows that more than a third of art and design graduates have failed to find full-time employment, three years after leaving their courses. What do you think can be done to address this?

Simon Manchipp

‘While it’s easy to say that the good students get hired and the dregs stay in the cider, I think many students are being done a disservice at University. I gave a lecture at a leading college this year just prior to graduation. It was about “how to get a job in design”. I started by asking who, in the audience of 150, had sent out an enquiring email, letter or phone call asking for an internship. One person put their hand up. This is abso-flippin-madness. Attention must be paid to the creative opportunities surrounding pitching yourself rather than just your projects. An intern must work harder, be smarter and more inventive than the creative director. (Not hard in many traditional design practices). We give placements to, and jump at the chance of hiring, lateral, exciting and progressive thinkers straight from college. Great work works. However, as well as obsessing over typographic detailing, students need to put approaching prospective employers on the top of their list of creative opportunities. As do the tutors.’

Simon Manchipp, co-founder, Someone

Greg Quinton

‘It’s a horrible, human version of “supply and demand” out there… As colleges demand more student fees, course sizes enlarge, applicant quality standards have to drop. More then share even less tutorial time, so self-teaching and reliance on technology become the norm. Hey presto, what is being supplied to the industry? Luckily, great students will still make it, but too many average ones will too. So, until the financial climate changes, what practical changes could help improve the odds?

1. Replicate industry standards at college. Encourage students to get off the internet. Stop looking at the same blogs, stop soaking up the same influences and stop producing the same portfolio.

2. Collaborate. If colleges don’t have studios, find a space, any space that enables group working, it motivates and creates the culture of producing great ideas. (If that wasn’t the case, agencies like ours and our peers would have long abandoned our studios for cheaper remote working and Skype catch ups)

3. Love what you do. Passion will always push you to try harder and demand success.’

Greg Quinton, creative partner, The Partners

Rhiannon James

‘Some of your comments on this story are correct, the nature of the design business means that many graduates surveyed will be freelancers. The current economic situation means that even more design companies will turn to peripatetic workers to save costs and of course the shrinking of the economy has had an effect on the jobs market. However, more worrying in my opinion is the current tranche of government cuts. Over the next few years, the deficit in funding for creative courses in higher education is going to have an enormous impact on the quality of graduates coming out of university. The effect this will have on the creative economy hasn’t yet been assessed, but it will be huge. Industry needs to take up the shortfall if we’re to continue to produce quality graduates. Programmes like D&AD’s Graduate Academy, sponsored by HP, show that industry is waking up to the need to invest in education if the UK is to continue to be at the top of the creative ladder. We need to nurture the best talent – 76% of D&AD Student Award winners get a job or placement within three months of leaving university, but more needs to be done to protect the creative capital that is the lifeblood of our economy.’

Rhiannon James, director of education and professional development, D&AD

Piers Roberts

‘Many of our most resourceful graduates do not aim for full time employment but a mix of different projects, some self-initiated, some paid part-time employment. We still train huge numbers of art and design students without much advice on their career path options. Many industries still look at design and art as soft skills which they don’t know how to involve. Some kids are lost in space. Significant numbers are dyslexic, making it harder for them to be included in standard working environments.’

Piers Roberts, co-founder, Designers Block

Lizzie Mary Cullen

‘Putting more emphasis on marketing yourself professionally in the industry. It’s not just about being a creative, but also forging your business mindset. I did design at Goldsmiths, and this was covered extensively. It such a valuable part of being a designer and creative, and you need it to make it in this industry.’

Lizzie Mary Cullen, illustrator

Alan Clarke

‘I think the best way to go about raising these figures would possibly be to integrate a year in industry into courses. Having some commercial experience by the time you finish would make recent graduates a lot more attractive to possible employers. It can also be quite hard for students to get good career advice once they have left university or college in these areas. So it would also be great to see some more help from the art and design industry, perhaps by having online forums for students and graduates to ask for help from professionals about portfolio advice, getting work, career development and professional practice.’

Alan Clarke, graphic designer

Emily Campbell

‘Before design had a name, it was bound up in invention, manufacture, social reform and business enterprise – the spirit of what we now call the Industrial Revolution. But the 20th-century consultancy model got designers used to the idea that the client – a manufacturer or organisation or local authority or government department – frames the brief and bears the risk of production. Can we move design from a service mentality back to an enterprise mentality?’

Emily Campbell, director of design, Royal Society for Arts

Hide Comments (6)Show Comments (6)
  • John Whalvin November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I seem to remember this statement being made about lawyers back in the early 90’s. So many look to hubs like London yet with so many small agencies spread across the country competing for work its a harsh climate, and with what seems to be every man and his dog setting up as a web designer to make ends meet, not i may add a ‘Graphic Designer’ but those not from the industry looking for the services of the industry do not know the difference therefore its all getting watered down, seems to me that the education of future clients is where part of the issue resides so they get value and quality. From an education point of view, getting the right information at all levels from school to uni is important whether its the right magazines to read, feeds to subscribe too, industry news to watch, i left uni in 1997 and was 1 of only 3 that chose to do a placement, maybe this needs to be compulsory or if one cannot be found virtual placements within university just to open the eyes?

  • James Good November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am


    As an employer, I think your idea to integrate a year of work experience into design courses is excellent.

    This would help to generally raise standards, manage expectations and forge a stronger connection between education and industry. It would go some way to eradicating the no-job > no-experience > no-job vicious cycle.

    Despite the huge commitment this would take on the part of the agency, I think everyone would benefit… Sign me up!

    James Good
    Creative Director

    James Good

  • Ryan Carson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s certainly worth putting a mandatory year in industry inside the courses as a good introduction to the interview process and the working environment. A good placement year helps to gear your mind towards finding a job after the final year and helps to prepare you for the greater workload in the final year also.

  • Michael Stewart November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    While I wholeheartedly agree that some form of integrated work experience, internships and guidance in self marketing would benefit graduates seeking employment, I would like to see a breakdown of unemployment rates within individual arts disciplines. The generic phrase “art & design” is too broad to provide meaningful statistics. Traditionally, graduates in certain disciplines fare better than others in the employment market and we should be looking to provide remedial measures targeted towards those students who fall outwith these disciplines.

  • JG November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Stop fetishising print. Stop working at branding or advertising agencies. If you want a job you have to create value, and there’s very little value creation in the traditional role of graphic designers.

    Hint: make things.

  • miles November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Design jobs are over rated as sources of income. I’ve never been employed in my life, and i don’t think traditional employment is healthy for a creative mind.

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