What they didn’t teach you at school

I started a blog. 

Not that I have the time to do so, but I decided to start one anyway. 

Recently a designer friend of mine put up a small post in regards to how design agencies are a young person’s game. While the thought he presents is cut a bit short, I do tend to agree, how many true “graphic designers” do you see over the age of 40? The design industry as a whole is constantly in-flux, and as a professional designer ages, its hard to not look at what’s coming up behind you. 

To me, that’s just part of the constant battle that a graphic designer must deal with, such as justifying fees to someone who just doesn’t understand how it could take 20+ hours to design a logo. Outsiders think we just hit a button and a website or brochure magically appears, and that’s been a designer’s constant struggle since the the dawn of the profession. Most people don’t even seem to realize that it is a profession… “can’t you just sit at home and teach yourself Photoshop?” seems the to be the general running thought process of the masses. At least in Canada, (and I’m sure elsewhere), there have been efforts to give the professional graphic design position more weight. The RGD designation (an off-shoot of the GDC association, which coincidentally has it’s own certification) is in response to this problem, and while I’m sure it’s intentions are legitimate to help mitigate this problem, in my opinion of being in this industry for almost 15 years is that it’s the equivalent of fighting a forest fire with a garden hose.

There are compatibles to this, but none will be apples-to-apples. For example, if you want to be a professional electrician, you need to go to a technical school and become certified by the various provincial bodies, move yourself up the ladder rungs to eventually perhaps become a master electrician. If Johnny Homeowner wants new pot lights in his home on the cheap and decides to hire some random “electrician” off Kijiji, he runs the risk of his house burning down due to a shoddy wiring job. There simply isn’t that comparable in the design industry. Clients like what they like and they want what they want, even if the designer does not agree. The worst that will happen is that the designer won’t get a portfolio piece out of the deal, and the likely realization that he/she should have charged the client more. 

I have another designer friend who is hell-bent on educating the masses, showing them specifically where a potential client’s money goes, why it costs x-amount to get a proper branding, and what it means to have professional local help. The majority of little start ups can’t afford what they actually need, and usually decide on getting a fraction of what they really need done in hopes of it working at least for the short term. Most will ride this initial creative work well beyond it’s lifespan, and insist it “works for them”. Or, even worse, they are referred to a crowd-sourcing site like 99 Designs, where their budget will more-likely be in line with the prices charged. 

99 Designs, and sites like it, are the epitome of the professional designer’s struggle with the industry. In a world where services like Uber and AirBnB gain traction as more user-friendly and cheaper alternatives to their standard fare, things like crowd-sourced design from online pools of talent are difficult for the local freelancer, or even local agency to compete with. Even “designers” without any post-secondary training can submit design options to crowd-souring sites, which helps to cheapen the industry as a whole, bit by bit. Depending on the site and the work in question, hundreds of designers can submit ideas to a posted project, only one will be picked and paid, and paid a fraction of what they would normally get in a more local, face-to-face environment. The other submissions get nothing, despite potentially spending hours on their ideas. I recently found out that one of the internet’s biggest celebrities and innovative businessmen, Tim Ferriss, uses 99 Designs and uses it so much, that he even has his own promo area on the website, and advertises it to his many many followers. For someone who’s likes to experiment with business ideas, especially online ones,  I shoulden’t be surprised, but it is still disappointing that someone of his stature would resort to crowdsourcing design.

Like anything, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and any client will always be interested in the cheaper and potentially more convenient option, no matter how high profile they are.

That’s essentially the point of this inaugural blog post. In the design industry, in my opinion you can educate, certify and designate until you’re blue in the face. In the end, clients, both big and small, will dictate the market. No one’s house burnt down from a shoddy design, and ultimately the risk is minimal for the client. Designers – no matter the experience, education, or capital letters at the end of their name – need to deal with it, adapt, and find ways to attract the clients they want, the work they want. The design industry is a capitalism microcosm, there’s no easy way around it, there is no turn key solution.

I plan to update the portfolio portion of the website here soon. Some good stuff in the works…


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