“So, what do you do?”. A question most of us tend to dread, not because we don’t want to answer the question, but because we know that there will be multiple follow up questions usually unrelated to our actual profession or questions which come from a place of ignorance. Especially with design being in or grouped with the fine arts, most follow up questions (whether direct or indirect), revolve around job security or our worth/value in society. As a designer, I find this very interesting because we are taught to see our worth and value as artists, designers, and creatives in society. We know the kind of jobs we can get after graduation based on the market, evolving technology, as well as our fellow alumni who have secured positions at huge tech companies.
The past and future have always relied on designers for almost everything; from advertising, furniture, and books, to websites and everything in between. Despite these arguments we can make about design being an essential part of our lives, we often feel like we are not as valuable as other professions and career paths, even after explaining these points to others. I still find myself having to emphasize that I don’t just “make posters all day for a living”. Even if I was doing that, why is this not seen as a valid or even a sought-after profession?
I grew up with a brother in electrical engineering. He was always asked more questions and had more conversations with others about his profession because people knew what kind of questions to ask and could see the value in the work he was doing. I found the opposite was true for me. People didn’t ask questions (unless they were ignorant ones) because they did not even know what questions to ask besides “what kind of job will you get with that?” or if I was even going to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. These are valid questions and I would always answer them without any hesitation, but it did make me feel like I was not seen as valuable simply because I was not in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program like my brother. Of course, there were exceptions to this, especially when talking to other creatives who knew more about the world of design, but these encounters were much more far and few between.
Not only do we as designers feel like we need to prove ourselves to our friends and family, but we need to educate employers and clients about our worth. I have heard countless stories from other designers about being told that they should only charge a certain amount for a logo or that they have just been taken advantage of by clients. There is a lot of gaslighting and manipulation involved with people who want to use us for our work and design skills, but do not want to give us reasonable compensation. For the sake of ourselves and fellow designers, it is our job to educate others about our work, creative process, and the value we provide. It is also important to recognize these red flags, know when to say no and turn down an offer if it is clear that they are not responding well to negotiations.
On the other hand, those who do not know much about design or know the ‘right’ questions to ask should remain curious and listen. Most designers are excited and more than willing to have a conversation about their work and what they have been up to, even if you can’t relate to it in any way.
We are designers, creatives, artists ∴ we are valuable.
Emily Malcolm is one of the graduates of the York/Sheridan Program in Design class of 2021. Catch Emily’s work showcased at the online graduate showcase on April 20–21. Visit ysdn2021.com for more details.