Interactive Media Designer

The Job and What's Involved

Interactive media designers create the overall look and feel of a wide range of interactive communication products. Using text, data, graphics, sound, animation and other digital and visual effects, interactive media designers may work on projects such as:

  • Web sites.
  • Off-line multimedia, such as DVD's and CD-ROM's.
  • Online learning materials.
  • Electronic games.
  • Enteractive television.
  • Public information centres or interactive screens found in museums and at exhibitions.

The first stage of any project is to determine the 'brief'. The interactive media designer usually forms part of a larger product development team which finds out from the client what they require. This typically involves:

  • Meeting the client in person to discuss budgets, timescales and design options.
  • Advising clients on what is technically possible and researching alternative approaches.

The interactive media designer then usually prepares rough concepts for the client to approve. This may involve sketching out some ideas or storyboards, or producing a few screens of information.

Once the project has been fully approved, the interactive media designer often works alongside specialist writers, programmers, animators, sound engineers, production assistants and film producers, as well as the clients' in-house technical team to produce the finished item. Their role typically involves:

  • Using industry-standard specialised graphics and multimedia software packages.
  • Producing separate visuals for each web page.
  • Specifying how the pages should interact with each other.
  • Designing hypertext links and animated menus.

Their role may sometimes overlap that of a software developer, so interactive media designers may also be responsible for building the product. This could involve authoring files, writing codes and testing the functionality of the end product.

Interactive media designers often work on several projects at once and have to meet tight deadlines.

Interactive media designers normally work Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. It is very common to work longer hours when there is a deadline to meet. Part-time work is possible, and many interactive media designers work freelance or do contract assignments.

They are usually based in a studio or office, but may work remotely from home. The job can involve spending long periods sitting at a desk or computer workstation. They may spend time travelling to client offices for project briefings and presentations.

Salaries may start at around £15,500 to £22,000 a year. Salaries tend to be higher around London and the South East.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The interactive media sector employs 53,100 people, with electronic games and off-line multimedia employing around 9,400 and 9,800 respectively. There is a higher concentration of jobs in London and the South East, but opportunities do exist throughout the country.

Most interactive media designers work for graphic design, advertising, marketing and communications agencies. They may also work within larger corporate, public sector or local government in-house technology and communication teams, and for software developers or publishers.

It is a fast growing industry, but competition for jobs is high, with more applicants than vacancies. Despite this, skilled staff are constantly in demand.

Jobs are often advertised in computing and specialist design publications such as New Media Age, Creative Review, Design Week and Edge. Other vacancy sources include specialist recruitment agencies, like Recruit Media (www.recruitmedia.co.uk) or www.mad.co.uk.

Education and Training

Although there are no set academic entry requirements, most entrants are graduates. A degree or postgraduate qualification in an art and design-related subject, such as graphic or multimedia design, is particularly useful. Information architecture and product design qualifications and work experience are also helpful.

HNC's/HND's, Foundation degrees and degrees are available. Applicants for HNC/HND courses usually need at least one A level/two H grades or equivalent qualifications. Degree courses usually require at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent qualifications. Candidates should check with individual colleges and universities for exact entry requirements.

However, creative talent is the key qualification. Entry to a junior design post direct from school is sometimes possible. Useful qualifications include:

  • GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in maths, sciences, business studies, applied ICT, art and design and English.
  • A levels/H grades in art and design, business studies and ICT.
  • Advanced GCE in Applied Art and Design.
  • BTEC National Diplomas in subjects such as E-Business, IT Practitioners (Software Development) and Art and Design (Interactive Media).

In addition, employers usually want to see some evidence of practical experience and a portfolio of relevant work samples. This may be gained through a work placement or even by producing material from a home computer.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most employers expect new recruits to have already mastered basic design and computer programming skills. Once in the job, training is often a combination of self-learning and mentoring by colleagues. Some employers may support and fund professional qualifications.

The Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IMIS) offers specialist qualifications.

The British Computer Society offers a range of qualifications in business analysis, software and project management and information systems.

There is also a range of relevant NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 3 and 4 in communication and technology, covering artwork imaging, website software and software development.

There are also tutorial courses available for industry-standard computer design packages which offer accreditation in the use of specific products.

Due to the fast changes in this sector, people working in interactive media need to keep their skills and knowledge fresh throughout their career.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An interactive media designer should:

  • Be naturally creative and imaginative.
  • Have a good understanding of computer technology and the technical processes involved.
  • Be a team player and enjoy working alongside colleagues and external consultants.
  • Be organised and self-motivated.
  • Understand what appeals to different target audiences.
  • Be a strong and persuasive communicator.
  • Be comfortable presenting to audiences, including senior personnel.
  • Work effectively to tight deadlines.
  • Accept criticism and be able to work positively.
  • Be flexible and willing to adapt design ideas to meet technical criteria.
  • Have an eye for detail.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is no typical progression route for interactive media designers. With experience, they may move from a junior design role towards lead designer. This can involve managing their own team of IT and design specialists and liaising directly with clients.

Some can become specialists, for instance in animation or digital special effects.

Others may move into the more technical aspects of IT programming and authoring. Another option within a larger design house is to move into account or project management.

As demand for specialist skills continues, more designers are setting up their own businesses, doing contract work or building their own client list.

Get Further Information

British Computer Society (BCS), 1st Floor,
Block D, North Star House, North Star Avenue,
Swindon, Wiltshire SN2 1FA
Tel: 0845 300 4417
Website: www.bcs.org

British Interactive Media Association (BIMA),
Briarlea House, Southend Road, Billericay CM11 2PR
Tel: 01277 658107
Website: www.bima.co.uk

e-Skills UK, 1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR
Tel: 020 7963 8920
Website: www.e-skills.com/careers

Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IMIS),
5 Kingfisher House, New Mill Road,
Orpington, Kent BR5 3QG
Tel: 0700 002 3456
Website: www.imis.org.uk

New Media Knowledge, NMK University of Westminster,
115 New Cavendish Street, London W1W 6UW
Tel: 020 7911 5000
Website: www.nmk.co.uk

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Tel: 020 7713 9800
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

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