Graphic Design: A Recession-Proof Industry?

Graphic Design: A Recession-Proof Industry?
By Richard Romano

Here’s a question: is there any such thing as a recession-proof business? Alcohol distribution and drug trafficking aside, we have found in our own industry companies that defy macroeconomic trends. Time was, commercial printing was such a business; in the 1980s, print grew faster than GDP, and even in the stagflationary late 1970s, it also performed well. Why? Part of the reason-probably a very large part-was a major technology shift in the late 70s as the printing industry transitioned to phototypesetting, digital color separations, and color page make-up systems. This stimulated investment in presses as the relative cost of process color prepress dropped considerably. This defied the high inflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment of the times.
But then, the cynical might point out, printing again defied macroeconomic trends when, in 1998, the industry went into a recession of its own in 1998-at the same time the economy in general was in the midst of the tech boom.

As Dr. Joe Webb and I point out in a new WhatTheyThink research report, The U.S. Graphic Design Business 2008-2013: Industry Demographics, Trends, and Forecasts, the graphic design markets have also done their share of bucking economic trends. In particular, we delved deep into the data and found that during the last major recession-1990-1991 (2001 was fairly mild by comparison)-graphic design employment, payroll, and establishments grew at rates exceeding GDP growth. And even a couple years later, when full-time employment started to shrink, the number of establishments expanded dramatically.
Why? The same reason the printing industry thrived in the late 1970s: technology. The explosive growth of desktop publishing that had started simmering in the mid to late 1980s had hit full boil by the turn of the decade. Aldus PageMaker kickstarted desktop publishing in 1985; QuarkXPress was released in 1987, and Photoshop 1.0 in 1990. (Version 2.0 appeared in 1991.) Adobe Illustrator was first released in 1986 and20Illustrator 88 (as in 1988) was a pivotal release. This means that by the time the recession hit during 1990, the “classic” applications for desktop publishing were appearing and starting to become widely adopted.
It also means that even when graphic designers were laid off or could not find full-time employment, they can still easily and inexpensively set up shop as freelancers. That situation continued, and what got a lot of designers through the 2001 recession was again another technological development: the continued evolution of Web design and development and other e-marketing opportunities.
Ultimately, individual industries and markets have their own dynamics that can offset macroeconomic trends. If there are compelling market drivers in an industry, such as new tools and technologies appearing and stimulating investment and the creation of new businesses and freelancers, it can remain somewhat immune to drastic economic downturns.
So are we in a position today? Are there tools and technologies that can help graphic designers weather the current storm? The answer is yes; however, they almost entirely involve online and interactive media.
Which is one reason that in The U.S. Graphic Design Business 2008-2013: Industry Demographics, Trends, and Forecasts, we have a fairly optimistic outlook of the future of the graphic design business. The report provides extensive quantitative Economics and Research Center data on:
The report provides current d ata, as well as ERC forecasts out to 2013. In addition to graphic design companies, we also provide the same data sets for graphic design freelancers. How many freelancers will there likely be by 2013? How much will they make, on average? How much will the spend on hardware and software?
The report also provides a comprehensive overview of the industry and cultural trends that will affect the demographics of the industry in the next four years-and beyond. We also discuss the present economic situation and what it will likely mean for graphic design companies, as well as the companies that sell products and services to those companies and individuals.

One Response to “Graphic Design: A Recession-Proof Industry?”
  1. derricknation says:

    This is a great analogy. Printing is almost dead with everyone mostly using the internet then some thing will replace it eventually but not any time soon. Sooner or later things like web design will be an obligatory standard in the industry. I like this article 🙂

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