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I wrote the following article last year sometime, and then decided not to publish it. Partly because I read something on the topic that enraged me and I thought maybe my article could use a little counter-rage. But I never got around to it, and the essay has been sitting in drafts for months. I decided to dust it off and post it now because of a tedious debate that is going on in my own design community, in Vancouver. When I was asked to comment, I thought “Well, actually, I do have something to say on this.” And here it is.

I have a friend—a designer—who often says that his clients ask him not to call himself a “graphic designer,” because it makes them think he draws things. He feels that the term “graphic design” actually does him a disservice in the eyes of his clients. This of course is part of an ongoing debate in the world of design as organizations and schools scrap the word “graphic” in favour of “communication” or something else. But as those former graphic designers struggle to elbow their way into the corporate zeitgeist, I begin to wonder what they are leaving behind and why.

Last year, 20 Fellows of the GDC (Society of Graphic Designers of Canada) were asked to create posters celebrating the GDC’s 50th anniversary. Being a Fellow usually means you’ve had a lot of experience in design, so many of the designers were older, and some of the posters depicted design in what we might now consider to be an outdated manner. Yes, there were some pencil crayons and some pencil shavings. Some designers I know were very distressed by these images, feeling that they “put us back 30 years.” Back, that is, to a time when designers were artists. Watch it, dirty word warning.

It is, of course, common to depict a profession by the tools of the trade, and if you look at older issues of design magazines, graphic design is regularly represented with markers, pencils, t-squares and Exacto knives. But while most of us have our amusing Exacto knife stories, for the vast majority of designers the tool is the computer, and not much else. As an icon, the computer is useless: in its ubiquity it depicts nothing … except the fact that we now have the same tools as everyone else, and they, us.

For any designer who has ever been called “artsy-fartsy” you know the derision implied in the term. Artsy-fartsy people are those who draw and doodle. Drawing is fun, doodling is idleness, and neither are considered serious activities. The implication is that this person is dreamy, unreliable and possibly unclean.

A while back I was reading something by Natalie Angier, in which she lamented the point at which the science-minded child, happily absorbed in the study of dinosaurs and chemistry, becomes a social outcast as the Science Geek. I could relate. In high school my artistic skills earned me a certain respect from the unlikeliest of foes (read: the football team), and may even have saved me from the ridicule reserved for most of the other loners and weirdos. Clearly, in this I was not alone, as Michael Bierut recently recounted similar memories. But once in the “real world” this drawing thing was seen as something that was admirable as a hobby, but highly suspicious in business circumstances. Perhaps it’s just jealousy, but the business community makes it very clear that artists do not belong there.

The response of most designers is to downplay the active, creative part of their work in favour of the strategic, results-oriented, business-minded part. A scan through most design websites will reveal an emphasis on “forming partnerships,” “sound business objectives,” “industry leaders,” “distilling information,” “marketing communications,” “story telling,” and a great deal more that hints at “creativity” contained in a controlled and mindful environment (i.e. the back room, out of sight). But Graphic Design’s embarrassment of its artistic roots threatens to do away with the very thing that makes it unique and valuable. In this sense, the computer becomes the perfect icon for design today, as Design begins to look a lot like what everyone else does in the vast market of business consultancy. As designers increasingly promote themselves primarily as strategists, consultants and business-people first, they do so often by sacrificing the one thing they have that separates them from their clients: the ability to think and express ideas visually. And at some point, you have to wonder: if you look like them, and act like them, and talk like them, and think like them, and use the same tools as they do … well, what the hell would they need you for?

And increasingly, in that atmosphere, they don’t … or at least, they think they don’t.

As many designers freak out by the ubiquity of our tools (software) in the business working place, and the plethora of barely trained individuals crowding the edges of our field, they mass together in an attempt to come up with strategies to re-brand and market our industry under a new banner. And so they fall into the classic mistake of believing that if we rename, or re-brand ourselves, the market will understand us better. And further, that the more generic or bland we are, the better chance we have of achieving acceptance. But when you hold up the mirror and say, “Look, I’m just like you!” don’t be surprised when the flicker of recognition fades to disinterest.

Don’t get me wrong. I would never argue that strategy is not an important part of design—it is certainly one of the most important—or that collaboration is not desirable, or that results are not necessary. These are all things that are integral parts of the design process and which separate designers from fine artists. But when I read about the lives of designers who practiced 20 to 40 years ago, I think about their approach and the environment that they necessarily brought their clients into: an environment totally foreign to the business person, full of pencil crayons and markers and a kind of mysterious magic of the other. Clients must have been very aware that they were buying something that they themselves did not possess and would never possess. It must have been a little frightening and a little thrilling for them.

Ultimately, this is not about whether you draw, or what tools you use, but about how you think and express, and how willing you are to be forthcoming about the validity of that process—and the outcome—without trying to disguise it or hide it under layers of business rhetoric. The pencil crayons and the felt pens may be outdated as tools, but I would like to think that they are still relevant as metaphors. And I wish that designers would take back the power of the words “graphic” and “arts”, because as career definitions continue to blur, they might find it’s the most valuable asset they have.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Mar.27.2007 BY marian bantjes
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

In a "corporate world" a designer's job "title" has little relevance. This is not only to in-house designers like me but to our ad agency's creative directors also.

Being an in-house designer, am experiencing this "corporate idiosyncracy" on a weekly basis when agency present their ideas.

As we all know every ad agencies have their own process tool to work on on their creative strategy. Very often i have witnessed the impatience of big guys to accept this "how we got it" explanation, knowing that they have little chance to reject the idea.

Graphic, designer, art director, creative director; all these words are meaningless to an average corporate manager as he believes, these are not "business" related and more than that big money spenders!!!

In a "corporate" world designer or like is looked down upon, atleast in this part of the world.

Acceptance of the "Untitled" is a dream.

Designers, throw away your pencils and markers!
Get into business. Talk. Talk. Talk.

Marian, a nice thought provoking post.
Thank you.

On Mar.27.2007 at 03:59 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

Honestly, I feel like it's not the names and titles we give ourselves; it's the names and titles that we are given that matter.

If you want to be a Business Strategist, be my guest. If you want to be a Graphic Artist or Creative Director or Turd Polisher then that's ok too. The thought that all of us who use InDesign have to think with one mind and speak with one voice is absurd, and consequently the debate over what terms we use to describe ourselves is even more absurd. For every single person in design, there's a new and seperate process, so who cares if we all want to call ourselves something different?

I do agree that there must have been a bit more mystification in older eras of design, and that helped people understand that design was more complicated than they might care to undertake for themselves. Part of the problem now is the belief that began in the early computer era that the Personal Computer was magic in a box, that you could clickity-click for a while and out would pop anything you wanted (see: Weird Science). That belief still lingers today, and is evident in design. Hell, some designers still think that all you have to do is get the latest MacPro and that bright shiny CS2 box and *hocus-pocus-voilá-presto!* Instant designer. Now all you need is a black pair of glasses and a half-caf non-fat mochachino!

Designers need to educate themselves first, and the client second. Then we'll get the name we all secretly want: Genius.

On Mar.27.2007 at 10:07 AM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Dangit. I was sure, when I began reading your post Marian, that I wouldn't agree with you (as I rarely do).

But I find myself mostly agreeing with you after all.

