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Working as an artist is no longer what it used to be. Today's graduates working in the arts industry are more likely to be designing, painting or selling an idea that belongs to someone else. Art means big business in the current marketplace, which extends to a typical design graduate career. Art and antiques include: paintings, sculptures, works on paper, other fine art, furniture, and other disciplines and collectables. The main outlets for these products are: auctions, galleries, specialist fairs, shops, warehouses, department stores and, more recently, the Internet. There is also a considerable ancillary industry that supports the arts market.

In the world around you everything has been 'designed' because someone made a decision, conscious or otherwise, on the way it would look. However, design is about more than appearance. Good design is concerned with function. Things that work well have been designed to work well. When you consider design as a career option, you may think about fashion, interior design and graphic design. Design affects every aspect of our lives; products from cars to chairs and from lamps to laptops, all have to be designed, as do shops, homes, schools, hospitals and offices.

Design can be challenging and stimulating. It is an integral part of any successful business and is one of the UK's biggest export earners. It involves a lot of hard work, but enormously varied and rewarding.

Product design concerns the complete activity of designing artefacts - motor cars, photocopiers, furniture, mobile phones and so on. Its range covers household goods and items to specialised equipment for science, industry and commerce. Packaging design is a related discipline where you could be designing packs and containers for different products including food and drink.

You could find work in industrial or product design companies which often have a specialism such as medical, telecommunications, electronics, transport or consumer goods. Individual product designers work in-house for manufacturing or service companies or in design consultancies working on a range of client projects.

Although more and more organisations are recognising the importance of good design, Britain has the largest number of graphic design higher education courses in Europe and this means that entry to the profession is competitive. However, there are more openings in graphic design than in any other area of design - in advertising agencies, design studios, in-house company departments and consultancies as well as in the freelance sector.

Average Design Graduate Salary

Design Graduate Career Path

Generally people involved in art and design use a creative talent to produce pieces of work. This might be anything from a theatre backdrop to a design for a page of a book; from an item of jewellery to a stained glass window, from a colour scheme for a room to a company website - the list is endless.

The following are the main categories in which artists and designers can specialise:

Graphic design, which can include these areas of employment:

  • Publishing and printing
  • Advertising
  • Digital media

3D design, which can include these areas of specialisation:

  • Ceramics
  • Fashion and textiles
  • Furniture design
  • Industrial/product design
  • Model-making
  • Jewellery/metal work
  • Theatre/set design
  • Fine art
  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Printmaking
  • Film, television and photography

There are many other jobs you can do with art and design training. Museum, exhibition, gallery and auction house work are possibilities. With additional training you could teach art, work in community arts or become an arts therapist. Art conservationists, dealers and auctioneers need specialist knowledge as well as wide understanding of the art world. There are lots of careers and jobs associated with the fashion and textile industries outside of actual design. These include buying and merchandising, sales, marketing, PR, journalism, garment technology and product development.

If working for a museum, art gallery or theatre sounds appealing then you need to be dedicated, well qualified and persistent. Within the arts sector a common entry level role is as an arts administrator, which encompasses publicity, box office work, finance, basic admin and photocopying. Within this role you could work in a small arts centre or theatre where you may be needed to turn your hand to anything. Or as an arts administrator you could be employed by a number of smaller arts organisations where responsibilities are divided among staff.

Museum work for graduates is split between a jack-of-all-trades work and specialisation in the largest organisations. A typical entry level role is a museum or gallery exhibitions officer who organises exhibitions and events as well as possibly undertaking other admin duties. An officer might also have to research possible exhibits, arrange their loan, organise their transport and oversee their installation. Working on funding, publicity and catalogues could also be entailed.

Large museums will have a number of specialist roles, which more than in arts centres and theatres, require specialist qualifications, such as education officer, curator, conservator and designer. Specialist knowledge is required more within the field of museum work, than within the arts management sector.
The arts and crafts field is very varied. It includes ceramics, textiles, jewellery, wood and glass work, gold and silversmithing, puppets, toys, small-scale furniture making, textiles and leather work. Prospects range from selling work at local markets and fairs through to commanding huge fees for one-off commissions.

There is no clear and well-trodden career path. A number of graduates run their own workshops and produce work to their own designs. Alternatively, you could be employed by a large manufacturing company to produce prototype models, or you could work with other craftspeople offering a range of services. There are also jobs in highly specialised conservation and restoration areas, animation, film and fashion.

Many artists and designers wish to enhance or consolidate existing skills in order to open up new areas of expertise or to produce better quality work within their own specialisation. Further study provides the opportunity to experiment, diversify or obtain the specialist knowledge required, and is a good way of developing your career. The average employer is unlikely to provide formal training for a new recruit; they would already assume the basic skills in most areas. However, informal training helps with understanding procedures and company policies and therefore can be expected. On entering a company you might have someone supervising you, but most companies do not have large enough departments to have specific mentors.

