Thinking seriously about a career in design?

Preparing yourself for a career in design is fun - the various creative fields you can consider offer diverse careers and pathways.

If you're thinking about a career in design you probably have a strong imagination and desire to express your individuality and creativity.  Design offers a chance to work in a profession that really adds colour and comfort to our lives.

Now it's time to move forward with your career planning. Here is some useful info to help you start building your skills right now. 

What skills do I need?

There are some skills and personal qualities you can focus on developing right now. You can practise these through your school work, your hobbies, sports or part-time work and even within your friendships and social networks.

Different design professional roles require a range of skills, some common to all or most roles, while others are specialised skills required for a particular role.

Design professionals typically need:

  • to enjoy artistic or creative activities
  • to have good drawing or visualisation skills
  • to be creative and imaginative
  • to have an interest in colour and form
  • to be able to work under pressure / meet deadlines
  • to have good communication skills
  • to have good marketing abilities
  • to be able to work as part of a team
  • ability to develop skills in area such as pricing, marketing, copyright, contracts project management, teamwork and people management.

Building skills to succeed

Look for every chance to build your technical and interpersonal (sometimes called "soft") skills while exploring your area of interest, through your school work or hobbies. 

Be open-minded and get involved. The more connections you make, the more you'll gain. Seek out school holiday events and work experience placements in fields involving design. Ask your Careers teacher for more information.

Get involved

Here are some ideas you can try:

  • Seek out local businesses in your preferred design area. Learn about what they do.
  • Talk to designers and become known as a budding, aspiring designer – you’ll be surprised how often professionals are keen to mentor young people, especially locals, in their profession.
  • Your school or other local schools may hold shows exhibiting the art, design and digital work of current students - a great way to get some inspiration and see what’s in store for you in VCE. 
  • Universities offering design-related courses usually hold graduate shows towards the end of the year exhibiting the work of that year’s graduating students - an excellent way to experience new works and ideas and get a detailed look what university art and design students are expected to produce. Remember, these students have been learning for three or more years at university, so don’t be daunted into thinking “I couldn’t do that!” 
  • Many metro and regional galleries offer students free access to their collections and sometimes even to new exhibitions. The National Gallery of Victoria offers free entry to its Collection of International and Australian art, as do many galleries in regional centres.
  • ACMI in Melbourne regularly hosts digital design exhibits. 
  • Enter competitions. A web search for “digital design competitions” will yield a wide range of design competitions you can enter to practise and polish your skills. Regional Shows often invite entries for a range of art, sculpture, photography and related creative categories. 

What school subjects can help?

When the time comes for you to pick your first electives (often in Year 9) many schools offer one or more art and design related subjects. These may include art (3D or 2D), graphic design, visual communication, media, Computer-aided Design (CAD), design and technology, wood work, metal work, textiles and more.

Choosing electives related to design roles you’re interested in makes good sense. Firstly, it gives you a taste of what’s involved in those roles, so you can find out if you enjoy them. Secondly, when you decide which direction to follow, you’ll have a head start with skills and knowledge. This will help you through the VCE subjects and towards the university studies you’ll need to complete on the way to your chosen design career. 

And be sure to also consider subjects that will strengthen your "soft skills" as these are also essential for designers.

Use VCE to achieve your personal best results. While ATAR isn’t everything, you will have the widest possible choice of options if you achieve the best results you can. You will also learn about your own potential - it’s great preparation for the effort that will be expected of you at university.

Before choosing VCE subjects, do some research on your course options at different universities. Our LEAP Partner Universities websites all have a special LEAP landing page with shortcuts to their courses, entry pathways, scholarships & financial assistance, student support services and more...

If you're aiming for a specialised degree, your subject choices can be even more focused. University courses may vary, so their course guides will explain the subjects you will be studying at their uni and their course outcomes.

You should also check the VTAC publications web page, go to the Publications for Year 10 and 11 students and browse to the VICTER publication for the year you'll be applying for entry. It lists all Victorian Universities' pre-requisites for entry into their courses. 

Do’s and Don'ts for VCE Visual Communication & Design

Do - ensure presentation is an extension of your work

Design is a visual subject and presentation is important. Be mindful of the way your work is arranged and put together. This often says a lot about the approach to your work and tells the examiner about how you communicate.

When someone has just a few minutes to assess your entire year’s work, first impressions count.

Do - always show development

Examiners want to see how you arrived at your final outcome from your initial concept or idea. It is essential you show all idea generation, conceptual thinking and design development in your support material.

Submitting a body of unrelated work, or submitting work that doesn’t develop at all, are common mistakes. Be sure you document everything.