"As designers increasingly promote themselves primarily as strategists, consultants and business-people first, they do so often by sacrificing the one thing they have that separates them from their clients: the ability to think and express ideas visually. And at some point, you have to wonder: if you look like them, and act like them, and talk like them, and think like them, and use the same tools as they do ... well, what the hell would they need you for?"

This is a good point, and the reason designers promote themselves in this fashion is due to the perception that we're artists and we don't understand the team-oriented goal of increasing numbers, and prefer putting colors and typography together to make something pretty. But things are not black and white, and there most certainly must be a better balance of the disciplines, shades of gray if you will. Who better to understand and represent that than us?

And like you Marian, I love looking back to the golden years and understanding what and why the old masters of our profession accomplished. If computers were around at that time, I'm very certain they would acquire one as well to include in their utility belt of design tools.

The word "graphic" is still applicable in the big picture. I don't prefer the term "graphic artist," but "graphic designer" suits me fine. I break it down to this: graphic means visual, and design means strategy. We can still provide strategy to the process and apply our craftsman skills in the visual rules of color, layout, typography - basically everything we learned as artists that work well together for a specific purpose - and creating an amalgam of our responsibilities. Although, I think this is what our old masters were doing anyway.

On Mar.27.2007 at 10:07 AM
Todd R.’s comment is:

I have the benefit of being a designer/artist/craftsman—whatever—who graduated from SVA in 1986. I was trained in the "traditional" ways, worked my first jobs similarly, and made the transition to the Mac in 1992 or so.

My 2 cents: Now that the mysterious part of the creative process is seemingly accessible to the average person, technology forces us to be specialists, to carve out a niche—in house, or as an independent contractor—and to highlight our skills in order to leverage our personal situations.

We are, in fact artists. We are commercial specialists, regardless of the tools that we utilize every day. We walk a fine line between art and commerce, and should—here's that word again—leverage that fact to the hilt.

In instances when I am asked for career advice from younger designers I never fail to point out the fact that our Macs are nothing more than fancy tools. We need not dwell on xactos and rapidographs; those days are done forever. But the fact remains that it's our brains that drive the process, important info these days when everyone is a "designer" and has access to great fonts like Comic Sans and Chicago.

On Mar.27.2007 at 10:18 AM
Adelie’s comment is:

Michael Holdren said:

The word "graphic" is still applicable in the big picture. I don't prefer the term "graphic artist," but "graphic designer" suits me fine. I break it down to this: graphic means visual, and design means strategy. We can still provide strategy to the process and apply our craftsman skills in the visual rules of color, layout, typography - basically everything we learned as artists that work well together for a specific purpose - and creating an amalgam of our responsibilities. Although, I think this is what our old masters were doing anyway.

This has always been my thought on the term "graphic design". I was trying to figure out how to articulate it, but Michael did it so much better, all I can say is, "Ditto".

On Mar.27.2007 at 10:41 AM
DC1974’s comment is:

I've always had the term "graphic arts" because I hate the word "graphic" and not the word "arts." To me, it seemed like away to justify going to art school for parents that were worried that their kids wouldn't amount to anything. As someone that was trained as an artist -- and picked up graphic design on my own -- I've always admired and looked up to those that followed in a similar way. When I left design to study film, my advisor at the time (who was of a much older generation), said he had studied painting. It has occurred to me that design "education" used to something that happened in the design agencies -- you had a degree in art and then went to work for agency and learned the tools. It's the expectation that you'll come with a portfolio of design projects after school that has really killed the arts background. The artists that have the guts to stand up to their parents and the "real world expectations" don't gravitate to design education -- which is more and more about providing a safe harbor for those who are concerned about having health insurance after graduation. And sometimes, little else.

On Mar.27.2007 at 10:50 AM
Ruben ’s comment is:

i like that... visual strategist...
labels are funny.
I find graphic an intangible and un-relatable word. graphic seems like a hyphenised modifier... graphic-novel, video-graphics, graphic-design... graphic-violence...

Marian I agree with a lot of what you've said... I too believe that we need to embrace the creative aspect of our profession.

I do want to respond to your take on the many of us who looking to the strategic and consulting aspect of our work.

I don't doubt that many move towards these directions as a means to qualify what they do... at once legitimizing what they do by making it seem more in line with the goals of their clientele and at the same time giving them power over that photoshop kid. That said... isn't our desire to take on the "consultant" moniker also our wanting to breathe back meaning into our communication? take more control of what were helping express visually? when we say we're consulting, aren't we saying that not only are we helping express the message, but also advising on how... a) what that message should be, and b) how that message should be delivered?

on the flip side... my aversion to "artist" isn't for its social stigma, but rather that I want to my "art" to stay remain pure in its creative impetus. I'm wanting my "art" to be sprung from the conceptual intent of the "artist" rather then dictated by a marketing plan or a style guide... but that is a different conversation altogether.

On Mar.27.2007 at 11:37 AM
ed’s comment is:

i couldn't agree with you more.

As designers increasingly promote themselves primarily as strategists, consultants and business-people first, they do so often by sacrificing the one thing they have that separates them from their clients: the ability to think and express ideas visually.

i'll come up something more interesting and insightful later on today when i get out of Gunnar's class

On Mar.27.2007 at 11:44 AM
Kosal Sen’s comment is:

Marian, if not "graphic designer", then what label does he go by?

And I wish that designers would take back the power of the words “graphic” and “arts”, because as career definitions continue to blur, they might find it’s the most valuable asset they have.

Valuable to whom? In business, the power of these words mean nothing. I can remember countless times where a client says something along the lines of “I know you're trying to make it look pretty and all, but we have to make it look like this" or "Dumb it down, and use a photo of X." Now maybe I get those comments because I'm a bad designer, or because of the industry I'm in, but the impression I get from non-designers is that "graphic designers" are just the layout person. For the ad industry that's true. Creative and art directors are the concept folks who get more of the spotlight. In our case, the word "design" can be detrimental because people see it as being all about the physical design/how it looks. In reality, yes, we obsess over the design, the craft, the art. But in the end, our service is to produce the right image of whatever idea that needs to be represented. And it is our ability to do so with ingenuity that often goes unrecognized.

Business is more interested in science than art. So maybe dropping the graphic design title is more valuable than keeping it. Visual Communications Engineer, anyone??

On Mar.27.2007 at 12:31 PM
Sean Flanagan’s comment is:

I draw pictures.
I create intricately detailed illustrations for print.
I do logos.
I develop fully-defined branding initiatives.
I make things look pretty.
I define concepts for cross-media advertising campaigns.
I throw some text on a page.
I set type with impeccable kerning.
I glue pieces of paper together.
I specify 5/4 printed on matte coated stock with spot UV.
I am good with computers.
I grok XHTML and CSS.
I use nicer fonts.
I forge proprietary unique letterforms.
I pick out pretty colors.
I wrestle with the limited gamut of process color.
I wear witty t-shirts.
I wear witty t-shirts.
I don't care what you call me, I am a talented frikkin' genius.

Sean Flanagan
Turd Polisher

On Mar.27.2007 at 12:51 PM
diane witman’s comment is:

Great post Sean, I actually giggled to myself while slaving over my "tool"(aka computer.

When I began devoting half of my days during high school to attend a Vocational-Technical school where I could study "Commercial Art" I was thrilled. Then when it was time to attend college it was coined "Communication Design", all I could think is 'what's the difference?'. My first job out of college was a "Production Artist", my second a "Graphic Designer", my third a "Graphic Designer & Web Coordinator" and now an "Art Director".

