Chicago design employment & community

Hi all,

I’m working on a research assignment for my Professional Practice course in design. I was assigned to look into Chicago as a city for a recent college graduate to move to, and enter the design workforce.

I would appreciate insight from folks who are living as designers in Chicago, especially those who started their careers recently.

-How would you characterize the design community there?
-How are the local IDSA and AIGA chapters-- do they get together and DO stuff?
-What corporations are headquartered in Chicago, who have in-house design groups? (industrial, graphic, interaction)
-I’m also having trouble finding User Interface design jobs in Chicago-- is there a company or design firm that happens to specialize in this field?

Thanks to anybody who can help me with some input.

-Bill Bernstein
carnegie mellon

Replied to you in the student thread.

Chicago is a great city for designers! Definitely a place where the art, culture, and schools are top-notch. Hey, it’s good enough for HOW Magazine to be having their next Conference here in 2005!

I’m a traditional graphic designer & I started my career almost 6 yrs ago. I went to school downtown (where 90% of the design schools are located) and landed my first job through the job board at school.

Currently, there are A TON of design jobs available in Chicago. Most of them are entry-level, which is good for your assignment. Not good for me, who just recently lost my first job out of college and now have 5+ yrs under my belt. I’ve been looking since June, and have only gotten one job offer (which was not worth taking). The freelance agencies are plentiful and they have great connections with the big companies. There are definitely more designers available than available jobs. But it’s probably like that in every other big city, right?

The design community is pretty good here as well. Honesly though…outside of design schools, the only way I really see the “design community” in Chicago is through the Associtions. I belong to AIGA, and the Chicago Chapter has events, parties, gallery openings, and much more…all the time! They’re excellent about that. Check out their website.

What corportations are located in Chicago? There are alot! It’s a bit outdated, but here’s a website I found which might help you out. I doubt all of these corporations have design departments, but you could check. The ones I know that do for sure are: Hyatt Hotels, Northern Trust, Tribune Company (aka: Chicago Tribune newspaper), and Sears. I’ve seen design ads for these companies recently.
(Check BOTH Chicago & Greater Chicago links)

I’m not sure what part of the country you’re from, but the cost of living is pretty high in Chicago. It’s not as bad as CA or NY, but it’s definitely higher than say, Dallas or Denver. I would look into that. Check and see how much it’s gonna cost that recent college grad in your assignment to move here and find a decent place to live. (FYI - In a safe neighborhood, a small 1-bedroom apartment goes for about $1000/mo. The closer to downtown Chicago you want to live, the more costly it’ll be.)

Hope this helps you out a bit. Good luck with the project!!

You can get a 1 bedroom apartment in Wicker Park for under $1000… 3 el stops from the loop, and a neighborhood full of designer-friendly stuff.

To be honest I would say that. Most of the jobs I am finding are 3-5 years. Not a lot but it is picking up again. Very few entry level jobs in graphic design. Even in good economy entry level is tough. No one wants to train I know many students that have graduated in last spring and fall that are still looking… and are good. (Graduates of Columbia College)

Granted I do feel Chicago is a great place to look for a design job. The job economy is tough everywhere. There isn’t as much interaction work here as in California or Boston area but there are not a lot of interaction designers either. Its takes a company a long time in Chicago to find one since supply is minimal here. If there is an opening you will have a good shot.

Motorola Consumer Experience Design is hiring multiple positions for their new downtown office.

Thanks everybody, for your insight on this subject! Your input was very helpful to me on my project, and as a graduating senior.

I agree. The design job market in Chicago isn’t the same as it was four years ago. Granted, there are still plenty of positions available, but design companies have become more picky and less hospitable. I’ve landed 6 interviews in 10 months of searching. Not bad by today’s standards I guess, but in 2000 all you had to do was have an internship, find an empathetic recruiter and you were set, even if you were a student. I finally found a job after 10 months but had to settle for less pay and no insurance benefits to start. Most of the leads I’ve seen want 3-5 years of experience.

