Strategies & Insights

A New Breed of Young Designers May Reshape Many Expectations

Posted: September 15, 2009 by
Marianne R. Klimchuk

A fresh new group of designers have completed their academic studies and entered the workforce. As a design educator, I am privileged to have a close connection to a younger generation that enables me to directly observe how the changes in social and global mores, culture, and values impact the mindset of the young designer. Their time to move on is a good time for me to pause and take note of the differences and distinctions between each year's graduates.

Of course, the dynamics of the current global, techno-centric world have had the greatest impact on this new workforce in the same countless ways it has impacted every individual living in a modern industrialized world. Yet, the difference in new technology coming into our world and growing up in a globally technological world makes for clear distinctions between not just generations but age groups.

What we find is that the more seasoned designers-although savvy about business, with years of experience and fully adept on the computer-cannot compete with the nano-paced mentality, dexterity, or activity of some young new employees. The newly hired expect more, expect it faster, and can shift focus with the blink of an eye.

A new work environment?

Even with the endless mergers and acquisitions of brands, corporations, and design firms, the playing field for a young designer is not significantly different from years past. What is obviously significantly different is the vast array of global opportunities that are at a designers' fingertips. This means that the competition for the top talent is greater than ever before. Companies that have a significant and meaningful global presence and a clear cultural astuteness, expressed by the diversity of their workforce, will have an edge in attracting the new designers' attention.

This group was impressionably young when the safe world changed before their eyes. For although we all see life differently, they want to live life differently. Growing up in a terror-filled world has many of these designers more accepting of life's risks. I have found that, however, many are possibly less concerned with having choices but more conscious about making the right particular choice for the right time in their lives. They are mature in their understanding of the challenges and complexities of life, and they are both decisive and certain about their personal goals and mission.

Generally speaking, a typical new graduate who is entering the design field is not as easily impressed designing packaging for mass brands. Although the international marketing of such brands has made for exciting new learning opportunities for these designers, the mass brands and the large conglomerates that own them do not reflect the sense of community or individuality these new designers seek. Rather, they represent the imposition of false marketing values. Young designers get that reality is not necessarily real-that humor is an effective means of communicating and that life is open to interpretation.

A new kind of integrity?

These young designers look inward at their own sense of values and personal fulfillment. They aspire to work on and for brands that depict authenticity and honesty. This does not necessarily mean they believe solely in the small grassroots brands, but they seek companies that are authentic in their approach to design and its overall philosophical integration in their work. For them, the most attractive companies are those that achieve a balance between mass brand projects and small, fresh assignments.

Rather than seeking long-term commitments, many young designers prefer to consider an opportunity that offers training or one that will allow them to enhance their skills. And although money still plays a significant role in job decisions, many do prefer a challenging opportunity.

So in this new age, global world companies will have to not only think differently about how to recruit candidates (and once they hire them, how to keep them engaged and active in the business) but they will have to be innovative about how the changing culture of design will be led by this new generation. Companies must consider that these designers may be more impatient when a job is slow moving or when the opportunity for advancement is unclear.

And companies must recognize that these young designers, raised in a digital Internet age, are used to instant communication, decision-making at the speed of a thumb click, and a world of international contact. Distinct from prior classes, these graduates display an amazing amount of individual creativity-creativity not simply on developing out-of-the-box design strategies but in their personal expressions as well. Their creative energies are applied to personal design projects, along with the pursuit of music, art, video, and film projects. Work and life balance is critically important to them and the best employers must know how to manage these for a mutually beneficial relationship.

We may look to this generation as productive means of understanding the future driving forces for our material and social culture. The business landscape is changing and with media as the primary platform-who better to steer the way than today's youth. There is one saying I recall: "Treat nerds nicely for someday they may be your boss." I might add to that a related saying: "Pay attention to this generation for they will soon be each of our bosses."