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Got Skills?

I remember sitting in a studio meeting at a previous employer and someone saying that a website project came in but we had no one with the skill set to work on it. All of the designers looked around at each other, confused, until one designer broke out with, “You do know that I can design more than feminine care packaging…don’t you?.”

It’s very easy to pigeonhole others and even yourself into very specific capabilities, but I firmly believe that a good designer can design, well, almost anything. There is a different process when designing print, signage, packaging or websites but they are all very, very closely related. I am always impressed when I see a “graphic designer” do product design or textile design or interiors successfully.

What types of projects have you done that step outside your normal design boundaries?

Have you ever turned down work thinking that it was outside your skill set?

If a client wanted you to design a chair for their lobby, could you do it? Would you try?

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ARCHIVE ID 1654 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Nov.11.2003 BY David Weinberger
Allison’s comment is:

This is one of my biggest pet peeves as a designer. Actually, it is hands-down my biggest pet peeve.

When I was in design school and, upon finishing my foundation year, had to choose a major, I chose communication design. Why? Because I reasoned that, if I was a designer, I was a designer in all aspects of my life and I thought that this field would give me the flexibility to express that professionally.

I have been dissapointed to find that other people don't always see it that way.

I am constantly coming up against people (read clients who look at my work and say "oh, that's what you do."

As though the sort of work that I have done dictates what I will always do.

My portfolio couldn't possibly represent everything I have done - since I have been working for over ten years on a wide variety of projects, from photo editing at a popular music magazine, to designing websites for news stations, to designing wedding invitations.

Every project has been approached based on the needs of the client and the definition of the audience, so it's not as though I would ever say "oh, this is my style, this is my skill set." I am not, contrary to popular client belief, a limited catalogue of creativity, nor are the people I work with.

On the rare occasions when we are given opportunities to design 'outside the box' of our normal parameters, those projects are approached with more zeal and creativity, than our 'typical work.' It should be no wonder since, for me at least, the joy of the creative process is the intellectual problem-solving side of it and when you are working on your studios 'typical' projects the problem has usually already been solved.

I would love to design a chair, a park, a museum exhibition, film titles, any number of things. And I believe that I have it in me. It's the problem of shattering people's limited perceptions of my abilities, based on seeing a small fraction of my work, that I haven't managed to design my way through. Yet.

On Nov.11.2003 at 12:37 PM
brent’s comment is:

I think that while someone can design, that doesn't mean that they can design everything. I know a designer who is an excellent print designer. Very good. I always admired his work. Then he bought a design company that did primarily web design projects. The work that I saw come out of there after that was HORRID! Sure it looked nice, if you didn't have make it load in a browser.

What makes a designer good is that he/she has the ability to use there skills and the intrensic qualities of the medium that they are working in, whether it is designing websites or chairs or houses.

I'm not sure that I would beable to design a chair for a client, though I might try. {grin}

On Nov.11.2003 at 12:40 PM
marian’s comment is:

Hey, if I type fast I'll be first off the mark.

Although at one time I prided myself on being able to take on projects in an area that i had no previous experience in, I've come to be very wary of assuming that my skills are up to the task.

Trade show displays are a perfect example. I've done a couple (plus some that were just graphics supplied for an existing stand-up system, which don't count), and it's been enough to convince me that, no, I don't have the skills.

My boyfriend, Dante, is in environmental design. He knows how to make things stand up without falling down, engineer forms and systems out of various materials (he's actually pretty brilliant at this), make things come apart and go back together, and, very importantly specify everything down to the last nut and bolt so that it can be costed, manufactured, and assembled/disassembled.

I can contribute valuable input to that process, but without someone like Dante I would turn down any display or signage project.

Websites are another example. I've designed around 50 websites; I've built maybe half of them myself. But I've never had the time to keep up with what's happening on the web, and several years ago I realized, I'm not qualified to do this anymore. I know a little bit about CSS, enough to struggle through the building and updating of my own 3 sites, or to build something for a friend, but there's no way that at this stage I would call myself a web designer (even though I'm probably still better than many web designers out there).

I think I could contribute a lot to a team working on any of the above or in industrial design or architecture, but I see my skillset as being a small part of that process.

On Nov.11.2003 at 12:42 PM
marian’s comment is:

Damn! didn't type fast enough.