At my current place of employment, the owners decided to change their name from "*** Advertising" to "*** Creative". They felt the word Advertising didn't express our capabilities and thought Creative could do it. People still don't know or understand what it is that we do.

It's funny how a title doesn't mean much, though in my younger years I thought it would mean everything. I'm just so thrilled to be active in the field that I love!

Marian, this is a great post and it always goes back to what is it that we do? Should this be explained or should it remain a mystery? Sometimes designs do happen by pure coincidence (not the right word I'm searching for) and sometimes it is a very thorough process. So how can we explain to someone that we *fell* on to an idea or that we researched until we were blue in the face? I think our industry is so absolutely unique that there isn't one single (correct) title that can encompass what we are all capable of. We're creative, we're artists, we're geniuses, we are a rare breed.

On Mar.27.2007 at 01:56 PM
felix’s comment is:

turd polisher
assistant in-house branding comptroller
executive brand allignment operative

with circular love,
brand goo roo
turd polisher

On Mar.27.2007 at 01:58 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

I relate well to what you say, Marian. I’ll also admit to being inconsistent on this matter. On one hand, I’m quick to defend the creative/artistic role in our field (since those outside of our field rarely do). Yet I’m also mindful of being fluent in the language that my clients feel comfortable with. And I’m aware that our roles as designers may be changing and evolving as circumstances and technology changes.

I’ve always looked upon design as a hybrid activity. To be successful in design, you have to have a hybrid set of skills. You have to bring a strength and understanding of creativity and artistic form. You have to bring a strength and understanding of the current range of production, reproduction and distribution technologies. And you have to have an understanding of the arena in which your clients perform -- whether it's business, science, education, or whatever.

The question, of course, is: what is the best balance of these skills? And at what point do they slip out of balance?

While technology has certainly played a role in the current disequilibrium, another thing that I feel has rocked the boat is a current mantra in business, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and you therefore can’t place any value on it.” This state of mind has not been positive for some of the intangible elements that designers have been traditionally brought to the table. It has encouraged many to take a pre-emptive strike with a strategic, market-based set of tools and descriptions that de-emphasize the intangible aspects of creativity and artistry.

One reality that I think we need to face is that there will not be a single model that we can look to for the proper balance. (Perhaps there never has been a single one to begin with.) In some roles, the designer will continue to be of value for the unique, artistically-driven view that they bring to a project. In some roles, designers will need to be able to integrate the artistic/creative role within a context of a highly defined communication criteria. In other roles, designers may be orchestrating elements and systems that they don’t even have any hand-on control of.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what implications this ultimately has for what we call ourselves. But you’ve certainly hit on an interesting topic, Marian.

On Mar.27.2007 at 02:20 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

This would so much easier if we were all certified

I've always been partial to "information architect"
(what a load of crap)

On Mar.27.2007 at 02:27 PM
Andrew J Klein’s comment is:

I know alot of emphasis is on the "strategy" and "results"...but our marketable skill is our way of thinking... No matter how much research, strategy, and planning go into a project, the choices that make the work great are mostly made out of intuition. This isn't to say that the choices we make out of feeling aren't justifyable, creatives learn to channel, filter and distill the noisy creativity to manageable thoughts...at lest the good ones do.

I think it would help if designers showed more of their process to the clients. This might help them understand where the magic happens (in your head, not in a shiney Mac). Instead of showing 3 comps for a website, show them the 50 pencil layouts, scribbling, color choices, artwork production, photography, shot down ideas...etc.. and THEN the final comps.

In showing process, I think you build your value, if you have thought enough to have some sort of deliberate process for forming ideas, and then documenting this and showing the client...wow, you might actually know what you are talking about.

On Mar.27.2007 at 04:34 PM
m.kingsley’s comment is:

"Sketching" : billed at $50/hour
"Creative exploration" : billed at $1000/hour

What you call yourself is irrelevant to what you call it on the invoice.

On Mar.27.2007 at 05:12 PM
Pesky’s comment is:


I'm a drawer...and I've been called "artsy-fartsy", as a matter of fact, by a record producer: a short, bald little Jewish guy who hired me to draw Santa on his CD cover. So he sends me a check, but the check is only 50% of my invoice, so I call him up and ask if he bought only the LEFT SIDE of the illustration or the RIGHT SIDE, and would he please either pay or the other half or tear it off either and mail it back.

He sent a second check..


On Mar.27.2007 at 07:16 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

When I tell people what I do, I usually start with "graphic designer."

They always say, "Oh …" Then I listen for what comes next.

If they say, "Oh, neat," I get the impression they actually know what I do for a living.

But for the "Oh …" (empty stare, frown, curled eyebrows) croud, I usually follow up with, "um, I'm a commercial artist."

Then they all say, "Oh, neat," or "Oh, my -- son/daugter/secretary/trashman/accountant -- does graphic design. Do you know David Carson?"

Then I usually just change the subject and ask where they're from or what they do. Asking about how their weather has been lately is also quite usefull.


On Mar.27.2007 at 09:02 PM
Derrick Schultz ’s comment is:

What is an "architect"? What is a "businessman" for that matter? I bet they do more than what the original job title implies.

the name doesnt matter. do your job and people will know what the title means. I've always found it rather arrogant that we can't accept the traditions handed down to us and find things that actually matter: like actually doing the work.

On Mar.27.2007 at 09:02 PM
patricia’s comment is:

I am a graduate design student and I just came to NY last year. But there is something about this topic that has been bothering me for a long time.
I don't quite understand why today's graphic designers are so afraid of being called artists.
I think designers are artists. It is art that has changed over the years. Art today is not just about paint and canvas it's graphics, video, industrial and everything that involves creation. Even the computer does not separate designers from artists because it is just a medium used today by everyone.
I think designers are afraid to be considered artists because of the "myth" or "way of life" that is associated with the term, and in today's world, it is very hard for this artist to make it.

In my opinion it is not about how graphic designers are different from artists, but what is art today. As simple as this may sound, why aren't we today's artists, and today's art is more involved in commerce and strategy.

On Mar.27.2007 at 09:15 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Patricia, I don't want to be called an artist. A few weeks ago a client was apologizing for not liking a draft of some outdoor advertising we'd done for a modest media buy here in NYC. The client said, "I know it's your art that you're going to see out there." I had to stop the client and insist that we don't look at the work as art nor see ourselves as artists, and she needn't be so sensitive to what she percieved to be the emotional attachment an artist would have to a piece. I explained that those components are certainly there in the work (but artistry and an emotion attachment) but they are a couple of numerous things that affect both our process and our peception of the final product. They needn't be paraded to the front.

On Mar.28.2007 at 01:09 AM
Young Mr. Arvizu’s comment is:

I'm completely curious about what you read on this subject that enraged you, has that anger been addressed?

On Mar.28.2007 at 09:28 AM
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:

I like being a graphic designer in everything I do. It doesn't matter if i'm doing SEO, building a sitemap (information architecture, Doug B.), making a logo, doing research, creating a color palette, naming, designing a website, developing CSS, creating a collateral system, or drawing something by hand. A "graphic designer" is what I am. My business card says "graphic design +" and for me that means that I do more than 'just' what people normally think of as graphic design.

But if someone asks me what I do for a living, I tell them that I'm a graphic designer and I don't have a problem with that.

