Raise Your Hand If You’re Sure

Why is there such a poor level of confidence in graphic designers about their skills, field, and place within practice and the world? Could it be that they have heard one too many of their kind bemoaning the lack of understanding by their families for what they do? Is it that architects have soaked up all the confidence to be had by those in any design discipline? Is it that any yahoo can fire up a Mac and hang out a shingle no matter their talent, taste, visual intellect, or level of understanding?

Maybe it is that far too many educators do not instill respect in their students for a life in design education and practice. Maybe it is that graphic design press can’t get beyond squabbling about remedial, dead arguments of formal bias and nomenclature—you can make smart, educational, informative, completely tricked-out, glitter-pretty artifacts so get over it! It is all the above except for maybe the bit about architects. Truth is that many architects will tell you that by default industrial design, landscape architecture, art, and graphic design are within their purview as practitioners of the parent discipline. How would the profile and impact of graphic design change if only a little of this confidence, no matter how misplaced, could rub off on graphic designers?

posted by Tony Brock on October 25, 2004 | comments: 5 | post a comment

I am a student. I have a specific outlook on graphic design right now because of what goes on in my studio. It will change soon. I think that when design becomes your lifestyle, confidence is born. Its a wonderful feeling. Like snow. And I find that with some peers, the lack of confidence stems from a constant focus on fulfilling the needs of a critique. It seems, that design is a stressful way to live a life. Our work is an extension of our own esteem. It takes a unique person to accept, filter and utilize critique. There is a similarly unique ability to accept critique as the opinion of only one person. Valuable, yes. Universal, no. Speaking of architects by the way, I very much enjoyed a story about Yoshio Taniguchi, architect of MoMA's new NYC museum in Metropolis. When asked to comment on a theme of his building in a small group at a reception, Taniguchi replied something to the tone of--good question, why do't you discuss it while I use the restroom. I appreciate his sense of when is and is not the correct time and place for critique. Design is not solely about critique. It is about enjoyment and engagement. It is about making. That fundamental understanding is what I love about design.
Aside from critique, at the student level, I don't feel there is nearly enough focus (be it in freetime or class) on work that pleases the student. It gets back to design as lifestyle. Its not easy to balance work for class with side projects that personally interest you; but it is absolutely essential in developing a love and confidence not only in our own design skills but also in design's importance and future.

Posted by Joshua Gajownik on October 27, 2004 09:22 PM

Hi again. One posting of a message wasn't enough so apparently I posted it twice.
A side note to my experience here on this messageboard. Those of you who know me know I am a fairly confident, outspoken person. Oddly enough, as I was writing my first post there was critique anxiety. Who will be reading this? What will they say? I misspelled don't.
I am not expert at critical writing. And maybe my writing is bad but I can extract joy (and confidence) from the fact that I will become a better writer.

Posted by Joshua Gajownik on October 27, 2004 09:41 PM

How can we as design educators continue to convince our students: that thinking critically is essential for tackling today's problems; that cutting through the clutter and revealing underlying structures is the way to truth; that there is power in enabling our users, viewers, audiences to understand complexity; that making things look good has integrity only when they are good as well; that they can and must claim their rightful places as leaders in some sort of new world order. . . at the same time that they must function as part of a society that would select its leading administration - and its path in the world - based on conflicting messages, rhetorics of fear and christian fundamentalism parading as the only acceptable form of patriotism?

This is where my confidence has gone today. How can we do this with any confidence that we will make a difference?

And the only answer I can find is - how can we afford not to keep trying?

Posted by Angela Norwood on November 3, 2004 04:13 PM

Hi folks, I know this is an old thread but since I just discovered this site I felt strangely compelled to respond.

I'm a nineteen year old graphic designer. While most of my peers have opted to attend university. I have decided to try my luck in the "real world." I've observed that the lack of confidence most people have toward designers stems from two things. One, do-it-yourself design software has led many people to believe that anyone can be a designer; that designers aren't people who are highly creative problem solvers, they're people who know how to use desktop publishing software. This view is fostered by the neighborhood copy stores and sign businesses that offer "design" in addition to things like printing and mailing.
The second reason is that a lot of people don't know what graphic designers do. They know what illustrators and printers do, but they can't understand what graphic designers do.
The best way for us to gain respect would be to do good work, give good customer service, and let people know that there's more to design than pushing stuff around with a mouse.
But that's just my opinion.

