What else can you do with a design education?

David Byrne and John Lennon attended art school and achieved success in the music business. I am collecting information on what other seemingly unrelated jobs are design school (not art school) grads doing by choice or happenstance. At conferences and when I visit design schools, I am often asked this question by recent grads who are not able to get jobs as designers due to the economy. Temporarily or permanently? Related to design or completely different? What aspects of your or their design education or previous design career experience do you or they draw upon (pun not intended), regularly or never? If you wish to reply in confidence, please write me at ritasue@ritasue.com.

After graduating from the product design department at Parsons, I worked for two years as a Materials Specialist at Material ConneXion. I found it to be an extension of my education and was working with design professionals on a daily basis. Overall, the job was quite rewarding.

I’m a product designer now, but still use the experience and knowledge from that job in my design activities today. I don’t necessarily see myself designing for my entire career, as it is quite exhausting work! All the traveling to factories, late nights, complex mathematics and philosophical debates wear me down for sure. I’d be curious to read other responses to your questions.

Some interesting turns on the original question might be?

Why do many graduates from design programs have difficulty getting into the field?

Are programs simply passing students through versus making the program rigorous enough so only those truly on path to being professional designers remain?

While David Byrne attended RISD, I don’t believe he graduated. Also, the link between visual and audio creation is pretty strong, but when I talk to kids in a program and they are interested in going into politics, I question what they are doing there.

Interesting topic. For my 3rd year project, I’m collaborating with a chemistry student, and I’m using design process to solve basic problems. I found that the general public find scientific concepts so much more interesting and understandable when you show them through models and illustrations, and boil them down to simple ikea-like instruction manuals. Maybe the degrees we are doing are more suited to education, public service or communication-related work?

I second this line of thinking. Studying and ID an going into a different field is more often a result of a poor education/skills and/or the job market, than ID preparing you for something else.

While certainly some designers move into a related (or non-related) field by choice, I’d imagine that most who are non-practicing designers (incl. those who fall into project management, CAD jockeying and more) have done so out of necessity. I know in my own grad class of around 25, I’d say that at least more than half are in something other than straight ID work…


Burns and Lennon were dropouts. My ulterior motive here is to provide inspiration to graduates who because of the economy cannot find jobs in design by showing them examples of designer who had to or decided to or accidently got involved with a non-design job and are doing very well in it. Or, an example like the person who went to work at Material Connextion and then sequed back into desingn when able to. I happen to believe that an ID education is extremely useful no matter what type of work you end up doing, and using design methodology, design thinking and design skills are very tranferable.
When I last looked it up, 50% of dental students did not continue in dentistry after they graduated.

I’d say many ID grads would be great salesmen. Or should be. Knowing a product, being passionate about it, and being able to sell yourself are qualities that translate from ID to sales quite easily. A co-worker of mine graduated w/ an ID background and about 15 years ago moved into sales. He’s been quite successful at it, too.


While I agree with you here I also have to agree with R and Yo. There have been an abundance of students that have been passed through an ID program and then because they cannot cut it they end up in other non related jobs. I had a college roommate that did just that. He is now Mac IT guy for a local high school in his home town.

I think the biggest thing is if you are going to encourage recent grads to take non-ID jobs then you need to encourage them to take jobs where they can learn skills that relate back to design, Manufacturing, product development, etc… A couple example are, we currently use a printing vendor that uses recent grad to develop screens for silk screening. I know this is more a GD based job but it is at least teaching them a skill and a process they can take with them. Another is when I first graduated from school I worked for Revlon resign Semi-Perm display structures. Although this did have to do with ID I also spent %50 of my time setting up these structures in store for tests and in our own Merchandising lab for management to evaluate new plantograms. This taught me how these structure went together and what a stock-boys job was all about.

Like I mention the key part here is learning. If they truly want to be a designer and just plain cannot get a job in ID right now then they need to take a job that is going to benefit them in the long run.