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Comments (55) Posted 08.08.06 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Michael Bierut

The Road to Hell, Part Two: That Elusive Silver Bullet


Earlier this summer, Business Week launched a magazine dedicated to communicating the value of design and innovation to the business community called INside Innovation. The fact that it was designed in part through an unpaid design competition seemed more than, um, ironic to many visitors to this site, and they responded with a vengeance.

With that battlefield's embers finally cooling and the bruises barely healed, an email arrived in my inbox, inviting me "to learn some basic design skills" in order to "create attractive, eye-catching letterheads, logos, flyers, brochures, business cards, and more." Well, okay! Let's check out the website:

Everyone at one time or another has had to create a document of some sort. Whether it was a poster for your son's 7th grade presidential election campaign or your boss's directive to create a flyer for distribution by fax. The question is, do you have to be a trained graphic designer to create these documents? No, you don't. You only need to have a set of guidelines to follow, one of which is to open your mind and let your creativity out to play. It's probably been a while since the two of you got together. There is a world out there to explore with your two hands and one brain, so roll up your sleeves and put on your thinking cap.

Do you have to be a trained graphic designer to feel incredibly depressed? No, you don't. But it helps!

The offer, by the way, is from Business Week.

Here we go again, right? But wait, there may be more here than meets the eye. Maybe it the fault isn't with Business Week, or any of those mean, uncaring other people out there. Maybe, instead, it's us.

What stings here, I think, isn't just the specter of do-it-yourself. We're used to that. Some of us even applaud it. Once graphic designers possessed unique technical expertise: the names of fonts, the phone numbers of typesetters, the formula for calculating the precise length of a 200-word manuscript set on a 14 pica wide column of 12 on 14 point Bodoni Book. Today, anyone can do it. If some untrained-in-graphic-design parent wants to support Junior's political ambitions, out comes the Photoshop and some awful typeface and before you know it the printer is cranking away. (Of course, Junior, if he's got a brain in his head, has already launched his viral video and won't get around to hanging your pathetic old-skool posters. But it's the thought that counts!) For graphic designers, our craft is now a commodity.

It's a little depressing that there are some designers who can count on a little respect. Do you have to be a trained product designer to create a new sports car? Do you have to be a trained architect to design a new house? Despite Divine Design with Candace Olson and Pimp My Ride, the answer is still yes and yes. You don't see Business Week offering any fun courses in industrial design or architecture, at least not yet.

So what's an embattled graphic designer to do? During my three-year term as president of AIGA, our members consistently ranked one priority above all others: proving the value of design to the general public, and specifically, the business community. To put it bluntly, we were all searching for some magic formula that would make clients predisposed to respect us, and to demonstrate that respect by paying us large fees. We wanted design to have "a place at the table." We yearned for a silver bullet that would slay our insecurities once and for all. The silver bullet took a variety of forms. Perhaps the process of design was too mysterious to be credible: would agreeing on a standard 12-step sequence reassure clients that there was valuable science behind the art? So many amateurs out there: shouldn't we be licensing graphic designers so clients could distinguish the professionals from the dabblers? And, oddly, so many credible firms participate in unpaid competitions: can we make it, if not against the law, than at least professionally embarassing?

But none of this has ever worked. Graphic designers use too many different processes — those that use a process at all, that is — for any single methodology to make sense to more than a fraction of practitioners. Licensing has been discussed for years and has yet to make any real headway; there's just no way to come up with a basic body of knowledge that could serve as a basis for determining meaningful qualifications. And simply demanding to be paid for your work is different than establishing your work's value.

Business Week's Bruce Nussbaum, finding himself at the center of the anti-spec work maelstrom earlier this summer, responded with an observation that has stuck with me. In a competitive world, he wrote, "value is not created by rules or prohibitions but by what one brings to the game. Architects, writers, industrial designers, painters, journalists, baseball players, screenwriters and many other creative professionals understand that. Heck, the entire business community around the globe understands that."

Admit it: Nussbaum has a point. As a class, we designers long to wrap ourselves in the bulletproof cloak of our profession, thinking that if "a place at the table" is reserved for something called "design," maybe we can slide into that empty seat. But the game doesn't bring the player; the player brings the game. Every great designer I've ever met has gotten respect the old fashioned way, by earning it. The means to that end are glorious in their variety. There is no one true path to victory, no silver bullet. I know some designers who are incredible strategists; others who are charismatic witchdoctors; still others who are patient teachers; and a few who are just plain magicians. Each successful designer has to prove him or herself with every new project and every new client. And, perhaps, with each new success the job gets a little easier for the rest of us.

It's time to stop being defensive. You may never find that silver bullet. But you can always improve your aim.
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Comments (55)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Depressing it is. (The History of Graphic Design in a Nutshell?) And while we all know, as you point out, that graphic design isn't an industry in which you need to be certified to practice (the mere suggestion conjures images of Rodney Dangerfield) it remains a vexing problem. On the other hand, if really, really smart and capable designers set their sights on teaching the world better design skills, would the entire level of 7th-grade-poster design (and by conjecture, flyers and faxes worldwide) be significantly elevated? Hard to imagine, but the concept does recast professional designers from whiners into catalysts for change.
jessica Helfand
08.08.06 at 07:54

Designers are a collection of the most self-important people I've ever met.

The thin line between good and bad design is not something considered by 99% of the population, and with good reason: It's not that important. Even the worst designs performed in MS Word will suffice, which is why you see so many entrepreneurs doing this. As ugly as it is to us, its a pragmatic decision.

If you want to raise the level of design in the world, then start programming for Microsoft. Are the default settings for Word really that far off?

If blogging can be used as a forecast for the growing popularity of the DIY mentality, then the problem is only going to grow. As design programs become more and more intuitive to use, we will be seeing much more of this. I say bring it on. The flood of noise will make the bright ideas in design shine through even more. That shine of wit -the thinking in design- is what makes all things good. The caliber of your ideas will separate the designers from the amateurs, rather than knowledge of a program.

Then, maybe, people will stop reading HOW.
Keifer Thompson
08.08.06 at 09:31

As painfully clunky as it reads, the Business Week graphic design course provides graphic proof—in a nutshell—of the questions faced by all professional designers. Armed with an advanced degree and nearly two decades of experience in the profession, I recently found myself at the other end of this equation, teaching a university level design course to a group of bright young journalism students. Was I the epitome of all that is evil in the design profession because I taught some of the basics of typography and design to a roomful of interested students? Not surprisingly, I think not. Was I doing the world any favors by providing the beginnings of an education in the field to students who would then graduate, label themselves designers by way of a minor in visual design, and—to put the argument at its most crass—begin underbidding me for freelance design work? Let's just say that it did give me pause. In this case, I felt there were more benefits than drawbacks to giving bright people a sense of what is out there in terms of a graphic design education and helping them to recognize and articulate what distinguishes powerful, effective design work from the general effluvium. It sticks with me that one of the best designers I know doesn't have an official design education but is a remarkably well-read proponent of continuous self-education. Does pointing some interested students to a library full of resources about design history, typography, and design theory really pose a great threat to the profession as we know it? Perhaps a few of those Business Week students will be set on fire with the passion for design. My high school art teacher listened to the artsy clique (that was then, this is now?) complain about the nerdy math and science types who enrolled in her advanced placement art history class. Then she told us all with great gusto how wonderful it would be to have doctors, programmers and engineers walking the halls of the Met with a love for and knowledge of art that she had helped to foster.
Barbara Wiedemann
08.08.06 at 10:39

this conversation almost always comes up when the economy is about to go down.