You can find single-day and short courses available to pick up information on specific areas within the industry. Most companies also organise lectures or talks, covering such issues as new technologies, contemporary issues, new ideas or theories. These tend to be at lunch or evening events as part of a programme of continual professional development.

How well you do in your career will depend on the route you take and how you manage your other skills. For artists it can be a slow, hard process becoming established and there will always be competition.
With design training there are more job opportunities and areas in which to specialise. A big area that will continue to need more professionals is in computer technologies; from multimedia resources to website design to digital technology. Good computing skills alongside good training and experience in traditional methods and equipment will enhance your prospects enormously.

The idea of working for yourself, as many people in the arts and design sector do, sounds great but setting up a workshop or studio to run as a business is far from easy and needs financial resources. And working in isolation at home doesn't suit everyone. Setting up alone means entering the world of contracts, tax returns, accountancy and tenancy agreements.

Those with a regular job will receive a set salary which they can count on, but graduates who work independently and/or on a commission basis simply have to rely on what work they can get, and many artists have another job which may not be art-related in order to pay their way.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into Design graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for Design by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

Talent is seldom enough when it comes to a design graduate career. Those who succeed in the creative industries or make a name for themselves as an artists have usually undertaken some form of further or higher education. For people with drive and creative minds, there are great rewards on offer in the art and design sectors. Though graduates have found difficulty in the past getting a foothold in the industry, an increase in relevant degree courses offered by colleges and universities means that, with some work experience, jobs have become much more accessible.

In what is a very competitive area, a degree is an important asset to have. A relevant degree and contacts can be helpful to secure a graduate position.

People who work in industrial and product design like challenges. They like to create solutions to problems. They like to invent new ways of doing things. Careers in this area vary greatly and can involve highly technical, technological or craft-based skills - often in combination.

While arts and humanities is a relevant degree for product design, a degree in an engineering discipline with design content is sometimes more acceptable. BA degrees are usually more art and design focused whereas BSc degrees are more technical and, therefore, better suited to industrial design. The following degree subjects in particular can be useful:

  • spatial design
  • 3D design
  • product design
  • industrial design

Courses that include a relevant industrial placement or those with significant design content are also particularly useful.

Graphic designers will normally have a degree in fine art or graphic design and may require a year's relevant experience. Other relevant degree subjects are those that involve visual arts. In particular, the following subjects are relevant:

  • illustration
  • 3D design
  • visual art
  • photography
  • film/television
  • communication design

At its heart graphic design is about drawing and presentation skills and about the ability to handle colours, lettering and patterns. Now, because of new technology, it's about a high degree of computer literacy and even mathematical skills.

Although the fashion and textile industry is often perceived as a glamorous sector to work in, it's a highly competitive area to get started in. While you can launch yourself into the profession with any degree, a fashion or textiles degree would be favoured, and graduates from other disciplines would be helped by postgraduate qualification, such as an MA in fashion/textile design. Specialist MA courses for specific areas can be helpful in gaining related employment. Graduates from courses that are not fashion/textile related would need to gain experience in the industry.

Pre-entry experience is highly desirable, as experience of any kind in a design studio can only enhance job prospects. Retail experience can also be useful. Many new designers gain experience abroad. Potential candidates will need to show some evidence of the following:

  • creative flair, including an eye for colour and a feel for fabrics
  • practical skills, including pattern cutting
  • commercial awareness and business orientation
  • self-promotion, networking
  • communication, including presentation skills
  • negotiation skills
  • self-confidence
  • time management

The ultimate career in terms of fashion design is to set up and run your own label - not surprisingly this is difficult and very few reach the heights of people like Vivienne Westwood or Paul Smith. Jobs working for a designer label are also very sought after. It's really worth developing skills that are in short supply to take you into the industry such as pattern cutting, textile technology, production management and studio management.

For museum, art gallery or exhibition work entry is with any degree, however, relevant degree subjects include arts and humanities, physical/mathematical/applied science, life and medical science. The following subjects may increase your chances:

  • art conservation;
  • chemistry; 
  • archaeology;
  • biology;
  • archive and museum studies;
  • materials science/technology; 
  • fine art/visual art;
  • metallurgy;
  • history of art;
  • textile technology;
  • ceramics and glass;
  • biochemistry.

To work in an ideas-lead industry you will need to be analytical, confident, creative, innovative, organised, reliable, resilient and a good team player. However, whatever direction you choose to go, you should show enthusiasm, belief in your own ability and build up an impressive portfolio to show prospective employers.

Sources for Further Information

The Textile Institute
The Design Council
Museums Association
Cultural Heritage National Training Organisation
Crafts Council
The Chartered Society of Designers