On Nov.11.2003 at 12:42 PM
Adrian’s comment is:

I would try to design anything, but more importantly you have to look at the clients needs, time frame and budget. I can learn to do most anything and apply my creativity to it. But there is a difference between knowing how to use a table saw and being Norm Abrham.

It comes down to a judgement call on what your skills are and what the client wants. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew with your biggest client rather advise them on where to get the best. I always try to have a network of good, reliable designers that have different skills than I, I pass stuff on to those who are best suited and vise versa.

On Nov.11.2003 at 01:52 PM
Lucien’s comment is:

My comment is along the lines of Marion's. I believe I can design anything. I think I also could contribute a lot to a team working on any type of design project, but I see myself as only an additional mind or creator when it comes to anything other then graphic design.

Early on in my "design learning process". I came across a client... who saw an art student .. and he thought... cheap labor or cheap work and asked me to design display signage for the inside of a new conveniece store/gas station. About 2 weeks into the project I knew I wouldn't be able to make the actual product I showed him. I designed it fair enough but I couldn't produce it. So I turned down the project. I bit off more then I could chew. Only because I didn't know the rest of the process.

Graphic design is in my boundaries, so I can use my knowledge of those boundaries to do the job to the best of my "ability". Industrial Design, 3D, Animation all are outside my boundaries to do what I would call quality work.

About the chair: I'll try anything but I wouldn't try and sell it.

On Nov.11.2003 at 02:40 PM
Tom’s comment is:

Boundaries - who needs them?

I believe tackling something out of you comfort zone is a worthwhile opportunity.

The key is the client! If a client realizes they are asking you to design outside your normal boundaries that means they trust and value your abilities as a creative thinker.

Example: While at Coke a brand manager for several of the teen targeted brands, asked myself and another in-house designer to concept bottle designs to be used for some of the teen focused brands. He asked us because of our ability to visually communicate to the target audience, not because we knew anything about industrial design. Without asking anyone what was possible, we started creating. That way we were not limited by our inexperience. Sure some of our designs could not be produced, but it opened the box to see what was really possible and pushed the manufacturers to consider other options. We learned tons, worked with industrial designers and bottle manufacturers, etc. That project resulted in the 20 oz bottle that you see on some of their non-core brands. It wasn't mine, although one of my designs was chosen for final testing, patented in my name, and actual prototypes were created. One of my favorite projects to date.

On Nov.11.2003 at 03:54 PM
Lea’s comment is:

Ah, yes, I like to think I can design anything too. ;-) Given the opportunity, I think I'd still like to try. We're all visual creatures. Of course, different disciplines require different types of mindsets, but the basics are all there.

There were quite a few designers or illustrators that made the leap to other types of design professions. An alumni of my school program was a graphic designer coming out, but he became famous for furniture design.

An up-and-coming fashion designer started her roots as a fashion illustrator.

Then there are those even who start of in graphic design, print design, and then end up doing motion graphics for film and commercials.

I think it's good to know our strengths and specialties, but neither is that any reason not to evolve when possible, and to turn down a project merely because it's something you're not 100% confident in. If that's all people did in life, there'd be no entrepreneurs out there and innovation would stagnate.

Besides, necessity is a fast teacher. ;-)

On Nov.11.2003 at 03:57 PM
Matt Wright’s comment is:

I've never turned down work because I thought I couldn't do it. Two years ago I was asked to make a basic ecommerce website, design, code, shopping cart, database...the whole bit. I had never done any database work or any extensive ASP coding. It was the perfect opportunity for me to learn something new and get paid at the same time. It took me just a little bit longer than I expected, but I wrote my own shopping cart script and order processing system.

I'm always anxious to be asked to do something I've never done before. Its a great opportunity to learn and possibly bring a different perspective to a project.

To mirror what Allison said, it bugs me too when people think that I only design websites based upon the majority of the work I do. I have just recently been able to pull in some print work after directly telling someone I have that ability as well. They said to me..."OH! You can do that too? I had no idea." Even though my portfolio has print work in it too. Frustrating!

Its all about learning new stuff. And if you're comfortable doing what your doing, you're not learning. Being uncomfortable is a great motivator, however not for everyone.