Michael, I salute your Clintonian keep the conversation going diplomacy, but its neccessary to fire a few silver bullets back to the man who attempts to hold us hostage. Cease fire? Unlikely.


felix sockwell
08.08.06 at 10:43

And there have been house plan books around for decades (Sears used to sell an entire house, remember?). Any contractor you hire will claim you don't need an architect to build a house. How many designers here bought TurboTax and got rid of their accountant? Who uses the web as a primary research tool and reduced their book purchasing because resource materials are now free?

This is not a design question, it an economic question. Wikipedia is not an MFA, TurboTax might not be the most effective financial planning tool, and house plan books are mostly officious, but, in the hands of a reasonably intelligent person, they are also an improvement over what can be done by their lonesome.
frank mikus
08.08.06 at 11:13

FINALLY!!

Someone at the pinnacle of the industry (MB) has said it: Respect is not earned by your title or certification, it is earned by your work!

I have never understood how an industry that uses one's book as the method for judging talent could get so caught up on the idea of a certification seperating the qualified from the unqualified. I thought that is what our work was supposed to do?

I love DIYers trying to do design; it gives them more appreciation for my work when they bring me in to fix what they screwed up. I am an in-house designer and that is 50% of my work, way to go BW keep telling them they can do it themselves. Some may succeed enough that they don't realize they still need help, but those people would not have brought in a real designer anyway.

At home I am the consumate home DIYer. I have an enormous workshop fully outfitted with tools that would make many fulltime furniture makers green with envy. I have almost every book ever written on the subject and have read many of them. I have learned a lot of carpentry and woodworking skills and could probably get licensed as a contractor in my state. But my friend Ed Bowers, one of the best finish carpenters in the business, isn't losing any sleep over me. Nor does he feel threatened by the proliferation of DIY stores like HomeDepot or Lowes. Why? What does he have that gives him his sense of security? His work. It is what people use when they hire him. Not the state issued licencesed general contractor title he could put after his name, although he prefers "Builder," no they look at the quality of the work he has done.

let's face it, even if there was some way to license or certify designers, plenty would make it that do crappy work. Just like builders.

Business leaders that recognize the power of design done well would never make their decisions based on anything other than our work. The ones that don't understand our value probably never will.

designers that feel threatened by DIYers, probably should.
dave
08.08.06 at 11:22

A different example from a different field; perhaps with some illustrative lessons (but then, perhaps not):

I do a lot of contextual customer research to help my clients (to some, that makes me a researcher; I don't agree - but that's probably another thread).
Many describe this form of research as ethnography. Yet some see that term - by definition - as referring only to the work of anthropologists (and although many can claim to be anthropologists, folks like Paco Underhill for example, it is a specific degree from an institute of a higher learning). As those in the field continue to try and demonstrate the value of this work in order to get a place at the table, some are advocating (agressively, with fear and anger) only for the presence of the supposedly certified. Maybe those folks see me and my fellow non-PhD "researchers" as akin to how you might look at someone who's gone through the BW course - the barely educated and the great unwashed, pretenders who dilute the value of the work.
I've been fortunate to be able to 'sell' the quality of my work and my thinking, more than my educational background (again, in my example, a proxy for certification).
And still, "anyone" can learn to do what I do. Heck, I teach undergrad courses, I teach seminars and at conferences. Plus, research looks really really easy! All you do is sit down with someone and ask them questions! And maybe use a videocamera.

I face these questions all the time: what do I do? What do I call it? What is special and unique? What does anyone do that I can no longer claim as an offering?

Hope this isn't too off point!
Steve Portigal
08.08.06 at 11:29

The ambivalence that follows the de-mystification of any discipline is as predictable as the hour of sunrise. I'm a 60s era clinical psychologist by training. When "pop psychology" became the next big thing, many in my field decried the inability of "laymen" to understand the nuances of an area which we'd spent years, or decades, studying and mastering.

Of course, that criticism was valid.

But what also happened was that millions of people began to understand a little more about themselves, their families and their relationships. We became more sophisticated in our recognition of the role psychology plays in everyday life. A good thing, I think.

Fifteen years ago, I began working as an organizational consultant with professional designers/business leaders. Over that time I've learned a lot about the ways designers approach their work. It was clear to me that design thinking is relevant not just to designers, but to a much wider business audience. Design's newfound popularity makes it inevitable that more people will be interested in developing their skills in this area. I'm currently putting the finishing touches on an ebook aimed at helping "the rest of us" understand and use design thinking in everyday business problem-solving.

But that doesn't mean that I, Business Week Online Course attendees, readers of my ebook, or any other DIYer will be able to produce the kinds of work that professional designers can. Certainly not any more than viewers of Dr. Phil can confidently take on the assignment of helping a clinically depressed friend.

Professionals distinguish themselves by virtue of their hard-earned expertise, and always will.
Tom Guarriello
08.08.06 at 11:51

- I think it is not wise to constantly connect design practice to business practice.

This has been my biggest criticism of AIGA over the past decade - looking almost entirely at design as a component of the business world. Architecture does not do this - is seems. They focus on making buildings. But business still notices and uses the profession without seeing or hearing all of its angst. OK, sure, when a PC can build a building and spit it out of an inkjet contraption ready to move into, things will change.

The difference between design and business is that design is partly (or greatly) an art. Designers rarely understand the minutia of the business word strait out of design school and often never do or care to. Equally, bean counters, marketing experts, and MBAs do not get art to the depth those trained in it do. (Failing GM being the case study of a business not getting the art of design.) When business does get it, they often misunderstand it, trying to convert it to yet another quick service solution, or over simplify it toward the decorative or copy cat. It's nice for large national business journals to recognize the importance of design for business but, too much of a good thing takes the artist out of the designer and the art out of design.

Yes, there are many businesses that get design. But in general....

- MB says "there's just no way to come up with a basic body of knowledge that could serve as a basis for determining meaningful qualifications."

I disagree. Part of the training towards that qualification could be a bachelors of art in graphic design or an MFA in graphic design degree (from a liberal arts design education on up to art school design education but *some* education). The rest can be rounded out with time apprenticing over a few years. An apprenticeship can be like a 401k. You can carry it around, add to it yearly, take time off, once you reach a certain period of apprentice experience, you are licensed (or whatever you want to call it) and can practice as a licensed (or whatever you want to call it) designer. The unlicensed can still keep practicing just as some agents who are not Realtors still sell homes. But consumers will have an option to pick one or the other. Apprenticeships can be general in nature or more specific for specializations. A basic could be, perhaps, 3 years in the trenches? For specialization, 5 years?

Yes, this picking of best designers already happens in the market. That is not the issue. The issue is protecting the integrity of the profession and most importantly, protecting the client from lowest of low bad work. Right? It is not about judging the end product but about establishing the relationship from a platform of fundamentals.

Example: As anyone who has ever bought a home knows, there are so many hands dipping into the sale or purchase of a home, it's insane. The inspector (licensed or accredited), the assessor (licensed), the realtor (licensed), the RE broker (licensed), the attorney (certified by peers and licensed), mortgage insurance broker (licensed), I'm sure there are about 3 or 4 more I missed. As much as I hate to pay all these people, I need every one of them or the bank or state requires them.

My point is that many professions set minimum training and qualifications and have no problem with it. It is only making them better and richer and most importantly, protecting the consumer from bad advice or service. But some vocal designers insists on an unregulated free market - or free from anything approach. Then we complain when Business Week has a design competition or Junior designs a poster.

