why it’s harder now than then,
and a freebie.

In the next month or so, in Australia, there will be approximately 2000 graphic designers graduating into around 100 jobs. You don’t need to be good at math to know that’s not going to work. But before you despair, realise that some graduates will be gobsmackingly good. They could make a huge impact to your business – you just have to find the right one.

But how…

A member of my family has just finished her PHD. Her next step in the career ladder is to return to the university where she studied to work FOR FREE, to prove her worth until a position becomes available.

When one of our leading universities (arguably Australia’s leading university in her field) encourages unpaid internships, what hope do we have of eradication? They must know that it’s wrong but if she doesn’t do it, someone else will and university teaching positions are now like hens teeth. Which leads me to…

It’s harder now than then.

I understand that professions evolve, change and progress as they mature but honestly, has any other professional changed as much as graphic design? I graduated at the same time the first Macintosh rolled off the conveyor belt. More computers and loads of technology later, I can honestly say it was easier being a designer then than now. Here’s why….

  1. I could build a business doing small jobs for small businesses.   When I started my studio in 1984, I could build a business designing small projects for (what we now call) start-ups. Most were within 10K of where I lived. The projects were small in budget but large in creative. I learnt heaps. The world was my oyster. Anything was possible. Now those same start-ups use faceless crowd-sourced design and no one learns nothing except how to under value their time.
  2. Laser printers didn’t squash stuff.   When I graduated I could embellish design in more ways than one. A letterhead design could be embossed, debossed, flocked, diecut, vercoed or forme cut. (And they are just the ones I remember.) All these embellishments added sizzle to what could be a very simple design. Now the very simple design needs to be imported into Microsoft word and viewed on an (uncalibrated) computer monitor after which it is printed on an inhouse (needs toner) laser printer. If it’s printed at all. It’s no wonder it’s hard to meet client’s expectations. Which leads to…
  3. Clients weren’t exposed to design.   I built a library of design books throughout my career. Having a great library gave me a marketable edge. I knew stuff and I saw stuff that others didn’t. In fact I bought the start of my library from a retiring designer. I own an unbroken collection Graphis books dating from the 1960’s. I would pour over these books to learn how great designers developed great ideas. No need for libraries now, it’s all online for designers but more importantly, for clients, to see. Often a client has a design they’ve seen that they would like copied, which leads to…
  4. Clients know stuff and they can do stuff   I’m a great believer in collaboration. It’s years since I’ve done a ‘ta-da’ presentation. I like to work alongside clients to solve design problems. To share ideas along the way, suggest directions, and now it seems, share files. Some of my clients have taken short courses using the Adobe suite, others have done Marketing degrees where they don’t learn strategy they learn Indesign and yet others have competent, creative inhouse design departments. No longer do I have the upper edge. Clients can do stuff, sometimes they can do stuff I can’t. And if they can’t they know that it can be done.

Back to interns.

All this demonstrates graduates have it harder now than I had – even if I left university in the middle of the recession we had to have.

What are we doing about it?

Two things.

Firstly, we’ve written a book to help studio’s manage design interns or work experience students.

Yes, there are limited jobs available, but we can all open our studios and invite graduates to experience a design career, even for a limited time.

Exposing grads to the business of design will demonstrate the value of a true hourly rate, and the more they know, the more it will lift the industry.

To help start the process, we’re offering a copy of our work experience Buddy book for free. It outlines activities and information to keep a work experience graduate busy so you can get onto running a studio. They’ll be there observing and willing to help when you need them, but when you don’t they’ll be busy in the background. Email me and I’ll send you a free copy.

The second thing we’re doing is to write a post grad course (without the certificate or hat or gown) to train design graduates to be design managers.

The Design studio management program.

Design graduates may not get a job as a designer, but we’ve identified that many design studios would benefit from having a trained, design manager as part of their team.

Management isn’t taught within design courses and managing creatives and a creative studio needs a different skills set than is taught at management schools. We think this program will open up a new career path that builds on design skills.

Take home point.

Professional development. Learning new stuff. It’s the only way to keep up. Everyone. Everyday.


So, that’s what we’re doing. Love to hear what you are doing.


Carol Mackay

Carol is the founder and creative director of Mackay Branson, a design studio currently celebrating 33 years in business. Her expertise is in the use of design to make the complex simple: package complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information that are easy to understand and digest.

She does that with clients in the corporate, cultural, government and not-for-profit sectors. Connect in LinkedIn, or read more at

Currently Carol is co-writing a new program for the The Design Business School to help design studio managers develop skills to fast track their career path.

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