On Nov.11.2003 at 04:08 PM
sergio’s comment is:

As a programmer, I regularly take on jobs that involve using languages I'm barely familiar with. That usually works out well, as long as you really know what you're doing in at least one programming language. It usually means you'll have to read a bunch of definitions in a manual to equate your present experience to the new language's syntax and ways.

But I wouldn't even remotely claim that I can design a bridge because my title says I'm an Engineer.

Producing quality work in any field involves getting to know it. I know a lot of graphic designers that don't know jack about how the web works. They are the same people who design Flash interfaces for shopping carts. The ones that ditch all notions of usability as being superfluous and irrelevant to a site's design. Those who think users will happily wait through 10Mb of useless splash intros.

They are the same people who claim they can design anything.

On Nov.11.2003 at 04:23 PM
Adrian’s comment is:

The key is the client! If a client realizes they are asking you to design outside your normal boundaries that means they trust and value your abilities as a creative thinker.

True, but as we all know some clients are not the best realizers. I had a client that I produced a catalog for, an antique replicas catalog. Cracker Barrel wanted to carry one of his items, he needed a package designed for the product that would fit in the setting of a Cracker Barrel. I created a custom box with a one color design that fit into the scheme of Cracker Barrel.

Long story short, he didn't want to pay for any extra mock ups that I produced (12 boxes) and he eventually decided to have it produced super-cheap (in India). The result, I was out $600 for the mock-ups and my design ended up looking like something I would not wipe my ass with. Needless to say, Cracker Barrel did not want to carry the product at all.

The client did trust me and valued my creativeness, but did not value my effort nor did he care to produce it well.

Budget plays a big part in designing outside your realm. I would have minded less about the money if he had produced it right. I would have a very nice piece for my portfolio.

On Nov.11.2003 at 04:27 PM
Tom’s comment is:

he needed a package designed for the product... The client did trust me and valued my creativeness, but did not value my effort nor did he care to produce it well.

Ouch! I've been down that road as well.

Was this the first time he had produced packaging, or the first time you had designed packaging?

I ask, because I have noticed that sometimes when I take a new type of project from an existing client the parameters change and I have been caught blind sided by expectations that were not involved in previous projects. I keep learning that up front communication with clearly stated objectives and expectations eliminates a lot of surprise headaches.

On Nov.11.2003 at 05:10 PM
graham’s comment is:

more therapy.

On Nov.11.2003 at 05:24 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

As a designer (in the commercial realm), you have one purpose: expand your client's business by whatever means possible. They're paying you for it too, so do it well and to the highest standards possible.

However, that doesn't mean you can do EVERYTHING, but you should know how to get people who can do what you can't. Example: B.I.G. / Ogilvy wanted to do something for Hershey, and they figured they could build/design a really cool store for them. So they conceptualized it and got people who could bring their knowledge to the table, add to the concept, and fully realize it. Fallon wanted to do something really dynamic with BMW, so they wrote scripts for several short films and got the crews together to execute them.

A large part of what we do is ideas, thinking, imagining--you can't just live in a fantasy land, but you can only make what you imagine.

This is why designers who "don't do" advertising kind of annoy me--first off, advertising needs good design. 98% of it sucks ass and looks like shit to start with, but I've found that most people trained as designers think in a more visual narrative fashion and are thus more likely to create fresh, exciting pieces worth remembering. Advertising is a HUGE component of our clients' brands and there's a lot more to it than witty headlines and concepty photos. There's typography, color, image, form, shape, and all sorts of things that designers excel at.

On the same token, ad people who won't design a package or a book or create a logo and letterhead piss me off to no conceivable end. It's short-sighted. I also hate it when ad people take the attitude that good typography and the like doesn't really matter.

Really, the only limits on what you can do are what you can get away with--you probably can't get away with making a building or designing a car, but you can create the image, the message, the mood and emotion, and above all, the ideas that drive what those things look like, sound like, and act like.

It's attitudes like that that drew me back into the ad world--I saw what Ogilvy, Crispin Porter, Wieden, and Fallon were doing and wanted to get with people who thought the same way. I never see much of that going on at far too many design firms. I've heard the argument that "we don't have the resources for it," but where I am now, we have half the designers and put out twice as much work. Because, the fact is, its never just an ad and its never just a brochure. There's an objective and you meet it by whatever means possible.

