About Graphic and Web Designers
With the computer as a design tool, it now seems, on the surface, anyone can do graphic design. But you need to know composition, balance, color, layout, in other words, design. A traditional design background is a must.
Berts Graphics Two design studio does contain three light tables--over in a corner gathering dust. "These days, we do almost no cut-and-paste," he says. Indeed not. Sitting at a Power PC, running PhotoShop, is how Bert, a graphic designer for 35 years, does design work now. Today, he's "building" a brochure cover for a high-technology client.
The cover image, filling the 19-inch computer screen, is peppered with sub-images of the space shuttle, a gearbox, an oil rig, a medical imaging unit, and text in various fonts. "Each individual figure is actually layered," Bert explains. "Watch!" Reaching for his mouse, Bert plays "what-if" games as he repositions, sizes, and "paints" the oil rig. "Try that the old fashion way," he declares. "The computer has revolutionized the graphics industry, with profound impact on everyone in it."
AN INDUSTRY IN UPHEAVAL
While graphic designers, also known as graphic artists, still create packaging, promotional displays, and marketing brochures for new products, visual designs for annual reports and other corporate literature, or distinctive logos for products or businesses, the way they do so has undergone a sea change in the last few years. "I'm into my fifth technological change," Bert says. "After letterpress and then offset, I went on to photo composing, digital composing, and, now, total image assembly. The term 'camera ready' is passÇ. It's all disk to film, or even disk to print."
And that changes everything. Val, art director, designer, and author of the "Instant Image: 1000+ Stationery Designs" source book, says it best: "Everything, the field, job titles, centuries of tradition, is being redefined. People who set type have disappeared overnight."
Fortunately, graphic designers are filling the void. With the design and production aspects of a graphic arts project merging, again thanks to the computer, the graphic designer can deliver final product at tremendous savings. "The technology today is at a point where we can generate a file, dial up a remote printing facility, image the file right onto the press, run 10,000 copies, and deliver them the next morning," Bert says. "It's called CTP, computer-to-plate imaging, one of the fastest growing areas of prepress."
And with the increase in demand for graphic art, most of which now incorporates lower cost, four-color graphics, graphic designers, or at least those doing graphic design, find plenty to do. Yet, are they still to be found in the traditional ad agency or service bureau, one wonders?
"No," according to Bert. "The job market is fluid, work is moving from the traditional design agency office to the corporate office. Because firms produce enough marketing material, they're bringing graphic designers in-house, sidestepping the big agencies and, is some cases, service bureaus.
Yet, Randy, manager of Mac Temps, an employment service for graphic designers in Los Angeles, isn't so sure. "True," he says, "the new technology makes possible in-house work. But the ad agency and service bureau business is growing. Everyone in the field is benefiting these days because more work is being done."
What type of work? Here are a few entry-level job titles open to those with knowledge and training in graphic design:
. Advertising Designer
. Art Director's Assistant
. Print Production Assistant
. 2D, 3D Animation
. Web Designer
. Service Bureau Specialist
. Photograph Manipulation, Color Correction Specialist
. Studio Designer
. Production/Camera Ready Artist
. Commercial Artist
. Digital Graphic Designer
. Multimedia Designer
. Digital Colorist
. Mac Artist
. Production Designer
. Electronic Artist
That there is work to be done should come as no surprise. As Time magazine said in a recent cover article, "The Rebirth of Design," "Good design, communicating good services or products, is becoming the cornerstone of our society."
Juliet, department chair, Graphic Design/Computer Graphics/Animation, at the Learning Tree University (LTU), stands ready to greet 60 eager faces as they line up for an open house on the Chatsworth, California, campus. As the potential students enter the lecture room, Juliet asks each in turn if they want the graphic design or computer graphics literature package. Over 80 percent opt for the latter. Only a handful select the graphic design brochures. Mistake! At least according to just about every working graphic designer.
"The biggest error people make, Juliet says, "is thinking the computer is more than just a tool--it is not. The computer will not draw for them."
Alissa, manager for Communications/Public Relations at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF), concurs. "It now seems, on the surface, anyone can do graphic design. 'I'll learn to use the software and that'll be it,' they think. But you need to know composition, balance, color, layout, in other words, design.
"People who have computer experience but not the basic design background," Bert adds, "often design until they run out of time or stumble on to something. What a waste."
Mark Oldach, in his excellent book, Creativity for Graphic Designers, sums up the need for both traditional knowledge and computer skills when referring to the computer and its role in design:
"The computer is both blessing and curse rolled into one expensive tool," he says. "Too many designers use it as their only tool or, worse, as a substitute for thinking. These designers use the computer as a sketching tool, thinking tool, writing tool, typesetting and illustrating tool. Then the tool has mastered the designer, not the other way around, and the designer may have begun abdicating his responsibility to the computer."
In graphic design, as in any art, it's not so much what you know, but what you can do. "Show not tell" is the thing. Enter the portfolio.
"In this business," explains Juliet, "you are your portfolio. Resumes are fine, but how you represent yourself visually is key."
