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That Sound You Hear Sucking
Guest Editorial by: Christopher Simmons

I hear this sound all the time, it’s the sound of design gasping for breath in the midst of our very own heyday. We designers do a lot of complaining, mostly about bad design that “other” people do, and how woefully misunderstood our profession is. Here, then, are three reasons why you hear us sucking, only one of which matters. The first has to do with the proliferation of hacks who misrepresent design as an accomplished profession, the second with clients and the third with so-called professional designers.

First, we live and work in a market economy. Good or bad, talented or not, everyone has a right to make a buck. There are builders that suck and lawyers that suck and politicians that suck and teachers that suck. In each example there are also professionals who have a passionate attraction to their field of practice. For “designers” who are simply in it to make a buck, it sucks that they now have their own category on eBay, but its fact of life that’s hard to fault.

Second, so many of our clients are ignorant when it comes to design. Now, ignorance seems like a strong word, but I mean it literally and without obloquy. Clients, by and large, are simply unfamiliar with design as a discipline. They don’t know how to buy it, how to recognize good from bad, how to participate effectively in the process, etc. Some professions are revered enough that clients put total faith in their practitioner - these are the doctors, lawyers and educators of this world. We know that they have skills that we do not, and we rely upon their judgment where we lack the credentials to judge for ourselves. In design the stakes are less empirical. We substitute the values of taste or style for those of knowledge or judgment. Beyond simple common sense, there is little way for many clients to make meaningful distinctions among prospective designers, and so they are often left to the one criterion they do know something about, and that is price. We all know how much that sucks.

However, that non-designers often lack the skills to critically evaluate design is not an indictment of them, but rather of us, which leads me to my third and mercifully final point:

Designers are the problem. In our profession there are simply no standards. Pricing, process, standards of professional practice and ethics, educational curricula and even our professional lexicon are all wildly variable. It is no wonder that those outside the profession are confounded by what it is we do, we have failed in our most basic task - to communicate effectively even the nature of our business. And we have failed at all levels.

Are MBA candidates being educated in the role and value of design? Do design conferences reach out to include the business community? Do competitions include CEOs or marketing professionals on their judging panels? The answer in most cases is a resounding no. As a group, designers insulate themselves from the working world, an act that removes us further from a position of influence and understanding. So that sound you hear sucking is us. It’s the sound of air rushing in to fill the void left by our own negligence while we complain loudly, but amongst ourselves.

Christopher C.H. Simmons
President, AIGA San Francisco

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 2017 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Jul.19.2004 BY Speak Up
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Tan’s comment is:

First of all, I agree with everything you said, and how you've characterized the general malaise.

But, my impression is that in general, lots of designers are happy with being insular and negligent.

And many don't see the need to formalize the communication of the nature of our business. Conceding to business practice alone would mean resigning the artisté designer.

Not to mention the fact that AIGA represents all that is expensive and unholy to the disenchanted mass.

So.

How do you first establish a unified voice among a group that is so prone towards anti-establishment? How do you cut through the petty attitudes and insecurities surrounding legitimizing (ie. defining, accrediting, representing) what we do as a profession?

I think that's where the roadblock lies first.

On Jul.19.2004 at 06:05 PM
Gahlord Dewald’s comment is:

I also agree. I would like to see how point #3 loops back and relates to point #1. Seems there's a circular sucking going on.

On Jul.19.2004 at 07:18 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

Apathy creates inferiority.

Action, or activism is first. Structured, focused, organized action improves the odds of a single message being heard and builds a base which has the collective power to create bigger change. AIGA costs pennies when you compare the annual cost of taking a class, seminar or CEU's, but let's say for a moment that it is prohibitively expensive (to the unemployed, at least), then Speak Up is another great place to plant these seeds. News Today and other forums exist as well.

As CCHS puts it, there will always be "certified" lawyers, doctors, architects, etc. that still suck. Uniting people who have common goals, desires and motivation is the place to begin, regardless of pedigree. Reaching outside of these bubbles we congregate within is paramount to engage outside communities like business, marketing and techology. It's easy to preach to the choir or spend a day talking about the uses for Pantone 382.

Is there a large contingency among our colleagues that somehow feels not up to par with these professionals? Can't we speak their language - only better? Or is the malaise also a by-product of our (the US) society's constant drive for faster, better, cheaper that allows the process to be (potentially) compromised as something that is less important, or an obstacle that impedes progress? Other cultures don't even waste time discussing the value of design. They (and their clients) already get it and can focus their time constructively on how to use it. I'd say it is up to each of us.

Spec work is an example which has become a significantly reduced request, if at all anymore. Why? Companies understand that our time is valuable when we collectively stand and give them a unified response. Sucky designers will always be on Ebay and that's great, because the people who want to hire them won't be wasting my time. They'll probably be working with the sucky doctors and lawyers as well - so it's likely they won't be with us very long anyway.

The hack is dead. Long live the hack.

On Jul.19.2004 at 07:34 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

The Reader's Digest Version

To paraphrase... let the disenchanted be. It's like poking a rock with a stick. A design intervention won't make a difference. ie., If AIGA represents 10% of the industry with 16,000 members. The goal will likely never be to reach even 50% industry membership.

Sucking Filter — Roadblock Remover:

Focus the core and build a compelling fire. If you build it they will come (hence Speak Up?). Unless a group's needs are being underserved, why worry about those who don't want in? If they don't, they aren't helping anyway — which leaves more room for people who want to engage, participate and grow.

>How do you cut through the petty attitudes and insecurities surrounding legitimizing (ie. defining, accrediting, representing) what we do as a profession?

The major roadblock for design is lack of consistent K-12 curriculum. How many kindergartners want to grow up and be designers? We start way too late in the curve.

On Jul.19.2004 at 08:26 PM
Steve K’s comment is:

Are MBA candidates being educated in the role and value of design?

In a word, YES. Sure, they're not learning typography or color theory, but there's not a respectable MBA program that doesn't deal with the topic of design in one way or another.

It's a safe bet that an MBA at Wharton learns more about design than an MFA at Cranbrook learns about business.

On Jul.19.2004 at 08:33 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>A design intervention won't make a difference. ie., If AIGA represents 10% of the industry with 16,000 members.

Yup, I agree — to hell with those disenchanted. Just keep going, building, developing.

Well as long as I've been a member, that's exactly what AIGA's attitude has been. It's part of their strength, and also a source of their greatest complaint. They're not an elitist organization, but they're also not very egalitarian (SU's word of the month).

And I think there's closer to around 400,000 self-proclaimed graphic/interactive designers in the US, which makes AIGA's membership only around 4% of the total professional population. How more exclusive can you get?

But let's just say that this model continues. Is the profession better or worse for it? A small percentage of us become one with the business universe, changing the perception of designers, burning the fire as bright as we can, leading by example — engage, participate, and grow.

Well, will that really matter in the end? Or will the prevalent anti-establishment attitude of the general mass of the profession still rule in the end? Will your war cry be an exercise in futility?

Sorry, but I seem to be in a very pessimistic mood this week.

On Jul.19.2004 at 09:02 PM
Maya Drozdz’s comment is:

It's a safe bet that an MBA at Wharton learns more about design than an MFA at Cranbrook learns about business.

And you are who, exactly? Could you please share your insights on Wharton and/or Cranbrook? And how is this name-dropping relevant?

Great URL, by the way. I appreciate getting to know a bit more about your context.

On Jul.19.2004 at 09:56 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

First of all, when did exclusive become a dirty word? Exclusion is simply a form of definition — things are defined in part by what they are not. And the fact is, anyone can join the AIGA, which in itself may be a problem.

