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6 common misconceptions about the design industry

[Image: Getty Images]

Designers all have neat beards and play ping pong a lot. Oh, and they’re all men, who – when they’re not playing ping pong – just sit around drawing all day, right? Hmm. Maybe not. There's a lot of misconceptions (some damaging, some plain daft) floating about the place, which can make entering the creative industry seem a little daunting. 

But don't be put off finding that dream design job. Here we explore and dispel some of the most common myths about the industry, and lay bare a couple of surprises too. 

01. It's all digital these days

“From the perspective of a graphic design educator, one of the biggest misconceptions my students have had about the design industry is that it's 100 per cent digital,” says Rob Walker, Wakefield College lecturer and owner of glass signwriting company Signs by Umberto. “It’s true that a great deal of design output is digital, however the path to getting the desired result can often be multidisciplinary.”

Rob Walker proving not all design is digital [Image: Rob Walker]

Rob Walker proving not all design is digital [Image: Rob Walker]

02. Hiring a top senior designer is best

A senior designer isn't always what's needed, says Hadrien Chatelet, designer and creative director of PR company The Wern: “A junior/middle-weight designer is always much more eager to push new ideas and try out different creative processes,” says Chatelet. “In a middle-to-large agency, a top senior designer is going to be too high up the food chain to be as creative as perhaps they once were. This is because the agency model means that with seniority comes team management, strategy and new business responsibilities taking you away from design on a day-to-day basis.”

There is also the risk of repetitive ideas and a fixed point-of-view at senior level, in Chatelet's opinion: “Too often clients respect the archaic hierarchy, but companies that champion youth boards of directors can help businesses keep fresh.”

03. You need a design degree

“I think most people assume designers all went and studied the same thing: 'design’, says Sally Bell, co-founder of strategic design consultancy b1 Creative. “But I don’t even know if there is such a thing as a ‘design’ degree. I studied visual communication and at b1 we have people who studied product design, illustration and photography. We also have some who didn't study at university at all but learned skills on the job, YouTube or online courses. 

"Equally I know many creatives who studied nothing close to 'design'. I once worked with someone with a PHD in forestry, so traditional qualifications are not as important as talent and skill.”

04. Design is all about aesthetics

"This is an extremely common misconception," says Steve O’Connor, design lead at Sigma. "Making things look great is only one aspect of design work. A client once said to me in a kickoff meeting for designing a mobile app, ‘Oh, you just make it look nice’. I laughed and then went on to describe my input to the process: understanding them; understanding their target markets; working with them to refine their aims; research; concepting; user flows; prototyping; user research; designs for build; user interface animation design; oh, and I make it look nice!”

05. The best design is conducted by a solo genius

Design is a team activity

Paul Jervis-Heath, Modern Human

Think the best design takes just one creative brain? "Nothing could be further from the truth," says Paul Jervis-Heath, co-founder of design practice and innovation consultancy Modern Human. “Design is a team activity. At Modern Human we put a lot of thought into creating teams with the right balance of acquired and inherent diversity so that we can create new products and services that make a meaningful difference to the world and our clients.” 

Johnny Rae-Evans, head of creative at Capgemini, agrees: “The truth is, most designers don’t work alone. They’re part of teams or communities. They seek insight and knowledge from those folks with subject-matter expertise. You want your designer to redesign a complex healthcare service? Yep, they shouldn’t be doing that alone. It’s hard work – it’s about process and it’s about collaboration.”

06. Creativity cannot be taught

"It's a common misconception that creativity cannot be taught," says Emily Benwell from the design and marketing Team at Liberty Marketing. "But people can go to school to learn to be creative. I held design workshops recently for the different teams at Liberty Marketing to get them to grips with basic design principles and our new mature branding; the feedback I’ve received since has been great. It’s the simple things, such as knowing about balance and white space that has made the most difference.”

So that's the common misconceptions covered, now for a couple of design industry insights you might not have heard...

01. Product design isn't just 'stuff'

“With the rise of service design, digital design, speculative design, etc, product design has become as broad as the mind can imagine,” says Lauren Davies, founder of multidisciplinary design studio HEKA. “Hence the Royal College of Art in London offering a course in Design Products, rather than Product Design. This opens the definition of the outcome being anything that is the product of a design process.”

02. Design is about managing relationships

“On a degree course you are often the sole ‘author’ of the work you produce and autonomy when it comes to making decisions is encouraged,” says Izabelle May, graphic designer and owner of May Creative. "This can be a surprising change when you enter the workplace," May continues. "The multiple stakeholder aspect of doing design work is one which is difficult to replicate in design education, even when answering briefs as a team, where you tend to work with your peers.” 

She adds: “Learning to navigate power balances, differing stakeholder views, achieving design sign-off and learning to present and make the case for design work with persuasion is a huge part of a designer’s skillset.”

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