Nowadays, even reknown legacy creative staffing firms themselves don’t get much traffic. The Chicago advertising job market in particular has suffered the most, with agencies operating on 35-40% of the staff they had even three years ago. What’s crazy is that the people who get paid the most (CEOs, Sales) don’t know a thing about design technology. My philosophy is: the less production people, the less impressive the product. I had one “creative director” who didn’t even possess basic Photoshop knowledge, or know how to use a scanner. Maybe I should switch careers.

Lauren, I believe I know you from the chicwit listserv. Toy designer right? I think you sent me some links on video game companies a while back. Just wondering if you’ve had the same kind of luck/frustrations I have had in terms of job hunting.

Yeah, it’s sad when a design director doesn’t know how to do simple design tasks-- but that’s not their job, either. A good director shouldn’t be wasting their time with the grunt work, they should be directing and providing strategic vision. I’d much rather have a leader who can create a cohesive vision, provide a great brief, and help allocate resources to get the job done right.

That said, not knowing how to use a scanner is L-A-M-E.

I totally agree yo.

I don’t have a problem with art directors who actually know what they’re doing. Personally, I’m a better executor than a strategist. I’m not the type to butt egos with other people. But this particular guy didn’t even have a legitimate art background, with pencils, nevermind multimedia. He wasn’t articulate enough to intelligently represent us to the clients, and wouldn’t say jack in company meetings. He would say phrases to our clients like “Raster Vector JPeg” and show off OUR storyboards and treatments on an animation light-table, as if he just found a new toy. When we would talk to clients on the phone, he wouldn’t even let me explain any technical sh*t for fear of looking stupid. His being there was purely political; his friend was VP, and got rid of a perfectly qualified freelancer from our sister ad agency downstairs. Not surprisingly, all three were let go.

While it wasn’t a surprise, it just made our jobs in the studio harder to do. I compare it to giving your 3-year-old a Little Tikes Toolset while you go and actually build a patio. You don’t want someone like that representing your company. The new boss was great because he was our friend who had worked in the studio for years. He knew exactly how long stuff took to do, could explain rendering, and could give the clients a reasonable ETA of our deliverables. What I guess I’m saying is: the best bosses are people who are also hands-on, and the best jobs are where the inmates run the asylum.

Aside from the economy, I think the reason why it’s become so bad in Chicago is because most ad agencies for years were operating with too many technologically challenged middlepersons like the afore-mentioned person. Thus, the innocents (designers) suffer. Clients don’t like to spend money as it is, but there is no way this guy should have been making 2.5x my salary. And that explains why all the former giants like Frankel, Ogilvy, Burnett, etc. went thru massive layoffs and had to settle for consolidation under 4 or 5 European corporate umbrellas, who basically wanna make every company Arthur Andersen; More work, less play, and less pay. With the war going on and everything, Europe knows they’re in control a huge chunk of the design job market.

All I keep on hearing is how amazing an opportunity it is for job seekers to look in Chicago.

Ok, I am designer in Chicago with a great job. BUT- I have numerous friends who live here (would not have to relocate- a huge benefit for employers) who are extremely talented and capable who are and have been umemployed.

I am not saying that this is any different than any other place in the US. But if you are looking for a place to start, any major metro-type are with a good sense of culture will probably do for the design-minded individual. If I wasn’t offered a job here, trust me, I’d be in a warmer climate.

This being said, I love Chicago. The people here are great. The city is beautiful. But be aware of the current market and understand that the creative industry in the whole US is hurting in spite of new encouraging economic data.

So I am not sure what point I made here, but I hope I may have said something at least remotely coherent.

You have. I graduated in 2002 from UIC and I am still unemployed. Granted I didn’t look as hard as I should have since the economy was sour, but this was the best year I’ve had as far as interviewing opportunities in Chicago. Chicago’s a great city and I want to stay local.