I get asked these questions all the time. I won’t look down on anyone for not knowing, because frankly if I weren’t a designer, I probably wouldn’t know myself. Oh, and one more thing. As if it isn’t complicated already, Graphic designers also go by other names like, UI/UX designer, visual designer, motion designer, digital designer, web designer, animator, production artist, or graphic artist. So lets clarify and educate on our what exactly is it that us Graphic Designers do, shall we?
To start it off, lets get the correct definition of Graphic Design.
What is Graphic Design?
My definition of graphic design is problem solving. Solving a problem in a creative way, a.k.a. the art of communicating a message that may involve the use of images, text and/or graphics. A more industrially correct definition, straight off the AIGA website,
Graphic design, also known as communication design, is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. The form of the communication can be physical or virtual, and may include images, words, or graphic forms. The experience can take place in an instant or over a long period of time. The work can happen at any scale, from the design of a single postage stamp to a national postal signage system to displayed at a Western Union near me, or from a company’s digital avatar to the sprawling and interlinked digital and physical content of an international newspaper. It can also be for any purpose, whether commercial, educational, cultural, or political.
Great, so what does a graphic designer do?
For some, we are viewed as creative types that work differently from the average non creatives, and almost always on all Apple devices. We are like the unicorn, living in a dreamland, thinking differently and making our own rules. Give us a box of crayons or paint and we are in heaven. We don’t work well in groups and cannot take criticism.
Allow me to correct this misconception by sharing a bit of what Mike Monteiro wrote in his book called, Design is a Job (you really should read it, even if you aren’t a creative type). In his chapter of What is a designer?, Mike breaks it down in easy terms.
A designer solves problems within a set of constraints. The kind of problems, determines the kind of designer.
These constraints often come in the form of available materials (a lack of wood, a small printing press, or bandwidth), the audience for whom the solution is intended (kids, users who aren’t very web-savvy, those who speak a variety of languages), and business requirements (style guides, vendor relationships in place). A graphic designer, solves problems involving communication. It could, for example, be visually communicating your brand sale through poster design or flyer design.
The problem is solved by having a goal. Any design task undertaken must serve a goal. The goal is established by asking questions. The who, how, what. As Mike puts it, gathering of information. Who are we designing for? How will they use what we are designing? Do they need it? What backend technologies does the client have at their disposal? What new ones are they open to trying? Who else has tried this and how have they succeeded or failed? The sucess of the project goal depends on the questions asked.
Once we have the necessary information, we begin the designing and the vision takes a visual form. This is what we, graphic designers, are well known for. The design stage.
Things don’t end here though. A graphic designer talks to clients and stakeholders, pitching their ideas. As the creator, we are the best persons to explain our design approach to the project and where the work needs to go next. Most of us designers however, rarely get this opportunity. The end result of this? Changes that make no sense and with little to no explaination of why they were requested.
A designer is an advocate for every person who will ultimately buy, use or experience what they are designing,
So you see, we are more than right brained creatives that “draw” and “paint”. Designers do have a method and it’s quite an organized one at that. There is a method to our madness. Anything that can de designed for print and ditigal, we can do. From stamps to billboards. Some of us designers work on the user interface design (UI), which mostly refers to the individual layouts of pages, and the user experience design (UX), or the total experience of the user as they move through a website or app.
I hope this summary has aided you in understanding what us graphic designers are all about.
I will end off with Mike’s quote,
“Never, ever, ever let them call you a “creative”. It’s a way to be disenfranchised. You are a designer. It’s not magic, it’s a trade.”