What if instead of "if you build it they will come" we adopted the notion that if you come, they will build it? I don't subscribe 100% to everything the AIGA puts out there, which is to say that I agree with its ends, if not always its means, and I'm part of its leadership (as is fellow poster "Don Julio" by the way). My point is, the AIGA is a powerful and reasonable voice that champions the cause of its members. If you're not a member it has no responsibility to you. Maybe that makes me sound like a dick, but that's how things work, right? If you are a member, though, it has an obligation to hear, consider and respond to your voice, your values and your needs. Change comes from within.

That's one thought. Believe it or not, I'm really not here to sell anyone the benefits of the AIGA (but feel free to email me if you'd like me to). I'm simply interested in how we can move ourselves into a situation wherein we spend less time complaining, and more time inspiring each other. Design is supposed to be an exciting, vital, passionate, controversial, visionary, passionate, profitable, and satisfying profession. What happened and how can we fix it?

On Jul.19.2004 at 10:07 PM
ps’s comment is:

is it just me or is this post generalizing way to much and built on assumptions? i'm not really buying the argument, if there is one.

On Jul.19.2004 at 11:27 PM
Joel’s comment is:

Oh, PLEASE Don.

The major roadblock for design is lack of consistent K-12 curriculum. How many kindergartners want to grow up and be designers?

Are you kidding me??? Yeah, I guess our teachers should stop worrying about teaching silly things like reading, writing, and math so children can receive a higher education is design/art. I don't hear many kindergartners wanting to be in sales, management or many other things besides Nascar or MLB.

On Jul.20.2004 at 06:54 AM
mGee’s comment is:

This is a topic that's always on my mind. I've come to the conclusion that there is something that could be done, but isn't being done.

More periodicals about design, that are affordable, interesting to the average joe consumer and also informative about design and typography.

The only periodicals that currently cover the topic are over-priced for the common consumer and aren't geared toward them anyway. Print magazine is very informative to a designer, but not to the average guy looking for something to read. Communication arts is all image and no info, and definitely out of Joe's price range for a magazine. Emigre, is essentially a catalog of products with articles thrown in for good measure...definitely not interesting for your average consumer.

If there were a magazine that was affordable, entertaining and informative about design, there would be that much more chance that average folks would be better aducated regarding design.

If you look at other industries, such as the music industry and film industry, there are magazines that serve as middle of the road information sources for both professionals and consumers without a professional background in the field who are interested in the topic and would like to be better informed.

Anyway, that's my 2 ¢.

On Jul.20.2004 at 07:04 AM
mGee’s comment is:

Steve K Wrote:

"YES. Sure, they're not learning typography or color theory,"

Then NO, they are NOT learning a thing about design. How do you consider design, without those 2 topics? That perhaps is another problem.... MBAs are being grossly misinformed about what Graphic Design is?

On Jul.20.2004 at 07:07 AM
Ron Hubbard’s comment is:

As an industry we are too fragmented. Half the people I know that are designers have their own thing going or would like to start their own thing. Designers can't seem to become comfortable in staying in an organized environment where we could educate other professionals on our importance. How are other professionals supposed to take us seriously if all they see are designers coming and going always off to do freelance from their isolated bubble of their home.

One thing I have noticed about agencies that are started by an Account Executive and a Designer is that the designer ends up leaving after a few years. Why is that? Is it because then design is no longer that art that they intended it to be. For design to be taken more seriously by others we have to first take it more seriously. It seems like whenever a designer does get to a point where they can change the perception of design they flake and run. Design then becomes an after thought and we become the last person in the creative process. And if we have a good idea it's rarely taken seriously.

Why is that? I don't know.

I wish I did because maybe I could find a way to fix it. At least for myself.

In college I started reading the industry trades (mainly HOW & Comm Arts) and I formed an idealized view on how a design firm/agency should be and it's ruined me ever since. It's caused me to become one of these people that keep leaving a job. Not to start my own thing but to go to the next best thing. I am on my 4th job in 3 years. By searching for that perfect work environment where design and designers are taken seriously I have further pushed the thinking that designers can't get organized and be taken seriously. I keep looking for someone to show me the way but they're not there. They've all left and gone to work from their house so they continue with their "art".

It's a vicious circle.

On Jul.20.2004 at 08:17 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> If there were a magazine that was affordable, entertaining and informative about design, there would be that much more chance that average folks would be better aducated regarding design.

Two or three years ago there was a "mainstream" magazine called ONE that lasted 4 or 5 issues. Its intent was to show design (supposedly from graphic to industrial to textile design) to everyday people. I even subscribed. It was pretty bad, every 30 or so pages you would read something about graphic design — forget about typography. By the last issue there was really no difference between ONE and Lucky magazine; it was all cool "designey" products you could buy.

I really doubt we will ever have such a bridging magazine on newsstands.

On Jul.20.2004 at 08:43 AM
Joseph’s comment is:

This argument could go on forever. And there are so many great points that have been made. I think that the profession is so misunderstood for a couple of reasons.

First, it is essentially lumped into the category of ART. ART is very expendable and not very important. A lot of clients think that if they put the info on a piece of paper, that that is good enough. They don't see the need to make it appealing. Design is partly an art, but is it is also an applied art and almost more of a science.

Another problem that happens is the fact that we do not really bill hourly, by project, or by value. It is a combination of both. Lawyers, Doctors, etc. have set rates for work. It does not matter if the patient grosses six figures or barely breaks minimum wage, the cost for a checkup is the same. The pricing structures in our profession are so out-of-whack it is insane.

Yet another issue is how we judge good design. For instance, we tend to judge design on the principles of design itself. We tend to forget the other part of design. The part that makes it a business, and not an art. The big question is, did the piece work? Did it meet and/or exceed the goals? I think that good design is a piece that not only looks great, is well-designed, and witty but also a piece that works for the client's needs and goals.

Suggestions for change? Better, more consistent pricing structures, more education for future business owners, and a stronger focus on the science and process of design rather than just the aesthetic appeal. Anyone agree? Disagree?

On Jul.20.2004 at 08:53 AM
Keith H.’s comment is:

I am not sure that we should rely on periodicals to educate our clients. I am relatively new to the professional design field myself, and I find myself constantly looking for answers. I pour over design magazines, websites such as this, books, and I am an AIGA member. I do all this in an attempt to educate myself about design. But is it not the designers responsibility to educate his/her clients? (I understand the irony of speaking of educating others while trying to educate myself) I mean is that not expected within every profession?

Doctor's educate their patients in matters of health. Lawyers educate their clients about the law and how it works. Should designers not do the same for their clients. As I said, I am still looking for answers as this is still relatively new to me.

On Jul.20.2004 at 09:08 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Are you kidding me??? Yeah, I guess our teachers should stop worrying about teaching silly things like reading, writing, and math so children can receive a higher education is design/art.

Don is absolutely correct. Our society places little value on anything but the 3 Rs in our education system.

Design is something we all do. Creativity is something we all possess. They're both things that get little focus after kindergarten. Both are important in the development of problem solving skills.

On Jul.20.2004 at 09:14 AM
CCHS’s comment is:

ART is very expendable and not very important.

I was just talking to two separate people about this. On a train in Belgium several years ago I saw a poster advertising an art show, which read, "L'art, peut-il sauver le Monde?" (Can art save the world?). Next to it was Manet's lone Fifer. The beauty of both the sentiment and image, as well as their promise, I found quite moving. It's also a very European question. If you go to virtually any metro- or cosmopolitan city in Europe you will be surrounded by art and design as part of that city's cultural landscape. Art and design are viewed out of the context of strict ROI, and upheld as a valuable and necessary part of national and regional culture. Currency, stamps, civil engineering, landscape architecture, civic, corporate and residential architecture, etc. all bear the mark of a society that values innovation and dialogue facilitated in part by the arts.

Those values simply aren't part of the American psyche.

