Design thinking is an excellent vocation for the modern digital nomad, coupling creative skills in art and animation with technical skills in web development and graphical software suites. While designers are in demand worldwide, there are a few geographic hotspots for the aspiring design professional. Florida is one of the better choices for US-based professionals, with a total of 12,000 graphic designers already living and working in the area.
With the nation’s third largest IT sector, Florida is well-positioned for continued growth in jobs like graphic design, animation, UX/UI, and other design-oriented professions. From a consumer perspective, design thinking is all about connecting technological products with the way consumers engage with them. Any job from graphic design to user experience to game design to modern marketing will rely heavily on a mature IT industry.
There’s even more good news for local Floridians looking to find a way into the world of professional design, specifically that Florida is home to some of the most affordable higher education institutions in the country. Newcomers to the job market will want to consider the many undergraduate programs that merge modern digital technology with art and design, as most employers do expect a minimum of undergraduate qualifications.
Long-time marketing professionals are tasked with translating their skills from traditional marketing to digital marketing, which means either a Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) or a certification program with a focus on design principles and graphic design tools. Artists, marketing professionals, and IT professionals all stand to gain an edge from incorporating digital design principles into their workflow.
For professionals holding undergraduate degrees in marketing or art already, pursuing an MFA in some form of digital design is an excellent way to future-proof your employment opportunities.
Design Master’s Programs in Florida
Navigating the higher education options in any state can be a tricky process, as there are a whopping 4,000 or so universities in the country. There are many metrics to consider when narrowing this list down, and for our purposes we can boil it down to institutions in Florida that offer graduate level programs specifically within digital design disciplines. These disciplines include graphic design, game design, animation (motion design), and a relatively new field called user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). Let’s take a look at each concentration, and map out a good university program available for folks in Florida:
- Graphic Design: Most MFA students are looking to work on their artistic abilities, producing digital assets as opposed to traditionally physical ones. An MFA with a concentration in graphic design is going to be the best bet here. Graphic designers usually live in the Adobe Suite, crafting images from scratch, editing existing assets, and even applying effects. Florida Atlantic University has a very affordable graduate degree in graphic design, to get you started.
- Interaction Design (UX/UI): Computers and people often miscommunicate, with the nature of technological interactions evolving to better fit the human behaviors that engage with them. While this field is often referred to as UX/UI, the broader umbrella of touch points with technology can include a huge variety of interesting new tech (VR/AR as one example). The University of Florida is a top-notch choice with their Master’s in Digital Arts and Science (MiDaS) program.
- Motion Design (animation): In the world of digital art and design, new avenues of artistic ability have been opened up. Images are no longer static, but dynamic, allowing for freedom of movement and special effect applications. This is broadly referred to as motion design (or animation), and a great graduate program in the Florida area for this is going to be the University of Central Florida’s Emerging Media – Animation and Visual Effects MFA. Animation work is not for the faint of heart, so give it a try before you apply!
- Interactive Media (i.e. Game Design): Last but not least is the ever-rising gaming industry, well positioned to be the top contender in all of entertainment if current trends continue. Game developers are an eclectic bunch of highly skilled individuals, including writers, musicians, programmers, producers, and (of course) a huge variety of artists. The key distinction in game development is that the media itself is interactive, and therefore the art, animation, and user interface will need to react and respond to external inputs. The University of Central Florida is worth a second mention here, with their highly specialized graduate degree in Interactive Entertainment. It’s well worth a look for prolific artists, as game design demands a huge number of visual assets!
So long as the university has the concentration you’re interested in, it’s also a smart idea to assess the quality of a university’s network and career services. Translating knowledge into opportunity requires touchpoints in the real (professional) world, and both an engaged graduate student body and lots of internship and gigging opportunities is going to be key to maximizing the ROI on your graduate degree investment. If you are presently a working professional looking to expand your technical capabilities, an MFA in digital design is going to be a great contender for your personal growth investments.
Of course, not everyone has the time or money to invest in a fully onsite graduate degree program. Let’s take a quick look at the online options available to locals in the Florida area.
Online Design Programs in Florida
As the education industry continues to transform around the technology that drives modern interactions, the educational design is also updating to incorporate digital learning possibilities. While not all universities, and not all programs at participating universities, offer online degrees, there are usually a few in-state options if you do a little digging.
Speaking of which, let’s explore the a couple online graduate degrees in graphic design which are Florida-based:
- Full Sail University: This is going to be as good as it gets in terms of the width and breadth of the online digital design programs, both in Florida and countrywide. Included in these options is an MFA specifically in Media Design. It’s well worth looking into, requiring only 12 months to complete the full program. The cost-per-credit will clock in around $750 per credit hour, with a 36 credit course schedule.
