Getting Your Career Started In Design

Getting Your Career Started In Design

Overview of "Design" Professions

The title "designer" can apply to many different professions and many very different types of careers. Design professions range from very technical professions such as design engineers or architects, to very artistic such as fashion designers or graphics artists. This article will focus on the more artistically oriented careers for which career-oriented schools may play a large role in providing educational opportunities.

Even though the content of the design careers may vary significantly, they do have many things in common, including many of the following:

  • The need for specialized training beyond high school
  • A substantial creative and/or artistic component
  • A need to visualize, work with, and understand abstraction and/or 2-D/3-D relationships
  • An ability to understand color and color relationships
  • An ability to understand how individuals interact with, use, or view the things that they design
  • An ability to understand the interplay between form and function

Design Professions

Following are some of the more prevalent design professions. Education for these careers may be obtained from junior and 2-year colleges, career schools, and 4-year colleges and universities.

Fashion Designers

Fashion designers can design in one of three broad categories of fashion:

  • Clothing - Such as men's, women's, and children's apparel, which may include casual wear, formal wear, outerwear, sportswear, suits, maternity, and intimate apparel.
  • Shoes - Which includes different styles of shoes and boots.
  • Accessories - Items such as belts, eyewear, handbags, hosiery, hats, and scarves.

Individuals interested in a fashion design career typically obtain an Associate's or Bachelor's of fine arts in fashion design. These programs are offered at many colleges, universities, and art and design schools.

Graphic Designers / Graphic Artists

Graphic designers plan, analyze, and create visual communications solutions using many different type of media, such as: print, electronic, and film media. They employ a variety of methods including color, type, illustration, photography, animation, and different print and layout techniques. A graphic designer may develop the layout for things such as: magazines, newspapers, journals, corporate reports, marketing brochures, promotional displays, packaging, and signage. Many also design logos for products or businesses or develop material for web pages, interactive media, and multimedia projects.

To work in this field, individuals typically obtain certificates, associate's or bachelor's degrees in graphic design. Associates and Bachelor's degrees are usually preferred by employers. These credentials may be obtained from 2 or 3-year career schools (certificate and associate degree programs), junior colleges (associate degree programs), or 4-year colleges and universities (bachelor degree programs and beyond).

Interior Designers / Interior Decorators

Interior designers design interior spaces balancing function, safety, and aesthetics. They work with colors, textures, floor coverings, window treatments, furniture and lighting to create pleasing and functional interior spaces for almost any type of building.

Postsecondary education is highly desirable for individuals looking to enter the interior design field with a bachelor's degree being preferred. Training programs are available from professional design schools or colleges and universities. Design programs may last 2 to 3 years leading to a certificate or associate degree in interior design, or 4 years leading to a bachelor degree in interior design. Some form of formal design apprenticeship program may be included and is required for those who are seeking or required to pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) test and obtain a NCIDQ Certificate.

Video Game Designers

Video game design is a portion of the game design industry. When many people think of video game design, they think of programming video games. While video game programmer is one video game career that can be very fulfilling for the technologically inclined, programmers do not typically design video games. They implement the designs of somebody else. Others may also confuse video game graphics design with video game design. Graphics design is a very important component of game and video game design, but again, video game graphics artists bring to life the design of somebody else.

A video game designer is a game designer who designs games that will be implemented electronically. A game designer is an individual who comes up with the concept for a game and communicates that concept in great detail through written documents, charts, graphs, and sketches so that video game programmers and video game artists are able to implement the game designers concepts. Video game design can entail a lot of research and the game designer must go into great detail about levels, the user interface, ant the "intelligence" of the game.

Video games designers are typically well educated. Recommendations from individuals in the industry are to get a "well-rounded" education in a field that the student is passionate about (see: "Preparing for a career in game design", SLOPERAMA PRODUCTIONS). A bachelor's degree is typical. Video game design is also not a typical entry-level job. Video game designers typically enter the industry and gain experience in other aspects of the game industry. For this reason, a school that offers related internships may be a good route to take to help with future job prospects.

