These days more than ever, there’s an inclination to cheapen the job of the graphic designer. Sites offering very low-cost design (there’s more than one) may seem like a good alternative, but there are inherent problems in using them — especially if you don’t know what to look for.
Then there are online platforms that practically instantaneously allow you to put materials together. These make the design process easy and accessible — and they can be a lot of fun and work for certain uses (more on that later).
Before explaining the issues with the above, let’s first look at what a graphic designer is — that will actually explain a lot to those not in the know.
A Graphic Designer’s Education
First, there are entire degree programs for graphic designers. These actually range from certificates all the way up to a Master’s in Fine Arts. Any of these levels obviously will work for some sort of job with the “graphic designer” title — the point is, however, that graphic designers study their craft.
Let’s look at a few examples of courses a graphic design student must take.
Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design
One local university requires the following of its graphic design students getting a Bachelor’s degree: Two semesters of art history; two-dimensional art; three-dimensional art; drawing; life drawing; two semesters of typography; studio arts practices; classes studying art in Latin America, Asia, or a class in art of Africa, Oceania and Indigenous North America; color theory, photography, printmaking or painting; six semesters of graphic design-specific classes (from intro to more advanced topics); three semesters of advertising classes; three semesters of media design; global art; and an internship.
Certificate in Graphic Design
And a local two-year college offers a design certificate with these requirements:
Beginning graphic design, intermediate graphic design, package design, typography, graphic illustration, intro computer graphics, digital illustration, digital pre-press, Photoshop, internship.
Extensive on-the-job experience can also teach a person graphic design — but those who learned on-the-job will surely agree that it takes more than putting text on a photo to be a designer.
Tools of the Graphic Designer
Everybody knows that the most widely used tools of a graphic designer are Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. But let’s look at some of the specific tools within those pieces of software that allow designers to design.
For example, in the Photoshop toolbar alone, you can find the marquee tools, lasso tools (not what it sounds like), magic wand, quick selection tool, healing brushes, paintbrush and pencil tools, clone stamp tool, history brush, eraser, art history brushes, gradients, smudge tool, dodge and burn tools, pen tool (absolutely not what it sounds like), smudge tool, shape tool and quick mask (under the main tools). Most of these tools also have subcategories not even listed.
This scratches the surface, but at least the idea gets across.
Illustrator’s tools likewise include the pen tool, selection and direct selection tools, paintbrush, pencil, blob brush (yes, this is real), rotate, scale, free transform, width tool, shape-builder, perspective grid, free transform, mesh tool, gradient, blend tool…and more.
And again, this is scratching the surface.
Then there are other features you get to through the menus.
It takes specific training or experience to use a graphic designer’s tools — and know when to use them.”
The point is that it takes specific training or experience to use a graphic designer’s tools — and know when to use them.
Graphic Design=1/3 Aesthetics + 1/3 Software + 1/3 Background Knowledge
A graphic design professor once said the above: what we might call the “graphic design rule of thirds” (or maybe he called it that at the time…can’t remember).
Aesthetics. Obviously, this is important. A designer must be able to draw in the eye. At the same time, I have a decent sense of aesthetics when it comes to photography, but I would never claim to be a professional photographer. I don’t have the technical (or background) knowledge to do so.
Software. Yes, graphic designers use Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, as noted by the partial lists of tools mentioned earlier. However, it’s not just navigating software that’s important. Which software produces vector versus raster? What is the proper way to resize images in Photoshop without losing resolution — and what will you lose in turn?
Background Info (aka Technical Stuff). This involves knowing the why behind the how. Let’s take resizing images in Photoshop. If your image is 300 dpi at 8×10 inches, and you just choose “edit” then “transform” (or cmd/cntl-t), then pull the image out to be larger, you are not even considering what’s going on with resolution.
There are many, many examples of these types of things in the design world.
Back to the Cheapening….
By now, it should be obvious that it might be dangerous to rely on cheaper design sources. However, let’s look at some possible scenarios.
Places that offer design for cheap ($5-$10 per piece or similar). The problem here is that anyone — including someone who has no design experience — can usually place ads. There are no doubt design students advertising here who want to increase their portfolio work, and that’s fine. But it’s doubtful that customers always look into this before proceeding.
Jpgs are not vectors, and the logo-creator may not have created the logo in a vector program.”
For example, if you’re starting a business and need a logo, you have may have received a jpg of the logo. If you want to make a large poster, or if your business grows and you need more materials, you will be asked eventually for a vector logo (e.g., places that produce promo items often need vectors). Did the logo-creator know what a vector is? If all you have is a jpg, you have no idea. Jpgs are not vectors, and the designer may not have created the logo in a vector program.
The lesson: If you don’t know which questions to ask, you could be in for trouble down the road. A professional designer can offer a degree of trust.
“Quick Design” Platforms. There are also the online platforms that allow you to put together some beautiful images. These can be really helpful for social media, for your blog posts or just for fun.
The biggest lesson here should be obvious, though. Once, someone stated, “I’m a graphic designer, and I only use C*nva.”
Please see the “education” and “tools” sections above. 😦 Plus, someone may put together a great interior room design using a template, but I personally would never call myself an interior designer based on using templates.
It’s not that these online platforms don’t have anything to offer — there has always been software that inspires creativity, and many spawn future designers and artists. So have fun with these and use them appropriately.
Just keep in mind that most of us don’t use step-by-step financial planning software and call ourselves CPAs, either.
P.S. For anyone who just thinks this is a post by a paranoid, resentful graphic designer, again, see the “tools” and “education” sections. The facts speak for themselves.