It's a blog, Sean, deal with it.

Designer/Entrepreneur/'?'

I want to say right off the bat that I have a lot of reservations about sharing this piece. It's true to my ideas and feelings but I know the arguments do not take into account the whole picture. This is purely because I am inexperienced. I'm posting this in the interest of self-betterment as we can only learn some things through failure, and that just so happens to be my speciality...

I went to a debate the other night ( a.k.a. August 9th). Four panellists from different factions of design discussed the field in the context of the Gold Coast, where high class beach living and eccentric boganism clash in spectacular fashion. The whole affair was thoroughly engaging. I was rebuking one statement and commending the next, and I was pleasantly surprised that there was much to discuss at all. Being born and bred on the Gold Coast (central Gold Coast to be exact,) I have firsthand experience with the extent of the culture within and, let me tell you, there's about just enough to fill your pockets. Perhaps short, it's an accurate comparison at least in terms of the creative scene. In terms of creative opportunity on the other hand, I would amend that it's about as barren as Pauline Pantsdown's uterus.

As one of the designers on the Panel said, this is because there's simply too much 'status quo'. The Gold Coast has been built on top of a seaside town. Things weren't built to plan but to necessity. As the economy became tourism-centric, the focus became maintaining that industry and all its bells and whistles- investors like innovation clad in convention best. The sad truth is that this rhetoric stands true today; though the Gold Coast already has a distinct trademark, it neglects to include the Arts. Instead young creatives are forced to find shelter in back alleys of Surfers Paradise to deal in their dirty deeds. On the GC young designers need to invent their own platform as we do not have the luxury of 'culture'. I may be exaggerating a little bit but there really is no alternative for young designers without opportunity.

So I was slightly surprised when the discussion turned towards entrepreneurism. The question at hand was- forgive my sloppy paraphrasing- 'What potential is there for entrepreneurism in design on the Gold Coast?'

Something along those lines in any case- though I thought to bring along pen and paper, to think to use them proved another matter entirely. Whether I was surprised by the question, or the responses made by members of the panel- I can't remember- I have constructed a rebuttal of sorts. Really just a set of feelings and thoughts entailing the nature of design and Entrepreneurism on the 'Coast, I hope to convey even the slightest shadow of a counter argument. At least from a recent graduate’s perspective in any case; I'm going to grope about in the dark as best I can. 

To briefly summarise the Panels consensus on entrepreneurism: the verdict was supportive. The Gold Coast having no overarching culture of art and design, unlike in other cities, i.e. Melbourne and Sydney, meant that Designers were free to pursue careers of happenstance- to forge their own path. Even the right attitude could find yourself in a job you were technically not trained for; through entrepreneurism we now have access to fields previously untapped by designers. This sentiment left me feeling that perhaps these matured designers were out of touch with the current generation of students and graduates as it did not reflect the limited resources available to this group. It also aggravated this nagging voice I've had at the back of my mind for some time: "But how do I define myself as a designer without a platform to stand on and where exactly do I fit into our industry no longer being a student?" I was also in awe and even offended by how personally I was taking this question, it wasn't even targeted at my demographic! "Why am I so worked up over this?” I thought. "How dare they- I'm sitting right here!” was another. Thank God my full bladder was there to pin me to my seat.

Despite design being a field where one doesn't 'necessarily' have to prove experience or academic achievement, despite being able to rely on the merit of our portfolios, and despite the Panels verdict, employers want to know who you are, what you are and what you can do. If you need further convincing on this point you probably haven't applied for a job in the past year. Sure enough, the Gold Coast is but one instance, but if you have ever looked at a relevant job advert recently, I think you might be able to catch my drift. So how does entrepreneurism come into the picture? Following the Panels 'Entrepreneur' model, networking would be the obvious solution to this hurdle (though a last resort for designers of the introverted kind, #guilty). And, lacking the required credentials has never meant the end of the world with the web at our finger tips. These are reasonable and even obvious methods to reaching the next milestone for the modern design graduate. What got me hot and bothered was the way the panel implied that there was any other way; that entrepreneurism was this exciting, readily-available alternative to the traditional means of resumes, CVs, cover letters and portfolios.

