Why Graphic Design is the Worst Brand Ever

Before 1984, graphic design could boast that it was a discipline, something valuable in the hands of a competent designer.

Then came desktop publishing and the graphic design brand started its gradual decline. Today anyone with a computer and a few hundred dollars in software believe themselves to be proficient in the execution of graphic design. What got me writing about this, was a comment in a recent post from a graphic design listserve that I get daily in my email. The listserve is populated with graphic designers from across Canada.

One person wrote in that her nephew in his quest to be a graphic designer, decided that he needn’t attend a sanctioned secondary education on the subject as he read several articles on graphic design off the web and now “knows everything there is to know on the subject”. He’s got the software, knows all the “tricks” and is now set to conquer the world.

As business people, we all chuckle at this young person’s naiveté and plain ignorance. But what has lead to his belief that a few articles on the web is all there is to becoming a graphic designer. How many of you who are reading this article, work or own companies who’s marketing materials were either done in house by the IT people or had a friend do it on the cheap? In the business world there is more respect and attention given to interior decorating than to marketing. Marketing to many is a necessary evil. Hiring a graphic designer to facilitate the production of materials in a marketing plan is an alien concept to many.

Graphic design to be fair to businesses is the most at fault for this loss of brand professionalism. The industry has done nothing to encourage professionalism in schools who churn out young “designers” who by all rights should not have even passed the course, let alone put out their shingle. I would love to ask that young man who knows everything to explain kerning to me. Can he explain what a widow is or where he might see a river in a body of text? Would he even care what trap and choke are? What they do know is every filter in Photoshop. They will never design a logo with a font that doesn’t exist. The first time these people send a file off for printing, don’t understand why a 11 color file doesn’t make sense because it is cost prohibitive, and an early sign of an amateur. Printers love these people – they cost people money.

The difference between a graphic design professional and everyone else is that as professionals, they have to design to sell. Every idea they have has to communicate. The industry has allowed non-talents to flourish. Designers regularly under-charge for their services. They regularly present spec work. Businesses think nothing of letting the secretarial staff design their materials. This is not the case however if they need legal work done. The books are not handled by the janitor, they have an accountancy handle it and rightly so. Many pass off the in-house design as a way to cut costs. What they fail to see and apparently forget from business 101, is that marketing should communicate their brand message and differentiate them – NOT something that must be accomplished for peanuts, by anyone who knows there way around photoshop. The computer industry defines this nicely – Garbage in, garbage out. Garbage doesn’t make you money. The sad thing is, the lack of response to these amateur materials only strengthens businesses belief that marketing is at best a crap shoot, and the first things to cut in a slow economy.

There are of course many TRUE graphic design professionals. They have experience and know what works. In their hands you will increase market share and grow your business. Their own personal brands are strong, but even they must constantly battle the poor brand of the graphic design industry as a whole. Imagine what difficulty your own business would have if you had to fight not only competition, market conditions, buying cycles, your own short comings and issues unique to your category – but ALSO a general public perception that anyone with a computer can do what you do cheaper if not free. That is the world of the graphic designer in the year 2008. Graphic design has fallen into the biggest pit of poor branding and has become a commodity. The road back is long one, and the world’s best have the ability to do it one em at a time.

Ed Roach

For more than 30 years, I have worked with hundreds of successful small businesses by helping them develop unique brand positioning strategies that differentiates them from their competition. I appreciate working with companies who see the value of going beyond mere slogans and have a desire to sell from compelling positions. I consult predominantly with businesses facilitating my proprietary branding process. This branding process effectively focuses a company's brand delivering a positioning strategy that can be taken to their marketplace.

I have international speaking experience and am the author of "101 Branding Tips," Practical advice for your brand that you can use today. I'm also a "expert panellist" with Bob Proctor (from The Secret)'s Matrixx Events in Toronto.

I have been interviewed in all media and I also blog extensively and uses the digital realm on the web to connect and promote my services world-wide.

I have international speaking experience including a recent event in Prague, in the Czech Republic and is the author of "101 Branding Tips," Practical advice for your brand that you can use today, the book is available on Amazon.com and the Amazon Kindle store.

My clients are from Canada, The United States, Ukraine, India, United Arab Emirates and Tanzania.

I recently facilitated a workshop in San Diego aimed at teaching Graphic Design companies how to build brands for their customers.

Comments

  1. Sadly I have to agree Ed. I have young to middle aged clients come to me now with “something they’ve knocked up” as a guide!

    I wonder if high street print shops are partially to blame as they can turn any piece of “artwork” into printed material within hours. Or again the same shops can produce logos etc for you, no doubt by people with no real grounding in the trade.

    The advancement of technology also has had an effect as you say, with it being cheaper and easier to get hold of design apps and try a few tutorials off of the web. Anyone can now have an attempt at design.

    The only way to win people round is to show them some quality branded work and describe its importance to their business. Once a client sees the value in it I find they always go with the quality branded option.

  2. What comes to mind when I read this article was how creativity is becoming a commodity. Just like with coal – sure you can get the expensive clean burning coal but you can also get the dirty coal that costs much less and turns your clothes black from the soot.

    You might want to have a look at this market place:

    http://contests.sitepoint.com/

    Custom Logo Design is available for the cost of a few beers, there.

  3. Richard, I too love those characters who come my way with something that is “already designed” they just want me to clean it up a little – “how much?” naturally my answer is “good luck with that.” For brand logo work at times I’m competiting against FREE. For an idea of how I approach logo design check out my personal blog and a new article entitled, 10 Key Questions to consider in Developing an Effective Brand Logo.posted yesterday.