As creative as most designers I know of, through here and otherwise are, its pretty unreal what everyone could do if they opened themselves up to things and landed the opportunities.

On Nov.11.2003 at 05:30 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

They are the same people who claim they can design anything.

Always a scary thing!

On Nov.11.2003 at 05:31 PM
Mr. Jones’s comment is:

David, what is the budget for the chair design?

A good designer can "design" anything. Hell, the local sign shop makes that claim. A great designer (not only can create an awsome design) but knows how and when to assemble a team of talent that leads to a kick ass design (web site, environment, etc.) and a client that weeps with joy when seeing the end result.

I think we all have a house special. Mine is packaging but that doesn’t stop me from doing other types of design...web, i-d, advertising, etc. I design web sites but am not totally comfortable with my html and flash skills to ensure a site loads as fast and smooth as possible. So I work with someone that is an expert in that area. It is good to take on projects that are outside one’s skill set (how else can we grow as designers?) but we have to be ready and willing to learn new skills and / or seek out others that can supplement our skills.

Lately, I have been seeing lots of articles about how designers should “find your niche.” Honestly, I am not sure how a firm can survive doing that unless they have already reached cult status.

Any thoughts pro or con on niche design thing?

On Nov.11.2003 at 07:37 PM
David W’s comment is:

David, what is the budget for the chair design?


but knows how and when to assemble a team of talent that leads to a kick ass design

Absolutely. I have to say that when I said design anything, I didn't mean playing all roles on the project. I can design a brochure, but I can't run the press its printed on. When I design websites, I work with a programmer. If I worked on a chair, I would sure as hell have someone around that knew something about chairs.

Any thoughts pro or con on niche design thing?

I work at a brand consultancy. Branding is a pretty big niche that can encompass all aspects of design at different times so I don't really know. I do know that if I had my own design firm, I wouldn't turn away work.

On Nov.11.2003 at 08:16 PM
ps’s comment is:

Any thoughts pro or con on niche design thing?

well, if you talk to a business consultant for graphic design, david baker (persuading), or cameron foote (creative business) for example, they would call it positioning and claim that is essential to creating a successful practice, then they will tell you to go horizontal or vertical, one being within a specifc industry, for example healthcare, the other within annual reports, or corporate identity or whathaveyou. to specialize seems to be the american way.

i for one love about being in graphic design that it gives me room to explore so much and to be diverse. however, i come to realize that you get pushed into a niche pretty much automatically. once you get a few clients in one field for example, others will follow without much effort. getting clients in unexplored territory is much harder. thats why it seems so important to turn work down that does not fit your wants. otherwise you'll suddenly get stuck in a market where you don't want to be.

On Nov.11.2003 at 10:35 PM
Simon King’s comment is:

I believe that someone with skills in one area of design can transfer that knowledge to any problem, but not instantaneously. It takes time to understand the context and constraints of a new medium. It's good to be willing, and better to educate yourself, but naive to think you can do well on any project from product design to web development if you've never done it before.

On Nov.11.2003 at 11:07 PM
Andy Budd’s comment is:

I'm a web designer/developer and am often faced with converting layouts designed by print designers into workable websites. While these designers have years of experience designing for print, they have little/no experience of designing for the web. As such, while the designs look nice, they are usually extremely difficult to implement, and have major usability flaws.

People relate to a webpage in a very different fashion to the way they relate to print. Without a full understanding of issues such as web usability, user experience and interaction design it's extremely difficult to create a usable site.

Print designers are also used to having 100% control of their layouts and fail to understand that 100% control is extremely difficult on the web. In fact the prevalence of Flash on the web is in a large part due to non web literate designers requiring a degree of layout control that is not possible on the web by any other means. A website is a fluid thing and the way a site displays is dependent on a number of things such as browser, platform and user preferences.

However many of the designs I get from print designers take no heed of this. In fact, most of the design I get don't even take heed of things such as screen resolution and viewport size.

So i'd totally agree with the employer. If you're a print designer who has never designed a website before, you probably don't have the skills and knowledge of the medium needed to execute a good site.

On Nov.12.2003 at 04:38 AM
Adrian’s comment is:

Was this the first time he had produced packaging, or the first time you had designed packaging?