Don's right, Darrel, design and art ought to be taught in K-12, and not for the sake of our profession, but for the sake of our national creative health. No one is saying replace reading and writing with design classes, but teaching kids to think creatively actually enables them to be more successful in life. Kids involved in the arts are more likely to stay in school and go to college, for example. Not to mention the value of being taught creative problem solving skills.

If art and design were values in this country we would elect different kinds of leaders, support different kinds of programs, possibly think differently about how to solve the really important problems we have.

On Jul.20.2004 at 09:46 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>Suggestions for change?

1. Teach. It's the most direct way to influence the next generation of designers.

2. Work. Be ethical in your business relationships. Educate your client for the next designer. Create good designs that give tangible value to society. Try to serve as inspiration for designers under you.

3. Give to PBS and your local arts organizations. Support your local arts community by being a regular patron. Recruit family and friends to do the same.

4. Go public with your opinions and knowledge. Volunteer articles to your local business paper. Volunteer an article for your client's corporate newsletter. Join a blog like SU. Tell people what you know and think.

5. Consider joining a non-profit board of directors in your city, like the Boys&Girls Club, the MS Society, etc. Meet other business leaders that have influence, and infect them with the value of design. Use your design skills, network, resources, and influence to do some good for the community.

6. Join AIGA, but for a purpose. Put some efforts into the chapter, and increase your involvement with its operations. Use that position to effect positive changes to the organization and professional community in your area.

...

That's a start. They may be small things, but it's all better than talk.

On Jul.20.2004 at 10:32 AM
Maya Drozdz’s comment is:

If there were a magazine that was affordable, entertaining and informative about design, there would be that much more chance that average folks would be better aducated regarding design.

Actually, I think Metropolis may be the closest we have to that right now. It's not outrageously expensive, and its focus is broad enough for non-designers to be interested, but it is about design, in its various manifestations.

On Jul.20.2004 at 10:35 AM
DeAnne Williamson’s comment is:

It seems to me that what the design field is missing is some good old-fashioned PR. There are some excellent articles on successful design in 'design' magazines. Why not submit those articles to 'business' magazines? I don't think there needs to be a periodical about design geared toward the average joe. What average joe will pick it up? and don't we really want 'business' joe to read it anyway?

On Jul.20.2004 at 10:47 AM
Don’s comment is:

Oh Please Joel?!

The fundamentals for all the other career paths you mention are part of early education. Even Phys. Ed. (or Driver's Ed ;)?) if you really want to go down the Nascar path. There is no standard for the arts, music, design et al. There is a bit of a public problem with an "artiste" misperception of design. I didn't say we should cut out other essential foundation building programming, what I'm advocating is that we augment it. I wanted to be an architect as a kid - but sure didn't know what the hell a graphic designer was.

I gave a talk to a group of marketing professionals recently and interchanged the terms of marketing and designing (as in developing a strategy or plan) to help demonstrate it's power as a tool. Other professionals need to be re-educated or made aware, but the job would be much easier in the future if the education began much sooner. AIGA has lobbied - and as a result changed the definition of Design and Graphic Design in the dictionary. That is how basic and fundamental change can be.

Stepping outside for some Dodgeball.

On Jul.20.2004 at 10:48 AM
Don’s comment is:

Well, will that really matter in the end? Or will the prevalent anti-establishment attitude of the general mass of the profession still rule in the end? Will your war cry be an exercise in futility?

Tan, I liked very much that you asked this question, but then provided some very good answers yourself. Clearly if we didn't think we could affect change, or make a difference, we wouldn't all be in the room... unless keyboard exercises are part of your daily workout.

On Jul.20.2004 at 11:11 AM
jim’s comment is:

I'm unsure about everyone calling for more magazine articles. I want to know where the ad campaigns are. You educate people about a product or service by advertising too. Where is the AIGA sponsored ad campaign?

Living in the DC area, I'm amazed at how much advertising is targeted at the government buyer. I'm not a gov employee, but I know all about the services offered to benefit government thanks to the myriad of ads. Why am I not seeing bilboards about the value of design? Who no posters sponsored by AIGA, or any Art Directors Club?

We see ads to support candidates, ads that tell you to stop smoking or practice safe sex, ads about liquor, ads about shaving gel, ads about that not-so-fresh feeling....

Where are the ads that advocate for designers and for good design in general?

I am no longer an AIGA member. I saw no evidence that they were trying to educate joe consumer (who also happens to be joe CEO sometimes). Where are the ad campaigns? Why is this being overlooked by what seems like everyone?

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I see no evidence of any of these groups trying to educate the public about the value of design.

On Jul.20.2004 at 11:32 AM
CCHS’s comment is:

Here

On Jul.20.2004 at 11:37 AM
nick shinn’s comment is:

>suggestions for change

Right on, Tan.

I went to a talk by Henri Henrion c.1985 where he advocated a similar strategy as being the duty of a true professional, and I have followed it, with varying degrees of committment and success, ever since.

On Jul.20.2004 at 11:45 AM
jim’s comment is:

CCHS, what is the purpose of those ads?

Teaching joe schmoe about the value of design? It doesn't appear so.

Next.

On Jul.20.2004 at 11:45 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>Tan, I liked very much that you asked this question, but then provided some very good answers yourself.

Of course I'm going to still try Don. Partially because I hate the anti-establishment/too-cool-for-school/bullshit attitudes. Partially because I'm combative by nature.

But my point though, was to ask if everyone was aware of how futile it is to seek business improvements and professional changes, when so much of the design population is adverse to both of these things?

I've talked about the business aspects of design before, about understanding the corporate side of the equation, setting a standard of professionalism for design. In response, I've been accused of sucking the soul out of design, ignorant that there's too many definitions of designers, too much business-speak, too conforming, and so on and so on. Many of you have witnessed these smackdowns.

I believe designers purposely make things hard for themselves. They'd rather bullshit about their independence and uniqueness than work together for a common benefit. It's in our nature to fuck things up for ourselves.

So I say, fend for yourselves. Notice that my list of solutions that I posted later are all things you can affect on an individual basis.

On Jul.20.2004 at 12:10 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

Sorry, but I seem to be in a very pessimistic mood this week.

Does this actually make you a closet optimist?

This may be an ugly comparison, but how many politicians does it take to create change? Compare the design community to disenchanted voters. Passionate, vocal (and hopefully thoughtful) leaders and supporters as a minority make all the difference. To focus on the 90% of a group that isn't interested is a mistake.

I've already copied your suggestions, so for me this discussion has made an impact.

On Jul.20.2004 at 12:43 PM
Michael’s comment is:

Jim, Jim, JIM... there's no need to be so aggresive here, we're all friends.

One guess why you get so much advertising for the government buyer in the DC area is because... well, it's the nation's capitol. That town is government.

You said you quit the AIGA because it wasn't doing enough to educate by advertising. The AIGA thrives on it's active members, so the question I pose to you is what were you doing at that time to further the cause? Were you simply relying on the other members of your local chapter to do this for you?

Besides, the ads you want to see are not necessary. Design is everywhere. You just need to educate your clients. Open their eyes and show them how valuable design is by pointing out that it surrounds them everyday. From the tags on the clothing they wear, to the masthead on the newspaper they read, to the menu of the restaraunt they ate lunch at yesterday... design is everywhere.

My point is, don't stand on a soapbox and cry foul. Get out there and do something about it. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

It's a cliché for a reason folks.

On Jul.20.2004 at 12:44 PM
krf’s comment is:

I, you and us, not they, them and those. Organizations are helpful to a point, but where you live and work each day is where the educating needs to be done. It's hard! We're in the minority in this Wal-mart nation.

Get out in front of your co-workers (non-designers). Tell them what you do, how you do it and why and why it is important. There are many ways to do it.

Yes, there will always be people who do their job poorly in any profession, but you and I and this community need to walk around a bit more (myself included) and see what people are doing and how we can help them do it better (as it relates to design, communcation, etc).