On Mar.28.2007 at 11:32 AM
Doug B’s comment is:

Oh, I have no problem with people actually doing 'information design', which has lately been referred to rather widely as 'information architecture'. We do some of that as well.

Just don't meet me at a professional function and tell me you are an 'information architect' if you expect to be taken seriously.

I agree w/Randy's take on the nomenclature as well. There's a lot of crossover between fine arts and design, but I'm a designer, not an artist. My short answer to the diffence: I solve other people's visual communication problems...most of my artist friends spend the majority of their time solving their own.

On Mar.28.2007 at 12:46 PM
aj’s comment is:

Some of us have the luxury to work exclusively in one field -- I presume print design for the majority of people reading this. There are others, like myself, who are often tasked to be jacks-of-all-trades. I deal (often in all within a single client's portfolio) print, web, copywriting and presentations, and even the occasional retail space and tradeshow booth. So am I a graphic designer? Web designer? Web developer? Writer? Commercial interior space planner? Architect?

I don't want to shy away from the words creative or art, for there is surely some of that in what I do; but there are kids just coming out of design school now who can run rings around me with Illustrator. I wouldn't even call myself a particularly talented craftsman, but I really know when something's not working and I can explain why.

To a greater degree I feel more like a synthesist, a remixer, and maybe a bit of the old, liberal-arts generalist; I have a magpie-like sense of culture, not particularly deep but broad, which enables me to find the appropriate tone, mood, and mode of expression for a particular client or project.

So what title encompasses all that? :)

On Mar.28.2007 at 02:18 PM
Michelle French’s comment is:

Thanks Marian!

On Mar.28.2007 at 02:33 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

So what title encompasses all that? :)

Graphic Designer.

I think that when we start to break out our unique characteristics and specialties we become all fucked up by the limitations of any descriptor, allowing ourselves to be overcome by our insecurities and desperate little egos bleating away with their shrill little voices of righteousness.

Which is not meant to cast aspersions on anyone who has commented here. My little ego bleats too.


Does the term "Doctor" adequately describe all the things a doctor does? Does it address the fact that very often they don't fix things? That they act as counselors, advisors, nutritionists? What about their roles in research or teaching? What about the specialists of a zillion different types?

When it comes to the argument of web design, interactive etc. if your role is the implementation of visual components, I fail to see why graphic designer wouldn't do. When people agitate to move to "communication design" I find the term becomes so broad as to become meaningless, and, like I say, they dump the one thing that differentiates them from everyone else who communicates in a thoughtful, constructive way: graphics. And the only reason I see for this is a fear of being associated with those dirty words: artist, pictures, aesthetics — which I think is completely misguided.

I'm completely curious about what you read on this subject that enraged you, has that anger been addressed?

I've lost the link, and I don't have time to root around for it again. But no, the anger, now dissipated to a vague rage against something I can barely remember, still seethes inside of me waiting to explode in a rain of vitriol and fire of scorn at any given moment. Watch out.

On Mar.28.2007 at 04:22 PM
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:

still seethes inside of me waiting to explode in a rain of vitriol and fire of scorn at any given moment. Watch out.

Marian is like Mount St. Helens.

On Mar.28.2007 at 07:00 PM
Matt Warburton’s comment is:

Marian, you are the goddess of words! I wish I could have put it as eloquently and passionately as you have. For once(!), I agree 100% with you and so wish that the insecure designers who want a new "title" would stick with polishing their feces. For me, I'm perfectly happy being a lowly graphic designer, and only hope that my work "gets better" as Mr. Beirut suggested! Its all about "branding" what you do and communicating the depth and breadth of the services you offer, something which varies from designer to designer. Given the amount of time I spent on the phone today organizing an annual report mailing and then grilling a client about the intricacies of healthcare delivery my clients are certainly well aware that I do more than push pixels around on a monitor...

On Mar.28.2007 at 09:05 PM
Brad’s comment is:

Wow, what a wonderfully written post. It's hard to disagree with it--but I would say that talking about this too much can exacerbate the problem, because the discussion can get really circular before suddenly winding up in a weird, esoteric place. Like how we get terms such as "information architect" and "brand strategist."

But I think the argument here veers away from that because its a call to action against arbitrary titles. You are ultimately defined by what you do, not what you call yourself.

As Emerson remarked, "Your actions speak so loud I cannot hear what you say."

And as the great Dana Arnett pointed out once, designers often play the "corporate" game too hard. Most marketing people would KILL to have our jobs. Be happy, be proud, and be forever aware of what you do.

On Mar.28.2007 at 09:58 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

I wrote a paper in college, on the subject of how we should label our program. (I graduated in 2003 from RIT in Rochester NY, in the Graphic Design program).

My theory was that we should call our program "Visual Communication Design." It turned out that our program actually was called exactly that in the 190s/70s. I found that really interesting, and this post / comments made me remember how I felt very strongly about the paper I wrote. I don't think I care as much anymore, because I have come to realize that many of us have talents that are really hard to encapsulate within one single label.

So like many of you are saying, who the hell cares what you call yourself, as long as you do good work? Find something that works for you, that makes you happy, lets you sleep at night, and don't worry so much about it. In the course of your career, how you "label" yourself might shift anyways. And personally, I want to work with people who doodle, sketch, and start their creative processes with their sketchbook and their brain!

Thanks for a great topic, Marian, and a great discussion from everyone above.

On Mar.29.2007 at 02:33 AM
patricia’s comment is:

randy, this actually feeds in to what i'm saying. There's a strong image behind "art" and "artists" but what i think people should rethink is the notion of art today. An artist is not just the person who does an emotional and personal piece. The guy who designs on t-shirts and sell them, is he a graphic designer? he's actually doing his own art on t-shirt but thinking at the same time about the market. And a lot of designers have their work in modern art museums. I think the thing is that it is art that is actually changing, and people still have in their minds this idea about the artist that he's emotional, messy, living on the edge etc.. when this is just a myth i think.

my english is not too good so sorry if i sound dramatic:)

On Mar.29.2007 at 08:51 AM
a non designer passing by by mistake’s comment is:

if graphic design is not an art could we say it is a scientic major?

if yes would that imply that two equally skilled designers working on the same set of requirements would come up with the exact same projects as would be the case in most non artistic majors?

On Mar.29.2007 at 10:58 AM
Dan Saffer’s comment is:

Design is not Art. Designers receive their subject matter, while artists generate it themselves. Art is about self-expression, while design is about finding the appropriate expression for the information or affordances or behavior of the product. There is overlap, but they are not the same.

Nor is Design a science. Two designers, given the exact problem with the exact constraints, will likely come up with a different result. In science, ideally, this is not the case. Science relies on repeatable results, and in design, there are practically none.

On Mar.30.2007 at 12:05 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I am a big proponent of the "graphic" going before designer and design, not just for what I do, but what I think our whole profession does. "Design" is – for better or for worse – a very broad, ambiguous, mushy and trendy descriptor that hovers over fashion designers, product designers, furniture designers, game designers, landscape designers, urban designers and even architects. Some may want to jump into that big pool and swim with all those people that get recognition in the mainstream media as "designers" but I have yet to see more than two or three graphic designers paddling in there. I prefer to swim in the adjacent pool, if you will.