A truly healthy market is not completely free. The consumer and economy benefits from fundamental but not excessive controls on the market process. Keeping the market legal, fair, etc. benefits all. Design could benefit from some light touches to improve services to the client. Not to regulate prices or fees or turn a Sagmiester into a Rand - but to ensure fundamentally that when a designer is hired, they at least have the basics, have a higher education, and have a few years on the job under the belt. It's what we want our doctor, lawyer, architect, barber, and even our plumber to have. So why not the increasingly important and now well known design professions?
jc
08.08.06 at 12:05

Those of us out in the hinterlands maintain the delusion that a Michael Bierut would never have encountered these problems.

After years of working to improve my business savvy and playing perennial cheerleader to the professional pursuits of AIGA, I almost forgot how much I actually love to design.

A couple of years ago a young woman who had graduated from a journalism school with a minor in design and declared herself a designer, came to me really angry at her printer. She had designed a 2-color job and he told her it was a 4-color job. There on her page were only 2 PMS numbers. She had specified process matches and not solid spot colors and had no understanding of that difference.

Come on, we've gone back and forth on this for years. Shouldn't there be some basic standards before the masses can call themselves designers? When I taught canoeing, you had to at least know the bow from the stern and which end of the paddle went into the water before I let you on a river.

Just because I've had lots of therapy doesn't mean that I'm a therapist, though I do try it on my friends. Because I like to sketch houses and know a couple of people who have been in Dwell does not make me an architect (though I would at least remember to put in closets which my friend who made the cover did NOT). My moldy tap shoes do not make me a dancer. My tomatoes, well they do make me a gardener.

A client, with whom I have parted, even though he bought Quark for his warehouse manager, had to find a new designer.

The cover of the November/December 1995 issue of Print Magazine asked:
Now that your computer is as much a part of your life as your telephone, now that you've been asked to trim the ETHICS from your budget, now that the only t-square you play with is part of your Scrabble set, now that the main thing you've learned from an expensive design EDUCATION is that you need a year or two more of it, now that your staff is just you and the water cooler, now that you've signed away the eternal cosmic rights to your artwork, now that your WORKPLACE is wired to be nowhere and everywhere, now that your mother not only knows exactly what you do for a living, but has all the equipment, the software, the templates, and thinks she can do it faster and cheaper. Now WHAT?

It has been over a decade and we're still asking the same questions. We're creative, let's come up with some answers.
Michelle French
08.08.06 at 02:20

but to ensure fundamentally that when a designer is hired, they at least have the basics, have a higher education, and have a few years on the job under the belt.

jc, it's a personal gripe, but I'm kinda sick of this higher ed issue. I don't plan on getting a degree in Graphic Design or Visual Communications or whatever. I plan on working my as* off. The great thing about being a designer is that it's merit-based, like the Nussbaum quote. I say bring your skills to the table, not your degree.
Brian Alter
08.08.06 at 02:45

"value is not created by rules or prohibitions but by what one brings to the game. Architects, writers, industrial designers, painters, journalists, baseball players, screenwriters and many other creative professionals understand that. Heck, the entire business community around the globe understands that."

This is baloney of the worst sort, and I beg you, Mr. Beirut, not to fall for it!

Architects: they have licences, which they can lose. Not that it protects them from losing jobs, but they do enjoy all sorts of rules, regulations and prohibitions that come along with being an actual profession.
Writers: yes, they're on their own.
Industrial designers: the good ones get royalties.
Painters: the good ones have second and third houses by the time they're 40 (and representation to protect them from the tastelessness of negotiation).
Journalists: hmm, another group on their own.
Baseball players: oh yes, another group twisting in the wind of the marketplace (like artists, with managers and others sparing them the contractual negotiations).
Screenwriters: they have a (partially useful) union, with plenty of rules and some clout to sue at least some of the clients who flaunt the idea of paying for their work.
The entire business community around the globe: understands that wage pressures are only exerting themselves downward, so they will say whatever sounds good, and people like Bruce Nussbaum will shill for them thoughtlessly, even at the expense of those he allegedly promotes.

..."Respect is not earned by your title or certification, it is earned by your work."

Dave: What titles? What certification? It's guess it's just between us and our daily affirmations to decide which version of reality of this brave new world we want to contend with, right? Or, as some brilliant (unpaid and probably just a little bitter) writer put it on thousands of bumper stickers, "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go."


tarpitizen
08.08.06 at 03:15

"Designers are a collection of the most self-important people I've ever met.

The thin line between good and bad design is not something considered by 99% of the population, and with good reason: It's not that important. "

Keifer, Keifer, Keifer. Shades of the Nussbaum/design competition peevish backslash. Yes, design can be decoration but remember the election of 2000? Ballot design? And in the midst of this broad spectrum of importance are a million signals and cues about content that the average citizen understands on a visceral level.
Marty Blake
08.08.06 at 03:18

Blaming a stolen election on ballot design is exactly the type of narcisism I am talking about. A better designed ballot would have helped, but what's the point in having a flawless ballot if crooked republicans don't count them in the first place? Design was such a small part of that issue its almost not worth mentioning. (No direspect to Paula, though)

The poorly designed ballot worked for the majority of the population. Its unfortunate, but bad design works the majority of the time.
Keifer Thompson
08.08.06 at 04:25

michael, brilliant! thanks for keeping it real...

designers that feel threatened by DIYers, probably should.
dave... you took the words right off of my keyboard...

jwh
jwh
08.08.06 at 04:42

Not too long ago I published a short essay on (in) AIGA Voice. In "The History of Graphic Design and Its Audiences," I pitched the idea that graphic design history should be taught to the broadest audience possible within a humanities based education. I proposed that such a strategy would create an environment where liberally educated audiences could become fully capable of appreciating the deep significance of graphic design as a cultural, social, and political activity. (Reality TV shows will not accomplish this goal!) In the essay, I argued, "If the history of graphic design is exclusively taught to students of graphic design, then such an arrangement bars all other interested parties from taking such a course. The causal relationship is twofold. In the first case, such an occurrence is directly related (or can be correlated) to the fact that many graphic design majors are required to take the history of graphic design. Because majors are always given preference when registering for courses, the diversity of students who make up an audience for the history of graphic design is limited at best. In the second, and related, case, an audience other than students of graphic design is less likely to be interested in a history course structured by the formal elements of past graphic design. For instance, history of graphic design courses that emphasize chronologies of styles and the rote memorization of slides are of minor concern, although not entirely irrelevant, to an audience that values graphic design as a social and historical phenomenon."


To note the possible benefits, one need only look to architecture, which, as a profession, has the distinction of having its history included in broad surveys of histories of art. In these cases, architecture is literally grounded in a social-historical context. Students with a broad range of interests, some of which might, but need not, major in art, architecture, or design, generally populate these courses. Although there are many reasons why, it's no wonder that architecture is revered in the way that it is.
Michael J. Golec
08.08.06 at 04:47

At the risk of being accused of some kind of professional narcissism, let us not pretend that poorly designed communication does not distort the message. A (design) job well done gets the message across more clearly; sometimes the effects are profound. Have you read Edward R. Tufte's essay on Powerpoint and the Columbia space shuttle? Few of us do work with such far-reaching consequences, but I hope many of us can at least be useful.
Marty Blake
08.08.06 at 06:43

Try typing this into Google or Yahoo:

Brochure templates, Design templates, Logo templates, Annual Report templates, etc.

217+ Million results.

Funny what pops up.

Respectfully,
Joe Moran
08.08.06 at 07:51

nice essay michael

google "design your own house" and you'll get 462,000,000 hits

"design your own home" = 1,640,000,000 (give or take 10,000,000)

Signed,

A Registered Architect

john massengale
08.08.06 at 10:19

"Graphic Design for Non-Designers" is the title of the course.

