Multimedia specialists combine creative flair and technical skills to design information and communication technology (ICT) based products that entertain, educate or inform the user.

Common multimedia products include:

  • computer games;
  • CD-ROMs;
  • catalogue databases;
  • DVDs;
  • websites.

As well as the vast gaming industry, there is a huge demand for training materials within the education and business sectors.

Companies require a wealth of advertising and marketing materials to promote their products, for example on websites, and through Flash banners, email campaigns and social media. A range of organisations, such as those that provide information services to the public, also need specialist information-resource materials.

When the design is complete, multimedia specialists use authoring software to arrange the files in a single program, to enable interactivity and navigation through the product content.

They test and adjust the product to fix any technical problems and produce documentation describing the creation, content and processes of files.

Responsibilities

Multimedia projects generally involve bringing together a number of elements into one application to run on a delivery platform that can support a combination of text, sounds and images. The mix of media may vary, but each project has in common a computer component integrating all the parts.

Tasks generally include:

  • meeting with clients to establish their expectations and needs;
  • advising clients on what is technically possible and producing a proposal including, for example, the range and scope of the work and realistic timescales and costs;
  • assembling a development team and keeping them updated on the project;
  • creating design ideas using computer-based design packages;
  • collaborating with other specialists, writers, animators, artists, sound engineers and programmers;
  • liaising with account managers and technical staff on behalf of the client and, where applicable, ensuring clearance and copyright;
  • authoring files into a single program;
  • testing and adjusting final programs;
  • producing finished design work and presenting final designs to clients;
  • observing company policy in terms of producing and archiving product documentation, as well as any reports and recommendations;
  • gaining final sign-off from the client;
  • agreeing on the upgrading of the product or website with the client.

When designing products, multimedia specialists use a variety of tools. Industry-standard computer design packages include:

  • Adobe Illustrator;
  • InDesign;
  • Photoshop;
  • Director;
  • Dreamweaver;
  • Flash and Flash 3D Animator;
  • Apple Final Cut Pro;
  • Avid audio production software.

Using these and other computer packages they are able to incorporate the work of other specialists, including writers, artists, animators, film-makers and video producers, programmers and sound engineers, in the final product.

Depending on the complexity of the product, the authoring of files into a single program may be done by an assistant using Hypertext Markup language (HTML) or by a software programmer using 'object oriented' programming languages such as Java or C++.

Salary

  • Salaries typically start at around £21,000 to £24,000, rising to £28,000 with experience.
  • Senior multimedia specialists can earn £35,000 to £50,000+, with the highest salaries usually found in London.

Job listings and details of average salaries offered in IT jobs involving multimedia are provided by IT Jobs Watch. The data encompass the highest-level salaries and so may not be entirely representative of typical earnings.

Salary levels vary and depend on the company, level of experience and the type of contract. Some professionals become consultants and can negotiate high fees as well as commissions and profit shares, depending on their skills level and expertise.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are generally 9am to 5pm, although extra hours, including work at weekends, may be required to meet deadlines. Some companies offer more flexible working arrangements.

What to expect

  • The work is desk based, usually in an office or studio environment. Many designers work from home.
  • Many experienced multimedia designers and programmers work as consultants or on fixed-term contracts. Experienced multimedia professionals may choose to start up their own companies.
  • Opportunities exist throughout the country, with most vacancies concentrated in London and the South East. Although there is competition for jobs, there is steady demand for professional multimedia specialists.
  • Dress is usually smart-casual, although some organisations adopt a casual dress code. A business suit may be required for meetings with clients.
  • Travel during the working day usually involves visiting clients' premises for meetings, mostly in the local area, although this may occasionally be further afield.
  • There may be opportunities to work abroad, either in the overseas offices of UK-based companies or for an overseas employer. Depending on the country, competence in a foreign language may be required.

Qualifications

This area of work is open to all graduates and holders of diploma qualifications, although the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • business information systems;
  • computing and computer science;
  • film-making and digital photography;
  • fine art/visual art;
  • graphic and media design;
  • multimedia/interactive technology/design/animation;
  • software development/engineering;
  • web development;
  • 3D design/visual art.

Many professionals working in this area have pursued training in both design and technology-related subjects such as animation, photography and computer programming. This combination is useful in developing a set of skills to integrate text, sound and visual elements within a digital environment.

There is a huge number of degree, HND and HNC courses in the UK with 'multimedia' in the title so ensure that the content of your course is appropriate to the multimedia career you wish to follow.

