The Value of Graphic Design

The Value of Graphic Design

When I finished school I was faced with the tough decision of what to study. After carefully considering my initial options (fireman, astronaut, wild horse tamer etc), I finally settled on two choices: architecture or graphic design.

It’s obvious that I ended up doing the graphic design course (largely due to some unforeseen circumstances). That being said, in hindsight I wouldn’t have it any other way. These days I mainly focus on the photography side of the business, but I am still involved in directing the bigger design projects

I do sometimes wonder however, how my life would have turned out if I’d decided to become an architect. The one thing I know that would be different – is the way people in general would perceive me.

Let me explain. I have always found it quite strange the way people react when I say I work in the design industry. Often the news is greeted with amusement and I can see in their minds how they shift me into the “weirdo creative” category. Comments like “Oh, so basically you draw pictures all day” or “So … you make posters and flyers right?” is basically the expected response.

This really bothers me. If I had said I was an architect (which is essentially also a design orientated job) people would react very differently. Over the years I’ve given this some thought and my only conclusion is that, in general, people don’t really see graphic design as an important job . . . and to add insult to injury – most of the time they don’t really understand exactly what a graphic designer does.

I really find this vast imbalance in perception strange given the amount of responsibility that rests upon the shoulders of your average designer working at a successful design studio. Designers make huge decisions on a daily basis that can have extreme positive or negatives effects on a product or brand.

Let’s take packaging design for instance. Here at Contrast we specialise in packaging design. For me packaging design is the core branding of a product. You can have the fancy above-the-line campaigns and all the rest – but if the actual packaging design is weak the product will struggle to compete in the competitive retail environment and not perform well.

In order for us to create packaging design that really works – we have to do extensive market research, trend analysis, focus groups and consider the overall positioning of the product and target market. Once this is completed, we can start the creative process and find a solution that not only looks good, but actually works (in other words – sells) . Usually this means working within certain budget constraints, production limitations and often very tight time constraints. The reason I’m saying all of this is not to try and make us sound awesome … but rather to give people insight into the effort and pressure that goes into a seemingly “basic” design.

I think a big issue – specifically in South Africa – is that there are too many people out there calling themselves designers who really should not be using that title. These days anybody who can use Photoshop are calling themselves designers. When it comes to graphic design – we need to use the same criteria that we would use to judge any other profession. Anybody can design a house, but that does not mean that they’re all architects. The average consumer needs to understand that there is a big difference between somebody who can add a script font to a word doc and a true graphic designer.

The impact of talented graphic designers on society is immeasurable. Do yourself a favour and look around today. Look for all the designed elements around you. So much of what you see and use on a daily basis has had some sort of graphic design influence or has been directly created by a graphic designer somewhere in the world. From the Coke can you’re holding, to the interface design on your iPad, to the overall layout of this blog that you’re reading.

The world is a richer, fuller and – dare I say – better place because of the great work done by truly dedicated graphic designers.

I guess this is where my frustration lies – graphic design is hugely under-appreciated and under-valued as a profession even though the influence of graphic designers has shaped the world we know.

I’m ending this article with a simple thought: Imagine a world without graphic designers. No beautiful brands, no wonderful magazines, no slick interface designs, no pretty business cards or beautifully designed brochures. The list goes on and on. Would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?

Article written by:
Stephen Geldenhuys

Featured image created by: Minga

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