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Why (objectively) are you a Graphic Designer?

I’ve been hearing a lot of negatives about the AIGA conference, which saddens me. But I’ve been thinking about a very fundamental issue. It’s one thing to address social concerns and how as a profession we can address them, or even in a utopian sense, make the world a better place. But that’s not the reason for jumping into the field.

Why did we become graphic designers in the first place?

I wanted to be a nuclear physicist but I failed algebra three times. I also wanted to be a cartoonist but did not possess the talent to make a living — or to transcend those who were so much better. But I didn’t simply settle for graphic design as a default. While I may have fallen into art direction, I was motivated by the act of making stuff with type and image, some things which were important and some more ephemeral, and that, frankly, was truly exciting. And you know, it’s still exciting to see things published for others to see. This is not some high falutin theoretical discourse on the nature of communications in modern life, but rather a fundamental urge to make stuff well.

Why did you honestly (and without being maudlin) become a graphic designer? And why continue?

Note from Armin: It’s my pleasure to welcome Steve as Speak Up’s honorary, occasional, when-the-mood-strikes gadfly.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Nov.14.2003 BY steve heller
jonsel’s comment is:

Welcome Steve.

I think I became a designer because of the Mac. I was doing rudimentary high school newspaper design on an Apple IIe (without realizing I was already becoming a designer), but the Mac just enthralled me. The fonts. The ability to make a simply layout in the first version of Pagemaker. That was cool. I could make papers longer than they really were by switching fonts and sizes. And, printed on the big huge Apple Laserwriter we had, my papers always looked better than anyone else's.

So that was the beginning.

I continue being a designer because I simply believe everything can look better than it does. I have come to understand and embrace its value to business, but I'd be lying if I said that's what drove me. I did, and still do, want to make nice things. And really, what's so wrong with that?

On Nov.14.2003 at 09:30 AM
brook’s comment is:

Well I think before I started school I really only thought about design as (you've heard this a thousand times) a way to make money while puruing art. I was creative and talented in high school art...and it just felt like the right way to go. I was very close to choosing something in life sciences, as that was very interesting to me as well. I think I'm a smart guy, and didn't want to waste myself on something that wasn't intellectual (all of my friends are engineers). I was lucky enough to have a professor in my freshmen year that showed me the door to all of the paths in design, and decided that this could be a deep and rewarding profession/life and really dove in. There's so many different ways to go now...

On Nov.14.2003 at 09:56 AM
Rebecca C.’s comment is:

I love it. That simple. As long as I can remember, I have been my happiest when organizing, beautifying, and streamlining the world around me.

My school was phasing out its Interior Design program so I went with Graphic Design Technology. I adapted to computer work from paper work quickly and still use both equally well. I love my combination of technological knowledge & a Ludite mental bent. (I don't own a computer and refuse to buy one for use at home.)

Graphic design allows me to exert control over my environment. Yup, Freud would have a field day with me. It's just too much fun. And, since my circle of aquaintances knows I'm good at "makin' pretty stuff" I get invited to work on a wide variety of projects: end result (posters, murals, brochures) as well as conceptual (sales programs, party planning, work flow layout for manufacturing). I even got asked to address wedding invitations for my friends 'cause I had the best handwriting. What an ego boost.

So, to sum up: it's fun, I'm good at it, and people appreciate it.

On Nov.14.2003 at 09:59 AM
Ginny ’s comment is:

My first love and degree was photography. It was a fine art program as opposed to commercial art program where you learn more the technical side of photography (I suppose).

Working on my photography degree, I not only learned about the unspoken language of imagery (standing alone, placed with other images, etc..), but also how meaning can change within a photographic context when placed next to the written word. Text and image became my passion. What happens if I change the word, the photo, crop in, full frame, add a sentence...?

The possibilities seemed endless.

As I was finishing up my BFA in photography, I felt my exploration wasn't complete. I didn't feel ready for Grad school, and I was still on scholarship for one more semester, so I enrolled in the graphic design program and graduated with yet another BFA, this time in graphic design (my second love).

I feel lucky to have encorporated my admiration and knowledge of two different artforms (albeit related) into a career. I continue partly because it's all I know. (or feel I know) But mostly because I still have passion for it.

On Nov.14.2003 at 10:01 AM
surts’s comment is:

I'm still a graphic designer for what money can't and can buy. I don't know of a more legal rush as when you see something you've designed in action. I love the messy process of starting from nothing and ending with something. When I came to the realization that everything is designed to some degree, a whole new world of observation opened up. Infinite possibilities to learn from what others have done. Working with interesting people is a bonus, along with the fact you are contributing to society and culture. I love the fact that I get paid to design.

On Nov.14.2003 at 10:05 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

I became a graphic designer because I stumbled upon it. I liked computers, I liked drawing, and I decided that I didn't want to become an engineer (my first choice). So I went to art school, immediately freaked out having to take a 3 hour still-life drawing class and then spent two years looking for a major. Finally ended up hanging out in the art dept. and discovered graphic design.

Why do I still do it? I dunno. It's what I do. It's the skill I posses to make a living. I'll probably be doing something else in a few years. I can't imagine doing one thing for the next 30+ years...

