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Investing in Arts Education

How COVID-19 Impacted the Arts Community


The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) is committed to enhancing designers’ relevance, leadership, and opportunities for success, and even more so in the last year as we all deal with the lasting impacts of COVID-19.

In our research, we found that some of the greatest challenges lie in finding ways to inspire and guide those inside and outside the profession to understand how valuable designers can be in solving complex problems and bringing positive change to society. We are celebrating the diversity of our industry and the social impact each and every designer makes to society. Our mission is to shed light on how design interfaces with the world and the value it provides to our larger society.

More information about our new research and insights program that is providing new outlooks for design and designers can be found at


Bennie F. Johnson

Executive Director, American Institute of Graphic Arts

The year has been difficult for many, especially for those in the arts community who have been limited by COVID-19 restrictions. However, the community has been resilient and things are looking brighter as restrictions lessen. What have been some of the challenges within the arts and design industry in the past year? Was the industry resilient?

With the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, the design community, like many others, was immediately affected. To better understand the significant and sudden changes brought on by COVID-19, AIGA reached out to members of the community at large to better grasp the full impact. We found that approximately one out of two professionals had their income negatively impacted, with more than 80 percent of self-employed, small business owners, and freelancers being impacted. Not surprisingly, insecurity is another concern noted within the community. 73 percent (versus 56 percent in 2019) are a little concerned about the stability of their job.

Even in the midst of COVID-19, there is still inspiration to be found in the design community. Looking forward to the future, designers see the profession becoming more:

  • Digital (“the future of design is digital and remote”; “web and digital everything”; “becoming even more digital; design is going to be integral in helping people feel connected and inspired”)
  • Multidisciplinary (“will grow more multidisciplinary”; “integrated across all disciplines”; “will require increasing levels of education, sophistication and credentialing”; “as fully integrated with all aspects of business”; “multidisciplinary creators”)
  • Impactful (“continue to move beyond ‘making things pretty’”; “serve a bigger impact on organizations to help with differentiation and innovation”; “we will have to prove our worth to people”)
  • Experiential (“working with users first in mind, ethically and otherwise”; “will be forced into UX space, showing the importance of experience over everything”; “an even stronger focus on user experience”)
  • Adaptive (“continue evolving with new technologies and cultural shifts or needs”; “will be resilient and evolve as the world moves towards contactless engagement”; “changing to adapt to new social norms”)

I think it’s easy to say, yes, the design community has been incredibly resilient during the last year. In fact, six out of 10 believe that design will help us emerge stronger from this crisis.

Many people changed career paths during the pandemic, some following their passions for the arts. What recent research and changes have you seen in people entering or expanding their careers in arts and design?

In 2021, AIGA launched a new research initiative, the AIGA Design Point of View. In this research, we found new technologies such as AI/machine learning (49%), augmented reality/virtual reality (38%), collaborative design software (33%), online behavior tracking/modeling (28%), and telepresence/virtual workplaces (25%) are the top emerging trends that will potentially have the largest impact on the profession. Designers see their profession changing in several ways:

  • 42% believe it will be increasingly digital, mobile interactive
  • 41% think it will be multifaceted, needing more diverse set of skills
  • 25% feel design will be more data driven
  • 25% believe design will be more community/society/human-oriented
  • 18% see design trending towards more experiential digital applications
  • 17% think it will be more automated with some design done by machines
  • 17% believe design will be integral to business strategy

Additionally, we found that lifelong learning is critical in design, and adaptability has never been more important. To stay current, designers learn new skills on-the-job (71%), look at other people’s work (66%); leverage YouTube tutorials (62%); find online training opportunities (57%); and attend conferences or workshops (54%).

In what ways has the arts and design industry grown with the pandemic? Have more opportunities become available?

The pandemic has created a time for innovation, and design is at the center of the conversation. We are rethinking the way we work, live, and navigate our world. AIGA has created opportunities to expand, shine, and impact design professionals through webinars and learning, professional development courses, virtual networking, and large-scale career events such as the AIGA Portfolio Festival. We’re seeing more interest in people wanting careers to have meaning, and design provides not only meaning, but also community and connection.

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