    Rob, that design contest site is an insult. i was appalled to see marketing companies participating. In their brief, the mention that the winning designer “might” even get more more work. Not when they find out that could actually cost them real money. A good example of how far down the graphic design brand has fallen.

  4. Like the article Ed, it highlights another bad customer trait of follow the leader. “This company is the leader in it’s field/sales, I want what they’ve got!” That’s where an identity comes in to make you stand apart from the rest of the crowd, not copy it.

    Rob, it seems people are stooping to new lows. I get the odd approach about buying credits for sites that promote bidding for work, another sad state of affairs. The free pitch is still common in London design circles, something we could all help stop if everyone had a common goal.

  5. Richard,

    Follow the leader. This could be an article unto itself. Talk about no confidence in your own brand when you feel the need to look to others to define yourself. To the readers here, this “follow the leader” is not a rare case situation but in many industries it is the norm. The belief is that if this is what they did to be successful then why re-invent the wheel. At first blush it seems to make sense but it has no long term sustainability. Lead don’t follow is your true path.

  6. Do I win a prize for being your inspiration for an article Ed 😉

  7. Richard,

    After what I’ve said here about contests for ideas – I wouldn’t dare. Rob would nail me. You certainly desearve a “thank you”. Some weeks you can’t imagine how hoard it is to come with ideas for articles.

  8. Ed –

    Spot on! I hate telling people I’m a graphic designer. To associate myself with graphic designers to people who know no better is to position myself in the art department and I left the art department behind me in college a hundred years ago. To add insult to injury, companies like HP promote $99 logos and a free box of business cards to any buyer.

    In almost every case, I do not use the label graphic design to represent what I do. Graphic design happens to be a tool I employ to articulate a solution to a business challenge. I speak of graphic design as the icing on the cake and what’s really important to my clients are the cakes that represent the foundation of their brands. The graphic design is a “user interface.”

    Don’t get me wrong, without graphic design users (customers) wouldn’t be compelled to sample. A good tasting cake goes untasted if it doesn’t look appetizing. Graphic Design needs to be rebranded, needs to be renamed into something more respectable and away from the associations of being $99 logos, desktop publishing and something you can get certified to do online.

    Until this rebranding, I’ll continue to hide behind more respectable monikers like “consultant.” Keep up the crusade!

  9. Sorry about the spelling above – fingers going faster than the brain.

  10. You’re a breath of fresh air André. Thank you.

  11. Tracy Johnson says:

    I could not agree more. I am a graduated of an accredited Art department from a state university. I have been an artist, to some degree, since I was a child. While in college I learned as much as possible about graphic design from the roots up. I have created posted using technical pens, French curves, a t-square and triangle. I have spent hours draped over a light table composing a single layout from multiple sketches. There are enough art history classes under my belt to almost qualify me as a scholar. But it all seems for naught when faced with the idiots Mr. Roach writes of. A computer has been a blessing and a curse to my industry. For over fourteen years I have battled every client who “ad some art classes”, and the ones whose daughter designed their logo. Bill Gates is the anti-christ and Word and Publisher are demons from Hell. “Bring me your Word, Publisher and Power Point documents – I will convert them…..” I have been using a Mac since I graduated. The bad seems to cancel out the good. The technology that allows me to compose a variety of logo designs, posters and other layouts for clients to choose from is also allowing lowering my profession into a dungeon of stupidity. “Can I have that tomorrow?”, “Can you combine those three logos?”, “We’re not sure what we’re looking for, but that’s not it.” So, here I sit – the equivalent of a graphic design short order cook just waiting for someone who might appreciate a true gourmet. Too many cooks DO spoil the broth.

  12. Tracy Johnson says:

    Sorry about any typos. Got to get to work in the design mines. I feel like I have CMYK lung.

  13. Judy,

    I understand exactly where you are coming from. You might be interested in an article I wrote a few weeks ago called “Are you a planner or a doer?” many of whom you speak, all want that short term solution. Much of it is do to prior poor planning that they are now suffering missed opportunities and want to fast track future opportunities. (as they say, “good luck with that.”)

    It saddens me that you referred the client to the chop shops, not so much that you did it, but that they too have no respect for graphic design’s brand. I don’t blame the customer – I blame the industry. Even designers who are not much good should at least aspire to be great, should charge what a logo is worth and should demand respect. Instead they whore themselves out for what essentially is beer money and “oh boy aren’t I doing great”. Very little do they know.

    As a side note, when I encounter clients I have no respect for and want to push them on I usually refer them to my competition. Better that they make no money with them than me, plus it gives me reason to chuckle.

  14. Tracy, your comments mirror my opinion exactly. Your situation of 3 logos is one reason why I only present one. If you give them more it becomes a Chinese restaurant’s menu. Some for this and some from that.

    I could ramble on and on about this personal peeve, but suffice to say it’s pleasure to see that there are many who get it, giving us all hope that all is not lost.

  15. Judy Asman says:

    Thanks for the educational post, Ed.

    As a copywriter/project leader who often needs to ‘petition’ clients to hire a graphic designer to the team, I believe the key is to gauge whom of those potentials are serious about implementing a complete, high-quality and long-term campaign.

    I’ve worked with one too many businesses who take that first step–strategizing and hiring a team for well-designed marketing products–but ultimately fall short on their long-term commitment to execute a marketing or branding plan.

    In those cases, I’ve discovered all marketing elements–from proposed brand strategy tactics to the beautiful graphic design–go wasted and unused. Thus spake the cycle of buyer’s remorse for those who seemingly get amnesia and spend money on yet ‘another’ graphic designer (bona-fide or not), copywriter (bona-fide or not) and project leadership that never satisfies them.

