A new class of architecture graduates is about to enter the profession, and the timing couldn’t be worse. The economic crisis has affected nearly all industries and markets, and design is hardly immune. Firms across the country are reporting rapidly diminishing backlogs, scarce prospects for new work, and significant staff cuts, even at the senior levels. Those firms that are weathering the storm, at least so far, are not hiring. The next generation of designers has a lot to offer: They are tech-savvy and full of ideas; they care deeply about the environment and are convinced that design can make a difference. Unfortunately, many of them also carry a heavy load of debt. There’s a real risk that this next cohort of talent could fall victim to the bad economy and leave the profession altogether. What’s a young graduate to do in these troubled times?
Start by recognizing that while things are tough, the sun still comes up every morning. Stay calm. The economy is down but not dead. Much of your success will be dictated not by circumstance but by attitude, and this is something over which you have a great deal of control:
1. Know that your education is a long-term investment and that nobody can repossess it, no matter how much money you owe.
2. Remember that when you start at the very bottom, the only way to go is up. From this, you will gain great resilience and self-confidence.
3. Understand that design school is as much about a way of thinking as it is about making objects called buildings. Use this to broaden your perspective.
4. Recognize that lots of things get designed — both products and processes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about bricks and mortar to matter.
5. Investigate programs such as the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, or the U.S. Agency for International Development. There’s a need for your skill set out there somewhere.
6. No matter what, don’t waste your downtime. Consider travel, which is always enlightening.
7. Get a job on a construction site … any job will do. This will open your eyes in ways you cannot begin to imagine.
8. Build a house on an abandoned lot with recycled materials. Show the world that good design can be had at any price.
9. Maintain your sense of humor and stay optimistic. Nobody likes a whiner.
10. Realize that this may be the first but it’s certainly not the last recession you’ll ever encounter, so maintain perspective.
11. Poverty is not fatal if you do it right. Stay alert … you might actually learn something.
12. Study history: What great buildings were created during severe economic times? (Hint: the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center are two examples.) Emulate.
13. Consider extending your education into law, business, environmental science, public health, etc. Concerned about cost? See Item 1.
14. Assume that you’re immune to the bad economy. Decide to get a job, and one will appear. Good intentions are very powerful, and luck does play a role.
15. Be humble and grateful. Remember that there are lots of people in the world who are much worse off than you are.
16. Keep dreaming and sketching. Maintain a diary or a journal, then convert this into a best seller (a novel, movie script, pop song, or opera will do!). Remember that J.K. Rowling was a welfare mom when she wrote the first Harry Potter book, and now she’s richer than the Queen of England — literally.
In other words, don’t let yourself be defined by a job. Keep thinking like a designer. Designers are problem solvers. They are open to new ideas. They understand systems. They appreciate how the big picture depends on the smallest details. And they know that what they do makes a difference … at any age.