Applied Design - Career Guidelines

"Think not of yourself as the architect of your career but as a sculptor. Expect to have to do a lot of hard hammering and chiseling and scraping and polishing." BC Forbes

What do I need to be a designer?

Perseverance, commitment, enthusiasm, enterprise, initiative

The importance of designers in the economic and industrial development of the country, their role in cultural industries and also affecting social change, is receiving growing acknowledgement and support in our country.

The difficulty in predicting the career path of designers remains, however, one of the important differences between a design career and a more conventional profession. Often it is this uncertainty that is the main reason why it is difficult to provide career guidance and the reason for concern about job security and opportunities.

Design careers cover a wide variety of specialisations, and opportunities are constantly changing with new specialisations emerging and the boundaries between the existing disciplines disappearing due to the development of new technologies. More often than not designers have to be the creators of their own career opportunities.

Design is an intellectually demanding activity. It is the meeting point between technology and the arts and often an important cultural manifestation. Although many people do operate as self-taught designers, it is imperative that a good basic education be the starting point. Training in design will equip the prospective designer with the relevant techniques, properties of materials, production methods and latest trends.

The complexity can range from designing road signs to an aircraft or a television set. To complicate matters, different connotations and semantic interpretations are linked to the different design disciplines. For the purposes of this guide, a distinction is made between Design and Engineering Design and Architecture. Engineering Design includes civil, mechanical, production, electrical and electronic design and is mainly concerned with a products performance and production. Design includes product design, often referred to as industrial design; spatial or interior design; clothing and textile design; and graphic design also referred to as information design. These disciplines tend to require a more artistic background and training than Engineering Design.

Opportunities to study Fine Arts are included. Fine Arts graduates often move from fine arts to pursue a career in a design-related field. The design careers mentioned in this guide, are the most common. Designers tend to create their own opportunities and career specialisations within this broad spectrum.

In compiling this guide, all the facts have been based on the design education programmes currently acknowledged by SAQA (South African Qualifications Authority). Changes are, however, continually taking place and we urge all prospective students to contact the education institutions directly to obtain the latest correct information and to find out what assistance is available in preparing them more fully for a tertiary education. This will also be the only way to establish which one of the various kinds of institutions will be the correct one to cater for their particular needs, study and career goals, and purposes.

Why should I choose a career in design?

There is a rapidly growing awareness of the need for designers in South Africa. Therefore career opportunities are increasing in number and variety. Complement your latent talent and qualification with initiative, enterprise, enthusiasm, commitment and perseverance, and the sky is the limit.

What kind of person do I need to be?

No one personality type is more suited than others to a career in design. However, it is an intellectually demanding activity and there are some abilities and character traits that will stand you in good stead. Designers must be able to develop and apply ideas creatively. They must have a highly developed visual sense and judgement and they must also be able to communicate their ideas verbally and on paper. Since most design projects depend on teamwork and cooperation, designers must work well with people from different backgrounds and with different opinions.

Where do I study?

There are many options, depending on the field of design you choose. Most universities offer courses in design and there are many independent schools specialising in particular design disciplines.

This guide provides you with information on many of these. Obtain details from prospective institutions to see which suits you best. Speak to designers, students and counsellors, and visit exhibitions and design companies.

Be wary of very short courses that promise success as a designer. For example, there are many schools offering courses in computer-aided design (CAD), but they cannot replace the conceptual forming that is an integral part of conventional design education.

What do I need?

You may be required to do one or all three of the following: sit a practical examination, submit a portfolio of previous work and attend a personal interview where your motivation will be assessed.

Familiarise yourself with the courses and the admission requirements well in advance, and apply early as places are limited. A number of design schools offer bridging courses to prospective students who are not initially accepted as full-time students.

Are bursaries available?

Yes, financial aid is available to promising students. These bursaries are offered by the government, universities, industry organisations and even private individuals. Approach your chosen institution for more information and ask if a prospectus of available bursary sources is available.

Job opportunities

Opportunities after qualification, future employers and starting salaries offered all differ in the respective centres in South Africa. Information on this as well as possible assistance from a design school to find a position in industry after qualification, should be obtained from lecturers of the institution of your choice before embarking on your studies. Remember that eventual success remains to a large extent dependent on individual initiative and commitment. In some instances in-service training is offered by employers in the different disciplines to unqualified applicants. It must be kept in mind that this will mean that no recognised qualification will be obtained and this might prove to be an obstacle later on.