On Nov.14.2003 at 10:17 AM
brook’s comment is:

I have been my happiest when organizing, beautifying, and streamlining the world around me.

hell yeah. exactly.

On Nov.14.2003 at 10:22 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I think I may have told this story before, so forgive my redundancy. My dad, at age 45 (or close to that), decided he would enroll part-time in college once again for graphic design. This after having a Ph.D. and all sorts of knowledge in math and physics. Then came the mac, he bought it and liked Illustrator 1.0. So, as I said, he enrolled in college and went to school before and/or after work (he still had to feed us, no easy task). I was in my last couple of years of college when this happened. I was a lousy student and had no real clue what I wanted to be. A couple of my friends decided they wanted to go into graphic design, so I figured why not? It seemed fun enough and I got to use a computer.

Anyway, eight years later I see myself doing nothing else. I love, as many people have already said (including Steve), making stuff and making it look damn fine. Saving the world is probably not on my priority list, unless I can do it one nicely designed logo at a time.

Holding a printed piece, hot off the press (designed by me, of course) is the coolest feeling.

On Nov.14.2003 at 10:24 AM
Arturo’s comment is:

When I was in elementary school I love to read art books, my father has these huuuuge collection of art history books and I remember browsing them for hours insted of watching TV, then I realized I enjoyed sometimes even more the book by itself than the actual art piece, right there started my fascination with letters and forms that later become in a fascination for graphic design.

Mmmm Maybe I'm old ;-) in my case the mac got nothing to do with it, when I was in design school the high tech device was linotype strips and lots of wax, of course now I love the mac and leave the wax for candles.

On Nov.14.2003 at 11:00 AM
Patrick’s comment is:

I loved art but hated high school art classes. At the time, I already understood the basics of light and form, line, color, etc. so sitting in class drawing gourds with colored pencil was a huge waste of time. When I found out my high school offered "Commercial Art" classes, I jumped on the chance to apply my artistic side to something more practical. Seemed like a challenging art class for once. And I never looked back because I still love combining creativity with mundane things like corporate reports.

On Nov.14.2003 at 11:05 AM
KM’s comment is:

I was actually pursuing fine art. In high school, I'd taken every art class there was and my sophomore year a graphic design class was introduced. I enrolled in the elective and fell in love. It's as simple as that. Why do I still do it? Because I love it and I like who I am when I am doing it. As arbitrary as that my seem, it's the truth. Now I practice other disciplines as well - photographer being my other "title," but I will always and foremost be a graphic designer.

On Nov.14.2003 at 11:23 AM
Rick Moore’s comment is:

Have you ever walked around for fifteen minutes searching for a pen to use, only to realize that you have one tucked behind your ear?

That is kind of how I got into graphic design.

I have been doodling, arranging, collaging, and solving visual problems since I was very small. I just didn't realize that there was actually a profession that would allow me to do that until I was about twenty-three years old. My original thoughts for career choices were architecture or medicine, both of which I gave up quickly once I realized how much I dislike math and science. I dabbled in a lot of other things, trying to figure out just what I wanted to be when I "grew up". The funny thing is that during the great search for career happiness, I was constantly making posters, flyers, greeting cards, and illustrations for friends and family. I was noticing the signage on the buildings where I lived and how I thought it could look a little better. I was interested in how retail environments were presented and how everything fit together to make a positive experience for a shopper. I loved (and still love) music, and always pored over the graphics on my albums and CDs (and eight tracks and cassettes when I was really young).

One day while talking to a friend, he mentioned that his sister had moved to Seattle to go to art school. (I am almost embarassed to say that I didn't even realize that there were schools solely dedicated to art.) I decided to look into it myself and before I knew it, I was there and had my eyes opened to this whole new world.

That was ten years ago, and I have never looked back. I am a designer because it's what I love to do. I get so much satisfaction from taking notes at a client meeting, starting with a blank page, and _creating_ something. I may not be the best at what I do (...stands in awe of all of you that contribute to this forum...), but I gain a little more knowledge each day and am always open to criticism if it will help me to improve my skills. After all, progession is what life is all about, isn't it?

On Nov.14.2003 at 11:40 AM
Christian Zander’s comment is:

When i was 10 i started painting at 11 i started working mostly with collages of papers, cartoons etc

at 13 i was given a pc and my uncle installed photoshop on it, i read an article about a website designer in a internet magazine later same year, and i build a website for my collages and general interests, i kept on re-designing this personal website .. at 15 i dropped out of school and got a job at a small advertising agency as an apprentice, at 16 i was given a job offer in the capital at a major international netdesign corporation (framfab) due to my personal website and an article about it in a danish advertising magazine.

from there i moved slowly thru ranks and worked doing international nbet campaigns for nike .. i dropped the company and got a short stay at a pr agency .. both experiences and my father (who was a chef) opened my eyes to what i was doing was of no use/good for anyone but the advertising agencies and the corporations i worked for, i quit my job due to too many discussions with the company i worked for about how to manage the place and moved in with my father who was a manic depressive chef/writer/artist .. he hung himself shortly thereafter and i spent a year drinking and reading philosophy, thinking, sociology, semiotics, art history and making up my mind about what i actually wanted to do with my life.

i came to the conclusion i was in love with communication.. making one station understand the intentions of the other station, how people perceive what they experience and in general in love with human culture and it's many twists and turns, today i work with assignments mostly political and cultural issues that i can sympathize with, trying to help people say clearly what they think and feel to people they want to have understand it.. yeah well .. thats it.. sounds banal or cheesy or good i dunno, but it's it and im honest.. why did i start.. becase i thought i'd get laid... big mistake!