How about
"Writing for non-writers"
"Living for the non-living"
"House Decorating for the Homeless"

The very title itself is couched in the prevalent belief of the general public that "some people can do it and some people can't." It's an ad to earn money on a course, not a bellwether, simple as that.

The democratization of tools and resources lowers the barriers to entry - that just isn't going to stop, now is it? Consider how you will thrive in that world as opposed to how you will stave it off - it's here.

And I imagine the computerization of design in the late 80s is what allowed a fair number of folks here to sneak into the business - mainly because a lot of established practitioners sneered at computers as unfit for use in design.

LeMel

LeMel
08.08.06 at 10:54

John makes an excellent point. There's no doubt that architects have had to contend with DIY, developers, kit-homes, and many other non-professional intrusions. Yet, a high regard for the profession persists.
Michael J. Golec
08.08.06 at 11:08

To build on some of Barbara's thoughts about why any working designer would ever want to attempt to teach what they do to other human beings who might become their direct competition, I'd also suggest that elevating design to an unreachable and academically guarded status will almost certainly lead to fewer and fewer successful collaborations with our clientele. Placing design onto an overly specialized and rarified podium like a rare and brittle piece of porcelain will quickly relegate it to the vacuum of a museum, more or less shuttling it into some back corner where most of the tourists will never bother to look.

While the Business Week terminology is off-putting in its overly pedestrian description of what's behind design (not to mention pretty pie-in-the-sky about the whole "let your brain out to play" approach to designing!), it assumes something that is frighteningly missing from a lot of design / art education pedagogy: that all learners should be able to come away from the classroom with a better sense of the material covered and a fostered desire to keep practicing and keep learning.

While it's healthy to try and provide students with some sense of how competitive the design market is, I've also found that it can come off like a seriously frightened admission that a teacher feels their livelihood is under attack. The enthusiam and delight for design displayed by the Business Week comments are appreciated - I'd suggest we just help them to still present the view of design as serious play vs. daydreamy fingerpainting.

All art education could benefit from offering students a classroom and studio experience that puts the contact-high back into discovering things, experimenting, and stumbling our way into a better knowledge of things. If design / art are only ever educational experiences where the teachers hold all the right answers and the students (clients) have to poke around blindly, or worse, grovel at the feet of the "masters" in order to get even a scrap of challenge and insight, then it's no wonder more and more people are feeling that DIY is just as viable an option for pursuing a life in design as any 1, 2, 4, etc. year program is ever going to provide.

The long and the short of this thread for me is that I find moments like this very encouraging - more people are interested in design, many of them are already dabbling in the tools of design without a lot of solid direction and encouraging critique, and several are choosing to set out on their own to find out whatever they can. I've benefitted greatly from clients who have more than a passing understanding of the Adobe Creative Suite, have attempted layout themselves, and have ultimately run into one or more hurdles in the process.

On the one hand, they are far more receptive to suggestions for growth and the sense of gaining some "expert" insight into the things they've been attempting. On the other hand, they are able to see past the razzle-dazzle of the digital medium and start to appreciate the guts of good, communicative design thinking instead.
pberkbigler
08.09.06 at 12:01

licensing in architecture indelibly ties the architect's endeavor to existing building and operational codes determined by a public entity, and those codes (ideally) are established with the physical safety of citizens in mind. the operational codes designers must adhere to are obscenity and copyright laws (as well as ADA codes for environmental design). architectural licensing doesnt prevent clients and citizens from bad design, it prevents them from design that doesnt endanger them physically. im not aware of licensing for architects having specific aesthetic requirements, but maybe im wrong.

in my short career, the piece of design that would make the most difference in a life or death situation that ive worked on was an icon for a fire extinguisher case. The icon was clear enough to make it recognizable as a fire extinguisher, but designed so that it fit within the existing signage system. It was large enough to be visible in case of an emergency. The color that i chose for the icon's material was such that it both matched and distinguished itself from material on which the icon was placed. While I'm grateful for the opportunity to have made this icon and very happy that my design might one day save lives, it's not exactly that sense of contribution to the greater good that motivated me to become a designer in the first place. Would I stake my claim as a professional on this design? Probably not, but its really only this kind of design act, one that has a very clear civic role, that professionalization can be based on.
manuel
08.09.06 at 12:58

call it narcissism but I'm completely appalled at the ridiculous templates and DIY design out there. It's just not good. Anyone can tell when you pay so many dollars for a template for your business card, and while you may not know it, it makes you look like an idiot. I hate bad design. Hate hate hate it.

However, I personally love DIY, my own studio is packed with tools and craftiness. I applaud anything that encourages creativity. And that's just what a manufactured template doesn't do. Maybe the course will inspire folks to take it a step further and join us in the proffession. Maybe it'll be enough to get them by. Maybe they'll give up and come crawling back. it's a mixed bag.

I agree that designers threatened by the notion of DIY probably should feel that way. I have faith that the profession will be appreciated on a level beyond that. For a real process, a real concept, for something that's going to work on a large scale- nobody is going to DIY. Did Nike? eBay? Amazon? No, because they understood the value of design. good design. if you're serious about something, you don't put somebody without the experience and knowledge (higher education or not) in the driver's seat. it's suicide.

it's tragic that design is underappreciated, but if anything, DIY will put people in a position to realize that it isn't quite so easy, and there is more work to be done if you want to achieve anything with any sort of meaning.
Jules
08.09.06 at 01:29

"What giants?" said Sancho Panza.
"Those thou seest there," answered his master, "with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long."
"Look, your worship," said Sancho; "what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go."
"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, "that thou art not used to this business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat."

I'm afraid we all know how this overquoted chapter ends. And what a too easy translation in graphic design should tell us. But, is it difficult answers to empirical questions that shall save us from failure? No. Design is not a matter of concern, it is a matter of fact, it is done or it is not. The rest is added value. Now it is only to quantify this added value, to see it is really valuable. Bierut critique is complex, and a post on DO wouldn't answer it. To think crudely and in few words anyway I shall try.

I can see two ways in design nowadays, one is closely related to relativistic positions and it is perfectly stated by this phrase "a self-fulfilling prophecy of endless possibility / your warning reams across the screen / in algebra, in algebra", the other is a critical honest approach, which is represented by "books are produced by writers, editors and printer. With luck, if they keep their heads down, designers might find a role somewhere too" (just apply it to the other fields of design). Now, these two ways should be our parameters to quantify the added value of before. I propose this answer, how valuable would be a design approach which only fulfill itself in its rush towards acknowledgment in a realm of endless possibilities? This is what we are discussing about, how to acknowledge ourselves as designers, to get money, to win prizes, to be part of the market. Judgment is not possible. While if, with luck and effort, one tries to get down with what is possible to help, under logic and rational constraints, eventual readers then a judgment is a natural consequence to a design matter. To conclude, design is a physical output (digital for screens also), which has basic needs, to convey something, and unfortunately, this is not prerogative of graphic designers only. If as designers we adopt the individualistic approach then we hardly find our seat around, if we adopt an honest way we might, with luck, find our place.
db
08.09.06 at 05:46

jc,

Whose "client" are we, as an industry, trying to protect from the danger of bad work? Is it yours? Mine? Or maybe MB's? You protect your client by delivering the best you can, I do the same, MB does also. It is not our job to ensure that someone else's client is insulated from the possibility of getting bad work. The client is responsible for their own business, they are responsible for vetting the designer they hire. This is no different than any other line of work. Their are realtors (lisenced) that suck, Architects (Lisenced) that suck. And, even if there was a fair way to license designers there would still be some who suck. There would be others with lousy work habits, sketchy knowledge, poor ethics, etc,.