On Jul.20.2004 at 12:59 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Besides, the ads you want to see are not necessary. Design is everywhere. You just need to educate your clients. Open their eyes and show them how valuable design is by pointing out that it surrounds them everyday.

By now we have — finally — established that design is everywhere. Times, Fast Company, etc. have made a good job in pointing out design. So now that it's been pointed out what we need is to explain — explain, not educate* — a few things to the public:

• Design costs money, good money

• Design takes time and expertise

• No, you can't do it yourself

• OK, maybe you "can" do it yourself, but you shouldn't

I'd chip in for a billboard that said "design costs money".

* Keith mentioned that doctors educate their clients on health. Just because they tell you that your pancreas is inflated (or whatever) doesn't mean they are educating you — they are simply explaining what's wrong with you. There is a big difference between "educate" and "explain". We all get so hung up on educating our clients that we forget that sometimes all they need is a brief explanation: your brand is deflated. It's more authoritative that way. We need to do more explainin' and less educatin'. The "educating" mentality can get a tad inflated among us designers.

I realize this might be a case of semantics, but it's all in the attitude I guess. Getting on the high-horse of educating can be off-putting for clients.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:05 PM
jim’s comment is:

I'm all apologies. I had no intention of being rude. I'm sorry if it came across that way.

I never said I quit the AIGA because it wasn't doing enough advertising. I quit the AIGA for several reasons, in addition to that, I also never saw any evidence of the AIGA or the Art Directors Club, or anyone else trying to educate about the value of design to the general public.

I belive the ads I want to see ARE necessary, just as much as other people here want to see more magazine articles. But I think that magazine readers are a self-selecting population. Ads can more easily be broadcast [to make known over a wide area]. That is why I made the point about being educated about goverment products and services. I'm not a government buyer, I'm not a government-magazine reader. Yet I am educated... special thanks to ad campaigns.

The whole point of groups like AIGA, and even this "That Sound You Hear Sucking" article is to find a way to solve the problem of lack of design education in the public.

The problem we seem to recognize is that clients are uneducated. My point is that people in general are uneducated and that clients are people in general.

If the general public is educated about the value of design, then quite possibly your next client will be in that group, or perhaps, your current client.

Michaels comment is that I should do it myself. "You just need to educate your clients." Ok, is AIGA pointless then?

Additionally, Michael ("don't stand on a soapbox and cry foul"), this is a soapbox. Not only is this a soapbox, and the reason everyone is leaving comment, but you are also jumping to conclusion about what I am doing to be "part of the solution."

Is discussion not part of what needs to be done?

"Open their eyes and show them how valuable design is by pointing out that it surrounds them everyday."

That is the whole point of this article! How to best do that. In my estimation, the design community as a whole is in dire need of an ad campaign.

I have heard ads on the radio about the benefit of hiring an architect even for very small jobs because you will save money and be happier in the long run (reasons explained in the ad). Shouldn't AIGA do this too?

Shouldn't we educate everyone? Afterall, everyone can be a potential client or patron. It would be much easier to create an effective ad campaign than to infiltrate elementary education.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:17 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I have heard ads on the radio about the benefit of hiring an architect even for very small jobs because you will save money and be happier in the long run (reasons explained in the ad). Shouldn't AIGA do this too?

Jim, just in case you are interested, we talked about this specific instance a few months ago.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:22 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

S'plain Lucy?!

Great point Armin. The more we act as a consultant with authority and expertise (like a lawyer or doctor), the more clients establish trust, provided we offer constructive solutions. Being better communicators only enhances our work.

I'd chip in for the billboard.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:27 PM
jim’s comment is:

I'd also like to add that very few people have even heard of AIGA. I went to the conference in Las Vegas where someone did a presentation where he interviewed his parents and asked them what AIGA stood for. Dad got it wrong and the audience got a chuckle, but that is really sad.

If an Art Directors Club started an ad campaign, it would educate people about design AND about the club. If I tell people that I subscribe to the AIGA ethical standards, they have no idea what that means or why that matters or who the heck AIGA is.

Some people seem to think that we need to spoon feed the information to everyone anytime there is a question. The best possibility for an educated client is to be in an educated population. Humans, and animals in general, tend to do what everyone else is doing. We do not, by nature, go against the grain (save for some exceptions to that). Commonly viewing and understanding ads about design and designers would create an entire population that is at least aware that there is value to a designer's time and would likely mean that the next time you try to educate someone, they will be more willing to accept it because it reflects the environment they see.

Try to get someone to think about buying a Mac or using Linux... all they see around them is Windows on a Dell or HP.

Its like fashion, its like music taste, its like anything else in society, we accept what we see a majority of the time, and I think that if people saw ads about how helpful a smart designer can be, they'd accept that.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:30 PM
jim’s comment is:

Armin, thanks, i'm completely new to Speak Up

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:33 PM
Steve K’s comment is:

And you are who, exactly? Could you please share your insights on Wharton and/or Cranbrook? And how is this name-dropping relevant?

Did I hit a sensitive point, Maya? Sorry about that.

The "name" dropping isn't relevant beyond the fact that they are two of the better, of not the best programs in their field. It could have been Duke and NC State, or Yale and Harvard.

Anyway, we assume that they (MBAs, CEOs, ETC) just don't get it, while that isn't necessarily true. Now more than ever, design is valued as a force in the marketplace. Fast Company (whose key demographic is MBAs and CEOs) recently dedicated an entire issue to design and innovation.

Granted, HOW does dedicate plenty of pages to "design business", but they tend to be mostly about who has the coolest office.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:42 PM
jen’s comment is:

i'm always a little overwhelmed in this type of discussion - its a little like discussing how to bring about world peace - amorphous and daunting. Yes we need to celebrate creativity in the school system. How do we accomplish that when our schools are screaming for funding and quality education for the basics? Yes we need to educate ourselves and our clients. How do we accomplish that with rampant apathy on both sides? Thinking global, acting local, etc...but for design...hahaha

Anyway - i'm more of a lurker than a poster typically, but i just wanted to bring up a point to the magazine for the mainstream issue. I think a great example of it actually is Fast Company. Issues an average person would find interesting, while promoting the value of design and its everyday applications, in a language understood by all. Yes, it does focus on the corporate agenda - but i think it is a promising start.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:43 PM
Keith H.’s comment is:

We need to do more explainin' and less educatin'.

Touche Armin. I agree with you whole-heartedly. But when I spoke of educating our clients, I did not mean preaching down to them. I meant explaining, exactly as you have pointed out. But many times out of explanations come education. If I explain why I chose a certain color palette, or why I chose to use a certain typeface, I hope that my client is somehow educated in the process.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:45 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

... but k-12 years are still just as important. CCHS nailed it re: developing creative problem solving skills that we all posess. These should not lie dormant until a light goes on in college or we see an ad campaign as adults.

AIGA San Diego's LINK program (inspired by Seattle's) has given at-risk high school students a new career path - we even have Art Center grads now who started with this program. It's amazing. The exposure needs to start earlier. It absolutely makes a difference.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:45 PM
jen’s comment is:

steve k - JINX

hahaha

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:46 PM
Diane’s comment is:

We all get so hung up on educating our clients that we forget that sometimes all they need is a brief explanation:

I never thought of it in that way. I guess because so many people have said that we need to educate and that is what I have been doing.

But what if you are dealing with clients who have no idea what branding is or even a single clue about anything even design related? (Try telling it to a farmer who's trying to sell John Deere tractors!) It's like explaining it to a 5-year old! You would basically have to start from scratch, very time consuming.

But all in all what a great way to put it! Yes it is semantics, but using that term changes its purpose.

