Design Jobs Will Always Exist.

Some are going away, others will take their place.

There will be a multi-billion dollar wave of investment into Generative AI in 2024. While much of this will go towards the training of Large Language Models and the expected paths of research, engineering, and marketing, a certain portion will always go towards design. I’m a professor of Graphic Design, and for the last several months I’ve been engaged in an enquiry about our profession. Are the graphic design jobs going away because of the AI revolution? Is it even worth the trouble to keep training my students and how can I best meet their needs? Everybody wants to be an expert, so I’m just going to stick my neck out and make my predictions for 2024.

It’s still a good time to be a designer and/or work in the creative industries and 2024 will bring an increase in opportunities. Now this will vary based on your discipline, region, and experience level, and I’m going to narrow my focus to Seattle, where I live and work. However, I’m pretty sure this pattern will repeat throughout the major cities or technology hubs. I’ll try and tie this prediction to a few clear data points:

There is a ton of venture capital flowing into startups and big tech alike. At the very least, this will lead to a hiring boom and historically, a portion of that went to design. From research, to branding, to social media, there is just going to be more need for things to be designed. From the NASDAQ in the late 90s to the Crypto craze of the last few years, I’ve seen this before and I’ve seen a lot of money flow into design in order fuel the growth of technology.

We haven’t even begun to feel the full impact of Generative tools in the marketplace. And none of these tools are anywhere near their full potential. Perhaps it was a rush to market, or creative exuberance, or just doing “The best we could with what we had”, but most of todays AI tools are ignoring the gains in usability that have been made by the UX industry in the last 30 years. Once we hit phase two and everyone stops to take a breath, their will be a collective understanding that “Design Matters” and as the momentum continues, many companies will consider that more effort put into design will give them a competitive advantage.

The Tools.
The current crop of tools have incredible potential and will unleash a creative renaissance-in the near future. I was going to lead with “The Tools are Great”, but that’s only because I use them, read about them, and watch YouTube videos about them every day. The tools are not quite there yet, but as the next generation experiments with them, patterns will emerge, trends will develop, percolate up into mainstream media, and rapidly become the status quo. Based on the improvements I’ve seen over the last six months, I’m certain that the next six will see a dramatic increase in both quality and possibility. Some bright group of young people will hack Midjourney or RunwayML and put it up on TikTok until it becomes a thing and then the agencies will charge top dollar to replicate that look.

The Headlong Rush to Win.
While there will certainly be job losses in the long term as AI tools become more efficient and create redundancies, I think there will be a huge investment in “AI-skilled” workers in the short term as anyone with a decent budget will want to get the best people so they can get a jump on the competition. If you needed a predictive metric about what’s coming, you should look into Amazon’s plan to provide AI skill training to over 2 million people by 2025. Now I know that Amazon doesn’t train designers, but I’m going to extrapolate that design jobs will grow by a similar metric.

Which Jobs are the Most Secure?
I recently put out a survey to the readers of my newsletter and found some interesting patterns. Clearly, senior management is safe for now. If you’re an Art Director, a Creative Director, or a UX Director or you lead strategy or form important relationships with clients, your job is safe. If you’re a UX designer and you’ve already made the leap to start learning the new interaction patterns, or conversational design, or how to work with an LLM, you’re job is safe. If you understand Human Factors in design, or work with accessibility or inclusive design, you won’t be replaced. If you’re into Branding, or packaging, or storytelling your job is safe for now, but you might see a lot of competition and falling prices as more and more people try and carve out a niche in that arena.

At least in a company that is very top heavy and likes to stay that way, nobody below Creative Director is safe, but anyone who is ideas/concepts based will fare better than someone execution based.

And Now for the Bad News.
Which jobs are the most at risk? Copy writers, illustrators, concept artists, storyboard artists, stock photographers, photo retouchers. But you probably new that if you’ve been reading the news this year. The difficult news that I’m telling my students is there will probably be a decline in the number of entry level design jobs. Or more accurately, a junior designer will now need to do the work of a mid-level designer with the aid of AI tools, but the title of ‘Junior’ will still exist. Also, many mid and senior level designers will just have their workloads increased or find themselves competing for jobs that they thought they moved on from. If you are an agency that bills clients for social media posts, slide decks or landing pages, you can assume that work is now going to be done in-house.

I think concept artists that can’t pivot are going to be at risk. Everyone else probably will be okay, just the workflow / workload will change. For example Junior level designers will now be expected to do a mid-level designers job with the assistance of AI. But the title of Junior will still exist.

Short Term Opportunity, Long Term Risk.
Are you unemployed or under employed right now? Do you need a job tomorrow? There’s still going to be a lot of work in UI and in design systems. Someone has to carefully lay out all those screens and snap those components together so the devs can build out those applications. I expect a wave of hiring for these positions as soon as January as everyone tries to rush the next AI Powerpoint clone to market. However, don’t stake your future on this sort of skillset. The more you allow yourself to work like an automaton, the more easily you can be replaced eighteen months from now.

The Democratization of the New Design Tools.
When you look at this through the lens of accessibility and empowering people, tools like Canva and Adobe Express are simply amazing. Now, anyone can be a designer with the use of templates, and patterns and artificial intelligence. Social Media, Banner Ads, flyers, and all the little jobs that many of us started on? A typical smart person can do it without you. The wave of tools like Wix and Squarespace that has already washed over web design, is about to be repeated and have a huge impact on entry level freelancers.

What Does it Mean to be a Designer?
While much of this sounds ominous, it’s only dire if you refuse to evolve. A year ago, when I first started posting and writing about these things, I found many haters on social media with a common refrain, “AI steals jobs from artists!”. As if the artist were some endangered waterfowl that needed to be protected. Creative people have always found a way to be creative, and most of find some way to get paid for it. Tools change, technologies evolve, and now is the time to learn new techniques so you can distinguish yourself from the millions of ‘Mid-journeymen and Squarespacers’ and demonstrate that you still know how to solve problems for people.

Looking Ahead to 2024.
In conclusion, while it’s not a great time for my students who will graduate in 7 months, I think it’s a great time to be a designer and there is huge volume of things that need to be researched, designed, built, advertised, and promoted. The savvier clients will still realize that an experienced hand produces better work and will be willing to pay for it. If you’re not a t the top of the pyramid it time to pivot and figure out how you can add value and solve problems and still stay relevant. Personally, I’m using Generative AI tools every day because I’m excited about the road ahead. Design jobs will always exist, but it just got a lot more complicated.

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