Both. It took me 40hrs to design the box, the custom fitting for the object, the graphics for the packaging, the instruction sheet and the first set of mock ups. The item was a 6lb. cast-iron star, so some research had to go into the right box and fitting to keep it from shifting around and potentially destroying the box.

On Nov.12.2003 at 07:44 AM
val’s comment is:

I agree with Simon. A Designer can design anything. The trick is that that isn't the same as knowing everything. If you have the drive to learn something new and time to do your homework to really understand what it is you're are getting into, you're good to go.

On Nov.12.2003 at 08:07 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

A story from my my past:

VP: Darrel, we have this logo rendering project for this big client of ours. Their competition has this great 3-D animated rendering of their logo and we need to provide something just like that for our client.

Me: Umm...well...OK...hold on...let me check...(I go ask one of my colleagues)...Do we do 3-D rendering here?

Colleague: No. That's usually something we outsoruce.

Me: (Talking to the VP). That's usually something we outsource.

VP: Well, the client *was* going to outsource this, but I told them no...we can certainly do that.

I then spent umpteen hours hacking together a flash-based (this is back when flash 2 was the shit) fake 3-D thing. Ugh.

So, as others have said, a good designer (actually, insert any professional title) will know their own strengths and weaknesses. They also won't be afraid to learn something new, but will also know when to bring in outside experts to facilitate that process.

I don't hire a plumber and then expect them to do all the wiring in my house. Maybe this plumber is now a contractor and will mention that he has the resources to do that with outside vendors, but I'd be ware of any plumber saying they also do wiring, siding and floor refinishing themselves all with the same level of expertise.

On Nov.12.2003 at 08:46 AM
Ginny ’s comment is:

With every new design medium that I have come across in my career, I really had no choice. My boss's gave me the project and said you're going to design packaging today, or we need a website for this client, etc...

At first, it always made me nervous but it also made me excited! Something NEW to try! It's truly the sink or swim mentality has made me a better designer. And I have failed at some of my attempts, but you learn from those failures and you're better the next time.

Am I stronger in some areas of design than others? Yes, but that's not a deterrant for new design arenas, it's a challenge.

Anyway, there are a lot of clients out there who think they're "designers". Why can't we adopt the same mentality with other facets of design? If we don't have the know how, at least we have some qualifications. And the former can be overcome by asking a lot of questions and god-forbid, learning a new skill.

On Nov.12.2003 at 09:12 AM
Brent’s comment is:

I've actually been fighting with this issue for about three months during the search for another job. I have bounced around the print field for a bit and I've done some work that I'm proud of, but my book has a pretty wide range of pieces. To make things clear, I started out at a small full-service studio then went on to advertising and am now a publication designer.

Not too long ago I went to a placement agency and was told that my book was too diverse and that they (the placement firm) looks for candidates that can "hit the ground running" and blah, blah, blah. Needless to say they sent me away with resume in hand and head down in dismay thinking I'm never gonna get back into where I want to be.

My thoughts are this—if my book was strong enough (as I was told it was by said placement agency) why does there need to be so much of a focus on one kind of design? Doesn't that show that I'm a good designer and can adapt my skills to the task well? Basically, how diverse is too diverse when it's within a certain concentration (print, web, etc.)?

On Nov.12.2003 at 09:30 AM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

Design a chair - hell yea!! :)

That is one thing I pride myself on - the ability, and the desire, to take on more that I usually do. My dream job would be exactly that. I love print, web, all of it. Lately I have found myself collecting and creating content for the applications we build - it is a new challenge - and I crave that.

I really am a Jack(Jackie?)-of-all-trades!!

Bring it on!

On Nov.12.2003 at 09:56 AM
Gigi’s comment is:

I just graduated six months ago from a Bachelor of Design program. Throughout the four years there, we were constantly reminded to specialize, by the teachers, by the professionals who came in to review our work. And in the third and fourth year, you were expected to be either PRINT or MULTIMEDIA... I just didn't get that.. I didn't want to be one or the either..

I recently attended a presentation by Paula Scher in Toronto, and she stated that it's always good to "do one thing well" and do it over and over and over... At first, I was shocked to hear what a narrow-minded view that was! But as she explained further — she would apply her strongest skill set (typography) to all different types of media, be it a brochure or building (signage) — I began to see her point. No matter what type of media we work with, we can always apply our strongest skills as communication designers to make the project work.

