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How to become a digital media designer

Competition in Germany is stiff if you want to become a digital media designer. The field may be very technical, but includes a healthy dose of creativity - and that's what's attracting so many young people today.

Through the open window, you can hear cars driving by and the cry of a seagull now and then. But in the office, it's quiet. Malte Matheus sits at a desk facing the window, where he can look over the Hamburg harbor. But instead of soaking in the view, he's staring at the colorful shapes and letters on his computer screen.

Matheus works as a trainee for the online edition of the German magazine, "Computer Bild." He wants to become a digital media designer and has been doing a traineeship at the Axel Springer publishing house in Hamburg for the past two years.

Malte Matheus, Copyright: DW/J. Albrecht

Malte Matheus has found his dream job

Matheus was lucky to get the position: Last year, nearly 300 young people applied for only eight vacancies. The field of digital media design has become so popular not only because it requires creativity and strong Internet skills, but also because it promises a high degree of mobility, according to Martin Vögtle of the Professional Media School of Hamburg.

Job opportunities abroad

"Some of our former students have found work in other European countries, or even outside of Europe," said Vögtle. Job opportunities for alumni of the renowned school seem to be bright. However, only few foreign students have so far shown an interest in the school.

Currently, only one student from outside of Germany - a young woman from Spain - is doing a traineeship as a digital media designer as part of a special exchange program offered by Hamburg's Chamber of Commerce.

The traineeship offers several options. Malte Matheus went for "design and technology," which means writing for websites and designing layouts. Matheus says he has always had an interest, not only in computers, but also in mobile technology and social media and this particular course offers him a broad spectrum.

Typeset, Copyright: picture alliance/ZB

The origins of modern media design were in the printing press

"I also did an internship at an advertising agency just before I finished high school," he said. After that, he was sure of his career path in media.

Media school teaches basic skills

Right now, Matheus is working in the digital computer picture department. If he hadn't been accepted to the Axel Springer program, he would have escaped to Australia for a year, he said. But traveling the world is something he can do anytime - and as a qualified digital media designer, perhaps he'll even be able to find a job in another country very soon.

It takes three years to become a digital media designer. Part of the training takes place at the school, where the students acquire basic skills in designing websites and processing photo material, audios and videos.

Media designer Ulf Hardegen, who shares his office with Matheus, points out that the theoretical knowledge the trainees gain at the school isn't quite enough to prepare them for real work in the field. That's why practical experience has been added to the curriculum. Hardegen, who looks after the trainees, says it is largely up to them to learn more.

"Most of them are able to work productively with us within a very short time," he praised.

Origins in the printing press

The profession of media design may have started with the printing press, but newcomers in the field hardly ever have anything to do with the old machines. "We visiting a printing shop only once," recalled Matheus.

Arne Bahruth, 42, belongs to the older generation that learned to work with printing presses. "Towards the late 1990s, this profession changed completely," he explained. "Since then, prepress techniques are used less and less frequently, but now more creativity is called for." Bahruth no longer works with printing presses, but is now in charge of the iPad version of the publishing house's popular car magazine, where Matheus also spent some time during his traineeship.

"There is a lot of technology behind what you see on an iPad. And we are responsible for all that," said Matheus. The future media designer seems to have taken to the digital world like a duck to water. Bahruth adds that he loves to see the final results of all the hard work - whether print or digital.

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