Perhaps you remember the Queen in Shakespeare’s Macbeth saying, “More substance less art.” When it comes to being a graphic designer or even a Web designer, the opposite is true. I’ve noticed something over the past few years out in the field of being a professional graphic designer: we really are losing ground. Like Rodney Dangerfield would say, “No respect, no respect at all!” There was a time when being a graphic designer earned you gasps and excited questions of how you did it. Graphic designers were these heavyweights who created the things we relied so much on like books, movie posters and magazines. Fast forward from the 20th to the 21st century and you’ll see how the graphic designer in today’s society has taken quite a tumble: people really have no idea what graphic designers are, what we do and why we’re still important.
I blame, like any child of the 2oth century, technology. The more advanced technology is and more accessible it is to the general public, the less special something like graphic design feels to the everyday man. I mean, look at it: in the olden days, graphic designer set type by hands – now that seems archaic and laughable because all a person has to do is scroll through the font menu and slap something down without much consideration at all. In the past, people had to actually draw things because manipulating a photo was damn near impossible. Now with few simple commands and flicks of a button or brush in Photoshop, a photo can go from ordinary to looking as if it was (poorly) drawn out to look cartoonish or sketched by pencil. No wonder graphic designers have to spend so much of their time justifying why we’re worthy of full-time positions with competitive salaries!
Some will say the only way one can become a good graphic designer in today’s job market would be to learn how to become good at web design. Huh? I’ve never understood that because as someone who’s had to switch back and forth between being a “graphic” designer and being a “web” designer, I know that these two fields are two different beasts. Telling a good graphic designer that he or she needs to be, or is expected to be, an exceptionally good web designer is like telling a police officer that he or she needs to be a good firefighter – sure, both professions concern saving people from peril but c’mon, you’re talking about two very different professions with different requirements.
I don’t think graphic designers should be pressured into “peer” pressure and give up the design part of their jobs to become good Web programmers and coders. I don’t think Web designers are all capable of being effective graphic designers. What I do think both could benefit from is becoming more artistic. Let me explain:
Old school graphic design called for a special skill set more akin to being a good artist: composition, color theory, the ability to sketch out ideas clearly, perspective and being able to do a lot of design tasks by hand. Nowadays, I see more designers flooding the career field who have a horrible sense of color and have no idea how to use it effective, who slap together a layout without much consideration for communication and composition and designers who’d scoff at the idea of drawing anything by hand. Yet, they think, and their employers believe, that just because they know a little HTML and are willing to do a billion tasks that have nothing to do with design and more to do with computer science and programming, they’re “decent” graphic designers. Give me a break.
Do you want to be a good graphic designer? Do you want to be a great photographer or good Web designer? Start perfecting your artistic skills. Yes, knowing how to maneuver yourself around some CSS, XHTML, PHP and Java will get you employed but having an artistic background will truly make you an exceptional designer of any sort. You can’t be a great photographer if you have no sense of composition and don’t know how to frame your subject in the composition. You are going to be a lame designer if you have no idea what emotional responses certain colors will spark in the viewer or if you’re simply afraid to use color (which many designers are). If you’re a Web designer, you need to be able to sketch out the ideas and layout for your Web page or be able to use a grid to figure out how to vary-up the design of your page so that it stands out from the crowd.
Graphic designers and creatives of the past were valued more because they did something the common person couldn’t: they really designed, as in, they used their artistic skills to create something no one else could. We’ve become far too reliant on technology and think that being a graphic designer means you know how to use Photoshop. That’s not the case – anyone can use Photoshop. There was an old title for designers that’s become nearly extinct thanks to technological advances: graphic artists. We need more people to rise to the challenge and become graphic artists rather than designers. Graphic artists are the ones that aren’t afraid of using handmade art in design work meant for mass consumption; they aren’t afraid to sketch or draw, even when they aren’t the best artists; they boldly use colors and they create something that goes beyond the simple special effects palette in Photoshop. Being a graphic artist is far more exciting than being your basic graphic designer – everyday you’re setting out to create something new and a piece of artwork worth holding onto. I’ve found that with a lot of “graphic design” today it’s mostly working within limits, doing template designs, following the rules or prerequisites set by others for you. That’s no fun. And shouldn’t design of any sort always be fun?