In short, a license does not guarentee anything except that the client could, if they so desired, complain to some governing body and try to get the license revoked. While this may help some people sleep better at night, it is hardly the protection that you are talking about.

The integrity of the profession? What exactly is that? Can you define it? Tell me how we know when we have damaged it? Is our profession so delicate that it cannot endure it's less than qualified elements? What about Architecture? Product design? How many poorly designed buildings have we seen? Have you not encountered many products that you felt were poorly designed? Have those professions lost their integrity? Again, how do we measure that?

You started your post by discussing that thing that sets us apart from Business, art. You were right we are different, so why do you then argue that we should be governed no different than other professions? You said, "but to ensure fundamentally that when a designer is hired, they at least have the basics, have a higher education, and have a few years on the job under the belt. It's what we want our doctor, lawyer, architect, barber, and even our plumber to have" What about talent, creative vision? Aren't these the elements that truly set us apart from other professions? Sure we could come up with some basic body of knowledge, some criteria to determine who KNOWS design. That wouldn't accomplish your stated goals, protecting the client and the profession. Because, ultimately we are not hired because we know design, we are hire because we can design. How do we codify artistic talent and create a method to certify that a practitioner has it?

How many design graduates have you interviewed that, while they had the degree, the knowledge, and the desire, still lacked that elusive trait we value so much, talent? I have seen too many to count. many design programs will accept any one who enrolls and will pass all but the totally incompetent. Or so it seems by the great many books I have looked at. How do we as an industry, a profession, ensure that we are not telling clients, by adopting some license or certification, that they are hiring a designer who cannot design?

Which brings me back to the beginning, is it our responsibility to determine who has talent? Who is "qualified"? Or is it the responsiblity of business' to hire the person they feel has the neccesary talent, skills, and knowledge to deliver effective design solutions?

PS
Why on earth do you think your plumber needs a higher education?
dave
08.09.06 at 11:25

I have a degree in marketing, but later discovered a real passion for design. I didn't have the opportunity to be formally educated in design, so I have learned on my own in the past few years.

I read a load of blogs, I research and buy good books on Amazon (reader opinions are big influencers), and I get the books that those good books also reference. I study them, and I practice what I learn. Now I feel my abilities are turning the corner to where I understand what makes for good design. My next phase is continuing to practice and be exposed to more good design so I can continue to improve myself. Is this what is meant by self-taught vs rank amateur vs trained professional?

For example, I've taught myself HTML and CSS and now build web sites for freelance income. I approach these projects, though, as a businessperson, and not a designer. I respect the design decisions of my client but also work to educate them so I can do good design. I think this is a difference I'm seeing in this thread.

I don't promote myself as a graphic designer, or even a designer of any type. Rather, I say to them, "I can do the work you need done."

I demonstrate to the client that I understand their problems, and I develop solutions to solve it. This is where it seems that the design community is having issues between doing and understanding business (seen as "dirty") and providing good design. If you give the client an aesthetically pleasing design, and explain the decisions behind your design, I find they go along with it. But it has to be good in the first place, which sometimes means explaining what "good" is not. That is, a client's taste is often questionable.

I understand the dislike many designers express for bad design. It's unfortunate that so many assume having Photoshop means they can design when they can't. Being able to use a PS tool isn't the same as knowing WHY to use it. That's what has gotten lost. I deal with people daily who try to do this work, and it's horribly amateur. But the people they deal with know no better, and accept it as "good enough."

As long as the purpose is fulfilled, the purpose is met and let's move on to what's next is their attitude. I think business doesn't understand there is a reason behind why you choose one font over another, for example. They see it as an exercise in aesthetics, not a process that achieves a purpose.

As a marketer, I deal with coworkers and VPs who all think they're marketers because all they see is the end result (an image, an ad, etc.), not the process that goes into building that effort to make it effective. I'm very tempted to tell the CFO how to organize her accounting procedures just to prove a point. "You're just putting numbers on a spreadsheet. Why's that so hard?" I suspect I would be slapped down.

I know this comment wandered, but my point is this: if I acknowledge that I am not formally trained in what I'm doing, but I'm making all the efforts to learn how (and the "right way"), with a naturally good eye, and then practice and preach this, is my hybrid approach equally valid to a formal education that would enable me to start calling myself a designer?
Geoff Tucker
08.09.06 at 01:43

Mr. Tucker's comments should be taken seriously. There's a very long history of non-"designers" designing. One notable example was James Killian Jr. Killian was the President of MIT and the Special Assistant to President Eisenhower for Science and Technology. Killian began his career as the editor of Technology Review, the MIT alumni journal. A follower of Dwiggins and Updike, Killian taught himself layout and typographic skills so that he could design TR to reflect the content of the journal, mainly the advanced work going on at MIT. Also, Killian established the MIT Press, which became well known for its sensitivity to the relationship between design and editorial subject matter.

Whether we can call Killian a "designer," is perhaps open to debate. My sense is that he would not have considered himself a designer in league with the likes of Dwiggins, his mentor of sorts. His interest in the cultural value of design, however, is undeniable. And that interest allowed him to pursue a context driven approach to his design work for Technology Review.
Michael J. Golec
08.09.06 at 02:19

I think perhaps what is missing from this discussion is a larger context: the general devaluing of the arts and arts training at the K12 level--most recently due to initiatives and accountability trends, and historically due to the difficulty of applying metrics to the visual and the artistic.

What the "general public" longs for is the ability to create things themselves (hence the boom in the crafting industry over the last decade). If we were able to provide adequate, quality education regarding what makes art art versus..... then I think much of this discussion would be moot. Having this knowledge, perhaps the general consumer would understand when they need / can recognize a greater ability that a professional graphic designer can provide.

Gloria Lee
08.09.06 at 05:47

Our skills are worth much less than our ideas.
RC
08.09.06 at 05:50

This all seems very familiar. Didn't the design community thoroughly wring their hands over this in the early 80's with the advent of Postscript type and the laser printer?
Stephen Macklin
08.09.06 at 10:40

I just checked out BW site for the mentioned "Graphic Design for Non-Designers" course. I am struck by the fact that this online course is offered for free.

Now how does that speak to value? The value of our profession?
chad
08.10.06 at 09:47

I don't have a problem with this. I work with a lot of non-profits and they don't always have the money to hire me (and I can't pay the bills only volunteering my time for them, though they've gotten countless hours free of charge).

I'd rather they be informed. The reality is they can't always hire me. But I'd rather they have some knowledge so the brands we build aren't bastardized as soon as they take the reins.

Also, an educated client is a client who calls you when they need you. I have found this to be true with individuals, non-profits, and businesses alike.

Oh... Michael, you may recall a similar discussion to this one took place on Speak Up about two years ago. This time it was the USPS teaching graphic design.. Comments here.
Andrew Twigg
08.10.06 at 11:20

For those who are not professionally involved in the field of graphic design, and for one reason or another, not interested in spending some quality time with themselves to widen their horizons, creating a logo or laying out a brochure seems as easy as building a castle in a sandbox....

And whose fault is that? Of course, ours! As long as we don't take graphic design seriously, nobody else is going to do it for us: and by "us" I mean the design community.

Whether one spent four years studying it at a college or 15 by apprenticing and practising it, what in the end matters is the level of professionalism with which a graphic designer approaches the field; it's the knowledge one acquires by years of learning the craft, the true passion one shows for his profession that sets apart talented and capable designers from those overnight wannabes who enroll into a one-week-don't-sweat-and-do-it-yourself-design programs.