I must say what a great article either way. We can change the way that designers are viewed and valued. We have to begin that change.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:47 PM
Michael’s comment is:

Yes, Armin is 100% absolutely correct. "Explain" is a much better word than "Educate" for the sake of humbleness. Last thing I want to be is percieved as being on a high-horse. However, I tend to ask for a more in-depth explanation with my doctors, which turns into an educating experience. Thus, I remember and am then educated. If I do the same with my clients, and they remember what I tell them, are they then not also educated?

Jim, yes this is a soapbox and this is place to be heard, but my point was to not only voice your opinions here. I haven't heard you say once that you've tried to get the "advertising on design" train moving in your community, through the AIGA or not. But no, to answer your question AIGA is not pointless. The AIGA can be an channel to pursue the purpose you seek, but you need to be an active member. When I say active I mean motivated and involved.

But please do not misunderstand me, I think advertising is a great idea. However Armin's mention of the tagline "design costs money" tends to lend itself to an elitist perception of ourselves. That architecture radio ad that Jim mentioned is a great example: a simple awareness of design as an anavoidable yet accessible and necessary part of the average Joe's everyday life. But there is also much more we can do on an individual basis, as Tan so eloquently stated earlier with his list of suggestions for change. Bravo Tan.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:48 PM
Steve K’s comment is:

For those of us wondering about what the AIGA doesor doesn't do, below are the American Institute of Architects (AIA) objectives for branding and advertising.

The objectives of the 2002-2003 AIA advertising campaign are to improve:

1)The perceived need to involve architects early in projects.

2)The perceived value of design as a component of a completed project.

3)The understanding of the potential value of an architect's involvement in community projects.

4)The range of projects in which an architect's involvement is considered.

5)The awareness of the ability of an architect to contribute to a strategic plan and finally,

6)The awareness and value of "AIA" as a credential.

Is that what we're looking for from AIGA?

I tend to think so.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:55 PM
Rob ’s comment is:

It's a safe bet that an MBA at Wharton learns more about design than an MFA at Cranbrook learns about business.

Not.

First, Tan's suggestions were dead on. And I would just like to add a few more.

1) Incorporate business courses into design curricula. If you want to succeed anywhere, you have to speak the language. And designers, as stand-offish as we may sometimes be, are no exception to the rule. We need to be able to translate our language of design in terms of what it does for our clients where it matters most. Their bottom line.

2) Encourage dialogue in your community, through AIGA or another group you are associated with, between the various professional groups and community business associations.

3) Set up a booth next to the Marines and the Meow-Mix Mobile and talk about design and why it matters.

4) Mentor young designers

5) Start a mentoring program in your community's high school of the arts (or any high school for that matter)

6) If you want art/design in your school's curriculum than SPEAKUP in your Board of Education meetings, PTA, whatever. Volunteer to your neighborhood schools to come in and talk about design.

While there is a lot of 'sucking' about design, there's also a lot of good things that can and should be shared with people outside the design community. There's strength in numbers and the more people that join AIGA, the more power it will gain as an organization, and the more design will gain as a profession. But only if you are an active member. So, for the 96% of the designers out there who aren't members, who want to make a change, join and be part of the solution you desire.

On Jul.20.2004 at 01:57 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>We need to do more explainin' and less educatin'.

I agree Armin, but I also don't think "Educate" is an arrogant term. "Explain" is just providing/reguritating information. Helping clients to understand the value that design can provide, and showing them the best practices of effectively working with designers is clearly within the definitions of an "education". It's also denotes a reciprocal, two-way action.

It's not an arrogant approach, unless you choose to adopt that attitude.

On Jul.20.2004 at 02:26 PM
Armin’s comment is:

And I agree with you Tan… but c'mon, most of the time, when designers (including me) talk about educating the client, it generally comes with an air of arrogance or the more politically correct roll of the eyes. And don't think I'm preaching, I do it all the time and I feel bad when I do it, because that is getting me nor the client nowhere. The thing is that design isn't that hard to "get", it's hard to make it a workable, viable, beneficial process for all the parties involved but design itself, as a concept, is not that big a mystery and we need to stop treating it that way.

On Jul.20.2004 at 02:33 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

I'd chip in for a billboard that said "design costs money".

That's a deal, Armin, and I'll chip in for one down the street that says "design makes money"

On Jul.20.2004 at 02:48 PM
M. Kingsley’s comment is:

5) Start a mentoring program in your community's high school of the arts (or any high school for that matter)

Rob -- please stop promoting mentoring as a way to spread the word about design. This is a bass-ackwards approach which comes dangerously close to putting the lesser needs of the design profession before the needs of students.

Helping the next generation: good.

Promoting design: good.

Confusing priorities: bad.

Otherwise, you're just as bad as the Jesuits.

On Jul.20.2004 at 03:31 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

I think mentoring programs are just fine, especially if it's within an arts program at a high school. In that case, you are putting the needs of the students first - you're responding to their desire to learn more about the arts (or in this case design). It's not like you're knocking on doors and forcing yourself on unsuspecting proteges.

The San Francisco chapter of the AIGA has a teaching program that teaches design to fifth graders. It's an amazingly popular and powerful program, and has nothing to do with indoctrination, and everything to do with inspiring and uplifting kids who otherwise don't have access to an arts education.

I think you'll find the motives of most mentors are less self-serving than you suspect.

On Jul.20.2004 at 03:54 PM
Marc Stress’s comment is:

In defense of Executive MBA programs at Wharton (as mentioned above)... Design is are a big part of their curriculum, and discussion. They are teaching their MBAs to how to think about design, and how to apply it to business. I hope this is happening at other MBA programs.

Sadly, it is rare that any business context is brought to BFA in graphic design programs. I would love to be wrong on this point.

Some of the designers that I know that have the most successful studios, and understanding of business are those that did not go through a formal design education.

However, the problem is already starting to rear it's ugly head in this short conversation. Designers are the problem. The clients don't need education. They need help communicating. We need to show them how what we do fits them.

RE:: Those of you who have issue with AIGA

You will not help shape the future of design by yourself, no matter how brilliant. In order to be apart of the future of this industry you must do three things:: join, support, change.

There are at least 200,000 of you who can help.

On Jul.20.2004 at 04:10 PM
mazzei’s comment is:

“Designers are the problem. In our profession there are simply no standards. Pricing, process, standards of professional practice and ethics, educational curricula and even our professional lexicon are all wildly variable. It is no wonder that those outside the profession are confounded by what it is we do, we have failed in our most basic task - to communicate effectively even the nature of our business. And we have failed at all levels.”

What a sad statement for the “president” of an AIGA chapter to make. Seems to me like the AIGA is suffering from what it despises most on the industry —no inspiration, no direction and sadly, no vision. The real “problem” is that people believe this crap. So, why is the AIGA right in front to sponsor the next “design competition” even though they think designers are the “problem?” Sounds like just another organization talking out of both sides of it’s mouth...that’s what I think the sucking sound is.

On Jul.20.2004 at 04:46 PM
Don’s comment is:

Seems to me like the AIGA is suffering from what it despises most on the industry —no inspiration, no direction and sadly, no vision.

At least the earlier conversation addressed potential solutions and actions, rather than making typical generalizations. It's nice to air things out now and then, but that sucking may be from a lack of oxygen.

Do you have postive insight, or are we all just doomed from here on out? AIGA is 16,000 different people participating in a meaningful exchange, with enough common goals to inspire working together. There are many voices and ideas at work within the group.

Seems to me like the AIGA is suffering from what it despises most on the industry —no inspiration, no direction and sadly, no vision.

To refer to the earlier post, albeit a cliché, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. A little research into your above statement may give you some surprising results... Otherwise there seems to be a common lack of vision present.

On Jul.20.2004 at 05:51 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

Mazzei,

Not sure why "president" is in quotes, but I'll address your point thusly:

1. I do not speak on behalf of the entire AIGA, obviously. I am but one voice among many, some of whom may well disagree. A lot of people have been around a lot longer than I have, and have built the organization into what it is today. I'm just the NKOTB trying to make some noise in the right places, on the right issues, to get the right thing done.