    To compete with agencies in my area, I have sheepishly resigned to referring potential (albeit short-sighted) clients to $100/logo chop-shops. These are the clients always wanting something for free or on the cheap, logo or not, whether it’s a news release or a Web site.

    What I’ve learned is, when talking with potential clients about their brand strategy campaign, to go even deeper in my exploration to get an idea of what they want to see of their brand five to seven years from now.

    Some of these prospects don’t like what they hear and they go away, which I believe (gulp) is mutually beneficial. However, what I do know is I’ve spent too many of my own billable hours convincing the ‘wrong’ clients of what’s an effective use of their marketing dollars. And they never get it.

  16. Judy, I think you’d appreciate David Airey’s logo design blog. He is a fine graphic professional from Scotland. I’m sure you’ll be impressed. Great discussion on design with David.

    All the best,

    Ed

  17. Judy Asman says:

    Hi, Ed,

    I will definitely check out your article on planners vs. doers. I’m sorry to sadden you with the harsh realities I’ve experienced with clients not respecting the graphic design craft.

    Admittedly, I broadcast these chop shops on my Web site to compete with a local agency who positions himself as “the affordable and expert branding guy,” offering ample resources to inexpensively create a look.

    I feel a brainstorm coming on as far as using one of my own marketing venues to champion professionally designed logos and the importance to brand strategy.

    Your post has been thought-provoking for me, not to mention an integrity check.

  18. Judy Asman says:

    P.S., (me again)

    If it’s any consolation, other times I’ve hired or referred graphic designers, they have exceeded the expectations of the client and helped create a memorable brand appearance for the target audience.

    In some cases, the client and designer have stayed in contact, even without me as the liaison, and the designer has topped the client’s list of important resources.

    So I believe there is hope!

  19. Great article and totally agree. Design has become a commodity and it is going to take a long time to claw back some integrity. I think the somewhat immeasurable quality of design has contributed here too.

  20. I’d like to hear from busiess owners out there what they think of this conversation. Perhaps they could help explain why they don’t see the value in professional graphic design. Frankly, I’m afraid many businesses see it as an artform rather than a business dicipline. They don’t know good from bad, don’t do their home work and their business suffers from this.

    I feel another article coming on.

  21. This reminds me of a local commercial for an certificate course in graphic design. It shows hip/trendy 20-somethings, with a voiceover to the extent of, “Have you always wanted to be a part of the exciting graphic deisn world, but think you’re not creative? It doesn’t matter! At College X, you can learn to create professional graphic design even if you have no creative skills.”

    Ads like these *must* have something to do with the decline as well.

  22. Ads like those you describe are the result of the decline. It speaks to exactly what I am believe graphic design’s brand to be at this point in time.

  23. In “Why Graphic Design is the Worst Brand Ever”, i felt as if you were speaking directly to me. I work as a designer in an in-house department at a prep school, and every time a student, or even a co-worker, says “i know photoshop, i can do it myself”, i feel like i’m being kicked in the chest. i just want to say to them “did you spend hours drawing hundreds and hundreds of thumbnails in design school? did you study the subtlety of a font? have you ever even heard of Saul Bass?”

    i wish i knew how to make the average person understand the difference between using an EDUCATED graphic designer and using someone who bought CS3.

  24. Eddie Pasternak says:

    “… brand started it’s gradual decline…”

    And here we see the decline of spelling and grammar.

  25. Hi Eddie,

    That’s my fault. I’m responsible for editing here. Thanks for the heads up.

    Rob

  26. Great article Ed. I had been a professional designer for about 13 years when a computer first appeared on my desk in 1990. It’s been a battle with “my (insert son, daughter, nephew, wife, niece,, husband, neighbor, secretary, newspaper delivery person, massage therapist, etc. here) has a computer and is a designer” ever since.

    I’m so thrilled when traveling around to colleges and design schools to hear that many programs don’t let their students touch a computer the first year of classes. Maybe some are actually learning design principles and skills. Now, if they would only teach more about the “business of graphic design” in those schools…

  27. I love this article!

  28. It was brought to my attention at a great discussion regarding this article over at Lucid, that opinion contrary to mine wasn’t getting posted. If you too have found this to be the case could you please contact myself or Rob Kingston and we will see that your opinion is included in the discussion. Everybody enjoys a good healthy discussion.

    -Ed

  29. Jeff,

    Our local college also has a graphic design program, (as a matter of fact it is where I graduated thousands of years ago). I too suggested to the current directors to teach more about business. They don’t get it yet. A few years ago I was invited to part of a portfolio review for applying students. Myself along with about 10 other respected designers reviewed about 85 applicants. We were dissappointed to be able to recommend about a dozen be accepted. A month later the program director excitedly informed me that program had been sold out for the year. I inquired as to how this could be as we only approved of the dozen? It seems if you had a cheque you are in.

    I told them not to invite me back to review again as it meant nothing.

    This is where the brand starts it’s slide. The same concern for quality is reflected in their graduates since I believe their motto should be, “you writes your cheque, you gets yer diploma” Here in Canada, the best I’ve seen is at Sheridan in Oakville Ontario. There you fight to get in, and they do their best to unload the worst of the lot. The result – exceptional design graduates.

  30. Nice article.

    “The computer industry defines this nicely – Garbage in, garbage out.”

    I do believe that clever saying came from the music industry, many many years before computers, and this is where the problems are – COMPUTERS! It’s ONLY a toolbox. I learnt design, not computers.

    Everyone has a hammer at home I’m sure, but how many people use it to biuld their house? Most wont, as they’ll get a tradesman to do so.