I'm really happy to see that there are many out there that refuse to specialize or to categorize their work into one single medium.

It's also been really inspiring to discover this SpeakUP forum.


On Nov.12.2003 at 10:08 AM
Adrian’s comment is:

you were expected to be either PRINT or MULTIMEDIA... I just didn't get that.. I didn't want to be one or the either

To go off on a slight tangent, my peers and professors, when I was in school, always wanted to know what "style" I would catogorize my work in. For our final presentation in a portfolio design class, I was fed up with the other students defining their styles, so when it was my turn I said "I don't have a design style, I base my design on the clients needs and the best "style" suited for the project."

Sorry for the tangent. Like not wanting to box your self into what medium you choose, I didn't want to box myself into a certain style.

On Nov.12.2003 at 10:49 AM
marian’s comment is:

A Designer can design anything.

I've met and worked with a number of architects (who are designers, right?) who think they can design print communications. They've done it, and they think it's good. You can see the architect's point of view: "I can design buildings, 3-dimensional structures, spaces, urban plans. Graphics? Piece of cake." But in every instance of architect-designed graphics I've seen--it's total crap! Because, of course there's a lot more to what we do as graphic designers than most people know or understand.

So, I'm sorry, but I think to say that a designer can design anything is simply arrogant. I can NOT design a building--at least not a good, functioning, buildable, appropriate, well balanced, historically contextual building. I can design a picture of a building that will look pretty cool to me and my friends, but that's not the same thing.

A chair? A chair seems easy. But to just go ahead and say "i can do that" is to negate the skills and experience of someone who really designs chairs for a living: what are the angles and proportions of comfort, what materials react in what way to the human body, what's been done before in the history of chair making that you're either referencing or ripping off ...

I reiterate that as a graphic designer I believe I could bring something to this process--maybe even new ideas that the architect or industrial designer wouldn't have thought of, and yes, I'd be more than willing to try. But to say "I can do that" is the same as anyone else in the world looking at what we do and saying "I can do that." I say, "No you can't."

On Nov.12.2003 at 11:14 AM
rebecca’s comment is:

Well said Marian.

On Nov.12.2003 at 11:54 AM
David W’s comment is:

So, I'm sorry, but I think to say that a designer can design anything is simply arrogant.

First, I said good designer so that cancels out 95% of everyone. Second I said almost anything. Maybe chairs and buildings don't make the cut.

A chair? A chair seems easy. But to just go ahead and say "i can do that" is to negate the skills and experience of someone who really designs chairs for a living: what are the angles and proportions of comfort, what materials react in what way to the human body, what's been done before in the history of chair making that you're either referencing or ripping off ...

Oh my god, I didn't say design the next Aeron. I said design a chair for a lobby. Again, if I worked on a chair, I would sure as hell have someone around that knew something about chairs. You know, I've had the "chair" conversation with designers in person and you can really tell a lot about them from their response. There are always the same two responses. A. (Sarah B) Hell Yeah!! and B. (Marian) but what about...

On Nov.12.2003 at 12:38 PM
Brent’s comment is:

>so that cancels out 95% of everyone.

that was arrogant.

On Nov.12.2003 at 01:05 PM
Lea’s comment is:

Brent: Hardly arrogant, considering there are so many out there that consider themselves "designers" when they're really business people or a guy who owns a copy of Photoshop.

The design field can crossover so much. You get paid for your best skill/work, but I don't see why I, a print designer and web designer (and yes, I can do both), can't tackle other projects slightly out of my realm, like package design (which fascinates me) or fashion design (both graphics on tees all the way to the actual clothing shape and cut). I wouldn't be making my bread and butter on the latter examples, but I don't see why I couldn't try merely because I'm not the specialist in that area.

Of course, I'd never try to compete equally in those markets, since I am better at print and web design, but if a client approached me for a project that had similar leanings, I wouldn't say "no, outsource it" immediately.

I think everyone should just be aware of their own skillset and their limitations, be respectful of people's specializations, but never be afraid to try stuff out of their realm. Yes, even chair design if you wanted to.

