What the U.S. census says about the design workforce

Last week the NEA released research based on its analysis of data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, a new annual survey tool that complements the decennial census. Its results highlight a number of characteristics of the U.S. design community. The design categories are aggregated to include commercial and industrial designers; fashion designers; floral designers; graphic designers; interior designers; merchandise displayers; and set and exhibit designers. Still it provides a profile of communication designers, who represent the largest of these disciplines.

The NEA used a five-year data set (2005–2009) to get a large enough sample size for a thorough analysis. Of the 2.1 million Americans identified as artists, designers make up the largest segment of the creative community in the United States, representing 39 percent of artist/creative category, or nearly 830,000 workers. The number of trained communication designers has been estimated by AIGA as 350,000—NEA estimates there are 390,000 with a communication or graphic design degree.

Slightly more than 20 percent of designers reflect a minority race or ethnic characteristic. Fourteen to 16 percent were foreign born—about the rate in the national workforce, but a higher percentage than many of the other disciplines.

NEA reports estimates that 54 percent of the designer category are women. AIGA’s membership is approximately 55 percent women, although we expect that to increase—two-thirds of design students surveyed by AIGA are women.

Complete information is available from the NEA report, Artists and Arts Workers in the United States. Although other data are offered in the analysis, the broad “designer” category masks the relevant data for communication designers.

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.