Designing a Career out of Marketing, Economics & Design

While I was studying in college I decided to pick the most well-rounded degree and knowledge/skill set that I could. Ultimately that landed me with a Major in Marketing and a dual minor in Design and Economics.

Here’s why I selected to study the three, and how they fit into the puzzle.

Quick backstory:

Originally I set out to be an animator, dreaming of the day that I would walk the hallways of Pixar. But while I had a love for drawing I had a contempt for the art education experience. I loved to draw, I loved to play with computers, but sitting in a class at 8am in the morning drawing straight lines darn near killed me.

Jumping ship, I discovered a love for digital media, but even here I found the emphasis on traditional art too great. In running an analysis of my skill sets I realized I was the type of person who was really good at a lot of stuff, jack of all trades, but not really specialized. I had a love for learning and for creating, for telling stories, and communicating complex ideas. Digital media, at least at the college I attended didn’t quite cover everything.

I eventually landed on Business Marketing. I discovered that it allowed me to construct systems, understand and analyze complex metrics, and use my love of quantitative analysis, while also capitalizing on my artistic ability and creative skill set. But I wanted to do more, something to truly let me standout and give me the ability to make a real difference. Enter Economics and Graphic Design.

Why Major in Marketing?

Even though I had already acquired a job as a graphic designers, I saw potential in learning a broader set of skills and gaining more knowledge in the business realm. I saw the work that I was doing as a graphic designer and watched how simple decisions could change business and provide a positive impact. But I wanted to learn more, and discover how to communicate that design decisions can and will affect the bottom line.

Business, as I discovered (or interpreted it), is a study of systems. Management is the study of people systems, Accounting is the system of record keeping, Finance is the study of forecasting systems, Marketing is the study of value systems.

In brief, what I learned in my study of marketing is:

  • How is value perceived?
  • How to value structured?
  • How is value created?
  • How to communicate value.

Aside from specific skills studying marketing further required that I develop the following skills:

  • Presentation / Oral Communication — presenting value
  • Written Communication — construction of reports
  • Leadership & team work — collaborative development
  • Organization —structuring of information
  • Research — seeking out information
  • Interpretation — understanding information

Marketing provided me a high level understanding of business decisions, systems, and strategy. Furthermore it provided me a strong foundational theoretical knowledge bank to draw from in the years ahead. Most of my most successful design projects have leaned heavily on my understanding of value and how to communicate the value in strategic design decisions.

A good designer isn’t necessarily the best at drawing, at prototyping, at a computer system, but is the one who is best able to articulate the value that their design brings to the table. Soft skills in design are increasingly becoming more valuable. Marketing armed me with the soft skills required to succeed.

Marketing ultimately allowed me to understand how value is perceived.

Why study Economics

Economics is simply the study of resources. But where we allocate our resources defines what we find valuable. Is so many ways a basic understanding of economics marries with a comprehensive understanding of Marketing.

Value must come from something. Economics can help define the interactions that make value… valuable.

With an economics minor I was able to take a deeper dive into the quantitative results of the systems that I was designing. I was able to understand the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services that I was presenting through my design work.

Some theories that I learned which I apply daily in my work as a designer:

  • Opportunity Cost — there is a cost associated with everything that goes beyond simply money.
  • Diminishing Returns — At some point in time the input costs are higher than the output return on investment per unit.
  • Efficiency — measure of output per input.
  • Elasticity — change in quantity of goods associated with a change in price.
  • Utility — the satisfaction one achieves through the consumption of a good or service.
  • Scarcity — humans have an unlimited want, but a limited ability to produce.
  • The Spillover Principle — decisions makers will not receive the full benefit or cost of their decision.
  • The Reality Principle — Purchasing power and income matter more to people than the face value of a good or product.

These may all seem abstract and even at times philosophical, but the reality of it is that these can be applied to a designers decision making process and dramatically improve the end result.

Economics allows me to understand how value is understood.

Why Study Design?

It may seem like an obvious answer given the fact that I am a designer, and want to continue to be a designer, but how does Design fit into my overall puzzle.

Design as it fits into my equation for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is an understanding of how to present value. Whereas marketing allows me to understand the perception of value as well as value systems, design allows me to construct and present value. Furthermore, economics allows me to understand value, design allows me to take those economic insights and explore new opportunities.

I chose not to major in design for the following reasons:

  • HSU didn’t offer a digital design degree, but simply a traditional Graphic Design degree.
  • My real world experience provided me substantial opportunity to grow in specific tools and design systems.
  • I wanted to participate in high level design decision and execution, knowing that there would always be someone better capable of focusing on visuals, subtle interactions, copy and the likes.

Ultimately I chose to lean on my strengths and opportunities to focus my career towards design management and strategic decision making. However, that said, a minor in graphic design still provided me great value by rooting me down to earth with a strong foundation of visual design principles which took my end-product from “good” to “great”.

Studying design armed me with incredibly practical skills that amplified my study of Marketing and Economics. Design allowed me to transform communication. Design presented me with a unique perspective on economics. Design ultimately became a foundation to my study that rooted my high-level strategics in actionable steps for success.

Design allows me to present the value proposition.

There’s no one right path for becoming a Designer

I made choices and decisions during my time in college that I believe provided me the best chance at success. While I have been incredibly fortunate to have a career in the design field already I’ll be the first one to admit that there is no one right path for Design. Most recently I’ve meet people with the following backgrounds:

  • Journalism
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Architecture
  • Information sciences

And that’s to name veryfew…

What I think matters at the end of the day is less the degree or even background that you come from, but more your ability to pull from your experiences, build a narrative, and communicate your value proposition.

Let me know what you studied on your pathway to becoming a designer.



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