On Nov.14.2003 at 12:03 PM
Bradley’s comment is:



I like taking situations and ideas and creating things that reflect how I see things. I like making shit that I enjoy looking at. I like imagining things as they could be and should be and then making it happen, actually creating it as opposed to doing the ol' AIGA stand-by of talking about it. I like the surprise of discovery and the thrills and miseries of forming ideas.

But really, why does any man do what he does?

Well...to impress women, of course.

On Nov.14.2003 at 12:03 PM
d’s comment is:

I was a cartoonist and a friend asked me to help out on publishing a magazine with him.

At first I loved it - it was a sanctuary for those who loved the craft, details and art of design. I disliked the web at first because it seemed to undermine the history of graphic design as well as make an easy entry for anyone into design who could use photoshop and code HTML at the time.

But then I also became to realise that graphic design lacked real process. Too many people paid lip service to our cheapest commodity and took short cuts, getting us to simply operate Macs for them. I disliked how this influencial craft of communication was always the last activity within business - people didn't understand the connection between bad design and inneficiency (in areas).

So I began to wander and look outside the world of graphic design at stuff like interactive and product design and architecture.

Today I limit the graphic design I do to those I most want to collaborate with. Those who allow me to work a process that involves them and brings about a result that is far better than they imagined possible. I want to get back to the craft and skill of graphic design - and protect it from the mass misunderstanding of it's value and purpose.

Outside of that I am hell bent on preaching/teaching and writing about the process of design in business and within organizations. Perhaps one day there will be more Chief Design officers - who have the credibility and awareness to help their fellow chief executives understand the profit in the process and details of design.

Oh and I recently started drawing cartoons for a client as well.

On Nov.14.2003 at 12:20 PM
bryony’s comment is:

Reading previous comments, I can't help but smile at the way in which is stumbled into the "world of design". When I was 4 years old my mother asked me if I wanted to enroll in ballet school, and after a simple and quiet yes, my life was changed forever. I spent my childhood and adolescence dancing. Dancing was my life, training for 6-8 hours a day, performing in various theaters and going through with every Imperial Society and Royal Academy (both in the UK) examination possible. Then the day came when a doctor told me that my knee problems were so severe that if I wanted to walk by age 25 I had to stop. With this I turned my childhood dream into reality, I packed my bags and boarded the Aeroflot plane that took me straight into the middle of the Perestroika movement (Mikhail Gorbachev). I said my goodbyes while dancing at the Bolshoi in Moscow, and have not looked back.

The next year in high school I had to choose between a sports class (which I obviously could not do), or a DESIGN class. Coming from a very artistic family, and having played with space, light, texture and boundaries when dancing I was headed straight into architecture. Well, until this class came along with a very inspiring teacher, new ideas, new ways to play with the above mentioned, with words and images´┐Ż you know how this story of love goes.

On Nov.14.2003 at 12:28 PM
Miss Tiffany’s comment is:

As a child I loved playing with magnetic letters. As I grew, I had a genuine taste for pads of paper and pens. I was even voted as "Polly Pen" in sixth grade. My dad started his agency when I was 10 years old. After that I spent a lot of time in the ad's office looking at CA, U/lc and the Letraset spiral bound type spec book.

When I was young I was obsessed with the beautiful models in magazines. I recall organizing my mom's Cosmo's all out on the floor too look at their pretty faces. And I also had, perhaps, too much interest in Rolling Stone and Vogue for such a young girl. But, it was all about the photographs, it didn't occur to me that magazine's were more than that (that I remember anyway). In junior high I joined the yearbook staff and quickly became a darkroom junkie.

When I enrolled in university, it was as a photography major. It was all about Rolling Stone and NYC for me by this time.

At this same time my dad had purchased the first computer (PC) and the designer's were experimenting with PageMaker. I quickly started helping the designer's with the typesetting. We'd had one of those photosetter's and they had taught me how to use that. I remember setting "Michael Hutchence" and "INXS". The staff had me doing minor typesetting, photostats, and the rubylith cutting (I have a scar to prove it).

My second year into my photography major, I took the "intro to typography" course. My teacher made me cry, but after that speed bump he became an inspiration to me, and my aspirations changed. I think that is when I realized I preferred type to image, but didn't want to be without the image. That is why I changed majors. I love type.

On Nov.14.2003 at 12:57 PM
Brent’s comment is:

I've always had an odd left brain/right brain struggle going on (dad's an engineer, mom's a painter) and growing up was always torn between playing with the computer and drafting tools (ooh, shiny!) or raiding the paints and letraset. When high school came along I was fortunate enough to have an art/design program that, if I had stuck with it, prepped me for design college. However; I went into programming. After getting into the nitty gritty (assembler, c++) I ran screaming back to design and fell head-over-heels in love with letterforms and typography.

I became a designer becasue it made me happy. I continue because I need to know more.