Licensing should be the answer (or at least, one of them). If Swiss could do it, so can Americans. Getting certified for a graphic designer wouldn't carry the same weight as for an architect - that is perfectly understandable. If one miskerns a word or two, no Joe is going to die. Quite a different and alarming, I should say, story would mean to have bad miscalculations while laying out a foundation of a building.

Of course, that would not decrease the number of wannabes significantly, but, I believe, would have a psychological effect on those who hire us for our services. Knowing that it takes a license to be considered as a professional designer, they would think twice before giving a job to a neighbor who happens to have Photoshop and Illustrator installed on the computer.

Well, until then ... "Typography Isn't the Art of Map-Making," you say? Great! I'll have it in a Nutshell,... and ... could you wrap it "to go" please?... Thanks ...
c.e. petrosyan
08.10.06 at 01:20

Business Week and many (most?) clients view themselves as consumers when they approach designers. And they tend to want to go about it the way they go about their other purchases - reviewing an array of products for one they like best at a price they feel they can afford. Designers encourage this setup because they would like to see themselves as the producers. However, it is the client who is really the producer. They are producing a magazine, a brochure, whatever it is, and are enlisting one or a number of professionals to help them do this. They are initiating, underwriting, and developing the product. They should be reminded that they are in fact making something and not just buying something. Designers can do a great deal to empower them in this process, to help them enjoy it, and, of course, to help them make it better.
Trent Williams
08.10.06 at 05:07

Here's a thought. The more that people here in the UK have been encouraged to cook better - through a positive deluge of books, tv programmes, schools and courses - the more the restaurant trade has improved its performace and profitability. Cooking at home stimulates people to eat out more, not less. It also benefits all of those industries related to food: importers, producers, distributors.

Twenty years ago, going for dinner at someone's home or going to a professional eatery in Britain generally promised to be a disappointing experience. That situation has now improved beyond measure. Suppose, though, that we had instead taken the approach of licensing chefs... would we now have even greater culinary excellence, or would we simply have created a cartel of protective and over-priced mediocrity?
James Souttar
08.10.06 at 05:26

I'm never sure precisely what people are advocating in these discussions other than that we all get a raise. Terminology varies from country to country but in the US, "licensing" means a law that prohibits someone for doing something without a government (or government sanctioned) approval. You can't give legal advice and receive payment for it unless approved by the state bar. You can't do construction for a set price (i.e., non-hourly rate) without a contractors' license. Is this what Carren Edward Petrosyan advocates for graphic design? What specific activities would be proscribed for the non-licensed?

Others seem to advocate what gets called certification in the US. It merely means that someone has certified something. Most things that most people list (such as education and work experience) can be determined by asking or looking at a cv. What specifically should be certified and who cares enough about whatever you are certifying that they would pay more or act differently because of a certification?

The idea of certification hasn't gone away in the eleven years since I thought I had thoroughly eviscerated it in Print magazine. In the years since I have found the notion more interesting and more worthwhile. In a discussion last year I discovered that nobody who advocated licensing or certification offered good answers to the questions above and that none of the critics of certification could consider the proposal in a thoughtful and strategic manner. What does that say about graphic designers?



Gunnar Swanson
08.11.06 at 10:20

Simply put, D.I.Y. anything takes away from one profession or another. We're all guilty of it. Plumbing, electrical, automotive, watch repair, baking, house keeping. Our profession is no different.
George.
08.11.06 at 11:37

I think Andrew Twigg advocates the most realistic and productive mode of thinking.

The more non-designers know about REAL design (that is, innate creativity plus design skill, not Photoshop skills learned from Business Week), the more they become informed design clients. Rather than try to separate our profession from the world with a curtain of mystic obscurity, sharing what design really means stands to make it better for all involved.

This ideally results in people not only knowing when to defer to a professional, but giving our work the respect it deserves!
R Clayton
08.11.06 at 03:45

Gunnar

I have gone back and re-read the posts you reference and while I generally agree most of the pro-cert/license folks could not answer the two questions you posed (the woman that had served on the canadian RGD board did it to some extent) I have to take issue with your second assertion.
"that none of the critics of certification could consider the proposal in a thoughtful and strategic manner."

I have given this issue considerable thought and each time I attempt to come up with ways that we could establish a GD certification I come back to the issue of why we need one?

While I understand the importance (while brainstorming a solution) of suspending disbelief and just throwing down every idea as it enters my mind. I also realize the need to begin with an understanding of the problem I am trying to solve. While many people are willing to say we need certifications or licenses, I have not heard any truly compelling justifications for why.

I have heard people say it is about protecting the client from poor design. Yet we all have seen poorly designed homes architected by certified and licensed architects. I have heard it is so employers will take us seriously, yet I have never been hired by anyone who did not. Some say it is to protect the integrity of the profession, so how do we know if the integrity has been damaged? Before we go off and design a solution shouldn't we figure out what the problem is?

In the post you linked to you lay out certain ground rules that prohibit arguing against the need for certifications and instead ask us to assume that some form of cert or license will be instituted. We are then left with the task of creating a system to solve a problem that has not yet been defined.

I think your questions, though legitimate, are not the right place to start the conversation. First we need to establish a broad consensus on the goals/need. Then we can come up with a list of criteria to determine if we have achieved them.

Only then can we have a thoughtful and strategic discussion about how to proceed. To approach it in any other way is to put the cart before the horse.
dave
08.12.06 at 01:10

As you can probably guess (from my previous posts), I am not a fan of the idea of certification or licensing.

Recently I read an article on "racial diversity in design" from the latest issue of STEP magazine. While I have many problems with the article, it had a quote from Terry Marks that I think is quite appropriate for this topic. I won't put the whole thing in, just the last piece. "...One of the great things about design is that even people without formal training can enter. (Thank you.) People can succeed because of talent, ability to connect and relate an idea, to tell a story, to change a mind, and to be creative in a way that affects thoughts and behavior."

One of my fears regarding licensing is that this quote would no longer be true. We should not be trying to make it harder to practice design, we should be striving to make it easier to learn, easier to discover the passion, easier to tap into the rich pool of talent across the country that cannot afford formal training at a four year school. Why on earth do we want to put up more osbtacles to expanding our ranks. Why do we fear DIYers? the passion has to start somewhere why does it have to be in design school?

My other major fear is more personal. If we needed a license to practice design, that would un-doubtably cause many large corporations, like the government contractor I work for, to purge all the designers who are un-licensed, either replacing them with licensed ones or deciding that they really don't need designers enough to pay the larger fees that the license would demand. While my boss thinks I am the cat's meow, she answers to people that notice nothing but the numbers.

I have no formal training, no degree and no apprenticeship. I have a two hour commute, a wife and two year old son, a mortgage. credit card debt, a bunch of unfinished home improvement projects and cancer.

I do not mention this last item for sympathy, I mention it so people will understand what is at stake. Certifications and licenses may sound good to those that already possess the credentials to achieve them, but to those of us that do not and do not have the resources some people take for granted (money or time) it sounds pretty scary.

I can't afford to go to school, either financialy or time-wise. My time has become extremely important to me. Why do I need to take the time away from my family to get the credentials neccesary to achieve a license in order to do a job that my employer already certifies (my salary) that I perform quite well?

I have 7 years of OJT, 5 Years of practice (Mom-n-pop small business freelance) and nearly a lifetime of self-education, tons of talent, heaps of creativity, loads of passion, psychotic work ethic (it is 3 am and I just finished a project, time to drive the 2 hours home), and most importantly, many happy customers that need my services.