  31. Thanks for the source of that quote knaknak. I’ve only heard in in reference to computers.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It is getting a lot of discussion out there. It was picked up at the Lucid blog.and I am commenting back and forth on this topic. One commenter named “withouthought”, is an Irish student studying Brand Development in Bath Spa University in the UK. It has inspired him to write a paper on the subject and so I have posted a question similar to the one posted here to get more feedback for him.

    We are all enjoying the responses. The other blogs to follow are my own site, The Brand Corral, or at Marketing Profs.

    I have to say I’m enjoying the passion of the replies whether they agree with me or not.

  32. I agree my company actually quit the graphic design gig because every ones son, brother, nephew or girl friend could do it cheaper. Well cheaper is what they wanted and cheap is what they got! A person who is serious about really creating a successful business needs to go to serious companies who specialize in logos such as http://www.pixellogo.com that are meant to be branded. Saving money on your company or product brands is not the best choice you can make. Find other ways or places to save money such as on printer ink from reputable companies like http://www.compimaging.com. Or even invest some time in learning how you can set up and run your own paid advertising campaigns. They are not that difficult and can save you a lot more money in the long run.
    Thanks,
    Kerry

  33. It’s a situation I see over and over. It is such an insult to be considered a commodity. I wonder if designer will ever be able to scratch back an better value proposition, or is it destined to get even worse?

  34. Hi Ed,

    Thanks for the very kind mention! I’d seen your comment before today, and thought I thanked you already. Guess not.

    I hope everything’s great your side, and the watercolours are still in production.

  35. The same can be said of writers. Now a days, with the advent of blogging, everyone is a “professional writer.” Yet, much of what’s published on the internet today is poorly written.

    While your article, for the most part, is not poorly written, you do have several sentences that need a good grammarian and proof reader. This sentence is an example:

    “The first time these people send a file off for printing, don’t understand why a 11 color file doesn’t make sense because it is cost prohibitive, and an early sign of an amateur.”

    What??

  36. Sophie,

    I’ll be the first to admit “I’m no writer”. As a matter of fact it was my biggest concern when I started blogging. But my peers told me that my opinion and quality content is much more important. I think I’m getting better. At least a little.

    You really don’t understand that sentence? I suppose I should have thrown a “they” in front of “don’t” and an “an instead of an “a” before “11”. I’m obviously my own worst proofer some days. I appreciate when readers point out these things, as it helps me out a lot.

    Thanks again,

  37. I realize I’m late to the party, but I hear you.

    I went to a school that taught kerning, and leading, and prepress, and our first year was drafting things by HAND. And this was very recent. Now I’m becoming bitter in a world where people want things yesterday, and when they ask for something with all the text centred, and that font in comic MS, and kittens and you give them what they need, as opposed to what they want, they FLIP.

    I want to stay in design, but I’m not quite sure where to go from here. I’m just hoping the fact that I know that the default photoshop black sucks for printing, I know how to set up a bleed and flatten transparencies for older rips, and how to research and to do my best to interpret what a client needs will put me above others out there when i eventually decide to move on to bigger and better things.

  38. While I understand your sentiments, I resent this statement of yours:

    The difference between a graphic design professional and everyone else is that as professionals, they have to design to sell.

    True, to be called a “pro” you have to be “paid” for what you are doing, and the assumption is that the higher your “value”, the better you are.

    However, this does not automatically equate to better design or work quality. Talent is hard to define, but I see a lot of graphic design screwups by so-called “professionals”, and I have seen a lot of awesome work done by dedicated and talented artists. I am sure you know what I am trying to get at. Back in the renaissance Raphael, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, etc excelled despite barely making a good profit. Nowadays everything else is “manufactured”, that is why you see a lot of copycat styles. Just look at the “web 2.0 look”. Nobody wants to experiment and explore anymore because doing so leads to rejection or the fear of such, and your clients cannot afford that.

    Just my $.02

  39. If any of you think that you can make a living producing logos and letter heads – you’re round the bend. This is not graphic design – a child can do this for nothing, in half an hour with a Woolworths computer. I’m a graphic designer making, on average £90,000 per annum directing videos, producing graphics in After Effects, implementing brand strategies and even designing the lighting and interiors of restaurants. Plus the usual editorial design and advertising. I’m having a break from drawing story boards for a music video to write this. You lot need to get a grip and start producing something of value that makes money. I’ve never read such rubbish in all my life.

  40. Jane de Moratti says:

    To Sophie, who, incredibly, writes ‘Now a days’ (when, of course, it is ‘nowadays’), yet still has the cheek to suggest that Ed gets a ‘proof reader’. I use inverted commas there because, according to myself (and the Oxford English Dictionary) proofreader is one word. Quite hilarious that you got that wrong, too when you were trying to be so pedantic!

    There have been far more offensive mistakes in Ed’s posts. For example, he sometimes uses ‘there’ when he means ‘their’. The other mistakes I take as typos. I think one has to suppress one’s instinct to be pedantic and punctilious when people are blogging, since time is of the essence. I think one can glean whether people have made genuine mistakes or are illiterate. Ed is certainly not the latter. But, Sophie, I would proofread your own stuff first before throwing stones into other people’s greenhouses.

    Just to get on topic, my husband has been a graphic designer for about a millennium and has won awards for his work, but now finds himself in this terrible position describe here, where people bring him horrendous stuff their kids have done on the computer and ask him to ‘tidy it up a bit’. I won’t tell you what he tells them to do with it. 🙂

    I hope there is hope!

  41. Jane de Moratti says:

    PS – (for Sophie’s benefit) – ‘describe’ should have been ‘described’ in the above post. A typo… These new Mac keyboards are great but take a bit of getting used to.