Our design approach results in graphical representations of ideas and information: They become color, typography, layout and imagery framed by any given context (a box, a 12-page brochure, a 200-page book, a web site, etc). "Designer" is great, but with so many people claiming the title, there has to be a distinction for what we can manipulate and I do believe "Graphic" is it. "Communication" is nice, but you can also communicate through a nice e-mail, a thoughtful letter or a well-spoken radio spot and don't necessarily need graphic design applied to it.

In the end, all that matters, is that you put your money where your mouth is, I guess. But, like Marian, I do find the disdain for "graphic" a little enraging. I like my modifier, thank you very much.

On Mar.30.2007 at 08:53 AM
Shane Guymon’s comment is:

I think the bigger problem is their is a communication barrier, where the definitions of words, are skewed. So it is really a matter of learning what the "business world" is able to understand about our end, and our process. Especialy since the word "graphic" is so vague and "designer" as well. Artist is a little bit more well defined to a degree, but even then people have been argueing for centuries about a definition of art.

So I think the real problem lies in fiinding a way to educate, and finding a way to define who we are, and what we do to the world. How that happens I have no clue.

I know when people ask me what I do, and I tell them I'm a graphic designer, they still give me a blank stare, as if that label told them absolutly nothing, and didn't answer their question at all. So then I always have to go into a list of things I creat, and design. Then they say, "OH!"

So if we could find a way to come up with a label that universally says what we do, the that would be the true problem solver.

On Mar.30.2007 at 11:18 AM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

I've had a lot of success using this analogy when people ask, "so what does a graphic designer do?"

It was one of the first things Kristy Pennino, of Valencia Community
said on the first day of class. "Graphic design is behavior modification. The equation is simple: you want someone, somewhere, to do something. Everything else is filling in the blanks."

Given the above analogy, I find the term "graphic designer" the most fitting of any I've yet heard.

On Mar.30.2007 at 02:04 PM
Amanda Woodward’s comment is:

Marian, excellent article and I agree with it wholeheartedly.

I have never been afraid of the word 'artist' or 'arts'. I am an artist. I design for some clients, I create illustrations for some clients and I have personal art shows.

I can distance myself emotionally from design and remain professional. I realize that design is a business and I will only express myself artistically if it suits the clients objective. The rest of the time I have personal projects that I can express myself with. People can like or hate them, although I do feel pretty swell when they like them.

I am aware that my 'artsy-fartsy' side does shine through at times when we are meeting with suits. I'm ok with that. If our personalities don't mesh, if they can't see that we do good work or just feel that we're less capable because I 'doodle'... then it just isn't a good fit.

I think that having a niche or specialization is more important than ever. 'Business strategy' or the ability to 'distill information' seems much less of a specialization to me than 'I can create this amazing beautiful thing with these raw tools (pencil, paper, pastels, pop cans, roast beef, whatever) that communicates a message in an unconventional way'.

I realize I am getting away from this job title debate. Marian, what I really took from your article is for me I thing the 'art' and 'creative' side is special. I'm proud of it and feel it offers us a competitive edge. It should be valued just as much as the business-minded stuff.

Art and design go hand in hand for me, but maybe not for everyone.

I'd love to say more but as it goes... a busy afternoon ahead.
Including a spring pint on the patio.

On Mar.30.2007 at 03:32 PM
Mari Madison’s comment is:

The problem is we all have to make a living. As much as I would love to fall on my design is art sword, I have to pay my mortgage at least for another year and a half. (when I pay it off)

The fact is the business world is not buying what we really sell … ideas. Even the youth culture ala You Tube believes that ideas should be FREE. Client’s do too. I have had clients tell me directly “we do not pay for ideas.” (this was a well known international Hotel corporation)

The Design Industry has a huge credibility problem, what we want to sell is ideas. But as far as business is concerned, if you don’t have a MBA your ideas don’t mean a thing to them. The last place they are going to look for innovative ideas is to a graphic designer.

As an industry if we continue to stick to our “artsy fartsy” elitism we will all find ourselves as the preverbal starving artists.

We as an industry have made the client the enemy and guess what they pay our salaries.

Would we recommend our clients take the same attitude toward their customers?

Marian I agree that it is our design and creative intuition that makes us valuable, but unless we can translate our value into hard ROI statistics, good luck getting business recognize a designer as having that kind of knowledge.

I graduated in 1983, and my degree is a BFA in graphic communications so the term is not new and I have always believed it was much more descriptive of what I do.

There are all sorts of huge Corporations that are actively selling their products by trashing our industry and telling business they don’t need us. Last week I heard an executive of Xerox Corporation TOTALY trash the design industry as being “unwilling” to change with the times and get on board with their digital on demand printing services. Pointing out to a room full of corporate marketing managers (the people who hire us) how variable data direct mail printed on their machines bumped response rates from 1.2% to 20%. And their new services allow them to just upload their files and images and then utilize their business service that tracks and calculates response rates.

The business standard has become what they can do themselves, corporate brochures have become print outs of power-point slides. Product brochures have become MS Word flyers sent as PDF files, and Web-site design is rapidity becoming no more than a strip across the top of the page with a 5 dollar stock photo picked by an IT programmer.

Graphic Design is rapidly being cut out of the communication and marketing process. We need to prove our relevance in business communications or expect our profession to go the way of Typography Houses and Photo Labs.

On Mar.30.2007 at 06:24 PM
mark notermann’s comment is:

Graphic Design is rapidly being cut out of the communication and marketing process. We need to prove our relevance in business communications...

Graphic Design is being cut out only by those who don't understand it. Successful design depends on a strong relationship with the business client. Better for the client to understand what makes good design, than for the designer to understand the intricacies of the client's business.

On Mar.31.2007 at 01:19 AM
Lorenzo’s comment is:

This topic will go on for a long time.

I was hired as a Graphic Designer. I find it quite interesting that I'm referred to as the artist in residence.

On Mar.31.2007 at 01:37 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

Been too busy lately planting roses in my back yard to get online. This morning I've reread Marian's whole essay (thank you very much MB) and the comments that followed.

We are the quickly becoming the latest in casualties of computer's vast technical universality and we don't even know it except for the slide into irrelevance to the business world. One just has to look at the visual production over the last ten years to see a slow sameness to much of the work. OK, grungy looking stuff has entered mainstream, the sameness of a lot of work I see is all computer tricks and defaults arranged and rearranged. Design has become a parody of itself. Has any Next Big Thing come around lately? I don't think so. The revolution won't be televised. Any visual rebellion looks to the quirky and crazy to even get attention. Even store giant Target has managed to put the word "design" into the data smog it shoves down oour throats as if to say to consumers, we shape your life (with crappy products made in China).

Oh there's always the large "branding" agencies like Landor, etc, but the in-the-trenches-designers are slipping. More and more average "civilians" are (somewhat) learning graphic design skills - fonts and software, layout templates and stock image sources and tutorials are taking and deluding our "specialness" once and for all.

What used to be a river of work is now a stream. And so we talk about relevance and respect as if we're heading back to pre-computer days which will never happen. It's been devalued because technology has made its secrets of assembly (note I didn't say idea creating) so damn easy for eveybody. But if assembly is all we have, we're sunk anyway. Because the creation of advertising and all the other parts of graphic design - logo making, layout and collateral production are mainstream, business has done a clever thing of flattening the state of the art. Art, in my opinion, is a dangerous "loose cannon" on their ship. Businessmen are suspicious because ultimately they don't WANT smart anymore, they want return on investment and that can be accomplished without artists in the Walmart culture.

