A young lady that attended my creative freelance designer workshop at the Art Institute of Phoenix recently asked, "What if I don't have any interest or knowledge of doing marketing for a company? I just don't get into writing content, creating tag lines and stuff like that … "
Hmm, the prognosis for her business doesn't look good – at least to me it doesn't. It'll be on life-support before too long. Like the African Elephant or the California Condor, traditional graphic designers are becoming extinct. Things weren't always like this but the design industry is changing because of technology; and many clients are finding they don't need traditional designers. This is pretty scary, but it's true – look at what's come on the scene within the last 5 years:
* Web site templates
* Easy to use graphic software packages
* Collateral material templates
* Stock photography
* Stock logos
* Global marketplace because of the Internet, the ability to work with freelancers all over the world (including developing countries)
There was once a time you could be a freelance designer if you had Photoshop and a working knowledge of how to use it, but technology's changed all of this. Adobe and other software manufacturers have made these once industry only software packages available to the public – and a lot of "the public" has caught on. Once on the elite could purchase and train to learn Photoshop, but I kid you not, I've seen middle school kids demonstrate that they have a basic understanding of how to use and get around in that program. If you're relying on your knowledge of design software to earn you a job or clients, this should scare the hell out of you.
Couple this with the explosion of template crap factories that crank out logos, web template and branding packages and you can start to see that what it took to be a freelancer 10 years ago isn't good enough anymore. If you're a creative freelancer you have to learn how to compete and add value in different areas. To make things worse, clients can now hire someone in India, Europe or South America to work on their project for virtually nothing, or they can just decide not to pay anyone and attempt to do it themselves. It's an ugly situation for sure; freelancers only have one of two options: change to meet the new needs of clients or starve.
The bottom line: if you want to be a traditional graphic designer that only focuses on being able creating cool imagery rather than getting your hands dirty with marketing, things are most likely going to be tough for you – especially if you're just starting out . If you're biggest selling point is that, "You have great designs", you're screwed.
I realize that's harsh, and I don't mean to paint such a bleak picture but I do owe it to you (readers and fellow colleagues) to be honest. Traditional graphic designers and web designers are disappearing – clients want more, and because of technology they can get it. And there aren't a lot of clients out there that are willing to pay top dollar for someone to create imagery without any benefits to their bottom line.
There will always be a place for designers in the business world, but make no mistake, the landscape is changing. Savvy designers have seen this already and they are already starting to move towards learning and being able to provide services that help their clients bring in business and make money. If through your design talents you have the ability to bring in customers and make a company money, they'll always be a place for you, if you're relying on your great eye for design to save you, it won. Take a tip from animals that have been on this planet for thousands of years: learn to adapt to survive.
Have you ever noticed that companies that are in financial trouble always cut personnel that do not directly bring in sales & revenue? If you're a designer without the ability to bring in customers and revenue you can expect to be one of the first cuts. That's a scary place to be.
Best of luck my friend and colleague.