On Nov.14.2003 at 01:09 PM
marian’s comment is:

I have always drawn and painted, and at some point in my teenage years I decided that the only way to make a living at this was to go into "Commercial Art," whatever that was. But Art School disapointed me, I dropped out, and a few years later by a coincidence precipitated by looking for change for a bus in a bookstore, fell into a job at a book publishers.

I became interested in type and layout, and after 10 years typesetting books I decided to start a business with a friend as a graphic designer. (Knowledge of type + artistic skills = instant graphic designer, right? NOT!)

But after 9 years I'm just pretty tired. Now I am leaving Graphic Design for illustration (I think, if I can survive) because although I think I'm a good designer, I believe I have the potential to be a great illustrator.

Funnily, though, a week ago I did a small design/layout job for a friend (the yearly newsletter for a small theatre company). I agreed to do it only after reading her the riot act (OK, I said, "I'll do this, but don't fuck with me."), and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I remembered that behind all the management and research and compromises and politics there's this core of Layout: making visual decisions based on a mixture of logic and aesthetics--creating order out of disorder--that's the part I still love.

On Nov.14.2003 at 01:12 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

What IS it about type and typography that inspires such passion?

Points, picas, ciceros for you silly Europeans, teachers who hit you ever the head with an em dash when you track out lowercase letters.

Rarely do I see anyone in any profession sing ballads to their tools with the majesty and lust of a sonnet set in Centaur Swash as designers do when talking about type.

So what is it? Where does it come from?

Well, maybe its one of those things you can't explain.

On Nov.14.2003 at 01:15 PM
Valerie’s comment is:

Much like some of the others, I had always been interested in art and drawing, but didn't realize that graphic design was something that I could do for a living until college. I was in college majoring in art history because I wanted an art-related job without actually being an artist. While researching a paper that I was writing (Impressionism or something) I saw a stack of magazines on the bottom shelf of a dark corner of the library. The magazines were graphic design annuals by Print. I started looking through them and realized that THIS was what I had always been interested in, not fine art. Growing up I had a fascination with magazines - not realizing that it was the design, not really the content that held my attention.

The very next semester, I left the state school I was attending and enrolled in art school. I am now an art director/designer at a magazine.

On Nov.14.2003 at 01:16 PM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

I have ALWAYS loved putting things together (shapes, forms, ideas) and I couldnt figure out how to do that for a living. - I did not know what a Graphic Designer really was until my first year of college. The term "graphic designer" intimidated me in a way - I never thought I would have possesed the computer skills to get the job done. I really did think it was all CAD and technical.

I guess I "fell" upon it. I was in school for Communications/MEdia Arts, for JOurnalism, becuase up to that point, that was the only thing I knew I could do well, and would have the desire to continue as a career. I started to resurrect the "dead" campus newspaper, and ended up doing the layout and type design. I fell in love.

The shapes, the smell, all of it. I transferred for "Graphic Design" and I was then completely absorbed into all of the disciplines that the world of design and art had to offer. I feel more like Graphic Design found me, and why do I do it? Because I love to do it, and I know that I can say "hey - I did that" when it is done. Very gratifying - esp. if it is noticed by someone else.

On Nov.14.2003 at 01:20 PM
Brent’s comment is:

So what is it? Where does it come from?

The shapes, the smell, all of it.

That's another thing, I think I'm addicted to Bestine. Really though, I guess it's a combination of senses that made my addiction. I think if I had been exposed to just today's printing methods I don't think they'd hold my intrest as much as a book that you can tell was set in lead type. I had access to my university's type lab (nobody used it, damn shame) and spent a lot of time there and in the rare book room. The way those books smelled and how they felt was wonderful.

On Nov.14.2003 at 01:38 PM
Jacque’s comment is:

I always liked to draw, had a great art teacher in High School. It was the year I took off between HS and college that I realized what I wanted to do. Partially due to the feeling that I could not make a living on fine art.

I'm working into my 20th year. I love the power of design (not to steal from AIGA's conference). We have the ability to help people see. I have used my abilities to help causes I believe in. For me it's not about consumerism it's about informing and educating in a visual manner (which includes copy).

On Nov.14.2003 at 01:42 PM
Allison’s comment is:

My mom was a graphic designer and my dad was an architect. I am not really sure that I ever understood, growing up, that there were 'career alternatives' to being some sort of a designer.

Is that sad?

I could have been a great rocket scientist.

Be that as it may, I do actually love being a graphic designer. I love solving the problems, I love giving clients something that is far and away better than what they imagined for themselves, I love the smell of ink and the feel of something that I have made, from nothing, in my hands.

On Nov.14.2003 at 01:51 PM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

I had access to my university's type lab (nobody used it, damn shame)

Brent, I totally agree. We had a Printed Books class - and we made a "class" book of the alphabet, all hand set! I will scan some in and post when I get home! It is amazing how many people didnt want to do it - I found it amazing!!

On Nov.14.2003 at 02:04 PM
Steve Heller’s comment is:

One thing I neglected to say while I was pining for my lost physics career. When I was 12 I worked in the ad department at Bergdorf Goodman in NYC, a job secured by a family friend. By the time I left, a month later for screwing up the address-o-graph machine, I kind of knew what mechanicals were. So I managed, through a parental friend, to get a job at an other ad studio where I drew pictures for a few days until we all realized I did not have the sophistication to draw high-end fashion plates. Nonetheless the whole experience was intoxicating. I didn't work at "design" again until I was 17, but it was in the veins and when the opportunity arose to work at an underground newspaper I took it with glee. Thank heavens for internships!!! It may not always be possible but we should ALL devote some time to kids, cause that's when this kind of thing truly means the most.

