Last week concluded another illustration week here in New York and as always the anchor was the American Illustration Party. Everyone seemed to be having a good time though certain notable faces were absent, the room seemed to be filled with recent graduates or those still in school which got me to thinking. A recent email citing a new quarterly study of graphic designers attitudes about the economy and it’s impact on their industry coincided with the celebration of illustration. According to the survey graphic designers are continuing to see a dismal future with expectations lower than even observed in 2009. This lead me to the following prediction.
As a whole I find illustrators to be more optimistic, perhaps they are more prudent than designers and art directors whose salaries are a given and most certainly illustrators are more entrepreneurial. They are not tied to a studio or department which can be a destabilizing environment in tough economic times. And in general when I look at a profession I was a part of for the better part of my career I don’t see too much to be happy about. In fact, I feel illustrators have a much better opportunity to be successful in the future than designers. Why? As technology continues to improve designers will have fewer opportunities to do what they do best, whereas illustrators can offer visual solutions in any media for any product or service, designers are limited to hiring those services and with shrinking markets and budgets the illustrator will benefit and grow. Illustrators can work for anybody, their client list is endless; their ability to create original imagery puts them at an advantage because technology can never replace the ability to make interesting marks on paper or dream up unusual imagery. Plus with an ever increasing technology-driven environment where everything is crisp and picture-perfect there will be a growing desire for the handmade which will be a boon for those in the commercial world as well as for the gallery stars. Unique imagery will garner much more respect than it does today as the populace realizes that very few of them can draw—while everyone can take a reasonable picture today, very few can draw one. While more people think they can design a flyer, an ad, an invitation using today’s technology, more will acknowledge that they cannot nor will not draw or paint. The minority will rule. Price will be no object. An original image will become a prized possession.
I have no idea what designers will be doing ten years from now but I do know that illustrators have an edge. Where one time I would advise students coming out of school to be sure to have the skills of both a designer and an illustrator I have changed my view. While I think in the short-term knowledge of both is beneficial, the future is in illustration, not design. In the end everyone will become their own designer and with that news illustrators will have gained innumerable clients, and commissions.
I have gone through periods of consternation about the future of illustration and I have often concluded that the future was not too bright with the trend towards free media and content, the shrinking size of reproduction with the onset of tablets which leads to less revenue and lower budgets but in reflection I feel that the future has never been brighter.