The short answer is “no,” but then this would be shortest blog posting of all time.
I am constantly amazed at the hubris (or possibly the naivete) of people who consider themselves graphic designers just because they own a MAC, Photoshop or one of the other application programs designers use. It’s interesting to me – not because I have a lofty design education – it’s because many years ago I was one of them.
During my junior year at Austin College I was taking an advanced photography class which focused on learning Photoshop. Near the end of the semester, I met Stephen Zhang who was a senior art director at Fossil. He gave a presentation to our class and talked about how he used applications like Photoshop. Based on the recommendation of my professor, I became an intern at Fossil working the photo studio cataloging color chromes of watches. (I just dated myself.)
“I thought back to my first portfolio review at Fossil. Was I going to be the supportive art director or the other kind who could crush your spirit?”
While attending class full-time my senior year, I started working in the art studio doing every small project I could get my hands on. Clipping paths, retouching, drawing line sheets, sizing logos, spraymounting presentations, making photocopies and becoming a sponge for knowledge. As I neared graduation, I probably had some idea that I was a graphic designer. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Before I could become a full-time employee, I had to go through a portfolio presentation with Stephen and another art director from the studio. I worked night and day on my meager little portfolio which I presented with pride. In the portfolio review, Stephen was supportive. The other art director was a little arrogant. Then the other art director asked me, “so, what’s your favorite element of design?” I could have said anything like color, space, unity or typography. Instead I think a rattled off some BS about making sure the client liked the final artwork. Nailed it! At this the other art director threw up his hands and made a dismissive grunt. And at that moment, I thought back to my intro philosophy course. To paraphrase Socrates, true wisdom comes from knowing that you know nothing. I knew less than nothing.
Amazingly, I was hired (out of pity, I think) and worked designing watches and packaging for the Fossil private label division. After two years I moved on to Banowetz + Company, Inc. It was at Banowetz that I really had to hone my design skills. The first few years were hard because I had so much to learn, including: layout, typography, copywriting, print specs, art direction, press checks, not to mention client service, and how to be a professional. I’ve had so many patient “teachers” along the way that I would need countless more blog posts to thank them all.
So where is this going? This coming Friday I will have been at Banowetz + Company for 12 years and it’s making me a little nostalgic. Also, this past week I reviewed the portfolio of a recent art education graduate who wanted to break into the graphic design industry. While reviewing his portfolio, I thought back to my first portfolio review at Fossil. Was I going to be the supportive art director or the other kind who could crush your spirit? In the absolutely nicest way possible, I told this young man that – while it may not be impossible – it was going to be a VERY difficult road for him to become a designer in Dallas.
“So, you have computer? Yes. Good for you. Do you have Photoshop? Yes. Awesome. Are you a designer? That last one might be a little harder to answer.”
We spent two hours together and he asked questions like, “do you think I missed out on a lot of classes as a fine arts student versus a design student?”. Yep. Typography, photography, packaging design, art history, just to name a couple. Trust me. I missed them all, too. The whole experience reminded so much of my path into graphic design that it was a little unnerving. Finally, I had to explain, “just because you know Photoshop, it doesn’t make you a designer. The program is just a tool. Similarly, I know how to use a point-and-click camera, but that doesn’t make me a photographer.” And there it is – things have come full circle.
So, you have computer? Yes. Good for you. Do you have Photoshop? Yes. Awesome. Are you a designer? That last one might be a little harder to answer. I’m going to say maybe, because after almost 15 years I’m not really sure I’m a true graphic designer. But maybe – if I’m lucky – I’ll get there soon.