On Nov.14.2003 at 02:04 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

you said it Steve!

On Nov.14.2003 at 02:14 PM
daniel’s comment is:

I got through high school because it was the “thing to do”. During my twelfth grade year (1999) media courses were introduced; web, desktop publishing and multi media. I enrolled in all three classes and for the first time in an academic setting, won the appraisal of fellow students and teachers. In that year, a local art collage visited the school three times in order to cover all three media courses. I found myself getting to know the representative pretty well. Under the circumstances, I decided I owed myself a visit to the college.

I enrolled into the art college and was directed towards multi media. I completed a quarter in multi media and new that I wanted to pursue graphic design. The college I was at did not offer a bachelors degree so I transferred and continued my studies in graphic design. I have yet to become a graphic designer in the sense that, I have not completely joined the community as a practicing designer (I am currently attending a University in the UK in pursuit of a Masters in Creative Imaging). However this is how it all started.

It took two years for me to become passionate about design. I began participating more outside of academia i.e. educational endeavours provided by the college, reading more books, attending design conferences such as HOW. I began to gel with the views of Tibor, Ken Garland, Sagmeister, VanderLans, Barnbrook, Shawn Wolfe, Rick Poynor etc.

During my development in the past three to four years I have become lucid to the idea that the design community is being trashed by the consistent flood of poorly educated students. I have become so critical in the process that I have almost completely stopped producing design in search of more theory based research.

I guess what keeps me going is the fact that the community has become important to me. I would like to see the community unify on a greater scale. I believe it important for each and every practitioner to understand the power of design. It would be nice to see designers consider the fact that their work will have great impact on the global community.

Here Is Me.

On Nov.14.2003 at 02:18 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Steve Heller wrote:

and when the opportunity arose to work at an underground newspaper I took it with glee.

Would this be Screw?

Or did that come (no spelling puns here) later?

back to the subject:

I blame it on Santana record covers designed by Joan Chase and Tadanori Yokoo. Everything else is details.

On Nov.14.2003 at 02:18 PM
Brent’s comment is:

Sara- I did the same thing (class book) and got to do the cover on the press. Unfortunately, the rest of the book was laser prints. I think I might have been the only one in the program at the time who knew there was lead type in the school at all (in fact, I think one of the teachers was surprised). Once they found out nobody seemed to care anyway. I was all, "this shit is the coolest!" I'd love to see your pages.

On Nov.14.2003 at 02:24 PM
Nick ’s comment is:


Because it is my second love.

On Nov.14.2003 at 02:33 PM
Tom’s comment is:

I've spent all day thinking about his(thanks Steve) and written a bio covering half my life. But here is what it comes down to.

Being a visual artist since childhood, I believe I was born with a talent inside that is continually hungry to come out. Not saying it's that good of a talent, but a heavy desire to create. I tend to live in a dream world of "what ifs", and graphic design allows those "what ifs" to come to life. I could probably make a living at any number of things, but applying "what ifs" to brands, companys, events, books, causes... can I get an AMEN?!?!?!!! Taking the complex and simplifying the solution into a message that works with impact!!!! Whew!

After 13 years professional "what if" experience, I continue in graphic design because of all the possibilities. I want to hone my craft and see if I can obtain all my goals. I am increasingly aware of the need, as Steve mentioned, to share my excitement with others - kids, young designers, old designers, clients, etc...

On Nov.14.2003 at 02:57 PM
Heather’s comment is:

At first I didn't know I wanted to be a designer. I enjoyed high school art classes. Drawing and taking photographs were my favorite past times. I started with liberal arts, as I suspect most people do in the early years of college when they don't know what the hell they want to do. By my second year, and many photography classes, I briefly thought that I might want to pursue photography as a career. Quickly I realized that I would rather keep my favorite hobby sacred and try graphic design. This proved to work very well for me. I was able to utilize my photography within my designs, and this of course made me very pleased.

I completely agree with you Daniel. I see too many people that take a few classes in Photoshop or Illustrator and think that they are designers. Design is useless if it has no function. Unfortunately there is a lack of education in design theory in some institutions which leaves us, the community, with visual nonsense.

On Nov.14.2003 at 03:02 PM
daniel’s comment is:

Thank you Heather.

On Nov.14.2003 at 03:14 PM
pk’s comment is:

i do it because i love pop and all the sweetness that comes with it. american pop culture has an innocent, genuine dorkiness to it that no other culture ever has, and i get off on that.

it's as sweet and nasty as your first time bumping and grinding out with a really hot boy at your sophomore mixer, half-looped on a mcdonald's supersize of diet coke and spiced bacardi you stole from my mom's booze cabinet.

it's dangerous, it threatens to get kinky at any moment, but you just don't know what's gonna happen. that's totally hot.

On Nov.14.2003 at 03:45 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I'm a designer because it's the union of art and science. It challenges me intellectually, and it allows me to indulge in my love and passion for the creative.