2. Acknowledging that designers are the problem is a matter of accountability. It's too easy to blame your ails on others, harder to cry mia culpa, and harder still to do anything about it. In this thread so far Tan has made the greatest strides towards outlining a course of action. I have my ideas as well, many of which parallel his, and I am hopeful that more are coming.

3. As a member and a leader of the AIGA I'm putting my money where my mouth is - more so than talking out of both sides of it. "We" could sit down and create initiatives and policies for "you" independent of your input, but I prefer to think of we as being all of us. Ergo, this editorial, and the opportunity for anyone to contribute positive solutions towards solving the problems we complain about.

4. It is a sad statement, yes, but a necessary one. We need to do better, we need to strive for excellence and equality, and we need to do it together. That, my dear, is the vision.

On Jul.20.2004 at 06:07 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Mazzei--I liked a lot of what you had to say.

Sounds like just another organization talking out of both sides of it’s mouth...that’s what I think the sucking sound is.

In theory, I agree and this is why I sometimes ignore AIGA and graphic designers in general. After all, clients will pay me for the things I create, not other designers.

That said, Mr. Simmons doesn't represent the entire organization and I appreciate the perspective he offers here. Someone in the AIGA has to define what it should be, and that voice might be quite small at the outset. Changing design will take a long time not because change takes a long time (i.e., you either do it or you don't), but because it'll take a long time for enough designers to change themselves. And that's ultimately what it comes down to; if you're a designer, with clients, you get to determine how they perceive you and what you do...if only on an individual basis. Progress grows from there.

AIGA never forces anyone to agree with anything it has to say, it doesn't push its agenda that hard and it tends to welcome disagreement. I remember being rather insulted when Heller wrote that column trying to get people to PRAISE the organization outright, but fundamentally, what its presence represents to me is that there are designers who still give a goddamn about this world. That's what matters more than anything.

The rest, as they say, is up to you.

On Jul.20.2004 at 07:54 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

I believe I've posted my favorite quote before, but what the hell:

“I happen to believe that the visual environment…improves each time a designer produces a good design — and in no other way.

- William Golden

If nothing else, this is something to think about while you wait for someone to launch an ad campaign to explain to your clients why they should pay attention to you.

On Jul.20.2004 at 08:44 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Rob -- please stop promoting mentoring as a way to spread the word about design. This is a bass-ackwards approach which comes dangerously close to putting the lesser needs of the design profession before the needs of students

Mark, I'm not promoting mentoring as a way of spreading the word about design as much as I am promoting as a way for designer's to get out of their offices and into the community. The mentoring in and of itself has very little to with design and everything to with life. Not everyone has what it takes to be mentor and give of themselves so that others may learn as well as learning something themselves.

On Jul.20.2004 at 08:48 PM
Maya Drozdz’s comment is:

It's a safe bet that an MBA at Wharton learns more about design than an MFA at Cranbrook learns about business.

Steve K., I understood your shorthand. Yes, this is a sore point for me but, more importantly, it seems like a dangerous generalization, probably based on little actual knowledge of the facts. And aren't we all here trying to get past that?

We sometimes complain as if we'd be better off if it weren't for those pesky, ignorant clients. But, if we're really highly-trained communicators, able to deal with diverse audiences, can't we find a way to effectively communicate with our clients? And admit that we're all [almost always, at least] after the same things?

Yes, it seems that the business world is figuring out ways to benefit from design. They get it. Do we?

Fast Company and Business Week have covered design [so have, recently, Newsweek and Time]. The Feb 04 issue of the Harvard Business Review proclaimed that 'the MFA is the new MBA' [in its Breakthrough Ideas for 2004 feature]. This statement is accompanied by a little tidbit:

Corporate recruiters have begun visiting the top arts grad schools -- places such as the Rhode Island School of Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan's Cranbrook Academy of Art -- in search of talent.

Take that, Mr. Generalization... It seems that we're basically in agreement, and that this kind of thinking is already happening, just not in our field. By the way, I mentioned Metropolis because it has broad appeal and weaves design into the larger cultural sphere, and I believe that has more impact than the sad state of our own, more narrow-minded publications.

On Jul.20.2004 at 11:24 PM
Eric Diamond’s comment is:

Oy.

This arguement has been coming up on a more or less constant basis for the last 20 years I have been in this business. Should designers be certified? Architects are, why not designers (hint: when houses fall on top of them, people die. Who gets hurt when the kerning is too loose?)

The problem is, as much as we would like this to be a science, a profession like law, or medicine or accounting, the sad fact of the matter is we are artists. Artists. Think about it. In the olden days we were a trade, a blue coller job. Certification was tried long ago. It used to be that in France you could not show your work if you were not a member of the "Salon" or the Academie. For guys like Van Gogh and Monet it made it pretty hard to get shown. They were considered decadent, right? Would the Dadaists be free to transform design if it they all had to be certified?

And on what basis do you certify? Design school? Forget it, I know plenty of graduates who are incompetent designers. By the same token I know guys who graduated with Psych degrees that are GREAT designers (you're welcome, Joe) who are completely self-taught. Perhaps you certify based on some test...like do you know terminology, and all of the Photoshop keyboard shortcuts? Please. What does that certify?

No dear friends the problem is that we as a profession have a lousy community. The probem is designers, sure. But it is also our schools, which have senior shows, but where are the peer-reviewed journals? What do RISD Instructors publish? Why isn't there a Cranbrook Design Press? Where are the contibutions tht change the practice of the profession?

And where is the AIGA in all this? Chris, what responsibility do our associations play in all of this? Where are the competitons that reward not pretty design, but contributions that change the industry for the better? Where is the AIGA with the publications helping to educate *our* clients on how to properly evaluate design? Where are the publications teaching freelancers how to get paid? How to differntiate themselves? How to find a "Style" and find their voice? Where is the criticism? I am looking for the AIGA not only to be the host of the design parties, but to be the voice and advocate of the industry to the rest of the business world.

As designers we are small, proprietary, fiercely afraid of losing our clients and our advantage to each other, so we don't help each other out. We don't take on enough interns. We don't socialize enough. We don't share our thought process. We're too busy keeping our jobs. Instead we wave our work around in CA and HOW (when was the last time anyone learned HOW to do anything in HOW?) We fixate on tips and tricks and don't nurture thinking and strategy and process. We rely on our journals to provide us with eye candy that we can "derive" from rather than the critical thinking skills that go into solving problems.

You really want to impress me? Show me that spiffy award winning annual report, but open your goddamn kimono and show me your sketchbook too. Show me what didn't make the cut and why. Show me your thought process. What inspired you? What research did you do? What did you learn? How did you sell it? Teach me. I've been doing this longer than many of you, and I still feel like my first day as an apprentice (yeah, that is how I got my design education). Like there is some secret knowledge out there that I am missing.

There are bright spots. There was once a magazine called Critique. It was insanely expensive, but worth every penny. It dealt not only with the design, but how the designer gets there. When it folded after 18 issues, part of me died too. Boxes and Arrows is a great resource and close to peer reviewed. Speak Up is one of the best things to happen to our industry in a long time. We need more. There are dark spots too. If I see one more pretentious design monograph in Barnes and Noble, I swear I'll puke on it.

Once we start nurturing each other with what is in our heads rather than continually pat ourselves on the back with pride at the artifacts of our labor, we will deserve to be called a profession. Otherwise we are just a bunch of artists who get paid.

Think of it like this: to be a professional, one must profess something. What do you profess?

On Jul.20.2004 at 11:49 PM
Matt Waggner’s comment is:
re: "AIGA... no inspiration, no direction, no vision"

Designers are a lot like cats. Angry, wild cats. Even attempting to corral some 16,000 of these creatures will leave any professional exasperated at the misery these animals can generate.