On Nov.12.2003 at 01:29 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

First, I said good designer so that cancels out 95% of everyone.

All humans are designers. Some excel at certain aspects of design. Some don't.

Maybe chairs and buildings don't make the cut.

How about designing accounting spread sheets, boats, business plans, highway systems, operating systems, data networks, help files, clothing, HVAC systems, etc, etc?

I'm guessing a lot of things won't make the cut if you think about it. That doesn't mean you can't/shouldn't try. Maybe you'd even find that you have a knack for a few of those things, but to sell that expertise to a client is a bit unethical. IMHO, of course.

On Nov.12.2003 at 01:47 PM
David E’s comment is:

I agree with Marian — I've seen graphic design by architects too, and it's always bad. The smart ones know enough to hire real graphic designers.

At the same time, the difference between print design and web design isn’t nearly as broad. I just think there's a big difference between designing something and producing it. If I had a client who asked me for a web site, I'd bring in an experienced web developer to collaborate with me on the project (and i'd listen to his suggestions, not treat him as a production artist, because he's the expert). If it was a signage project, same thing — I'd find the right people to bring onboard.

Im curious, do other designers see it this way? ...or do you believe that only someone capable of producing a website should be designing one? To me, design should be about collaboration, but I'm wondering how others feel.

By the way, I've met some really good web developers, but never one who could really design. I've also met many good designers who either design websites within their limited technical knowledge, or work with developers.

On Nov.12.2003 at 01:51 PM
Brent’s comment is:

Lea: I don't consider those people designers and I'm not sure that David would either. My reaction to the comment was based on what seemed to be an observation that 95% of those who actually have a job in the design field aren't any good. To me, that seems presumptuous and arrogant.

Those who fiddle with photoshop etc., and call themselves designers without understanding what it takes to be one can't be called designers.

I can fix my car, am I a mechanic? No, and I don't claim to be one either.

On Nov.12.2003 at 01:52 PM
Brent’s comment is:

>design should be about collaboration

yes, I agree. (two heads are better than one?)

On Nov.12.2003 at 01:58 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I just think there's a big difference between designing something and producing it.

There's a big different between decorating something and producing it, but good design very much includes an understanding of production.

In otherwords, a graphic designer can probably design graphics quite well for a variety of media. However, designing the actual product as a whole (be-it a web site, a package, or a building) requires a much more comprehensive understanding of production. Of course, that is usually resolved quite well by working on teams...as you point out (by bringing in others when needed).

To me, design should be about collaboration, but I'm wondering how others feel.

The best design solutions are always benefited from collaboration, IMHO. I've worked in firms where the process was very much 'go to your cubicles, come back in two days, and we'll pick one of your solutions' and in other firms where it was a group project from day one with now single ownership. I much prefer the latter...and much prefer it when more people outside the designer realm get involved (client, end-users, industry experts, etc.)

Those who fiddle with photoshop etc., and call themselves designers without understanding what it takes to be one can't be called designers.

Brent, it sounds like you are specifically talking about GRAPHIC designers, correct? If so, then I'll agree with you. I'm not a big fan of hoarding the generic term 'designer' for ourselves (graphic designers), though.

On Nov.12.2003 at 05:04 PM
Tom’s comment is:

My reaction to the comment was based on what seemed to be an observation that 95% of those who actually have a job in the design field aren't any good. To me, that seems presumptuous and arrogant.

I'd say it's more like 97-98%.

Think of all the crap you get in the mail, see in magazines, catalogs, on store shelves, signs, etc... that is opportunity lost for good designers. The frustration of wanting clients to understand the true value of "good design" would not be so prevelant in our industry if there were more good designers. Designers who strive for good design and not just throw things together to get the paycheck. Arrogant? Truth. Or else there is no reason anyone should study graphic design or strive to do it better! Just because we are designers, have a job that pays us to design, graduated from design school, doesn't mean we are good - yet. I've seen too many "established" graphic designers who have a cavalier attitude about design to believe otherwise.

On Nov.12.2003 at 06:05 PM
Brent’s comment is:

Darrel: yes, graphic designers is what I meant.