Entry without a degree, HND or HNC qualification is possible with a strong portfolio or experience. Graduates from non-relevant disciplines may opt for postgraduate study in design, computing or technology subjects.

Relevant postgraduate courses are offered at various universities. Check the course content for the balance between design and technology skills. Search for postgraduate courses in multimedia design.

A range of professional courses and qualifications is available, covering topics such as communication and information technology, artwork imaging, website software and software development. Details are available from The Tech Partnership.

Skills

You will need:

  • creativity and a good understanding of technical processes;
  • operation skills in the use of specific operating systems such as MAC OS X, Linux or Windows;
  • a passion for information technology, good programming skills and the willingness to keep up to date with technological developments;
  • high level of competency in using a range of relevant software applications, such as AdobePremiere Pro, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, Flash, Dreamweaver, Photoshop;
  • the ability to understand and communicate complex information expressed in numbers, charts or equations;
  • the capacity to analyse problems and propose solutions;
  • attention to detail;
  • desire to work on a project from concept through to closure;
  • an understanding of the needs of the user;
  • excellent organisational skills to plan projects and meet deadlines;
  • confidence and enthusiasm;
  • excellent interpersonal, communication and presentation skills, with the ability to listen, respond and relate to clients - in particular to explain things clearly to people who may not be very familiar with multimedia products;
  • teamwork and a willingness to share knowledge and expertise to achieve common goals.

Those aiming to become self-employed will also need the following skills:

  • business acumen;
  • people management and development;
  • the ability to self-promote and network;
  • the ability to brief clients and close deals;
  • project planning, time management and budgeting.

It is important to build up a strong portfolio of work to demonstrate skills and creativity, either with a CD-ROM, computer game or through a personal website/portfolio. Employers may ask to see examples of relevant work (this could be produced from your coursework, a work placement or be self-generated on a home computer).

Pre-entry experience is desirable and relevant project work or placements are an advantage.

Employers

Multimedia specialists can find work in a variety of organisations of all sizes and across all employment sectors.

Many are based in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, working for computer manufacturers, software development companies, telecommunications firms and internet service providers (ISPs).

Opportunities can also be found within advertising and marketing companies, or technical departments of large organisations.

Other employers are those in:

  • finance and insurance industries;
  • retail businesses;
  • property;
  • business outsourcing;
  • engineering;
  • manufacturing;
  • transport.

Some work in the technical sections of local and central government departments.

Vacancies also occur with charitable and voluntary organisations, in education, publishing, cultural organisations, the leisure industry, broadcasting and the health sector. There may be opportunities to work abroad in some cases.

Look for job vacancies at:

Many vacancies are handled by specialist recruitment agencies. For details search the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).

For details of media, design, advertising, marketing and technology companies and vacancies, also see Mad.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Employers expect new entrants to be familiar with industry-standard computer design packages, such as Photoshop and Director. Skills in more advanced packages, such as Flash, are often picked up as they are used, and via online tutorials.

You must also develop an understanding of HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets - the industry standard for styling internet pages).

Most training takes place on the job, with the possibility of employer-funded short courses in various aspects of multimedia design.

Some employers offer the chance to gain IT skills through graduate training programmes in areas such as programming or web development.

Skills and knowledge requirements change very quickly in multimedia so you will need to keep abreast of new technological developments. Keep an eye on websites and online forums for the latest industry developments. Learn from your colleagues and peers, especially those who are already working in the role you would like to move into next.

Lists of media and multimedia courses, including animation, computer games and interactive media, are published by:

Professional qualifications for multimedia specialists are also available from the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT).

Many multimedia professionals choose to develop their careers in IT and to develop their technical, problem solving, service delivery and project management expertise by pursuing formal training with:

Career prospects

Multimedia specialists can work their way up to senior designer/studio manager positions. Some move between different employers to gain wider experience or promotion and salary increases.

Others use their IT skills to move into other areas of information and communications technology (ICT), for example:

  • management roles - such as project manager, leading a team of specialists, or account manager, with increased client contact;
  • technical roles - for example, in computer programming, applications development or website management;
  • creative roles - such as art director, or website/CD content writer.

While larger organisations may provide more opportunities for promotion to supervisory and management positions, smaller firms often allow a greater degree of responsibility at an earlier stage in your career. They may also provide the opportunity to gain skills and experience across a range of specialisms and in different areas of the business more quickly.

Lecturing in further or higher education may be an option for those who want to pass on their skills and knowledge to others.

Some experienced multimedia specialists become self-employed, working on a contract or consultancy basis and building up their own client base.