The AIGA put out these little booklets on professional practice. To my (admittedly polemical) eye, they were an embarassment. But they boiled down to really simple and decent commandments, like "Thou shalt not steal Type." A question, though: who in the AIGA gives a shit? Since there's no status associated with being in the AIGA (as there is with the AIA), and there's no real danger, no matter how you practice design, of being thrown out, so even this random and meek stab at leadership and vision can be roundly and safely ignored by the AIGA's members. What if the AIGA started throwing people out? Surely we can agree that "stealing from designers" is not a value our profession supports, right? So how about it?

That said, an AIGA membership means "I like design, and I've got an extra 400 bucks in my life," and every time I write on SpeakUp, I feel like I need some credentials to convince people that I don't hate designers and everything they stand for. Mmm, now to work on that extra money...

re: education

I think it is arrogant to say "well, those clients need more education/'splaining/whatever," when we ourselves remain so poorly educated, and so poorly committed to the role we can play as a part of the world. (The "designers should learn business" comments get at this: should a designer further the aims of a business without understanding how the business – or even, in basic terms, the economy – works?)

As an example, J.Helfand and W.Drenttel put a stake in the ground on this topic both in Emigre 64 and at the AIGA conference in Vancouver, saying that designers should – and can – become engaged in more things (science topics in particular) as a matter of basic professional practice.

However, I happened into this interview right after reading their AIGA lecture, and was heartbroken to read J.H. basically say that "this book cover doesn't really engage with the subject matter, because I don't understand statistics". (Basically, the "math is hard" defense. One of her old essays was prescient: Talking Barbie really has become part of modern design's DNA!)

We designers are a very small part of our society, with perhaps a disproportionate impact on our surroundings. Designers ought to make that impact positive, or at least intentional and appropriate, rather than stacking the 3rd grade reading list with Albers and Tschichold. Christ almighty.

On Jul.21.2004 at 12:46 AM
jason’s comment is:

well put, eric diamond. now i can sit quietly, thank you.

On Jul.21.2004 at 07:27 AM
Steve K’s comment is:

Thanks for the well-considered response, Maya.

It seems like we are on the same page, more or less.

While I did generalize MFAs (Cranbrook specifically) I did it for very good reason. We tend to talk about "the CEO" or "the MBA" in the most general of terms. It seems most of us think that they stand in the way of design for the hell of it. It just isn't that simple. More and more, they do get it.

Part of the problem is that we don't get that they get it.

On Jul.21.2004 at 08:17 AM
Nathan ’s comment is:

Design = The Distillation of Culture

There have been some fairly valid points so far and it's pretty much agreed that clients are ignorant. But perhaps we're looking at the design profession (hack or not) the wrong way. Maybe it would be better to view design as the distillation of culture, it could be the culture of one or the culture of a group as in a movement or an agency. Design can be sophisticated and elegant and it can be flashy and completely bereft of any insight whatsoever. But that's relative, one designers simplicity and intelligent design is considered fussy and sterile by someone else. Swiss design for instance is notable for it's clarity which of course comes from the fact that ideas have to be communicated to three different language bases and thereby three different cultures.

As we know, culture is intricate and subtle in ways we can't even begin to map. It's also constantly changing, therefore design is constantly changing. So as a distiller of culture how can one have a consistent message across the board? How can we even expect our clients to understand our individual cultures which is directly related to the type of work we produce? We shouldn't wonder why we're misunderstood it's a simple fact we can be only thankful for those clients that let us do our thing and have faith in our culture.

Also, as with anything relating to culture everyone participates in it, knowingly or not. Those hack designers are participating because they can, because design is about culture. Of course there are no standards in design, there are no standards in culture either. It's difficult to communicate effectively the nature of our business because the nature of it is something that is ever-changing.

N.

On Jul.21.2004 at 11:26 AM
Don’s comment is:

Eric/Matt, et al,

One wild cat here hoping that you are both involved - as your commentary is the stimulus that makes the group dynamic work. It may be an uphill battle, but if your passions lie so deep, there are people waiting to be engaged by your thinking. You can keep it to yourselves or show up and be counted.

Where is the AIGA with the publications helping to educate *our* clients on how to properly evaluate design?

Two from AIGA in the past two years: The initial "Why?" process piece, and the client-oriented follow up: "What every Business needs. And how." Written to communicate the value proposition and process. It's a condensed edition, sans meat-on-the-bones case studies, but it's a step in the right direction.

A more standardized 12 step process of designing from AIGA is a healthy response to David Baker and other biz gurus who advocate we all create secret Proprietary´┐Ż processes to "distinguish ourselves". This actually just creates more client confusion by mystifing our process and methods further. The Power of Design Conference in Vancouver was all about process, sketches, etc. I found it refreshing, yet many younger designer's wanted the typical portfolio show.

Where are the publications teaching freelancers how to get paid?

One debatable reference is the "Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines", but in the 80's as a student (and pre-Google), I found a very cheesy artist pricing book that provided fundamentals for establishing rates and selling your work (couldn't find this just now on Google ;), go figure). Point being info is out there, AIGA, GAG, etc., etc. That coupled with the annual AIGA/Aquent Salary Survey, any resourceful freelancer should be able to rub those sticks together to start a fire.

I am always amazed at how entitled people feel, as if anticipating the red carpet to roll out with any membership. It's like joining a club or gym. If you aren't prepared to work out and do some lifting, you probably won't receive the same returns.

The sucking sound can be addressed both on an individual basis AND as a group. Actions will always speak louder than words.

On Jul.21.2004 at 11:30 AM
Rob ’s comment is:

read J.H. basically say that "this book cover doesn't really engage with the subject matter, because I don't understand statistics"

What she really said is this:

"JH: Let me be the first to admit that my knowledge of mathematics and statistics is rather limited. However, to the extent that design can approximate an idea, the justified alignments were thought to loosely represent something quantifiable and resolved — as opposed to, say, chaos theory."

Which I find is a far cry from what Matt read into it. And it's not a oppositoinal statment to her saying that "...designers should — and can — become engaged in more things (science topics in particular) as a matter of basic professional practice." She was just saying that her area of knowledge of that particular field, mathematics and statistics, was limited. Nothing more and nothing less.

On AIGA:

That said, an AIGA membership means "I like design, and I've got an extra 400 bucks in my life," and every time I write on SpeakUp, I feel like I need some credentials to convince people that I don't hate designers and everything they stand for.

It's always easy to criticize. It's also an inaccurate, cheap shot. There's nothing stopping anyone here from being an agent of change in AIGA. If there are things you want the organization to do, then do something about it. Don't just make some noise. Get up, get active. Make a real difference.

As for Eric's question.

AIGA has put out information for businesses on how to choose design. And it's even got a program for designers to learn the perspective of business exectuives. They also sponsor GAIN, which focuses on Business and Design. They have a series of publications on design in business. Last year's Why Design has been followed up by What Every Business Needs.

And like I've said all too often, if you want change, you have to get involved and work for change.

On Jul.21.2004 at 11:32 AM
Marc W. Molino’s comment is:

Forgive me for being one of those periodic posters, but the whole tone of this conversation seems to rest on some idealized "other" as if the design profession suffered drastically when compared to other professions. I think it's a worthy goal to hope for and work toward professional standards, increased respect and understanding of what designers do, and institutions that better support the work we do, but the fact that we're not yet there doesn't seem so surprising. What we do is largely valued and acknowledged only when times are good economically. Design is incredibly powerful, but much like art education, is one of the first things to get cut when times are tough. At some level, design and art are a luxury to society and business--there is no way to get around this. Business and society can and have existed before design, but it doesn't quite work the other way around. That being said, I think generating community among designers and elevating the profession as high is possible is worthwhile, but that sucking sound? That's just the vacumning noise of being too close to capitalism'suction tube...