Which brings up the last argument I have, on the question of certifications, the market already certifies us in the form of salary/fees On the topic of Licensing, If the market felt we posed a danger, it's members (businesses), would force us to create a license in order to protect the consumer.

While self imposed licensing might make some employers more comfortable it would also price us out of the range of many people that not only need our services but know they need us. I am not sure how much this would affect those of you that work in studios and agencies, but I know that it would affect the in-house designers that work in large corporations like mine. I sincerely hope we never go down that road.

well thats all I have, needed to do a little venting before my drive home, Take care all.
dave
08.12.06 at 03:22

To say that DIY takes work away from trades and professions (as MB does implicitly, and George does explicitly) is really to look at the whole thing the wrong way around. Trades and professions come into being originally because human beings can't acquire all the specialised knowledge and experience we need for the many aspects of our lives - these things are extensions to our abilities, and services. DIY is simply taking back some of what was originally extended, as if to say "actually, I think I can do this for myself". This happens because one's needs in a particular situation are fairly simple, or the standards don't need to be so high, or because one wants to have a go oneself, or because technical developments have made the task easier... or, indeed, because one doesn't trust the 'expert', and believes that he or she may rip one off.

Licensing can, as Gunnar suggests, be seen as a positive or a negative here - it can be a way of ensuring standards and improving professional practice, for the benefit of the consumer, or it can be a form of protectionism. In practice, however, it always seems to end up being a combination of both. If one looks at the most extreme example, the licensing of medical practitioners, it is clear that we would be at serious risk if anyone could set themselves up as a surgeon. However, that hasn't stopped medicine becoming a hideously protectionist professional cartel, shaping and controlling the kind of medical provision that is available - as well as the terms and conditions of its availability.

In fact, the simple answer to this whole problem lies outside of this discussion altogether. It is that we are evolving new forms of accountability that are making licensing unnecessary - at least for trades as relatively 'harmless' as graphic design. For instance, if one looks at the Ebay model, it is easy to see how - in a few years time - it will be possible to look up a graphic designer on the web and see how many positive and negative client endorsements he or she has (and even verify the authenticity of those endorsements). Indeed, rather than continuing this endless discussion of licensing, which has gone on for at least the fifteen years that I've been participating in internet discussions, it might be much more interesting to discuss the radical implications that these new mechanisms of trust and reputation will have for graphic design.
James Souttar
08.14.06 at 09:58

Why do all of you dare write without being professionally certified writers? And without being paid? Should no one learn the basics of writing without enrolling in writing school, studying the history of writing, and planning a professional career in writing, with licensing and certification?


Somehow those of us in the writing craft seem to make it without constantly worrying that someone is practicing writing without our permission. That might explain why writers don't see design as a closed field but, rather, as a continuum--much like writing.

I might add, by the way, that both Innovation (IDSA) and Steven Heller at Voice have asked me to write for free. I don't consider a request to violate journalistic ethics--nor would any other professional writer. It's just a tradeoff to weigh against alternative uses of my time.

Virginia Postrel
08.14.06 at 01:46

Ms. Postrel,

You rock! Good stuff!!!

Respectfully,
Joe Moran
08.14.06 at 09:53

I'm with James Souttar and Virginia Postrel on this. I think y'all should be celebrating the open, anyone-can-do-it nature of design. Look, let's shift the comparison to yet another field. If more people rather than fewer play musical instruments, then 1) this isn't a bad thing where music is concerned, and any music-buff who would claim that it is ought to be keelhauled. And 2) it signifies an uptick in the interest people have in music generally. That's a good thing. It may also mean that people who want to do well as pro musicians have to kick their game up a notch (which I take to be Michael B's point). That's a good thing too.

Participatory rocks. Not that it's without its challenges, of course, especially where making a living is concerned. But who said getting-paid-for-being-creative was going to be easy?

Quick architecture-history lesson, btw: many, many of our most-loved towns and neighborhoods were constructed without the aid of official architects. "Pattern books" especially were widespread -- they were a huge part of American culture. And the towns, neighborhoods and houses that resulted were collaborations between (for instance) pattern books, local traditions, local craftspeople, and homeowners, landlords, and storekeepers. Gorgeous small New England towns? Often created without the help of architects. There are those of us (ominous tone in voice here) who are architecture buffs who wonder occasionally -- especially given the destructive crap foisted on us since WWII -- whether official-type architects have even been a net benefit to society, or a net drain on it. You don't want people thinking of graphic designers in those terms, do you?

And remind me if I'm wrong, but ... Didn't an awful lot of what's cool and groovy about design today arrive as a consequence of early amateur desktop-publishing (ie., awful DIY design), and of cool kids monkeying with skateboard fashions and looks? So wouldn't it be accurate to say that many of you pros are, to some extent, dependent on the whacky inventions and energies of people whose tastes you seem to look down on?
Michael Blowhard
08.14.06 at 10:17

Ms. Postrel Let me continue on Joe's theme, YOU ROCK! You said in 9 or 10 sentences what I have been sputtering about for quite some time. Guess that is why people pay you to write. Nicely done.

Michael Blowhard I think you blew a bit too hard this time. You had me in lock-step right up to the last paragraph. I don't think many people, arguing on either side of this issue, are talking about what is "cool and groovey" in design (and no, what was done in early desktop publishing - think "newsletters" - is not the driving force behind current design trends). Nor do I think one has to be looking down his/her nose at someone to recognize poor design as poor design. I will agree that it usually is the fringe or "outsider" artists that tend to push the design conversation, however, there are certain principles of good design that many DIYers have not learned. I think this is what most people object to, the idea that people who have not taken the time to learn how to design are out there calling themselves "designers." This is very different than say a David Carson knowingly violating the "rules" of typography in Raygun in order to communicate an alternative viewpoint.

I don't think there is anything wrong with kavetching about all the hacks out there that call themselves designers, and they are hacks. In my company, government contractor with 10k plus employess, we have an entire proposal group that truly believes Powerpoint is a graphics package! I kid you not. While most people in the design community would grudgingly accept that ppt is a very capable presentation vehicle, no one would ever describe it as a graphic design package. However, within the crazy world of GC proposal production, that view is, more often than not, generally accepted. That should give you a good idea about the quality of design, and "designer", employed there.

While i often lament this sad fact, to anyone that will listen, the question isn't that there are hacks masquerading as designers, or that they are often (as they are in my company) earning the same thing as those of us that understand the difference between knowing, and intentionaly violating design principles (Carson), and not knowing them at all. These people exist, that is a fact. The question is, should this be criminal? As it is when someone practices medicine without a license?

(Ms. Postrel has already dealt the death blow to that qestion so I will not muddy the water any more than I already have.)

So, now that I have said in several paragraphs what Ms. Postrel could have whittled down to a sentence or two, while I like what you have to say about architecture, I think you were a little hash on us poor designers.

dave
08.15.06 at 09:49

re certification: how many great painters needed degrees? In fact, the non-certified places like the Art Students League and Academy produce the great painters these days- the MFA &BFA programs are mostly a joke.
dreadnaught
08.15.06 at 10:30

Going back to MB's original comments again - more particularly, the wording on the website he takes exception to - prompts so more food related observations. As others have pointed out, it can only be a good thing (at least, from the point of view of professional designers) for the general public to be more aware of graphic design. And involvement in DIY design is clearly an excellent awareness raising activity. The question, then, is to what extent the means of carrying out that DIY design involves real design skills?

