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The industry as seen by top designers.

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How Designers Must Cope with a Changing Industry

Diversify, improve, and maintain standards.

by Michelle Temares (April 4, 2005)

(Note: Recently CLN has reported on the changes in design trends, particularly those attempting to attract a younger consumer to crafts, needlework, painting, etc. In light of those changes, we asked Michelle Temares, one of the industry's most successful and thoughtful designers, for advice on how designers can cope.)

You asked what I think it takes to survive today as a designer. From my experience, there are two keys: diversity and skill.

I have met designers, and particularly illustrators (my specialty), working in every category imaginable ranging from school text book illustration to vending machine art to illustration for McDonald's Happy Meals to private portrait work to more traditional categories such as advertising art and book illustration.

But all agree on the same principle: diversify or die. The days of saying "Well, I'm an advertising illustrator only" are over. Or in the case of the creative leisure industry, "I'm a needlework designer only."

Get work where you can, turn down bad paying assignments and assignments with bad terms, and supplement as needed. Those middle two points are key. If the job pays very little, why do you want it? If you need the money, it's better to go work at the local department store or eatery than to devalue your work and your own feelings of self worth.

In the 90s, I watched many illustrators sell work for very little or for unreasonable copyright arrangements because they were scared. The digital age and clip art was rampant and clients felt that good design was not worth paying much for. "Doesn't the computer do everything? Can't you just press a button and make it appear?" But the computer cannot create. It can only respond to human creativity. Smart clients have learned not to have their product lines corrupted and devalued by "me too" art. Design is truly a get-what-you-pay-for proposition.

On the flip side, designers cannot afford to be mediocre or unprofessional. Design and illustration have gotten more sophisticated and more competitive and will continue to do so. Work I sold ten years ago I would never be able to sell now. I am continually working on my skills including daily drawing practice, participation in a professional level critique group, and part-time pursuit of a Master's in Illustration.

I know that there are many out there who are as good as or better than I am, so I have to constantly strive to improve as well as seek ways to serve my clients more efficiently and effectively.

This really just covers the tip of the iceberg. I offer seminars on how to make it as a designer that are usually filled to capacity and participants walk away with both a new perspective and concrete tools for success.

Don't let fear of failure define who you are as a designer. Instead, seek out educational and professional opportunities that will teach you what you need to succeed and prosper. Find out who you are and build your career on that knowledge. The rest will follow. I promise.

(Note: To contact Michelle, email mitemares@aol.com. To read previous Designing Perspectives, click on the titles in the right-hand column.



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