Like the buggy whip and carriage manufacturers of the early, early 20th century watching Henry Ford set up auto assembly lines, our skills are, to a great extent, no longer needed by the Company.

Which is why I'll remain an artist.Without questioning the way business has shaped comerce downwards, without questioning the stupid value system, we do ourselves a disservice. Art is dangerous and rebellious and it ought to be. F*ck em all.

On Mar.31.2007 at 08:17 AM
Tom B’s comment is:

I think these 'is Design Art?' debates are looking at things the wrong way round. Design is not the same as Art, designers are not all artists, but all artists are designers.

The analogy I like to make is to ask 'is writing the same as creating novels?'

The answer is no. Writers are not all novelists, but all novelists are writers.

Design is a process of producing something, wheras art is a reason for producing something.

'Graphic Designers' (or whatever we want to call ourselves) have different reasons for producing things than artists do.

On Mar.31.2007 at 01:41 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Tom, well, if that's the case, then I am an artist working in graphic design. I don't seperate them, not for myself. I DO draw for a living.

The rest of you may have a terminology differentiation that's valid for you. That's perfectly OK.

A " communications expert" is in the same truck with "sanitation engineers" but on the front end of trash making rather than the rear end of trash collecting.

Isn't life grand. (sorry, I must have gotten out of bed on the wrong side once again.)

On Mar.31.2007 at 01:51 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

Also, I don't really understand this idea that using a computer to design is so much easier than using a pencil.

Surely, if we're just comparing tools, a computer is way more complicated to use.

In the pre-computer days what made design special was the knowledge of production processes, combined with talent and hard work. Doesn't this still apply today?

Non-designers may believe that the computer does most of the work, and the designer is unnecessary. But surely we should agree that they are wrong.

I detect a worrying undercurrent to some of the comments posted here - it seems like some designers are actually starting to believe this as well. Is the slide towards becoming general-purpose business consultants the result of a crisis of faith in our own value?

The computer as a design tool has meant that it is more difficult for us to be technical experts. Before the computer arrived on the scene, designers could spend their entire careers refining their skills and building up expertise. However, with software changing all the time, I suspect that many of us feel uneasy - desperately clinging on to the reins as the horse gallops on madly. We worry that all of our expertise will become redundant in no time, and that we'll be shunted aside by some spotty-faced kid clutching the latest version of Adobe Creative Suite.

But of course there's more to expertise than just learning software - and we'd all agree on that. We just have to start actually believing it

In the words of Troy McClure: 'Get confident, stupid!'

On Mar.31.2007 at 07:23 PM
felix’s comment is:

stop and smell those roses.
love ya, F

On Mar.31.2007 at 09:21 PM
Lorenzo’s comment is:

Forgot to mention... love the title to your essay!
Absolutely appropriate!

On Mar.31.2007 at 11:58 PM
Mari’s comment is:


“Better for the client to understand what makes good design, than for the designer to understand the intricacies of the client's business.”

This is the response I have always been given in the G design business. “Just go out and find clients that already understand good design.” The problem with this is the educated business customer is an endangered species if not already extinct. Due to the reasons stated by Pesky and Unnikrishna.

We as an industry have relied on this mantra for decades instead of defining and promoting the value of what we do in terms our potential clients can understand. We have not done for ourselves what we do for our clients communicate in our customers language.

Books like “The End of Advertising as We Know it” have further diminished our standing the eyes of business. Reccomended to me by a client.

What I have experienced over the past 7 years is an accelerating decrease in the willingness to pay for my services. Like it or not what we do is a business and right now the vast majority of business does not have the willingness to pay for design. Because we can’t prove its value. I passionately believe it has tremendous value. Where are the studies that show that good design sells better than the C#@p we get in our mail boxes?
Where are the articles that talk about the reasons no one reads the C#@p is because it is so poorly designed you cant focus on it long enough to read it if you wanted to. Or, the articles that show that the AT&T logo was kept over SBC because it was designed by and desinger and not a committee.

Tom B, I am with you on technology NOT living up to the promise. It is not faster, easier cheaper or better when it comes to the design process. I am weary of wearing the hats of the typesetter, typographer, stripper, designer, production artist, photo retoucher, airbrush artist, proofreader, ….all simultaneously in fraction of the time for a fraction of the fee and all why trying to conceive stellar creative that the client's can't appreciate anyway.

I still start with a pencil, so I can turn off my left side and have a direct connection to my brain with out the annoyance of -- shift-option, space bar, click f2, send to back, control g, option backspace….interrupting my creative thought.

I have been on the computer for 20 years and the frustration has never subsided. don't get me wrong, there are things I Like about it but it is definately love/hate.

Again I agree with Pesky, it is starting to feel like a buggy whip business.

Because it is not what I do it’s who I am the idea of not being able to make a decent living doing what I love is a disturbing thought.


Have you priced roses lately.

On Apr.02.2007 at 01:02 AM
Ricardo’s comment is:

The problem is that most people don't know what it is that Graphic Designers DO! And that, I regret to say, is our own fault.

We have never done decent P.R. for ourselves, nor do we stand up for ourselves when others (who have their own interests at heart) attack or diminish what we do.

Everybody knows what doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, nurses, accountants and teachers do, because their professional associations make a great effort to tell the world how great their members are and what a valuable contribution they are making to society. Even hydro and other unionized workers are doing it.

Why aren't Graphic Design associations working as hard to promote, raise awareness of, educate about, call it what you will, our profession to the general public? We promote the concerns of others to the public very well, why do we not do it for ourselves?

The public uses the products of Graphic Designers on a daily basis, far more frequently than they encounter accountants or lawyers. Perhaps it's the familiarity that breeds contempt.

A story comes out in a newspaper saying, "So and so spent $250,000 on a logo!" And then asks their readers whether or not the expenditure was justified. Does any Graphic Design association write a letter to the editor in protest or to explain the scope of our business? No. What do we hear from designers? "They paid $250,000 for THAT?"

When a business magazine touts the $75 logo business as the greatest entrepreneurial idea since pet rocks, what is our defiant response? . . . Louder??

If the only thing the general public knows about our business comes from a TV sitcom or photocopier salesmen, well, we've got work to do.

We are very good at talking and comiserating amongst ourselves. We are really poor at communicating to the big, bad world out there.

On Apr.02.2007 at 01:42 AM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

I would love to see a grass roots campaign of designers writing in to business magazines with their own case studies. Giving the nitty gritty for the ROI on their services, full case studies.

On Apr.02.2007 at 10:32 AM
Robert L. Peters’s comment is:

Well stated, Marian.

I'm one of the "old-fart" GDC Fellows that you referred to in your piece, and I fully agree. It used to be quite important to me what our profession was called. This has somehow become less important to me than fulfilling our raison d'être and ensuring efficacy in whatever we do, however.

Today, I'm comfortable with a with a variety of labels, including (in no particular order, and sometimes, even on the same day): strategist, artist, design practitioner, design tactician, graphiste, surrogate dreamer, and yes, graphic designer.

Stay good,

On Apr.02.2007 at 10:40 AM
Cameron Jantzen’s comment is:

This is a necessary but really unfortunate conversation. I see us facing at a few problems, all of which have already been touched on.

The first is that we are seen as a little self-indulgent. Sometimes we have a bad attitude, mostly its being seen as part of the art community. This does us no favours, for obvious reasons. The art may be our ace-in-the-hole, but it also gets in the way.

