In the mid-1970s, 20-somethings were still applying to work for the Big Three in droves. They had good jobs, with the promise of workman’s security as well as a retirement check with benefits at the end of 30 years. Though Michigan no longer has an abundance of industrial jobs, the automotive industry is still providing the younger generation with options, albeit more specialized.
A group of talented young people is entering the automotive industry in new ways. News and media publications aren’t the only domains turning to technology for newer ways of doing things. Desktop publishing was developed 30 years ago, and since the early ’90s, Adobe programs have been used for everything from web layout to billboard advertisements.
The College for Creative Studies — located in downtown Detroit — trains students in the field of graphic design with great success. Luke Mack is a 20-year-old student who’s in the school’s automotive design program. Michaela Allen, in her third year at the college, studies graphic design. Both of these students are talented artists who chose to enter the field of design due to its practicality. Both are currently working at design internships.
Luke works on both personal and freelance projects and is also an intern for General Motors this summer. “(Graphic design) is practical. I’m making a product for people to consume eventually, and it’s kind of about status and culture,” he admitted. “Cars are cultural icons. So it’s good because I like to fuse the artistic side with the logical side. It’s a good mix.”
Both Michaela and Luke have created paintings that people want to buy — Luke has a 15-foot-high piece that J. Dilla’s camp wanted to buy for a party celebrating the rapper’s posthumously released album. But such sales are few and far between.
“It’s hard to make it as an artist,” Michaela said. “Graphic design is a much more specific skill, and it’s more practical to learn. I didn’t realize that it would be so technical when I first started out.”
Graphic design is a field that is steadily gaining velocity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, the median pay in 2010 for a designer just out of college was around $43,500 a year. That number is higher than the average humanities degree recipient just getting their start. It also doesn’t account for those professionals with specializations in product or car design, who often have substantially higher paychecks. The BLS also reports that the demand for graphics in computer system interfaces and the like will hit a 61 percent hike by 2020, while the demand for specialized graphics services demand will rise by a significant 27 percent.
That being said, the race for jobs among young designers is still fairly competitive. There are a limited number in metro Detroit, even though the needs for automotive-related graphic services are varied, running from body design to interior coloration.
Certainly, it’s a boon to Detroit — and Michigan overall — that creative young people like Michaela and Luke are working here. However, despite the fact that around 80 percent of students who intern in an area end up in that same area, it remains that around 50 percent of students leave Michigan after graduation.
One young automotive designer, who wished to remain anonymous, wants to get out of the area. The young professional discovered his knack for the field while still in high school and finds that though Detroit has been essential to his start for practical reasons, he does wish to head west. “(California) is where a lot of the automotive trends happen that we see here in the Midwest,” he said.
When asked what Michigan could offer him if he stayed, he pointed out that if he ever wanted to start his own business, Detroit has the infrastructure to do so, and cheaply. Indeed, a friend of Luke’s is currently working on a project painting around 50 buildings, while a well-known street artist from California named Revok recently completed a mural in Eastern Market.
“From listening to the talk of the area, it seems that Detroit is coming back,” Luke said. In the absence of traditional options, the city and the rest of Michigan need the power of the creative brain to combat the drain.
Vanessa Rychlinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.