The 'offensive' website suggests "you only need a set of guidelines to follow". But is this a 'recipe', or is it 'convenience food'? The way the rest of the paragraph is worded, it sounds like it is a recipe - and that doesn't sound like a bad thing to me. "Take half a pound of good letterforms, simmer them in a comfortable measure, throw in some bright, fresh images and garnish with a spicy headline..." OK, honest, palatable rustic fare - the graphics equivalent of Tuscan farmhouse cooking. And if someone only cares to develop the ability to recognise good ingredients, put them together in simple, unpretentious combinations, and serves that up as an appetizing dish on their kitchen table, that's a real plus - isn't it? Doesn't mean they won't splash out on a meal at MBs fancy Michelin star restaurant when the occasion deserves it. And maybe they will appreciate this even more?

On the other hand, if DIY design is really about "remove the wrapping, puncture the plastic wrapping with a sharp implement and stick in the microwave for two minutes" then maybe we do have a real problem. Convenience food destroys people's interest in cooking, coarsens the sensitivity of their palates and damages the food culture as a whole. It generally also clogs their arteries, contributes to stomach cancer and makes them obese.

So what I think graphic design really needs right now (and apologies to American readers who don't know what I'm talking about... actually, no, you should know what I'm talking about!) is a Jamie Oliver. Someone to inspire a whole generation to learn to celebrate freshly caught pics, well matured type and authentic, locally produced words. Someone to take on the disastrous 'Turkey Twizzlers' of the instant graphics charlatans. And someone to lead us on colourful, inspiring and informative oddysseys through the world's great graphic cultures (but preferably not in a VW bus!).

Any recommendations?
James Souttar
08.16.06 at 10:33

I currently work in a medium sized town, with a small town attitude and unwillingness to grasp the concept that appropriate design/communication/advertising equals high profits. Best method of educating potiental client is to put it in laymens terms, which has always helped. I usually say these things at an initial client sales meeting:


1. Just because one knows how to use Microsoft Word doesn't make them a writer. Likewise for design software.

2. Doctors have MDs, interior designers have ASIDs. Graphic Designers currently have no letters (odd as use typography everyday...) but look for these letters: BFA from NASAD, and AIGA member.

3. Case studies, case studies, case studies. If my work worked for them, it will for you to.

4. Comparison of work by non-professional to professional.


We spend so much time educating ourselves, reading blogs, viewing other portfolios, keeping up with industry news that we forget it's more about educating the client.

Unfortunately not everyone has the potiential to be a client... may not hear our speech on effective communication, and the masses may continue to think they can do it themselves.

SOOO - to the point:

I'm proposing a cheesy reality show. There's the next big fashion designer, the next big interior designer, the next big everything. And it could be put on by AIGA and be scripted of course, as they all are, but show how without the proper tools amatuers will fail. My mother, ASID interior designer, complains so much how reality tv & HGTV is weakening her business b/c it shows how people can DIY. So the series can make it a point to show that graphic design is NOT DIY, thus educating the massess, including the Dad creating a political campaign for his child.

Ok now isn't that the silliest thing? You thought I was serious didn't you.

You said it MB:
"improve your aim"





FYI:
kudos to me on my first web comment ever!
Kara
08.21.06 at 03:23

Site design here certainly makes a lot of assumptions regarding the readers' monitors.

Just as wide-bodied aircraft don't fit on all airfields, neither do wide-bodied blogs fit on all displays.
Alan Kellogg
08.25.06 at 02:03

dreadnaught - depends on the time period. Up until, oh, the 18th c or so, painting was a craft, and one apprenticed, joined a guild etc. Large paintings were created by workshops of students and assistants under the direction of a master (sort of like how movies are made now). Originality, and the cult of the artist as rebellious, romantic individual didn't really become big issues until pretty recently.
mooncustafer
08.31.06 at 12:51

As a marketing director it would almost always be my preference to use a designer for creating the our marketing pieces but practical considerations usually cause to do things in house ourselves. Those considerations are:

1. Limited budgets, postage, print cost, list and fullfillment cost are all hard costs, it's difficult to add $1,000+ (which I'm sure to most is small change) to a piece.

2. Time, text and type changes are especially hard do when using a designer, each change add costs to the project.

3. Control, for most companies print a brochure and 2 months later half of the content has changed. If you are paying a designer you need to go back to them each time you need to update. You don't have the control you do if you are doing it yourself.

I try to alleviate these consideration by having a designer create design concepts which we then modify ourselves across several projects. They provide us with the original art files in Illustrator which we can modify and update as needed.

I think most designers would scoff at this arrangement but I would not be able to hire them at all otherwise.
Bryan Fox
09.06.06 at 02:57

All I can say is check out this page:

http://www.thedesignerslife.com/lh/mef2/


Marc Rabinowitz
09.19.06 at 12:22

Well sometimes it is important to have a designer. Or at least somebody who's paying attention. as this so accurately shows.

I am putting a project back on track after the technician who was assigned the work was mismanaged, and bereft of any process or greater understanding of the design problem or solution, could not continue to its conclusion.

I am riding shotgun on another where the designer sits and waits for his instructions and then goes off to execute them. He was not actively engaged in opinion, guidance or the search for solution.

The principles of design in any field are accessible to all who are literate and have access to a public library. They are even accessible to those who aren't literate or don't have access to information but do have an analytical bent and the powers of acute observation and deductive reasoning.

That some may choose to learn these principles and apply them is good, for it results in better communication. That they go ahead and take on the label Graphic Designer is immaterial to me.

I am a Professional Member of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada. I am a self taught designer.

Why am I the go to guy to solve problems like these? It's what I bring to the table. I bring business understanding. I bring process. I bring opinion. I bring technical aptitude. I bring a code of ethics. I bring responsibility. I bring professional conduct. I bring respect for you and your situation. My professional designation is shorthand for all these things.

In a competitive world, he wrote, "value is not created by rules or prohibitions but by what one brings to the game. Architects, writers, industrial designers, painters, journalists, baseball players, screenwriters and many other creative professionals understand that. Heck, the entire business community around the globe understands that."

Value is not created by rules? Really? What is business law? The foundation for trust and reciprocity. What are industrial standards? Arbitrary rules? Hardly. They're a foundation for innovation and enterprise. Architects understand that their buildings can't be built without rules. Journalists rely on rules and laws all the time to create value. They rely on laws that protect their freedoms. Screenwriters rely on copyright and contract. Heck, the entire business community around the globe understands that.

Rules and prohibitions can and do create value, but we never understand them as instrumental in that creation. We only ever see them as Nussbaum does: part of the furniture of our life.

The real issue is that designers who practice in depth, beyond the mere technical aspect of design DO bring a lot to the table.

Jon Whipple, MGDC
Vancouver Canada
Jon Whipple
09.22.06 at 01:32

When it all comes down to the grit, no matter how you word it, experience counts.

Take DiVinci for example, he repainted the Mona Lisa 5 times over the same canvas until he got the damn thing to become a masterpiece. But the painting really got the fame by being stolen once and used as a key element for spy literature and movies. ...huh, weird?

Getting a little off track. Any form of experience is necessary to become acquainted to once own profession. Whether it's a designer, pro athlete, director, even as belittling as a meat heater for McD's. If a task was done right use those positive results on the next assignment. If a mistake was made though, take what has been done and find out to do it in a different way. Or the very least, DON'T DO IT AT ALL DUMB ASS!!!
J Troy
04.26.11 at 09:40



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Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati, and has been a partner in the New York office of Pentagram since 1990. Michael is a Senior Critic in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Michael Bierut

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design
Princeton Architectural Press, 2007

Forty Posters for the Yale School of Architecture
Winterhouse Editions, 2007

Looking Closer 5
Allworth Press, 2006

Looking Closer 4
Allworth Press, 2002

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

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