Your classmate will quit.

“When you reach 30, 88% of your classmates will no longer be full-time designers.”

I normally say that to enthusiastic art college students instinctively without even working out the proper math.

So basically, only 12% remain full-time designers. Perhaps I sound overly pessimistic whenever I state the numbers, but I do have my reasons.

However, I thought it would be good to do the math.

Take a class of 30 design students.

By the time they completed their diploma or degree, at least 20% of the low achievers would have realized that they aren’t cut for the industry. They were not even half as good as their classmates and would virtually stand no chance if they were to compete with graduates from the other college. They would be better off switching careers even before they started.

So we have 24 students entering the job market, at an average age of 22.

Unfortunately, the design industry is a cruel industry. It requires a combination of hard work and real talent. Sort of like sports, in which all the training do not necessarily make a great sports personality.

Very early on, 4 out of 24 would have switched to account servicing. They knew that they lacked the talent to compete but compromised with the idea of remaining in an industry which they are familiar.

Fast forward three years. The good ones are now ahead of the pack. They would have moved on to a second or third job and would have gotten a nice pay raise along the way.

Assuming we work on a typical bell curve and that the top performers are actually more than 20% of the freshies, i.e, approximately 6 students out of the 20 who entered the job market as professional designers.

Leave these 6 performers aside and look at the remaining 14 students, now at the age of 25.

Assuming an equal division of sexes – 7 students would be females. (In fact, as a side note, the classes I have taught have more females).

The young 14 designers are beginning to understand the cruel reality – the design industry involves working extremely stressful long hours, and occasionally taking up the entire 24 hours of a day. Being an “average” designer also means doing heaps of average, boring jobs without any job satisfaction at the usual obligatory RM200 (USD62.50) incremental raise per year.

The 7 girls would certainly quit the industry. They would eventually get married, have kids (or plan for kids) and figured that the lifestyle of a designer (long hours, low income) doesn’t exactly make a good wife, nor a good mum.

By the age of 30, the 7 guys would also quit. They started their career probably at a monthly pay of RM1500 per month at age 22. Being average means receiving average increments over the next few years. 5 years later they might be getting RM2500 per month (optimistically speaking). At the age 27/28, these 7 designers would be thinking about settling down and starting a family. They would take stock of their career, figured honestly that they can only be “average” and might as well quickly move on to a new career, while they are still young. Hence we lost another 7 designers but gained 7 new insurance agents / property agents / salesmen etc.

So we are left with the 6 best performers.

Again assuming 3 are females, who would have to make a similar decisions over career versus family.

In an Asian cultural setting, most likely 2 out of 3 would quit their full time jobs. Maybe not entirely, as they would want to continue doing a bit of freelancing to maintain the interests and passion.

Which leaves us with 1 female full-time designer plus 3 full-time guys.

4 out of a class of 30, that’s 13.33%.

So that’s more than 12% and I was wrong, but that’s not the point.

Note 1: This is written from an Asian perspective, where low pay and long hours are common for the design industry.

Note 2: I’m assuming people do settle down and start their families. It’s an Asian society + cultural thing.

Note 3: The lack of female designers is probably not just an Asian observation. Here’s an article from Creative Review, and another from typographica.