  42. You’re really generalizing here. It’s agreed that schools ‘churn out’ these so-called designers at a fast pace, but they also fill a niche that the more educated and TRUE designers don’t really want to fill to tell you the truth. That might sound snobby, but it’s true – true design professionals know where their talents are needed. There are some companies quite happy with mediocre designs done by IT because it’s all they need. They may not have the advertising budget that companies like Coca Cola, Nike or Smirnoff have.
    This is 2008 and computers are here to stay. The days of Paul Rand and pencils and squares are over for the most part, and it’s something we designers just have to live with. In this profession, the proof is in the pudding. The TRUE designers know where their work will be appreciated and tend to find work down those avenues.
    It can also be said that while kerning, trap and choke are all important elements in overall design, I bet more than half the population in the world doesn’t know what they are, let alone care. These are the things the more educated eye will look for – and sometimes the target audience is that 50% who don’t know and don’t care. You might call them the ‘Janitors’ of design, which I may add is very discrediting to your comments by insinuating, and again, generalizing, that Janitors can’t do math.
    Design professionals ARE alive and well. They know what works because they’ve had to gain experience on the job. Any kid who wants to learn graphic design can do the same – as long as they immerse themselves in the theory and practice. Those who have the intensity and passion move farther, educated or not.
    I fully agree with Dennison’s comments… being labeled a professional doesn’t always mean that’s what they are.
    Wake up.

  43. indeed. professionals need to work even hard, i guess, to distinguish themselves from the amateurs, else they risk being lumped in along with them. like blogging, the barriers to entry have mostly fallen.

  44. You are absolutely right Kouji, professionals do have to work harder to differentiate themselves. It is a never ending battle as mediocrity and price are allies in the war for quality design.

  45. Fantastic article Ed. I am actually speaking tomorrow night on this very subject. It drives me crazy when I meet with potential clients and they assume I am only going to charge them $50 bucks or so for a brand new logo. I literally tell them that they will “get what they pay for” and sometimes that will bring them around. It is much easier to tell them that a logo will cost much more, but you also have to show them why.

    Again, great article. I look forward to more.

  46. Today anyone with a computer and a few hundred dollars in software believe themselves to be proficient in the execution of graphic design????
    They just can remove red eyes, auto balance color, add watermark etc. but without a course, they can’t anything more. I’ve bought a book of How to design using Photoshop, and that was a waste money, I had to join a class later. Thanks for this nice post.

  47. The graphic design market is increasingly filled with people who think they can use a warez copy of Photoshop and do a website header with a few hours practice. With modern tools you can fairly easily achieve mediocre effects but you still can’t beat professional training and a few years experience in graphics/ art.

  48. Ed and all,

    I have been on a harangue about “graphic design” since the invasion of the computer to home users. My industry experience started in 1978 when a graphic designer had to have multiple talents as well as a brain. My professional training was stringent. The company I started out with supplied production, typesetting, layout, illustration, any piece or part of the publishing function that needed to happen and to 99% of the small to large agencies in the Atlanta area. That was the business of graphic design at that time and through the mid-80’s. But no more.
    After hearing “my wife did it on our computer at home” from clients who should have known better, it only got worse. There again, kerning, letter forms, leading…all foreign language words and of no concern to that new generation of advertisers who were sure all you had to do was press the magic “get ‘er done” button on the computer (though I could never find it) and your project was complete.
    Now, I would rather be considered a visual communications professional/project manager than say I am a graphic designer. In my own head, I now see an i-pod in the ears of a gum chewing high schooler.
    It will be a long road back, but I am now looking for another road altogether. It’s time to cut bait for me. 30 years of experience. I will use mine to market my own stuff.

  49. The decline of design really directly parallels the advancement in technology, coupled with the decline in small box business caused by corporate homogeny. It’s all clone work now. I left school in ’92 and they barely had a computer department. Everything was made by hand. There had been some talk a while back about requiring certifications for designers, much in the same way plumbers or electricians are certified, but there is no leadership in this area. Maybe AIGA should step into the fray, and bring this to the legislative or regulatory body that oversees these trade rules. I’m not suggesting unionization, per se, just oversight.

  50. I’m in strong agreement with Geoff on this one. This article is grossly generalized, and some of the comments about “those annoying anklebiters” sounds petty at best. Yes, there are a lot of people out there who feel that being able to master Paint Shop Pro is all they need for (as the old trope goes) “a glamorous and exciting adventure in the world of graphic design”, but let me tell you my story.

    For starters, I will say I have no formal education. I’ll repeat that: I HAVE NO FORMAL EDUCATION. I did not go to college for art. My degree is in creative writing. That having been said, I do quite well in graphics design. I’ve designed for tour companies, travel agencies and small retail outfits, and I specialize in working with small businesses.

    For the record, I do know what kerning, rivers, widows and orphans and everything associated with typography – I design my own fonts. I do not use clip art. I understand CYMK, how paper can affect the look and bleed of the printing process. I’ve used the T-square and compasses to create artwork. I refuse to do spec work or enter logo contests. I do everything a graduate from an art school does, and I’ve taken the time to read all the books, discuss things with people I know (my wife is a comics artist and art historian, so we know a lot of people), and yet for all this, I’m still an “anklebiter” because my sheepskin is different from everyone else’s.

    And you know what? I’m okay with that. It’s the “establishment” (i.e., those with degrees in the field) that I have a problem with. Maybe I’m a rare case, but I shouldn’t have to be. And why is that? Because all I see from the establishment is a lot of venom and hatred, and no real attempt to rectify the problem. You’re sick of the kid with the iPod and a copy of Adobe CS4 who doesn’t know the first thing about kerning or CYMK? Whose fault is that – the kid who’s never heard of it, or the expert who has but would rather hurl insults from the ivory tower instead of teaching said “offender”?