Posted by Sam Edwards on November 20, 2004 02:41 AM

I think one of the most detrimental things that occur in a young designer's/student designer's early work is the fact that critique goes beyond the subjective—sometimes it seems that it is a personal attack on the designer's work. Students are also critiqued by designers, which are a thousand-fold times stricter and more brutal than any real-world clients. Student designers are also spread too thin sometimes, and this can kill a desire for design in general.

We all play favorite in classes when we are in school. At least the lucky ones do, I guess. The hardest part is KNOWING that you do good work and getting good response/grades and then getting bad marks—even if the work is good work—when you run across a professor who has some sort of personal dislike for the designer. I think this may be one of the cruelest actions against a student designer. It belittles them to the point that they detest being in their studio environment. This semester I experienced first-hand the wrath of a professor who did not seem to give the credit that was due. Being a subjective field though, one cannot argue bad grades beyond possibly craft. Design is subjective, and if someone does not like you, they can take it out on your work... which hurts a designer. I feel that too often personal vendettas are held against a designer when they should not be. A designer's work should not be hacked at because of a professor (or student's) disdain for the designer. How do you get past this? Sometimes you can't. It is awfully hard for a student designer to keep his/her head up when it is beaten down by a professor—especially when the work is much stronger than credit is given for it.

Designers are also harsh on their students. "I'm not feeling this piece" usually can translate into "This doesn't look like my style/I don't like your style". Oh, we're students. We don't have set styles yet. I'd like to argue: we are the product, in whole or in part, of our design education. At the junior/senior level in college, designers should be WELL on their way of determining their own niche and style in the design world. Many times though, professors may not like a style that a student has. And, of course, there are very few graphic designers who do not do well in all aspects. Generally print designers are horrible motion designers. The type of designers who develop ads for Nike or Maxim will NOT be very successful at designing for Lifetime or an art museum. And by our senior year, we should know what our style is and that style should be respected for its uses and limitations; we are not all renaissance men, we do not all excel at every angle of graphic design. Many times professors do not seem to see their own faults in limiting their work to a certain style, and in narrowing their design projects to a certain market can hurt the students and not let them flourish because they are constantly being forced to work in cramped/unfamiliar environments. Yes, we should be challenged to break outside of our "box" and our "familiar territory." But we should also not be given ridiculously hard or obscure projects. Students realize what is within reason or reality when an absurd project is assigned. Often, professors try too hard to give a "designy" project that they overlook the obvious and realistic in which many of us will one day work. When a project becomes too forced, design students will lose interest and feel defeated too early on.

Another highly destructive factor in a design student's education is the fact that by their senior years, in addition to the above negative factors, many students already have jobs or internships in their fields and can become overworked and underappreciated. Students who can manage regular university classes, studio AND a job should not be reprimanded for having too many things to do. Instead, we ARE reprimanded. "You already have a job in your field, what is wrong with you?" This just doesn't sound right. But it's what we often hear as student designers. Design committees, freelance work, internships, studio, work, school work... it all adds up. This semester, nearly all of my grades fell in the 80% range. I am not an 80% person. Oh, grades shouldn't tear us down. It IS a reflection of our efforts though, or at least has come to represent that. And it DOES tear us down. When you are told that you are 80% of what you SHOULD be, or what you feel like you are worth, it tears a designer apart. It spreads them too thin. Their work becomes even worse because they do not have the care that they did because they have been beaten down so much, and are spread even thinner. The snowball effect kicks in. And just as we are ready to graduate and get into the Real World, the last thing that we are left wanting to do is:


What kills a love for design?

Critique. Too much design. Too little good design. Bad grades. Personality conflicts. Favorites. Jobs. All of the above.

I am currently 7/8 of a professional graphic designer. In May, I will get my shiny degree that says I know what I am doing and the people that taught me what I will do for a living (and for the rest of my life) back me up 100%.

And right now, I do not want to become a graphic designer in May. What has done that? The education process and bad professors. I am a senior graphic design student at NC State University, and I want professors to make me love design again. You have until May.

Can it be done? Can it be done by next May for the next class and the next student and the designer of tomorrow? I pray so. I do not want to retire regretting my profession.

Posted by Matt Courtney on December 19, 2004 09:19 PM