I have to admit, when I went off to college 9 years ago, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study. However, After a few stagnant semesters of taking random classes I found myself enrolled in the graphic design program. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the subject. The classes I was in were filled with a mix of students who either aimlessly fell into the major as I did, or came to school already knowing that this would be their trade. As time progressed, the lack of interest for many students increased to what was once known as “their passion” to simply a burden.
Keep in mind, I didn’t go to a fancy art school, but a humble state college, so my experience may not be comparable to others… Anyway, very few of my classmates went on to pursue design as a career, while the majority of those who did ended up working as production artists at sign shops or as in-house designers for stuffy corporate offices; places of which I’m sure creativity is limited.
I’ve noticed that to the majority of people in the world, the term ‘graphic design’ is associated with these two types of specific jobs. In fact, I’ll never forget a conversation I once had when I ran into an old friend’s father (while I was still at school) and he asked me what I was studying. When I told him, he responded with “oh, that’s about a $10 an hour job.” Besides that fact that this was an extremely rude and unsupportive comment to be made by an adult figure, it dawned on me that this was the perception of many people. I’m not sure who these people think are responsible for creating the successful ad campaigns that persuade them to buy the clothes they are wearing, or the web application which helps them organize their day to day life, but what’s certain is that somewhere along the line the title of ‘graphic designer’ has been reduced to the definition of those folks I went to college with.
Though there are many different terms, titles and roles associated with this line of work (Production artist, Jr. Designer, Sr.Designer, Creative Director, Copy Writer, etc…), I can’t help to think that a good graphic designer should encompass all of these qualities. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first person to say that it is better to be a master of one thing rather than a jack of all trades, but at then end of the day, a well rounded designer should posses the characteristics, knowledge and creativity used within all of the roles mentioned above. Therefore, I should find no need to go around introducing myself as a creative director, when in reality I simply consider myself a well versed graphic designer. Yet, I still find myself cringing when I run into an old friend and they ask the inevitable “what do you do now?” question. Often times, I find myself altering my title to be a bit more specialized like ‘print’ or ‘web designer.’ Either way, I get the feeling that people are assuming that I am taking the art or photography of some talented artist and cutting and pasting it into a power point presentation.
Maybe I have to wait for my ego to shrink before I feel resolution with this issue, but I’m looking forward to the day where I can proudly state, “I am a graphic designer” without any question in my tone or any negative connotation being attached to it. My hope is that the day will come where every mother wants her daughter to marry a graphic designer.
We’re Not Alone
As I sit in self pity wondering why I had to choose the one career that is not properly represented in the publics eye, I have to assume that we, as designers, are not alone. So I put myself in the shoes of another creative field that I hold close to my heart; photography. Also being a creative profession, photographers deal with a similar wrap sheet. With the cost of DSLR’s decreasing regularly, anyone who can save up 1000 bucks to buy a decent start kit considers himself or herself a photographer. With this mass consumption the market is quickly over saturated leaving the title of “photographer” extremely watered down. I spoke with a photographer friend of mine (Benjamin Burrows) to confirm my assumptions about the industry and he quickly reinforced the day to day struggles he faces with this issue. As we continued to discuss this subject, it was apparent that my first assumptions had only dove skin deep into the problem. Now that ‘everyone is a photographer’, the need of hiring a professional is pushed to the wayside. Besides, Why bother to spend good money on quality product shots for your business when your nephew just got a digital camera for Christmas last year? This scenario is happening far to much within the industry and will continue to discount the profession of photography. So yes, we are indeed not alone.
It’s obvious that we are among the many industries that suffer from preconceived negative connotations. However, that is no reason to ignore the problem. To me, the most obvious solution is to put your money where your mouth is. Show your community that design is more than just owning photoshop and pushing pixels. You have the worlds most dimensional medium at your fingertips; the internet. Take advantage of this and post your work online to share with others, write design articles and get noticed. Make fancy business cards to reinforce your talent, enter work into design shows and win awards. Without this visual proof we will always remain as pawns in the world of tired professions.