Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sour Grapes, or Typical Rantings of a Graphic Design Degree holder

Recently a friend of mine shared a blog post by a graphic designer via Facebook. This wasn't the first time he had shared one, and I doubt it will be the last.

In this post he was lamenting the loss of the HTML/CSS guru and blaming it on web standards. I found this post odd, because whenever I look at job listings, there are just as many listings for an HTML/CSS guru as there have ever been. The author of the post talked about how web standards had eliminated all the quirks that used to exist between differing browsers. I wondered if this guy had built a website in the last month, because there are still a mountain of quirks one has to deal with just as there were over a decade ago when I started designing sites. True, many of the old quirks have disappeared, but with the introduction of HTML 5 and CSS 3 have come dozens of new quirks designers and programers have to deal with. If you write old code (HTML 4 and CSS 2) then yes, the code will be very consistent across browsers with very little need to write extra code to handle the quirks (but it will still require some). But who wants to hire someone to write old code? Most people have jumped onto the HTML 5 bandwagon thinking they need it without really understanding what it is or why it exists.

Reading that post, I was reminded of another rant another friend had posted about the decline of the art industry. At one time, the author had a booming business, but his clients had moved to outsourcing to cheaper labor in other countries that could deliver the same product. His solution was a certification program to block new entries into the job market.

And that post reminded me of a third post where a graphic designer was ranting and raving about people getting access to professional graphics software (especially of the Adobe family) and thinking they were designers but producing horrendous efforts. (This one I did have some sympathy for, because I have seen some pretty awful work by people who had never learned the basics of design.) His argument was the graphic design was some magical skill only a few possessed and should not be undersold. (He apparently was being underbid.) Graphic Design is a skill, but unlike other art skills (drawing, painting, storytelling, sculpture) anyone can learn it. And anyone can learn it from books or online resources--you don't need a special class or degree.

All three of these posts reminded me of numerous people I have come across who have BFA degrees in Graphic Design but couldn't find a job for years. They blame the market, the economy, and everything else but themselves. For some reason, it never occurred to them that they just weren't as good as they thought they were.

I've been a professional graphic designer/web designer for over 11 years. I got my first job as a designer two months after graduating with a degree in Economics. A couple of years later, I was offered another job replacing a guy who didn't even have a college degree, but was producing professional graphic design/web designer/motion design for large clients and delighting them with his work. Later I worked for several years as a Senior Designer/Webmaster for a large financial institution. In all these different positions, I've worked with many other designers, and I've noticed a pattern: the majority of those I work with do not have degrees in Graphic Design. Those that do tend to have less ability and fewer skills than those who majored in something like Communications.

But there is one thing that holders of BFAs in Graphic Design have that others do not--an excess of EGO. I don't know why, but designers think they are wonderful, everything they produce is a masterpiece, and everyone else is incapable of producing anything worth looking at. And this seems to be unique to designers. I went to art school, and I have a lot of artist friends. The illustrators, draftsmen, sculptors, and others are all nice, easy going people that admire others' work when it is good and recognize that they could improve their own. Those that are professional graphic designers with degrees in something else also recognize and acknowledge good work regardless of the source.

And that brings me back to this post's title: Sour Grapes. The three blog posts I've mentioned were all very negative and very angry. The authors were not having the success they wanted, and so they lashed out placing the blame on various sources. And others who felt the same way or were in the same boat reposted and/or shared these posts thinking they were masterpieces that hit the nail on the head. But never once did any of them even consider that they weren't as good as they thought they were. They never once suggested that they had gotten complacent and hadn't bothered to update their skills or learn new ones. They also didn't consider that the economy is a dynamic place with jobs and careers disappearing or being reinvented in all industries, not just design.

Being an expert with Photoshop is nice, but anyone can learn the commands and techniques. And when the new version comes out, many of the processes, short cuts, commands, etc. will have changed, so the old skills lose value. What does have value--and always will--is an eye for what looks good together, what fonts should be used, what colors, how the elements to be arranged in relation to each other, how to organize a work so it is accessible. These skills will always have a place, although their application may change drastically. Design has as much to do with taste and fads as fashion, and designer that was hot last year may be yesterday's news this year. And these are the skills the designers who write such blog posts seem to be weakest in.

The solution to their dilemma (not as much work, money, or prestige) is to improve their skills and make themselves better designers. Instead, they take the approach that many other failing and failed businesses have tried and that is to eliminate competition and vilify whatever elements they see as the source of their problems. It rarely works, and when it does work it's usually temporary and requires a great deal of maintenance. (Does Detroit and the car industry ring any bells?)

Writing this post, I realize that those who would benefit most from it will probably never read it, and if a few of them do, they will be sitting at their computers yelling at the screen arguing against the points I've made claiming I just don't get it not realizing how ironic that accusation is.

The expressions of the muses on the book cover at the top reminded me of the expression I imagine these blog post writers having and their desire to control the world as if they were the three fates of Greek mythology. Fortunately, they do not have that power. Just imagine what the world would be like if they did.

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