The second is that we are terrible at branding ourselves. If we weren’t the first point would be moot. Here is the real problem: we don’t call ourselves graphic designers, at either the macro or micro level.

I opened up the local (Vancouver) yellow pages. I scanned two pages of the architecture listings, and noticed one company name that didn’t have architects or architecture in the firm name. Move over to graphic design, and the first firm has graphic design in the title. The next one is the venerable Linda Coe Graphic Design. L!

We’re all kinds of titles under the sun. Even our general upgrade path at work, junior designer, intermediate designer, senior designer, creative director (or something similar), does our profession a disservice. Once you get senior enough, you stop being a designer. Architects might become partners, don’t they don’t stop being architects. Neither do Doctors. They’ve arrived already.

Our complex is a real problem. We’re a young industry, and to some extents the bastard child of advertising. No wonder we’re always questioning our identity. But until we’re comfortable and can present our profession under a common front, we’re in tough, no matter what we call ourselves. And that time is still a ways away. I don’t know what it will take. Accreditation? Time? Maybe it will never happen.

My degree is in Communication Design, but I’m happy to call myself a graphic designer. It’s the term that’s best understood, and in a world where we’re mostly an unknown entity, the most well known is the best.

I’m also happy to accept that its a name that’s been damaged because we haven't owned it (although it begs the question, what if we chose to?). But if we were ever to change the name of our section in the Yellow Pages, we'd all better be on board. Otherwise all that will change is the name.

On Apr.02.2007 at 12:39 PM
Mari’s comment is:

What a fantastic discussion! On an issue I have been preaching for years -- the need to educate the pool of potential customer as to what design is. It is comforting to know I am not alone.

The AIGA, GAC and other professional orgs should be regularly commissioning journalistic articles and getting them published in the Business press, instead of touting esoteric social concerns, advising more and more students to enter a shrinking market and partnering up with temporary service companies that reduce us to little more than workers for hire.

Where are the articles like “The real reason no one reads junk mail,” or “Why are the new corporate logos so bad.” And my favorite would be an article about why print outs of PPT presentations are the most useless form of corporate communications and a colossal waist of paper, time and money. Illustrated with photo of Bill Gates as a young nerdy geek and a caption "would you hire this man to set the standards for the design of corporate communications?" Then I would love to have cost benefit statistics that show how costly in-house inject printers are compared to offset printing. Leaving this up to the individual designers trying to run a small business it just plain ridiculous.

But there may be hope on the horizon. Have any of you heard about the predicted Conceptual Age?

We should start NOW to position our industry as the leadership pool for this predicted return to right brained creative thinking. After all we have been doing it for decades even when it wasn’t cool! I hear tell that the CIO (Chief Idea officer) will play a primary roll in corporations of the future. Now if we are debating what to call ourselves, that’s a title we should take on. Sign me up for that job.

On Apr.02.2007 at 02:55 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

"...the need to educate the pool of potential customer as to what design is."

I hate to say this, but I feel that a large part of the problem is the need to educate designers as to what design is.

Too many times, I've seen designers get frustrated and whine: "why can't I find a client who'll just let me do what I want?"

We're never going to get the business world to respect us if we see ourselves as outsiders - trying to find clients who allow us to be creative. We have to show them that they need us to be creative.

We have to be more confident, and we have to be more intelligent. Where is the evidence that good design is useful? Where are the studies? Where is the research?

We have to earn respect, not just whine about the lack of it. When my doctor says 'this medicine will make you better', I respect his opinion because of the overwhelming body of experiment and research that I know to be backing up his judgement.

A huge part of what we do is based upon real honest-to-goodness expertise. And yet we present ourselves as though it's all subjective, mystical genius.

I'm a graphic designer. I design graphics. I try to convince my clients that I'm very good at designing graphics, that I'm very knowledgable about how to design graphics, and about how well-designed graphics can help them.

I'm trying to acheive expertise, not transcendence.

On Apr.02.2007 at 07:30 PM
Mari’s comment is:

Tom: I absolutely agree! I really am not whining about not getting to do what I want. My greatest thrill is visually interpreting the clients communication challenge. My work is all about my clients. And the greatest reward is when I nail it, it's works for them and meets my highest level of design.

We are saying the same thing. We need to quantify our process. And, we need the professional organizations to take the lead in getting that done. We do have to earn the respect of business.

What our client want to know is why they should spend the moeny. Because it will make you look good and professional, and "trust me it works" just does't cut it any more. They have too many cheap options.

On Apr.02.2007 at 11:42 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

Don't worry, I'm not accusing you of whining. Your posts are always practical, optimistic and intelligent.

I'm just trying to say that the solution has to be more than just a name change, or a PR campaign.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

On Apr.03.2007 at 03:56 AM
John McCabe’s comment is:

Meeting and working with a 'creative' is the second most exciting thing a 'suit' will experience - lets keep it that way!

Commonness & business jargon = boring = frustration
Class & aloofness = mystique = £££! (or $$$$$$!)

On Apr.03.2007 at 04:14 PM
Tom C.’s comment is:

Love the article Marian, it really touched a nerve or two.

After years of Process this and Process that, focus groups - qualitative - quantitative - positioning - strategy, blagh...

OK, let me start over. To me, over the last 15 years, with the emergence of "branding"(which is not bad in and of itself), so many Graphic Design Firms have seen the dollar signs from the Corporate Brand Managers looking to justify their budget spending and firm selection, that they have repositioned themselves as Branding Firms, Branding Studios, etc, etc....

and with that, the devaluing of the term Graphic Design.

To me, you can have the greatest brand identity development process in the world(and it can be trademarked), but it's what comes out of the mind and through the hands of the graphic designer that makes all the difference. A lot of times the process will add great value to the end result, but sometimes, it is subjective, and comes to the mind of the "artist" without need of a process.

I have found Cahan's site very refreshing. It's very self-promoting(obviously), but the words Bill uses like "raw instincts" and "vanilla land" cut to the chase.

On Apr.04.2007 at 06:18 PM
R. Raye’s comment is:

I have found Cahan's site very refreshing. It's very self-promoting(obviously), but the words Bill uses like "raw instincts" and "vanilla land" cut to the chase.

That was the funniest thing I've seen on the internet in a long time.... that is until I saw the masturbating kangaroo that my friend sent me right after I clicked on this link.

On Apr.04.2007 at 09:10 PM
James John Malcolm’s comment is:

As someone who does a business study (finance), and knows his stuff in web design (and dabbles in print), all I can say is: I absolutely agree with you Marian.

I have infinitely more respect for people who do (or seem to do) stuff I can't. (So exploit that, designers!)

Plus, it quickly shows when someone is out of their depth and just strategises for the heck of it.

On Apr.05.2007 at 11:58 AM
Stacy Rausch’s comment is:

My current position is "Production Coordinator"... you should see the blank stares I get when I tell people what I do.
Then I have to say, oh and I work at a newspaper and pretty much whatever you see on the printed page I have a hand in. I also design ads occasionally and get dragged into updating projects for other departments.

I do freelance work too, and there I call myself a graphic designer. My degree is in Graphic Design, but I have a fine art minor...

My husband once called me a "finger painter" when referring to what I do for a living. That surely pissed me off.