To gain the necessary design and computer graphics background to create a great portfolio, you'll want to attend classes, maybe with the ultimate goal of a certificate or even a degree. The latter, however, is not always required, at least not for entry-level work. As Don Manganti, an academic counselor at Burbank High School, in Burbank, California, puts it: "A bachelor's degree is always desirable. But today, an associate degree or a certificate program can work, too. In some cases, these shorter programs, two years for an associate degree, as few as six months for a certificate, are better for jump-starting your career because they offer specialized, focused skill training. Later on, once you're working, you can pursue a BA part-time.
What will you learn at such institutions? From foundation courses to the latest course on creating Web pages with Flash, you should cover the gambit.Traditional design theory plus use of the latest design tool--the computer.
As mentioned earlier, however, whatever education and training you acquire, be sure you emerge with a super portfolio. That portfolio is your entrance into an ad agency, large firm, or service bureau. Or, if you're ready, what you'll present to potential clients as you set up a freelance operation.
"Fine," you say. You're the "arty" type anyway--drawing is your thing. It's all the computer stuff, with programs such as QuarkXPress, Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe PageMaker, Adobe Dreamweaver and Adobe Flash that's getting you nervous. Yet, one can learn. Eight year-old nerds aside, no one is born with a mouse in her hand. However, in today's graphics environment, beyond design basics, computer know-how is a must. Actually, more than competence is required. As Randy puts it: "You must be both comfortable and curious about the new technology. A cursory knowledge is not enough."
A WEB OF OPPORTUNITY
It has been called the fastest growing medium on earth. With an estimated four million Websites as of mid 2000, with over a billion Web pages, that's an easy statement to accept. What does it mean for graphic designers? Plenty! With its interactivity that includes text, graphics, animation, sound, and movies, the Web offers a brand new working world for artists and graphic designers. Using programs such as Dreamweaver to edit and Flash to create vector-based animation graphics, Web page designers are pushing the envelope in this, the most dynamic segment of the design industry.
And, fortunately for designers, the Web is an ever changing media.
"When I first started designing on the Web, I had to totally change my attitude about the work," says Sabine Messner, of Hotwired, as quoted in Darcy DiNucci's book, Elements of Web Design. "I was use to print, where I would get this moment of relief when I had the final product in my hands. But on the Web, you're never done."
Yet, artists and graphic designers did not take quickly to the World Wide Web. As a design opportunity, it was seen, initially, as having limited possibilities. Born of the Internet in 1991, the Web began as a text-only tool for disseminating information. In 1993, with the creation of Mosaic, the first browser able to display graphics, that changed.
"Finally, information on the Internet could have color and personality," says Darcy. "And suddenly, the Internet became more than a way to exchange useful information and e-mail; it became an entertainment medium."
And, thanks to great WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) Web design programs, such as Adobe's Dreamweaver, Adobe's Flash and Microsoft's FrontPage to mention only the more well known, you can design Web pages without writing a single line of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). While computer programmers are still needed in the Web development world, artist and designers, thanks to WYSIWYG, are assuming the leading role.
Indeed. Any graphic designer not into Web design is limiting his or her options. "Most design firms are doing Web design," says Brent McMahan, of Sibley Peteet Design. "At least it is part of what they do. Some, of course, do nothing else."
"It's the way of the world," says Michael, of KBDA, a 12-person design studio in Santa Monica, California. "Everyone needs a Website. A design firm must be able to do it in conjunction with other aspects of a project."
"MY COUSIN FRED SAYS..."
As in all professions, there's the down side in a days work. "The toughest part is in the lack of knowledge, even appreciation, in the customer base," Bert says. "You work on a project for days, then the client announces: 'My cousin Fred says we should do it this way.' You want to scream. Yet, graphic designers must understand they're not fine artists. We work to satisfy someone elses need, not our own. It isn't businesses role to be a patron of the arts, or artist. The printed page should never be considered an art gallery."
Of course, working with creative, open-minded clients is every graphic designer's dream. But as Susan E. Davis, writing in the June, 2000, issue of How magazine puts it, "Finding clients who value your creativity, actively participate in the creative process, and want to build long-term collaborations is no easy task."
Yet, there is much to do and be thankful for in this exploding, varied, and satisfying profession. "Once in awhile," Bert concludes, "a great designer gets to work with a great client, one that has faith in him and his work. A client that lets the designer design." With that said, Bert turns, smiling, to face his computer. "Let's see," he murmurs, "maybe I'll move the gearbox over here."
WHAT WILL I EARN?
According to the 1998-1999 Occupational Outlook Handbook, developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, the national average annual salary for visual artists $34,500. The top 10 percent earn more than $46,000. Graphic design professionals I spoke with in the Los Angeles area put entry level salaries at from $8 to $10 an hour on the low end and $18 to $20 and hour at the high end.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT
. The Society of Illustrators; 128 East 63rd St., New York, NY 10021-7392.
. American Institute of Graphic Arts; 1059 Third Ave., New York, NY 10021; (212) 752-0813.
WHAT TO READ
. Becoming a Graphic Designer: a Guide to Careers in Design; Steven Heller, Teresa Fernandes; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 1997; ISBN: 0471292990.
. The Digital Designer: the Graphic Artist's Guide to the New Media; Steven Heller, Daniel Drennan; Watson-Guptill Publications, Inc.; 1997; ISBN: 0823013464.
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