    How many graphic designers have offered to go down and lecture at a school on this, and inspire kids to go into the field? I’ll bet very little, if any, have. Guess what? I have, and do it regularly – and I’m the one without the degree. What’s your excuse? Yes, maybe AIGA should set standards, but unless those standards are known – AND how to approach them – then it’s moot and nothing more than a case of “the old guard doesn’t like the new blood,” something that has been ongoing in just about every discipline and industry since time began.

    Sorry if I seem to have rambled on longer than I intended to, but I’ve grown tired of hearing complaints about the “problem children” but seem more content to continue the ranting rather than working towards anything remotely resembling a solution.

  51. Where the problem lies Rob is we took the time to focus and decide upon a career. We trained ourselves in formal institutions, racked up large student loans and really learned our craft and the history of it. However with the advancement of technology, the ease of obtaining computers with every known design program built in…anyone can call themselves a designer. When you dont have any kind of certification…what you do is dumb down the industry and consequently we all get paid less. The person hiring us will now have to decide to pay the educated person at a decent salary or hire the kid out of high school for $9 an hour. And now administrative assistants and marketing jobs require you to know Photoshop, InDesign etc. because if their son or daughter can play on the computer they bought them…they assume its not that important of an element to their company.

    Yes…there are people like yourself who are probably very good at what you do…but the sad part is graphic design as we know it is really separating into two different areas. Web programmers are picking up the print design jobs as a “side” to their coding and all their html and css and they’re “available” fonts to design with. (Please, not Arial again). And then admin. assistants and marketing/PR folks are picking up the rest. I think we can officially say goodbye to graphic design as a profession and now its just another segment of marketing.

  52. Interesting discussion. Guess it depends on how you want to classify ‘Graphic Design’.

    You don’t need any formal training to be creative, nor do you need to be creative to churn out a print-ready file that meets all the criteria.

    In the past, this was all done by the same person, mainly due to the high barrier of entry. Today, the barriers of entry are low (almost non-existing). Software is sometimes free and easy to learn. Anyone can create something and this disrupts the “old way”.

    The same goes for other creative industries. For instance, anyone with a camera phone can now do a short film and reach a world audience via YouTube. The same goes with musicians, photographers etc.

    Granted, you get a lot of garbage but you also get some interesting creations that never would have seen the light of day.

    I agree that it is a shame when businesses settle for poor quality, but that’s there choice.

    Stop complaining about the “decay” of graphic design.
    Start looking at creative ways to utilise it.

    Once you find yourself believeing that “things were better before” rather than seeing the opportunities around you it’s time for you to retire.

  53. I myself am a young designer. I did go to college and I have been working in the field for about 3 years now. I absolutely love it. However, I have noticed a certain attitude from old school designers and it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous. I respect the fact that they had to do everything by hand. I was actually required to learn the “old ways” in school because my professors were old school. I think that a designer who can’t draw is pretty much worthless and that you should always know where you came from to be able to know where you’re going. The thing is, that there are ups and downs to both sides. We are now responsible for an entire project on our own instead of just a portion of it. Employers don’t want a plain old designer anymore either, they want you to be a web designer too. I’m spending more money going back to college to learn more about web design because that is what my field wants. I’m not about to complain about it because even though I’ve been in this field for a short time, I know that constantly adapting and learning new things is the key to staying up to date. My dad has always told me that college gives you options, and you want as many options as possible. It seems to me that the computer is looked down upon by the old school designers because they weren’t willing to change. They fought it and in return ran out of options. The young kids came in and took their jobs. You have to be adaptable if you want to make money. I know plenty of young designers and all of us wish that we could have a more hands on approach to our work. There are days that I hate the computer and all I want in the world is a pencil and a pad of paper. There are a lot of people out their who claim to be designers and it is annoying when somebody sends you files that are full of elementary mistakes (that they did on a weird type of software that you’ve never heard of) or underbids you and takes a job that they don’t deserve. Oh well, life is tough. The old school designers are not the only people in the world that are passionate and educated about their field. Kerning is when you tweak the space between characters.

  54. M Dunn – I believe you get the point of the article.

    Carl – it seems as if you’ve embraced mediocrity. There is no excuse for poor quality, old school or not.

    And thank you Jeff – you’re singing my song!

    By the way, great discussion here. It’s very healthy.

  55. Ed – I have not embraced mediocrity.
    What I meant to say is that graphic design is business. Yes, there are artists out there, but design is (usually) a busines transaction. It is up to the client to spend little and get little or spend more to get more. The fact that ‘poor quality’ designers and low prices exists is because there is a market for them. Companies are obviously willing to settle for less. That is not the fault of the designer, old school or not.

    And as a paradox, the most cutting edge viral video campaigns right now are shot intentially with poor quality, even though the companies behind them are multi-million dollar brands. Levi’s, Nike, Ray-Ban etc all produce videos of ‘home-made’ qaulity and lauch them on YouTube. In a way, poor quality is in.

    M.Dunn – I agree with you almost 100%, almost. I don’t believe you are “worthless” as a designer just because you can’t draw. By saying that, you more or less put yourself in the same group as the ‘old school’ designers you say sound ridiculous. Why am I not a designer if I can do amazing things on a computer but can’t draw with a pen and paper?

    My belief is simple; adapt to your clients needs and the technology of the times you live in, and stop judging each other.