On Apr.05.2007 at 05:00 PM
David E.’s comment is:

The response of most designers is to downplay the active, creative part of their work in favour of the strategic, results-oriented, business-minded part. A scan through most design websites will reveal an emphasis on “forming partnerships,” “sound business objectives,” “industry leaders,” “distilling information,” “marketing communications,” “story telling,” and a great deal more that hints at “creativity” contained in a controlled and mindful environment (i.e. the back room, out of sight). But Graphic Design’s embarrassment of its artistic roots threatens to do away with the very thing that makes it unique and valuable. In this sense, the computer becomes the perfect icon for design today, as Design begins to look a lot like what everyone else does in the vast market of business consultancy. As designers increasingly promote themselves primarily as strategists, consultants and business-people first, they do so often by sacrificing the one thing they have that separates them from their clients: the ability to think and express ideas visually.

This part I agree with. It irks me to see designers trying to pass themselves off as marketing consultants. When viewing one design studio's website (a very small studio), I subscribed to their monthly email newsletter aimed at potential clients. Each one is a small article written by the owner to show how "insightful" he is in regards to youth marketing – and never have I read more un-insightful crap. Each time I think to myself, "Are professional marketing people actually impressed by this, or is this guy just fooling himself?"

I'm proud of the heritage of design, and I think this rush for designers to re-define themselves seems kind of desperate and pathetic. It seems like people are admitting that design outdated when in fact it's not. As for pencils, etc as metaphors for design, I would guess that the only people who are uncomfortable with them are the designers, not the clients. Everyone's embarrassed at the idea of looking antiquated. We criticize clients for wanting "swoosh" logos in a kneejerk reaction to appear more contemporary, but isn't that in essence what desigers are doing too?

And at some point, you have to wonder: if you look like them, and act like them, and talk like them, and think like them, and use the same tools as they do ... well, what the hell would they need you for? And increasingly, in that atmosphere, they don't ... or at least, they think they don't.

Here's where I dont agree. As an in-house art director, I'm fortunate to work directly with the decision-makers in this company. It's been very challanging to learn to make presentations of my work and participate in meetings in a way that lets them understand the benefit of what Im showing them. The biggest help in this area was learning to talk like they do. The CEO used to say to designers, "That's very creative, but.…". I used to HATE that so much becasue it meant, "I know you're an arty creative guy, and I know Im supposed to appreciate that, but I dont." And really, why should he?

It's been a long time since he's said anything like that. I feel that to a large degree, I've earned the respect of the upper management here. I would think that any of the great designers of the past probably were masters of speaking in the language of their clients.

On Apr.05.2007 at 05:22 PM
Rachel Goldstein’s comment is:

Hi. Good posting. I find it strange that more than one of his clients don't want him to call himself a graphic designer. Either way, I think graphic designers are artists as well. I enjoyed reading all of the comments.


On Apr.05.2007 at 11:06 PM
Mari’s comment is:

I just LOVE this discussion! I feel connected to each of you.

What designers bring to the table is the intuitive right-brained ability to distil data, information, human personaites and a host of other stimui into creative, compelling tangeble objects that combine words and images into something that is memorable.

Good examples are Starbucks, the brainchild of the original owner working with a three person design studio in Seattle, and the AT&T logo (originally designed Saul Bass) winning out over the meaningless, awkward SBC logo obviously designed by committee.

As much as these brands are worth isn't it odd that no one in business knows who created them? Hell, I can't even remember the name of the orriginal Starbucks designer and I heard him and the owner speak about it's creation at a design conference years ago.

If you want to be reminded when design was still design go to.


The sad thing to me is that what is missing from most business communication these days is the compelling ideas we bring to the table. And the most furstrating is that creating graphics on a computer is so cumbersome there is no time left to think anymore.

On Apr.07.2007 at 02:25 PM
jenn.suz.hoy’s comment is:

Excellent article! Though I'm newer to the industry, and hold a degree under the guise of "visual communications" I understand completely the frustration this shift in mindset when it comes to graphic design. What I find interesting, though, is that in my recent experience found that a different approach will bring back the graphic art mindset.

For example, I was working at a position for a year and half before they decided to do away with their web design division (me + 1 other designer) and focus entirely on their consultation business. For 3 months, I mailed resumes, called up design companies and corporations in response to classified ads and landed quite a few interviews. Every single one chose a candidate that brought to the table their "programming", "business-oriented", and "statistical results" game as the focus. I had brought my "creative thinking", "graphic and usability web standards" and "statistical results" as my A-game. By not playing-up the programming and business-oriented sides of the projects I worked on, I missed out on the job opportunities, even though their job descriptions called for the creative as the focus, with a strong back-up of the other skills.

Tired of waiting to be told my worth, I started my own freelance company instead. I was 23 at the time. In that experience, I bring my A-game of creative thinking, graphic and usability web standards (for web projects), and a strong back-up of results from previous designs. I have more work as a freelancer than I had when I had a solid position, and every one of my clients understands what I do. They know I'm their graphic artist, even though I make things on the computer. Because I tell them I run my own business, I don't have to market my business-oriented skills and can focus on my creative achievements when seeking new work.

Not only that, but I'm finding I'm enjoying my work, growing much faster as a designer, and producing work that keeps my clients happy much more in a loose environment than one structured around a timeclock.

On Apr.09.2007 at 12:16 PM
Andy Polaine’s comment is:

Great article and a great discussion too, both of which prove that designers are quite able to articulate their thoughts in words and not just pictures.

I'm not so keen on the word 'designer' to be honest, nor 'artist' nor 'creative', though of course I use them all all the time. The problem is that descriptive terms become shorthand labels really quickly. Creativity is 'innovation' in 'business' (a term which is equally woolly and nondescript) - for some reason the suits feel better with that term.

I think, though, that whatever terminology you go for the sentiment of reclaiming the uniqueness that you bring to the table is most crucial. It's what keeps the value of what designers do and people calling it 'art' or 'artsy fartsy' is actually a way of devaluing it, the same as saying that you're 'so lucky to be talented like that'. What they mean there is 'it's easy for you, I could do it if I had your talent, it doesn't take much work' - and then they can pay you less because you're 'doing what you love'.

Just remind them of the newspaper or book they read on the way to work, perhaps listened to a bit of music too, then came home and watched TV or a movie. All the product of creative industries.

I've gone on long enough - I wrote some thoughts about this as a speech to my students a while back.

On Apr.19.2007 at 04:31 AM
5000!’s comment is:

Hear, hear, Marian.

On Jun.18.2007 at 08:00 PM
Justin Meyers’s comment is:

Great points. Businesses so often attempt to alter the mindset of designers. Kick dirt where respect once lied. I've worked for firms that literally force the use of titles as 'visual consultant', expect award winning designs in 3hours of work.

I am not sure what the skinny is, but I've definitely have experienced awkward conformity with corporations whether it be art direction, etc. I constantly find myself having to explain why I shouldn't put flames on something or anything else irrelevent to the function of a design.

I think I just loath long spands of not being able to do my job and wondering if I would still have work if the suit had the ability to use Creative Suite. I find myself reading the silent lips of others... "if I could just learn photoshop I could skip right to the design myself."

It's as if they're Brokers of talent driven by the egos of business men.

I am not negative in these situations or unprofessional, but it makes me work harder to form much, much better fitted relationships.

On Feb.21.2008 at 05:10 PM
!Spoolleah!’s comment is:

Where is your ?
What is your favour ?
Or how about ?

Don’t kick me in the nuts!

On Nov.03.2008 at 04:31 AM