I recently got an email from two MICA students asking for advice about transitioning from student life to "real" life. They wanted to know what I had learned since graduating. This got me to thinking about just how much my perspective has shifted since being a graphic design student and what I would want to tell my past self.
For context, MICA is a fine art college in Baltimore that offers a degree in graphic design. I studied at MICA for four years and it afforded me the opportunity to work at traditional print design studios including Pentagram, Post Typography, and Oliver Munday Group. At these studios "interaction design" means applying the principles and concepts of print design to a digital format. A website or app is no different than a book, business card, or product package: it is just another vehicle for expressing a brand. Typography, aesthetics, and editorial pacing are the chief concerns while little attention is given to usability or the inherent properties of the medium.
I say this with love: MICA students and faculty worship at the alter of the printed page. We value tactile design. Our practice is rooted in fine arts. Technology is the enemy and a threat to our way of life. We lament the rapid decline of print and limited jobs at design studios, branding agencies, and letterpress shops.
We are chasing a reality that is rapidly fading. We are skating to where the puck has been.
There is a tectonic shift to digital and design is playing a huge role in this new world. While many new grads from schools like MICA are competing for a limited number of jobs in the graphic design space, there are literally more jobs than there are people to do them in the digital product design space (words uttered by one of the recruiters at Facebook). My generation is uniquely positioned to have a massive impact on the world. Many of the architects of the technology industry are under 30. At Facebook, for example, the product managers I work with are 25 and 21. The engineering team has an average age of 25. I'm 23. We present our work directly to Mark Zuckerberg who is 28. This is a company run by children.
Print, by comparison, is a very mature industry. It takes much longer to reach a similar level of impact. Most of the leaders in the industry have been working for 20 or more years. Think about Paula Scher, Michael Bierut, Jonathon Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Stefan Sagmeister, and the rest of the people art school designers look up to.
I'm not saying everyone should be an interactive designer. The world does (and will continue to) need many talented print designers, branding specialists, advertising agencies, and environmental designers. But there is a space that has began to emerge and it is providing significant opportunities for many people, especially young people. We are digital natives and there is nobody who understands this stuff better than we do. But also realize that this is an anomaly of our time. In 20 years, we will be the Paula Schers, Michael Bieruts, and Jonathon Hoeflers. Interaction design will be a mature industry and something else will come along to take its place.