The purpose of why I choose to design is more complex. I'd like to think that I'm benefitting society in my own way. Am I curing cancer? No. But there is relevance and significance to our profession that makes it worthwhile in many ways. At least it does to me.

Plus, there's never a boring day as a designer.

On Nov.14.2003 at 04:48 PM
felix’s comment is:

My grandfather is a sculptor/poet and mother is a painter, but I was contemplating acting.

My pals were into hitting the stand-up scene (and still are) and I found the idea of getting paid to be a camileon prankster intoxicating. But I sucked at acting, decided to keep my design major and am a different kind of prank/ cameleon.

Next up: professional NY pedicab driver (seriously)

On Nov.14.2003 at 05:17 PM
Garrick Van Buren’s comment is:

Like Darrel, I was well on my way to becoming an engineer.....then I decided math wasn't fun. I started in a graphic design program straight away in college - and as much as I wanted to change majors (Industrial Design, Psychology) - it never happened. Been doing it ever since.

Even though I don't call myself a 'graphic designer' - something about graphic design is deep in me. I can't shake it. I'll probably spend eternity complaining about the kerning on my headstone.

On Nov.14.2003 at 06:06 PM
Abby’s comment is:

Like so many folks here, I was born with a crayon in my hand and didn't let go of it until I encountered Photoshop and Illustrator in my 20s. Unfortunately, I've been a bit spoiled by the copy, paste, and undo-able design environment of my Macintosh and am now trying my darndest to get back to that crayon again.

So, back to my story—as I was growing up, I drew constantly, experimented with lettering, and eagerly researched anything that visually appealed to me. I toyed with the notion of being a children's book illustrator in high school, but never thought that was a *real* option. When people asked me what I wanted to do, all I could say was, "I want to create beautiful things. And I like computers." But, once in college, I majored in archaeology, an infinitely more practical career path. ;) The fact that I was often asked by professors and fellow students to sketch artifacts didn't clue me in. Neither did the fact that I was more pleased by the doodles in my notes than my notes, themselves (I clipped and saved them all) and often procrastinated by spending time with my sketchbooks. During summers home, my mother and her business associates asked me to design workbooks, business cards and brochures... yet it still never occurred to me that graphic design was a viable profession for me.

When I was 25, I put together a simple website and soon thereafter found myself employed as a production artist by a web design firm. Over the course of four years, I worked my way up to art director (it was a small company) then found myself laid off when my employer dissolved during the dot bust. I decided to make my designer status official, so I enrolled in a design arts program which I am currently working through as I type. And I love it. :)

On Nov.14.2003 at 09:07 PM
Abby’s comment is:

Sigh... so much for being brief. As to why I continue—even after reading and researching and practicing for years, the subject of design still retains some mystery for me. My knowledge can always be deeper.

On Nov.14.2003 at 09:21 PM
Bill D.’s comment is:

Steve, want a great question: Why did we become graphic designers in the first place?

I used to think it was because of what we got to make: the rich variety of things. But I have endless rows of green boxes filled with "samples," all the work (some really good, some not aging so well) neatly filed away.

A couple of years ago we did a very good design for a magazine about the law. I'm very proud of the magazine we created (copies are filed in green boxes), but what I remember, a few years later, are these haunting illustrations by Henrik Drescher for a story about Rwanda.

The magazine is filed away. The images we commissioned live on, at least in my mind.

On Nov.14.2003 at 11:43 PM
graham’s comment is:

i was on a school trip to the local natural history museum. we were visiting the new exhibit, 'spiders of the world', and i was to take a few pictures for the school magazine. anyway, i didn't notice that one spider had escaped, and before i spotted it, it bit me. it hurt more than it should have done, and i felt a bit nauseous. on my way home, passing through a chemical processing plant, i wasn't watching where i was going (dizzy from the spider bite) and was almost knocked over by a forklift truck. luckily, the driver swerved, missing me but crashing into some chemical waste which spilled onto the street and splashed in my eyes, blinding me. i stumbled into the warehouse, unable to see, and by chance ended up in a gamma radiation laboratory. unfortunately, the airtight doors closed behind me and i was trapped, caught in the middle of a gamma ray experiment. the light was bright green when they fired their 'lasers'.

i don't know how long i was unconscious-a week or so-but when i woke up, i began to notice things. colours were more vivid, words seemed to become shapes, structure revealing itself in even the most mundane of things. from that day forthwards, in knew that in my heart then that i would from then on use those of my powers for human good.

that there is how i became what i am.

On Nov.15.2003 at 03:45 AM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Steve Heller wrote:

and when the opportunity arose to work at an underground newspaper I took it with glee.

and then I wrote:

Would this be Screw?

Or did that come (no spelling puns here) later?

Mr. Heller's quick comment on taking a job at an underground newspaper "with glee" brought back memories of my college years and solipsistic discussions about language, sexuality, semiotics, etc. So, please forgive my total indulgence...

One could say that the romance of the underground newspaper radical is an extension of the Oedipal Complex i.e. kill your father/kill the establishment yadda yadda yadda. Additionally, the knowledge that Mr. Heller was the art director of Screw Magazine further fuels my thoughts on the psychosexual/linguistic origins of creative practice like Graphic Design.

First side note: If I remember correctly, Milton Glaser drew the logo for Screw.