  56. I did not say that you weren’t a designer if you can’t draw. Maybe worthless was kind of a harsh word, but I would rather hire someone who can do it all than someone who can only do one thing. If you tell a client that you can’t draw odds are they will lose confidence in you. A designer who works strictly on a computer has limited themselves just like an old school designer who refuses to embrace the computer. If you can draw you can create things that you just can’t do on a computer and therefore add a original and more human-like quality to your work. I can do amazing things on the computer too, but as a professional I explore different mediums. If you are just using elements that are already there and manipulating them, you are more of an assembler than a creator. This is what he was talking about when he said that some people will never use a font that doesn’t exist.

  57. Seattle Architects says:

    You could say this about a lot of professions. I often encounter people who think they can design their own houses. When I see the results, it’s clear they should have hired an architect. Same goes for graphic designers. A good graphic designer will come up with something an untrained person could never even begin to think of.

  58. Seattle,

    Architecture and Graphic Design have many similarities in doing business. One I see in architecture that must be an irritant is spec. Although it appears ingrained I don’t know if I’ve ever a case where a tender wasn’t accompanied by drawings. At least in GD, we appear to have a choice. How do you feel about it?

  59. I work as a “per hour” employee at a corporate retail company. It sucks because you have people who say $0.10 is way too much for a 24# black and white copy. I feel like I am wasting my time designing things from paper to digital because they don’t want a lot of it because prices are too ridiculous. To point fingers, there’s a competitor in business around my works location that charges two to three times more than we do, and I get the traffic of customers coming from there. My work associates have no secondary school training or education… just like the article that said the young kid knew everything about designing because of online tutorials. My supervisor has worked for 11 years at where I am at now, and she still doesn’t know how to identify a bleed, a kern, a river, an orphan or a widow. I feel trapped here… and overworked.

    I have been drawing as far back as age 5. I can draw people without looking at them, I can draw whatever comes to mind, and my attention to detail gets a lot of positive feedback. I knew I wanted to be a designer by the time I was a sophomore in high school. Hell, I knew I was going to be a designer when I turned 13. I had 4 sketchbooks FULL by the time I was done with high school.

    Straight from high school, I went to a 2-year college for an Associate’s Degree and got my job almost immediately. After working there for 8 months, I feel that I am ready to move on because now I feel that I know what it’s look to work cheap. I want to produce affordable, meaningful graphic design work. Not the cheap walk-ins that I deal with four times a week.

    I know this discussion isn’t active any more, but I just want all of you readers to know that secondary education for a graphic design field is the right choice. However, I would suggest to take a 4-year course and not a 2-year course. Bolster your portfolio and your knowledge. Now is the time to invest.

    Soon, I will battle the poor brand of designers.

  60. I hear you JL. This old article is seen regularly according to my stats. I think true professionals resonate with the frustration. I think you’re about ready to move on as well. Do you at least freelance to get a sense of what’s out there? Of course there is the web which opens up the world to you.

  61. Bahaus Furniture says:

    I’ve never thought that’s what it means. its good to knows new information about such. Thanks for the post

  62. woodson remodel construction says:

    I think that mostly you are talking about print graphic designers…however there are also graphic designers that design for only web development. This being said its hard to argue a side unless you state more specifically what you’re referring to. I agree with a lot of your points (esp when referring to print designers not knowing about 4 -2- 1 color printing and kerning etc…but some of it sounds like a bit of arrogance. Good article though 🙂

  63. Woodson, I’m speaking of graphic design in general and that would include online design as well. I can see why you would view some as arrogance, but in my defense, I’d prefer to say it stems from confidence in my field. Sometimes you have to leave the chips where they fall.

  64. “Great post, very useful for a beginner like me”

  65. I’m glad you found it useful, Evoco. Thank you for commenting.

  66. Thank you!!!!! Your words have been mine since the early 90’s when the industry decided to give up it’s craft, knowledge expertise and finesse for a desktop computer. I found myself no longer a professional artist who worked and sweated to develop my craft, but someone who was suddenly relegated to the secretarial pool.

    Being a graduate of Parsons School of Design and spending three years of study and hard work, I was always aggravated by the TV ads for schools like Gibbs Secretarial School to “come and learn to be a Graphic Designer.”

    It is bitter-sweet to see the truth finally written.

    Thank you again!

  67. Harriet, you and I are kindred spirits. The public’s understanding of just what graphic design is, is so pathetic. I’m glad I helped you vent. As coincidence would have it, I’m off to the local college this evening to discuss their graphic design program. Some will cringe when they see, as they know my opinion on current standards or “lack of them.”

  68. I agree that there are too many people out there calling themselves designers when they shouldn’t. Maybe there should be a certification or license of some type designers should get so that the general public could tell the difference. A good example is a real estate appraiser. There are a lot of people out there that perform different types of valuations on properties but if you are not a state licensed or certified appraiser then you can’t call it an appraisal. I think if graphic designers want to clean up their image as a profession then they should find a way to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pretenders. I agree that if you can find a talented graphic designer it can make all the difference in the world. Its so hard to wade through the sea of noise these days to find one.

  69. Robert Hardy says:

    There is a lot to be said for artistic flair and using a professional designer. Corporations that think just because they have the software to design something, they are going to produce a professional looking piece, are misguided. More often than not what they churn out looks like a school project.

  70. Ed – Love your article and the follow-ups. Seems that as a design profession we spend a lot of time complaining about what is wrong with design but not enough time doing something about it. Your article is the very reason why we have a launched a national campaign for graphic design certification using the power of social media and viral marketing. Hope you can keep and eye our for us at designcertification.org

  71. I completely understand this issue. I make premium seasonings and you would be surprised how many jokers will throw some salt and pepper in a bottle and label it their own “award winning” recipe. There are a lot of jack nuts in my market that just create a lot noise and make it harder for me to promote the real deal.