Maybe twenty years ago when we were getting over Post Modernism and frothing on dial-up this was the case, but times have changed. When I got into university, when I started my graphic design major, right off the bat, it was heavily- explicitly- implied that the odds of me finding a job in this field were very 'not favourable'. Careers in creative industries are already heavily stigmatised, not helped in part by Australia's academic curriculum. What kind of effect does this additional hurdle have on a student’s morale? Knowing that thousands of other graduates are competing for the same job as you is a daunting idea. How does this knowledge influence a student’s efforts- motivation? (For further reading, internet 'Sir Ken Robinson'.)

Thankfully most creative folk have tenacity and endurance in spades- qualities necessary for surviving the civilised metropolis of Art school. But what of the design sphere outside the academy walls? Curtesy of the computer and the Internet Age, graphic design has literally exploded outward at Macintosh speed. Post 2010 and we find a profession undergoing a metamorphosis- we've survived Post Modernism, we're thriving in our digital nirvana, but can we even track the growing number of professions that sit under the umbrella, 'Graphic Design'. Our educational institutions have not and cannot keep up- how can you expect designers to tap into fields- niches- they haven't even heard of. To teach well you need a curriculum which reflects current industry but if that industry is constantly evolving then how do we expect schools to maintain an industry standard?

The answer is surprisingly obvious, and you may have guessed at it already via the tone of this post. Schools must design a curriculum which can accommodate for the unforeseen future- you construct a degree with entrepreneurism as a foundation. This way students will learn technical skills with the intent of crafting their own career as they specialise in whichever field appeals to them. With these skills, in combination with a business plan, graduates will be ready to leave school as a designer in their own right. They will have mastered their own designhood enabling them to get where they want to go and achieve what they want to achieve with an innate sense of purpose and a rounded set of abilities to guide them. With a healthy dose of design theory this strategy sets the foundation of what is a sound education. The only problem is we don't have such a resource on the Gold Coast.

Well that's not entirely true in a certain capacity. My own degree introduced elements of entrepreneurism. The only problem with my degree was that it wasn't incorporated at a structural level- it was smeared on top in the final year of my degree as the icing on the cake. For my peers and myself included, it was not treated as an integral component but a criteria for an assignment- something to consider if you wanted an 'A' but not something necessary for lasting after graduation. And that's what gets me most of all- how are students and graduates supposed to get anywhere on education that is inherently flawed and outdated? Another thing that I don't think people consider seriously is: what happens to students who commit time, and debt, to a degree which doesn't take them anywhere?

These students complete their degree and, after exiting university, they find that the job climate is tough. They've been expecting this so they persevere. And they persevere. And they persevere and then they give up. 'Life' happens. Perhaps they've become too comfortable in some 9-5, or they're in a relationship and need stability, or maybe they can't be bothered waiting for that call-back anymore. Maybe it all became too much. Perhaps they didn't try hard enough. "Well, they worked hard but someone else obviously worked harder. I know I worked especially hard to get to where I am today." "I got this job because I deserve it. They just simply didn’t belong in our industry and it goes to show. Besides, they're probably fine wherever they're working now anyway." I don't think small retorts like these can justify an individual’s set of circumstances or a lifetime's worth of debt, and I don't think that this way of 'Othering' our failed compatriots is sustainable for the industry. If we suddenly held everyone to walk through our doors to some standard of 'success' would our field remain as wonderful and egalitarian to include entrepreneurs of the like discussed by the Panel? Despite the valid points made by the Panel, entrepreneurism isn't a fool proof strategy for young designers- even with every precaution in place there's bound to be difficulties and failure.

I think we've found ourselves in quite a dilemma when the industry is aware of such an issue but have no means to provide aid. Design graduates/students outnumber field professionals a-hundred-to-one and there are only so many interns one can take on. Therefore we need to go deeper and look closely at the root of the problem. In order to ensure that design students don't end up opting out half-way through their education, to prevent graduates from going M.I.A.- to give young designers the agency they need- we need to pay closer attention to the foundation of our industry. From the offset we need to instil skills that will provide necessary means for survival and, more importantly, we need to provide a sense of hope; it's all well and good for a debate panel to promote an entrepreneurial ideology in a place like the Gold Coast but if there isn't systemic support then the success rate of such an avenue is going to be very low. 

Sam Dunn