Second side note: The late '60s/early '70s is a personal obsession. I was too young to participate in what I perceived as a wildly exciting time -- but, my father was a college professor and I was exposed to his students. From there I caught a contact high of radicalism. So, there is absolutely no implied criticism of Mr. Heller and where he used to work -- it was a different time. I do however harbor some jealousy... ;)

ok, back to my initial thought:

To oversimplify: Lacan's theory on the psychosexual origins of language suggests that the transition from the idealized state of infancy (the "Real") to recognition of difference (the Other: mother/father, mirror image, presence/absence, etc.) are the steps that lead up to what he calls the "Symbolic Order" aka Language.

Language is an established order which existed before we were born.

Lacan aligns this with the Oedipal Complex.

To use language is to accept The Name of The Father. and the corresponding rules and dictates of desire and communication.

The "Real" continually plays a role in the ongoing development of one's Desire. Since desire is expressed through language... since language has a visual component... since we are all in some way attempting to create an idealized world every time we pick up a marker or turn on the computer... one could say that the Objective (Mr. Heller's word) reason one becomes a Graphic Designer has a lot to do with their development from infancy to the use of language. We are attempting to regain the Real, but Desire never reaches the Real's perfection. Desire changes over time, as does our method of expressing it. Bill D's collection of "endless rows of green boxes filled with "samples," all the work (some really good, some not aging so well) neatly filed away" is merely an index of his psychosexual desire.

Hey! didn't Freud say such a collection was a fetish?

Fetishism is considered to be a pathological displacement of desire (Julia Kristiva called Language itself a fetish) and one could consider an obsession with type, particular use of full-bleed images, love for retro imagery, etc. as various fetishes.

As I read through everyone's revelations here, I attempt to determine who's the fetishist, who's got Oedipal issues, who's got mommy issues, who hasn't figured out their Desire, who wasn't breast fed...

Me? I suspect that I'm hung up on the Other. My previous revelation of Santana record covers as an initial trigger into a visual life are probably wrapped up in their foreign-ness. I grew up in a white-bread western New York village (no African-Americans, no Jews, no Asians) where the main differences between people were along the lines of Protestant/Catholic or jock/pothead. Santana had everything my town didn't: ethnicity, alternate religious activity, jazz, sensuality, cover paintings of large-brested women, and congas.

As I think about previous discussions on Speak Up, I wonder...

Is David Carson's work the result of an Oedipal complex?

Did Paul Rand accept The Name of the Father?

Does Sagmeister have castration anxiety?

Is Charles Anderson a fetishist?

See? Fun! Now you do it...

On Nov.15.2003 at 04:35 AM
Helena S.’s comment is:

I actually had to answer this at the conference at one of the round tables.

I was the kid who made the fliers for student shows throughout high school and college (where I studied theatre & film). Then I got an admin. job at MIT where my boss told me I had a real knack for making those pie charts and matrices, etc. for publications she was working on & that I should think about pursuing graphic design. So MIT paid for me to go to MassArt and do the certificate program there.

I love design because (as has been mentioned by others) it allows me to flex both sides of the brain. I love problem solving. I love working with others and seeing their reactions to the solution I come up with. Another major thing that keeps me here is that I've finally met a group of people who think like I do and that's extremely rewarding and fun.

I'm still struggling with feeling like an imposter sometimes because graphic design isn't the only thing I do with my time (I'm also a dedicated video artist & curator). But I'm here because graphic design is just as important to me as my video work. There's room for both in my life and I'm not gonna choose!

On Nov.15.2003 at 12:32 PM
Al-Insan Lashley’s comment is:

I became a graphic designer because my school did not have an illustration program. Fortunately, I met my first mentor, Eric Chimenti, a very talented illustrator, who taught me about aiming high - as an illustrator and designer.

I like design today because It's what I can do with confidence. And there is so much poorly done work out there to transcend.

On Nov.16.2003 at 02:15 PM
Cheshire’s comment is:

I stumbled into it as well. I was a teenager when Mac desktop publishing debuted, and I was working at a computer store as a technician, so I got to play with very early versions of PageMaker. I began designing newsletters, gleaning what I could from the design of the Los Angeles Times. But I never envisioned myself as a graphic designer; at that time, I wanted to be a political campaign manager for a living. In college, while I was majoring in political science, I did run a lot of people's campaigns for campus offices, and the best part of that was doing the campaign lit (to this day I'm depressed by the state of design in political campaigns).

But by the end of college I had given up the idea of being a professional campaign manager, since there weren't too many candidates out in the world beyond college whom I thought I could really get behind. So when I graduated, I decided I'd do freelance desktop publishing work. I figured I could get enough monthly newsletter gigs to work half-time and write fiction half-time.

This turned out to be naive. I got one newsletter job that was quarterly at best, and paid well below what the Graphic Artists Guild Pricing Guidelines suggested I should have been getting paid. I also did a poster for a campus theater production, which turned out to be the first of dozens. I had to go find other design jobs, and I essentially learned as I went. I was already technically proficient; what I needed to do was learn to develop my design sense. To that end I bought a lot of design annuals and books (among them Steve Heller and Gail Anderson's Graphic Wit), which helped me learn what good design was.