Tom: I agree that there is a lot of crap being produced by graphic designers but the thought that 95-98% of us are lousy, untalented money grubbers (I'm paraphrasing, of course) leaves me sick. I've seen enough work from people on this site alone to give some hope that we (the collective graphic designer we) aren't mostly just a bunch of hacks who've babmoozled our way into a job in which we don't care about making a difference or not.

What does that say about us if it's true? We don't believe our profession is worthwhile if only 3% of us care enough to do a good job? Or that we as professionals think our industry is in such a state?

On Nov.12.2003 at 06:43 PM
surts’s comment is:

I'm not responding to any one comment, but from a feeling of the collective posts. I think it's a mistake to think in terms of absolutes. I progress when I do one of two things - challenge myself to do something uncomfortable and/or risk utter failure. Why hold yourself back from a learning opportunity?

Sadly I haven't designed the packaging for the pill that will cure all ills, but I have managed to make a word.doc look like it was designed in inDesign.

On Nov.12.2003 at 09:25 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

To me, design should be about collaboration, but I'm wondering how others feel.

I agree--to an extent. And I think we're on the same page here. For me, collaboration only works when each individual involved plays a specific role, instead of everyone melding into this one "group mind" or whatever. In advertising, its simple; because most art directors are of the "middle management" variety (i.e., they sorta phone in design, illustration, typography, and even comping), there's already a mentality in agencies that if you need something done...get someone who'll do it well. Now, obviously, some of these "art directors" contribute nothing, but more and more I think they've been doing better things with greater frequency.

As a designer, I can take photographs and I can edit film (and even shoot it), but I don't do any of those things nearly as well as I arrange type, layout various elements, create a consistent feel, and tell a good story. It's nice to work with a photographer who can take direction and then do what s/he does better than you could imagine. The same goes for film directors, illustrators, and anyone else.

See, I really think that design isn't about "branding" as much as it is about building fame and recognition. That requires a lot of different things to happen. Sometimes its graphics.

Either way, a designer may not be able to DO or DESIGN everything, but they really should be able to imagine it.

On Nov.12.2003 at 10:19 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> but I have managed to make a word.doc look like it was designed in inDesign.

To paraphrase Marian: no, you can't.

On Nov.12.2003 at 10:24 PM
surts’s comment is:

Armin, you can - though I didn't say it's always pretty or pleasant.

On Nov.12.2003 at 10:48 PM
Sam’s comment is:

For me it's just a matter of economics not to try to do every type of design. I stopped trying to learn Flash just as Flash 5 came out simply because the time involved to learn it really really well was too great. Time spent learning software, tracking down fabriactors, learning manufacturing techniques, pricing the whole thing out, negotiating all this with the client--it's too time-costly for a tiny operation like me. Learning new stuff on the job is one of the great benefits of working at a large multidisciplinary place with resources everywhere and clever billing schemes.

As far as thinking up some crazy chair or some new vacuum cleaner--that's the easy part, relative to actually handling such a thing in reality.

On Nov.12.2003 at 11:40 PM
Steven’s comment is:

As long as you don't misrepresent yourself, and you let the client know that since the project is outside of core competencies and may require extra time and money which may require the use of outside consultants -- if they are willing to agree to those conditions -- then why not try to design a chair, if the project intrigues you.

This project could turn into a nightmare failure, or it could be a really good experience which broadens your creative vision and expression. The difference between these two outcomes lies in how well client expectations and outside resources are managed. If all the players (client representatives, designers, and consultants) are brought together in a collaborative and constructive manner, really great things can happen.

Plus, greatness in a design skill is not just instantaneously manifest in someone. It takes time to be really good at anything. Maybe that first chair will only be so good; but maybe a couple years down the line, you're making some really interesting stuff. If your clients are generally happy during that development period and support you with more work, then you've succeeded in evolving and building the depth to your abilities.

As a backdrop to all of this enthusiasm, I would say that it is critical to know (at least generally) the kinds of things in which you excel and to stay reasonably humble with yourself.

IMHO, the biggest problem graphic designers have with doing Web site design is that they only see a Web page in print terms as a pretty picture or frame and not as a conduit of information and experiences. Conversely, the biggest problem Web shops have with doing logo design and print work is that they don't always have a sensitivity to the proportions and the subtle nuances and technical issues of print media.

But all in all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. You'll never really know your limits until you push on them.

On Nov.15.2003 at 12:01 AM