You can ask your teacher what to include and what to discard.

Do - let your work shine!

Don’t - take too long to select a topic

Deciding on a topic can instill fear in any student. Some students get stuck because they don’t have an original starting point. They spend weeks thinking about their topic selection and worrying whether it is good enough.

Delaying a start on your project in the hope of stumbling upon a perfect topic rarely works. Give yourself the chance to use the full allotment of time. Time is the best thing you have, so do not waste it. If you are struggling to come up with a concept, keep it simple and begin work.

Don’t - spend too long on annotation

Annotation is an excellent mechanism for refining ideas, evaluating work and communicating concepts and ideas. The practical work is what matters and annotating is necessary for the examiner to see your design thinking.

Spend your effort creating outstanding designs and drawings. Use annotation when is necessary, but put your fullest energy into creating work. Put the art and design first and the annotation second.

Don’t - procrastinate

This is so obvious but procrastination is enemy number one. It is the ultimate barrier to success. Leaving things until the last minute almost never works in creative endeavours.

Even skillful, highly able students need time to produce a great design project. So start your folio preparation early and review it often throughout the year.

Don’t - keep restarting work

If you want your folio to be perfect... don’t. Examiners are not looking for perfection. They are looking for strong ideas that develop over the year. Continually restarting pieces of work is not a good idea. It is rare that a design, drawing, or painting cannot be worked upon and improved.

Students who habitually restart work have less time to complete subsequent pieces and often end up with a folder of semi-complete work. In almost all cases, early ‘bad’ versions can later be used to give a design or artwork substance, resulting in a richer final piece. 

Study tips for VCE Visual Communication & Design 

The year at a glance

A yearly wall planner is a must. You may have a calendar, a diary or phone app, but a wall planner will tell you what you need to know at a glance. A clear outline of the year should be put in a prominent place so you look at it often. Highlight due dates, exams and holidays. Cross off the days that have gone.

Create the best work space

To make great work you need the right environment. If your bedroom is a mess, clean it up before you start or use a spare room. If home is too loud or busy, you may be able to stay late at school and work in the school art room instead. (This will also impress your teachers).

Make sure your work space is free of all distraction. Turn off the internet and forget social media. Put your phone on silent.

Use your time wisely

Consider what you have done… then work out the best way to go from there. This might be improving an existing design; for others it might be beginning something new. Working in series (working on several pieces at the same time) is a good way to generate work. If you are working with art materials, this avoids the need to wait for paint to dry and allows similar colours and materials to be used in several works at once.

If you are working on the computer make sure you constantly save your work (and have a back up). Regularly take screenshots that you can print out and include in your sketch book.

Don't fuss over details that are not important

Focus on the things that will get you the most marks. Do not spend too much time over headings or borders - they do not show conceptual thinking. Spend time annotating clearly and don’t overdo notes on things that are barely finished.

Prioritise important pieces and work on these until they are done.

If you are unsure what to work on, just pick something. Then, when you next have class, ask your teacher.

The worst thing you can do is nothing.

Explore options and pathways

There are lots of options for design study at university. Do some research to find the best options for you in the areas of Architecture and Environmental design; Art and Creative design; Industrial and Product design; or Visual Communications/ Graphic design. Design is diverse, so you should first understand these areas and specialisations - check out our design > glossary to help you decide which area sounds right for you. Also check out Design professions snapshot - facts and figures on our Getting started page to see what employment trends are predicted.

If you're unsure which direction you want to take in design or just want to keep your options open, a good place to begin may be a design-related Bachelor degree such as Design, Graphic Design, Creative Arts, or Digital Media. These will give you transferable skills and you can choose to specialise as you progress through your course and get a better feel for the areas you are best at and enjoy the most.

You may already have a clear direction in mind. There are many specialised  courses to choose from, such as Architecture, Industrial Design or Fine Art. Double degrees such as Design/ Business or Design/ Information Technology may broaden your options and career horizons. Jump over to the Making the leap page and do some serious research to narrow down the university courses and pathways that best suit you. 

Visit Open Days

It is a good idea to visit open days held on metro and regional university campuses. Download our Open Day Calendar (PDF 79Kb) to plan your visits and our Open Day Hints and Checklist (PDF 100Kb) for tips on what to do and ask at an Open Day.

Build your skills in a LEAP activity

See the LEAP activities you can get involved in, to skill up and prepare for a Design career.

Make the leap

Is your broad career plan drawn up? Then go to Making the leap for some final hints and tips to refine your strategy. 

Get in touch

To enquire about LEAP activities for your school
please contact one of LEAP's participating Universities