- University of South Florida (USF): The University of Southern Florida offers a wide range of online degree programs for professional graduate students, including a program in Digital Journalism and Design. This is a fairly unique program, exploring key concepts in digital design, video editing, and graphic design specifically within the media industries. This program is also only a 12 month entirely online commitment, requiring 33 credit hours at around $350 per credit. As far as a price-to-value ratio, this is about as good as it gets for a lower price program that offers a high quality online graduate degree.
Fortunately for the busy professional, online graduate degrees aren’t the only option to procure that all-important higher education endorsement for your digital design skills. Many of these same institutions offer shorter term sprints through the world of visual arts, user experience, and digital design. These short term certifications are usually referred to as bootcamps.
Design Bootcamps in Florida
The keyword in the world of bootcamps is tactical. Bootcamps strive to provide hands-on functional skill sets, which professionals can immediately use in the workplace in a meaningful way. Theory is more of a background concern, as the key tools of graphic design, animation, and web development occupy the centerstage. If you are a professional looking to refine your technical capabilities, these are going to be a great choice for you.
Of course, selecting a reputable bootcamp is an ongoing challenge. There are tons of massive open online courses like Coursera or edX, which cater to the broadest possible audience at an extremely low cost. Certification is an option at this institutions, but the downside is that networking, internships, and career service programs are nowhere near as available. As a local Floridian, the best plan is to pick a bootcamp that has local connections with businesses. Here’s a short list to get you started:
|Bootcamp Provider||Name of Program||Focus Area||Time||Cost|
|University of Central Florida||UX/UI Bootcamp||UX/UI||6 months||$11,745|
|Full Sail University||3D Arts||Graphic Design||7 months||$15,750|
|University of Florida||Graphic Design||Graphic Design||6 months||$12,744|
|University of Central Florida||Digital Marketing||Digital Design||6 months||$11,745|
|Full Sail University||User Experience||UX/UI||7 months||$15,750|
Each of these programs is built off of an established graduate degree program, and designed to streamline the process for working professionals who need to balance a variety of life responsibilities. Once you complete an MFA or certification in design, it’s time to start thinking about the professional benefits and opportunities that will present themselves as a result.
Five In Demand Design Jobs in Florida
As a pro designer moves from certification or graduate programs into the professional world, it’s useful to know exactly what roles are most in demand in the Florida area. The outlines below should give you a good idea of what type of job you might prefer, and what qualifications will be expected of you prior to getting hired:
- Graphic Designer: Graphic designers are the heart and soul of many projects, visualizing the core value proposition and building a context and style for websites. Graphic designers tend to excel in using digital design tools like Photoshop in order to contribute to the projects they work on. Median salary comes in around $60k/year, with plenty of opportunities to work remotely and accept smaller gig jobs and contracts.
- UX/UI Designer: UX/UI work is increasing by leaps and bounds as more and more organizations realize the importance of interacting with their customers in the digital world. As a result, good designers can expect a median salary upwards of $76k/year, with plenty of flexibility to work remote. Designers who successfully increase engagement rates through minimizing friction for users of digital products are well-positioned for upwards mobility within organizations as well.
- Digital Media Specialist: Digital media is a fairly new phenomenon, and many organizations need individuals trained in digital media strategy to successfully integrate digital channels into their operational purview. A digital media specialist designs pipelines, where touch points with digital consumers are established and optimized. Digital media specialists can expect a median salary around $50k/year, with plenty of room for promotions and raises as they move upwards towards marketing management or creative directorship.
- Motion Designer (animation): With a median salary around $62k/year, animation experts can expect plenty of demand for their skills in Florida. Both Disney and Pixar are headquartered in Florida, making motion design work one of Florida’s most distinctive exports. Animators are expected to navigate the shifts in graphic design work over a period of time, producing the illusion of motion. It takes plenty of patience and a fair bit of technical ability to succeed in this highly prized role!
- Creative Director: Last but certainly not least is the managerial outcome for successful designers, which is typically a role in creative leadership. Creative directors in particular tend to pull in around $91k/year, with this higher salary being due to the managerial expectations and strategic scope of the position. Creative directors can come from any technical specialization in design, with a reasonable amount of importance being placed on a graduate level certification in art. More important than any of that will be a demonstrated ability to navigate big-picture thinking, leading creatives towards collaborative deliverables.
Whichever road you intend to take, the key takeaway is planning a path that allows both the acquisition of skills and the development of professional networks. Attaining a graduate degree or technical certification is an excellent way to accomplish both goals, so long as you know what your specialization will be beforehand. Your first task as a designer is to design your long-term professional path to your career goals!