On Jul.21.2004 at 12:36 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

No dear friends the problem is that we as a profession have a lousy community…And where is the AIGA in all this? Chris[topher], what responsibility do our associations play in all of this? Where are the competitons that reward not pretty design, but contributions that change the industry for the better?

On the role of the AIGA:

Where is the AIGA in all of this? Believe me when I tell you that the AIGA is working hard to try to answer that very question. I recently attended a three-day retreat of all chapter and national leadership to address that and other issues facing the industry and our commnuity. (I should mention also that the discussion was not limited to this three-day span, but is ongoing in a formal and facilitated manner). The questions began with the broad and abstract (What is needed? What is appropriate? What is fair? What is realistic?) from which the goal is to develop long term strategies, and apply specific tactics towards their resolution. All the while there is an underlying effort to be faithful to the true constituency of the organization (which can only be determined by counting the voices that make an effort to be heard).

Determining the role and responsibility of a representative organization is a complex problem with many answers, none of which will satisfy everybody. Where is the publication that informs clients of the role and value of design, someone asks. Then, when one is published, it is criticized for being too simplistic, formulaic, rigid, or myopic. Others praise it as an essential and long-awaited tool. If you want to see yourself represented in the products that the AIGA produces, we need to be proactive rather than reactive.

On competitions:

I agree. The best design annual out there right now is, in my opinion, the Step 100. While the so-called industry heavyweights such like Graphis, CA, TDC, ADC, and the AIGA's own 365 remain prestigious awards, they have little value to anyone who didn't enter, or didn't win. What do we learn from these annuals? What conversations do they spawn or foster? Step's competition devotes a page to each winning entry, interview's the designer about how the design responds to specific challenges or thoughts on design and communication. This is an annual that moves design forward.

SpeakUp also moves design forward by facilitating dialogue.

The AIGA moves design forward by facilitating dialogue, providing the leadership to synthesize and focus the results of that dialogue, and the resources to take action based on those conclusions.

There are others, I am sure...

On Jul.21.2004 at 01:51 PM
Schmitty’s comment is:

All portfolios are due one week after the end of the semester for final review. Unless you have received a satisfactory review from the Dean and Department Heads, you will not be able to enroll in upper level classes next semester.

dejavu?

On Jul.21.2004 at 05:30 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

Re: Design = The Distillation of Culture

it's pretty much agreed that clients are ignorant... ...it's a simple fact we can be only thankful for those clients that let us do our thing and have faith in our culture.

Nathan, you speak about design as though it is something that just spews out of unsuspecting designers without any sort of control. That we thrash about in the shackles of 'ignorant' clients until we are lucky enough to find one who lets us spew freely.

This isn't the sort of design I practice. I've always seen design as essentialy an analytical process - not an expressive one.

I do agree that design is intrinsically linked to culture, but we're not passive pawns in its workings - we do have the power to channel this force, that's what being a designer is all about.

Design is 'what we do with the things we know' (I can't remember who said this, but I've always liked it). In this sense everyone is a designer to a certain extent. However, those of us who make a living from the process must not only be more creative than the average Joe, but also more skilled at this channeling activity.

We can only achieve this by learning. Not just learning how to distill our culture, but learning about other cultures, about all cultures. We need to read more, to write more, to talk more, to listen more. If design is what we do with what we know, then we should be trying our damndest to know more.

I think perhaps that sound isn't so much sucking, as spewing.

On Jul.21.2004 at 05:47 PM
Matt Waggner’s comment is:

Rob --

I was contrasting JH & WD's stand against designers using the aesthetics of "science" as a superficial device and their eagerness to use the "look" of mathematics to illustrate a book cover. "Could we sustain a practice if we stopped doing brand-driven work and only did projects with some kind of real intellectual content?"—they ask. Huh. Maybe I'm just annoyed because chaos theory is actually used somewhat frequently in econometric problems.

In any case, I think their work is fine, and their writing/ideas are even better—a lot of this is par for the course, but geez, if you want to set a higher intellectual standard for designers engaging with their work (and through it, their clients and those mythical audience members), step one is reading the book you're designing.

On Jul.21.2004 at 09:36 PM
Eric Diamond’s comment is:

Don wrote:

A more standardized 12 step process of designing from AIGA is a healthy response to David Baker and other biz gurus who advocate we all create secret Proprietary´┐Ż processes to "distinguish ourselves". This actually just creates more client confusion by mystifing our process and methods further. The Power of Design Conference in Vancouver was all about process, sketches, etc. I found it refreshing, yet many younger designer's wanted the typical portfolio show.

Ah, the proprietary process. I LOVE those. It is largely an internet "dot-com" era creation developed at a time when nobody wanted to admit that they had never done this before, so the next best thing to saying yeah, I created this really PROFITABLE web site is to say, I have this proprietary methodology that tells you that a) I've done this before, and b) I have a unique ability to deliver on the promise I am making. It's 99% crap.

As for the younger designers, tell 'em to pipe down and they may learn a thing or two. ;)

In my earlier rant, I didn't mean to single out AIGA as the only example of lousy community. it extends to our publications, our schools and our groups. As designers we need to make fundamental changes in how we view and think about our profession. And yes I will get more involved. Now that my kid is a little older and my business is stabilizing I will have the opportunity to give a little back. And I am looking forward to it!

On Jul.22.2004 at 12:49 AM
Ray M.’s comment is:

Mr. Simmons:

I have supported myself as a graphics designer for over 40 years and I can't figure out what your point is: But it sounds like a bunch of hooey. I think your irrational thinking is the problem. You don't know what your talking about.

On Jul.24.2004 at 03:02 PM
CCHS’s comment is:

Ray,

It's impossible to respond to your post. Can you be more specific in your criticism/dismissal?

On Jul.25.2004 at 11:25 AM
CCHS’s comment is:

No?

Well, then, let's take your post as an example. It's obviously easier to complain than it is to criticize, and I think I mischaracterized your response as the latter. Criticism involves some thought, some foundation and at least some notion of how a thing may be improved. To simply "hit-and-run" achieves none of these. Likewise, the point of my article is that designers, as a group, tend also to deal with issues on a superficial level. We're great at complaining, we're great at waxing on about the merits or shortcomings of somebody else's existing work, but ask us for new ideas, ask us to really DO something, and our ranks and energy wane considerably.

If you can't understand the point, ask for clarification. If you disagree with it, articulate why. I don't care whether you agree of disagree, it's the dialogue that has value.

On Jul.26.2004 at 05:47 PM
Christopher Simmons’s comment is:

One quick comment for those who might get confused; this "Christopher Simmons" is no relation to award winning graphic designer Christopher Laird Simmons, who has previously won Harvey Measurement and Apple ARPL design awards, written for Digital Imaging, Print on Demand Business, Micro Publishing News, etc., widely interviewed by PCworld, Entrepreneur, TrendWatch, and is the founder of Mindset, est. 1983 in California, and now known as Neotrope(R).

While the names, state, and industry are the same, the person is not. I like to mention this where long time "fans" of Christopher Laird Simmons, might be confused when the younger Christopher Simmons writes articles and editorials in the design field. Ideally, the younder Mr. Simmons may wish to use his middle name in future to avoid serious industry confusion in regard to similarly named opinion leaders in the advertising, design, and media fields.

Christopher Simmons
Torrance, Calif / Redondo Beach, CA
member; PRSA, ASCAP
former contrib. editor to Digital Imaging, Digital Printer, Micro Publishing News, Print on Demand Business; on launch team of MacMall, Findwhat, former editor of Galaxy Class, and The Adama Journal, award winning graphic designer, web developer, musician, art director, and working journalist.

Thanks for listening :-)

On Apr.13.2007 at 01:02 PM