Computers and the internet have brought both challenges and opportunities to the publishing industry. However, given the launch of numerous online magazines and newspapers - and those to be viewed on mobile phones and tablet computers - career prospects for designers look rosy.
Dave Ho, art director of A Creative, which mainly deals with layout design for magazines, welcomes what lies ahead. "The market has definitely become bigger with the addition of online and mobile phone versions for people on the move. Nowadays, designers have to be flexible [to work across platforms]," he says.
The core duty of a designer is to arrange contents in a way that appeals to the reader and increases readability. But the job is about more than just improving the way things look - it also has a marketing element. "We try to match the tone of our designs to the editorial. We also work closely with advertisers," Ho says. According to him, a layout designer is not just doing a desk job. Designers often have to visit clients to discuss prospective designs with them.
Ho says there are no academic requirements as most of the training is done on the job. The key trait is a willingness to learn. "[Members of] our design team come from all walks of life, not necessarily from a design education background," he says.
Ho adds it is important to be able to work under pressure. "Deadlines are usually extremely tight as we need approval from the editorial team and advertisers before rolling out our designs. We work six days a week, resting on Sunday. If it looks like we can't meet a deadline, overtime is a must," he says.
For Ho, peak season is before Chinese New Year and Christmas, when magazines roll out their features. Besides magazines, newspapers and ad agencies also seek layout designers.
Newcomers usually start as designer at HK$8,000 a month. They can be promoted to senior designer, art director and creative director. It usually takes five to 10 years to reach director grade.