Recent reports published in Hong Kong highlight the lack of experienced and competent designers in the city (Heskett, 2003; The DesignSmart Research Project, 2008). Two possible reasons behind this problem are insufficient training provided to fresh university graduates upon their transition into the workplace and the fact that academics and employers do not realize they have a role to play in the transition. University-workplace transitions have been studied extensively around the world (Schein, 1972; Argyris & SchÖn, 1989; Eraut , 1994, 2007; Boshuizen, 2003; Tuomi-Grohn, Engestrom & Young, 2003; Smeby, 2007; Asian Development Bank, 2012), with researchers pointing out that there is often a ‘learning gap’ between the two settings. Little, if any, research in this area, however, has focused on how university students become “professional designers” through the transition, and few, if any, studies have focused on the context of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, research shows that this period is critical to graduates’ learning through professional practice and their acquisition of different types of knowledge and skills (Boshuizen, 2003; Guile & Young, 2003; Eraut, 2007).
Given the significance of this transition and the dearth of studies focusing on design graduates, my PhD study examined the questions of what general issues graphic design graduates typically face during the transition and how these issues affect their professional development. Three kinds of respondents or stakeholders were involved in the study: graduate graphic designers, design firm employers and design academics. The study relied on a mixed method approach, with the qualitative interview method as the core qualitative component and a survey as the supplementary quantitative component. Pattern-matching and category construction were used for analyzing the qualitative data, while descriptive statistics were used to validate and support the conclusions arrived at through the analysis of the qualitative data.
The findings of the study confirm that Hong Kong graphic design graduates entering the profession lack the practical competence expected of them and needed for successful socialization into the professional community. This was highlighted by all the three groups of respondents who felt that university education does not prepare design graduates for professional practice. Several explanations for this problem were identified. It was suggested that this problem is mainly due to the fact that the criteria by which competence is judged are different between academia and professional practice. It was also found that neither academics nor firm employers consider themselves as having the primary responsibility for providing training to graduates during the transition. All the three groups of stakeholders concurred to a significant extent that an arduous workplace environment, a lack of structure and accountability of the stakeholders, and the absence of a professional ‘goal’ in graphic design, all contribute to the difficulty in graduates’ professional development.
The results of the study suggest that all the stakeholders must take greater responsibility for raising the professional standards of graduates. This seems to demand that in the first place, some agreement must be reached between the stakeholders about the core competences of graphic design and the types of training needed in the transition. Once that has been done, it may be possible for the academic curriculum and the requirements of professional design bodies to be better harmonized. It seems obvious from the evidence presented here that closer collaboration between academia and professional bodies is vital. In the longer term, given the absence of sufficient research into what constitutes “graphic design”, what is needed is further research into the “core competences” and comprehensive “professional criteria ” of graphic design in Hong Kong, defined in terms of skills, practices, and knowledge.