And instead of writing fiction, I found myself writing for a magazine that was an early (1992) proponent of design on the computer. I got to interview several designers that way, and I also became friends with the magazine's designers, who, a few years later, took me on as a junior designer, which was an immense help in my training.

I keep designing because there are people and organizations out there who need as much of a boost as possible to get noticed for what they do, since simply doing it is hardly ever enough.

But writing remains my first love.

On Nov.16.2003 at 06:56 PM
David E’s comment is:

It sounds pretty silly, but I really believe I was born to be a graphic designer. When I was 4 years old, I was in love with liquid laundry soap bottles and their labels. My mother would buy a different brand each time she ran out of detergent, so I could have a different bottle for my "collection". I had a whole toy chest full of them. My mother told me years later, "We bought you toys, but all you ever wanted to play with were your detergent bottles."

A few years later, I discovered baseball cards and comic books. I had zero interest in sports, but I loved baseball cards. It was the design — the way each card was different, yet a part of the same family. They seemed so beautiful to me. The same with comic books. I didn’t care about the stories nearly as much as the covers — especially the logos and lettering. I was just very visually aware as a kid. I think that on some level, I've understood what design was for as long as I can remember.

Anyhow, design is the only thing I'm good at that anyone will pay me to do. I think that doing anything that didn't involve design would be going against the grain for me.

On Nov.17.2003 at 11:15 AM
Riz’s comment is:

I became a designer because I love to create and I love to communicate. I have artistic tendencies, and in my free time I draw and paint.

But for my personal purposes - and this is just how I make the distinction, not some acedemic manifesto - I see art as being about *expression* and I see design as being about *communication*. There's a lot of cross-appropriation, it's a subjective distinction. And art can communicate something powerful, and graphic design clearly involves personal expression of the designer.

But as I was doing more and more creative artistic and design endeavers, I found that through the creative channel, I found it was about communication to me. Communicate with graphics (type, shapes, color). And I thus gravitated toward design. I actually value the fact that what I design is usually something that is produced and distributed in quantity, instead of being a one-off art work. I want the visual message to be appreciated, not the artifact (i.e. painting) to be coveted over the message.

Thus, I wanted to do something creative, and design fit my need to communicate ideas.

On Nov.17.2003 at 05:20 PM
Jason A. Tselentis’s comment is:

Origin of a Designer

There's no objective answer to why I became a graphic designer. I can't point to one thing that transformed me from Jason Tselentis to Jason Tselentis a.k.a. Graphic Designer. I became a designer through an evolution filled with additive and subtractive experiences: meeting the Apple computer and learning its software; an 8th grade class called Project Business where I had to create a business card---and won best of class; failing as an illustrator; interacting with clients, building relationships with clients, or learning how to win clients; needing to pay off student loans; and having my creations live publicly (not just in some museum or above a fireplace). It's a very complex evolution, and I need to be mindful of it.

But "how did I get here" isn't the question that looms over me, it's "Why Am I Still Here?" Thank you, Steve. Thank you for asking this question, pushing us to reflect. For the life of me, I don't know the answer to why I continue to design. And I like not knowing, because I truly believe the day I have the answer is the day I'll stop being a designer. That question pushes me forward.

On Nov.18.2003 at 10:14 AM
kev leonard’s comment is:


when i was 4 years old i used to cut shapes (boots, coats, socks) out of construction paper. my mother told me that she knew i would a career in art because i would rather be cutting paper, drawing or listening to music over playing with the other kids like my siblings.

once i knew what it was called (commercial art, anybody remember that title) i pursued it because i loved it, excelled at in and always thought that i could make it (brochure, ad, logo) better.

when i see a well thought out, well crafted logo, brochure, annual, ad—i actually get chills up my spine and my eyes get teary. i don't think many thing a more beautiful than good design.

i'm still a designer because i love calming the chaos.

i will always be a designer because i think i can effect some change, change some attitudes and make things look better.

quite frankly i have never seriously considered doing anything else.

On Nov.19.2003 at 11:12 AM
Amber’s comment is:

I started college years ago studying architecture. I had taken a graphic design class as an elective and rather enjoyed it. When I decided to change my major (because I really could care less how concrete is made) I decided that graphic design was the way to go. Even though it has taken me longer to graduate, I am much happier. Now that I am getting ready to graduate from college I can not wait until I am out in the real world and can lean even more.

On Nov.20.2003 at 09:26 AM
nancy mazzei’s comment is:

I was really good a drawing snoopy in art class back in 3rd grade, EVERYONE had one of my snoopy's. That was it, i wanted to do something as cool as drawing snoopy. Here I am.

On Nov.21.2003 at 12:21 PM
Karye’s comment is:

It's interesting how many people had a certain something that they were good at at a young age, which eventually led them to pursue design. For me, I was obsessed with making things. Particularly those little folded paper games where the object was to pick a color, then a number, and then the ""prize" was some random saying on the inner flap. I would make special ones and sell them for a quarter. I guess it just evolved from there.

On Nov.23.2003 at 06:43 PM
nancy mazzei’s comment is:

ok ok it wasn’t just snoopy my cousin sandra, went to SVA she wound up drawing characters for Disney although that’s not ultimately what I’m doing she influenced me alot.

On Nov.24.2003 at 09:39 AM