  72. I’ve been a graphic designer since 1993 and I’ve found that I get most of my work from companies that had a project done by an inexperienced designer (and done poorly) and now they realize the value of an established designer/firm. When that website and logo they only paid $700 for are not generating sales for their target audience and they realize the opportunity costs – they are more open to working with an established group.

    My argument would be that many of these people actually help us generate more business! Of course, I loose smaller jobs to these people all the time, but I always tell my clients to look at the experience and put a value on their time. 9 times out of 10, they will call in 6 months after having spend thousands, with nothing to show for it.

    I do agree that the design community needs to find a way to differentiate themselves from these individuals – but I would argue, if you are selling on price point alone, then you aren’t marketing yourself.

  73. I’m not sure how active this discussion is anymore, but I felt the need to comment. I have to say that some of the things mentioned here are a little offensive, if not just down right bitter. I can understand frustration out of losing a job to someone who may be less qualified, but why all the hostility? Let me show some of my reasoning for thinking this way:

    GD 1: Went to school, paid out thousands in student loans, received BAF.

    GD 2: No formal education, but did spend thousands on all software, books, etc. They researched all the same books GD students read, they read them. They looked up everything design related, and committed it to memory. They know everything a GD would learn in school, and they can do it too. Their work is on par, if not surpassing that of the one with a formal education.

    Is everyone here saying, that just because GD 2 has no formal training they should be devalued as artists? I firmly believe it is skill over a degree. Yes, there are those out there that of course, do not posses the skills, but they think they can because they have the software. Then again, there are others, who have spent years, and countless hours studying, reading, learning everything they can to be able to become a graphic designer, without going to school.

    It is great if you can afford to go to school and get a degree, but what about those that can not? They can not afford it, or it just isn’t an option for them? Are you saying they should just give up because of this? That they will never accomplish, or be able to be as good as those with a degree because they couldn’t afford to go? Poppycock.

    It is in experience and skill. Training and learning. If one is dedicated enough, they can learn the skills needed. Personally, I would hire skill over degree. Don’t show me your multitude of degrees, show me your portfolio, then we’ll talk.

  74. MB215,

    This post gets the odd comment from time to time. I agree with you except the last paragraph. I don’t think that all it takes is dedication to be a good GD. Without talent, it still won’t add up to much. I have a suspicion you didn’t mean “anyone” (or did you?)

  75. Ed,

    Well, forgive me. It is my belief that to have the skill needed, that of course goes hand in hand with talent. I did not presume to think that someone without talent would be able to train themselves.

    Although, I can not pretend to be surprised that you may have found my post odd. I am however a bit surprised that you disagreed with my last paragraph. One, where my entire point was about rather hiring someone with the skill (Talent) to be able to create what the employer is looking for, and to be able to do so, well. Correction, to be able to do so, remarkably. Rather then simply not hiring that person because they may or may not have a degree. It was about someone who can show what they can do, rather then show a degree.

    You can have a degree and still not be very good if you do not have the talent and skill behind you. If you do not have the eye, the creativity, the ability to really make something from nothing that can speak to an entire genre or market, then your degree isn’t going to get you anywhere in this field. However, sheer talent and drive can.

  76. I see what your saying and I understand your frustration, but the world doesn’t really work that way. To hire somebody without a degree would be a gamble. You have nothing that proves to an employer that you know what you’re doing without a degree. Yes, you can show up in their office with an awesome top notch portfolio, but for all they know you could be showing them a bunch of artwork that you didn’t do yourself. The degree says “I actually have these skills” the portfolio says “this is what I can do with those skills”. if you are lacking in either one you are at a great disadvantage. This goes for any profession.

  77. I understand what you are saying, but I hope you understand that we will just have to agree to disagree on this subject. Yes, a degree will help in any field, sure. However all a degree really says was I was taught the basic skills and I kinda know what I’m doing. Experience, now that says, I know what I am doing.

    Yes, someone can show up with a portfolio that they may not have done by themselves, but so can people with degrees. Just because they don’t have a degree doesn’t mean they didn’t complete the work themselves.

    But yes, you are a disadvantage if you do not have a degree, but that does not make it impossible, nor does it make you any less of a professional in what you do. If you only have the degree, with no experience to back you up, how much better are you really then the one without a degree that has 10 years real world experience? To be honest, you’re not at all.

    Let me give you another example, one completely off the subject of design for a moment:

    You have two officers. One, who joined the service when he was fresh out of highschool. He has been through various situations, and has gained real world knowledge and experience.
    The second, who went to college and joined the service after college. Now, because of college he is automatically in as an officer. He has never scene any type of war, or battle, or any crisis situation like the first. All he has is what he learned in collage.

    Which officer do you trust to lead and teach your son/daughter/niece/nephew/grandchild/etc.?

    That example can be applied here as well. I would rather know that the one with the most experience and knowledge is the one in charge. Not the one fresh out of school with nothing but examples to show and no real life experience. So yes, in some fields, you must have a degree. If you are a doctor, a lawyer, a phycologist. But not if you are a Graphic artists. Art, in fact, is one of the few that you do not HAVE to have a degree in to be good at it. Either, you are, or you aren’t. And no amount of money and school will change that.

  78. Pardon, I meant seen, instead of scene. I think my head may have gotten ahead of my fingers there for a minute.

  79. Thanks for the interesting article – it’s funny and informative. And I’m going to have to agree with you – I’m not sure if graphic design will ever come back as a strong profession. If only I could make my nephew understand this… 🙂
    – Paul