Most schools do not offer degrees in video game design. This does not mean that a degree from these schools is of no value to an individual looking to get into video game design. Remember the advice to get a "good", "well rounded" education as a requirement for getting into game design. Some career schools, however, do offer video game design degree programs.

When evaluating these schools remember to both evaluate specific courses and programs in game or video game design as well as the breadth of the education. Educational breadth in something that the student is passionate about is what provides both the background and inspiration for game designs.

Web Designers

Web designers, who may also be called Internet developers or web developers, create and maintain Internet web sites. The job has evolved over the years from one of posting content in HTML to one that requires command of many different technologies. Some of the more common technologies that a web designer may need to know include:

  • HTML
  • XML
  • Programming and/or scripting languages such as C, the Common Gateway Interface (CGI), Java, Java Script, Perl, and UNIX shell scripts
  • Knowledge of graphics applications and techniques
  • Knowledge of animation and/or multimedia applications

Art and graphic design skills may also be desirable for webmasters or web developers.

Specialized education beyond high school is necessary to become an web designer. Certificate or associate degree programs are often enough to obtain web design jobs. More advanced degrees are typically necessary for job advancement.

Educational Requirements for Design Professions

With a group of professions as varied as the many design professions, the educational requirements can vary significantly. All, however, have in common the need for specialized education beyond high school. While some schools may offer diploma or certificate programs for these careers, 2 or 4 year degrees are more desirable to increase an individual's job prospects. Following are is the "typical" education for these careers:

Fashion DesignerAssociate's or bachelor of fine arts in fashion design *
Graphic Designers / Graphic ArtistsAssociate's or bachelor's degree in graphic design
Web DesignersCertificate or associate degree in web design **
Video Game DesignersBachelor's degree

* According to the California Employment Development Department, there are some who feel that certificates or an Associate of Arts degree in fashion design from community colleges and vocational training schools provide better preparation than traditional 4-year programs because of a closer relationship with the garment industry.
** More advanced degrees in computer science and related majors may be required for more advanced positions.

Evaluating Schools for a Design Education

For a detailed description of a process for evaluating career-oriented schools for design education programs, see "Choosing A Career School". To summarize the process outlined in the article, when evaluating a career school for a design-oriented program of study, a prospective student should:

  • Evaluate themselves
  • Evaluate the design professions in which they are interested
  • Evaluate the educational institutions that provide design programs of study
  • Evaluate the specific design program of study

It is important when evaluating an educational institution and educational program to assess the accreditation status of both the institution and the program of study.


In the United States, accreditation is a process of peer review by non-governmental organizations to insure the quality of educational institutions and the programs that they offer (see: "Accreditation in the United States", U.S. Department of Education (USDE), for more information on accreditation). It is very important that an individual obtain a design education from a school that is accredited to maximize the acceptance of that education by prospective employers. It is also important to obtain an education from an educational institution that is accredited by an organization recognized by the USDE in order to be able to obtain Federal financial aid if needed (see: "Overview of Accreditation", U.S. Department of Education).

The following institutional accreditors are the most likely to provide accreditation for schools that offer design education programs:

Some "specialized" accrediting organizations may also accredit design programs or schools:

* The National Council for Interior Design Accreditation is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) but it is not recognized by the USDE.

It is important to check the status of an institutions accreditation. Two excellent resources to do this are:

Licensing and Certification Requirements for Design Careers

Most design careers do not have mandatory licensing or registration requirements. An exception to this rule is interior design. Currently (2008), 24 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico require registration or licensing of interior designers. The National Council for Interior Design Qualification administers the NCIDQ licensing exam for Interior Designers. There are significant education and experience requirements (6 years of education and experience, 2 years of postsecondary education) to be eligible to take the exam.

While the other design careers do not have required certification or licensing, some do have voluntary certification programs.

Certification for Web Designers

Many of the web design tools vendors offer certification for their design tools. In addition, there are several "general" web design certifications, including:

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