Hi Gunnar and Christopher
Your posts about the nature of graphic design practise in relation to 'fit for purpose' training and software competency are interesting.
Both of you mention one narrow view of graphic design practise as essentially computer operation. This to me is not graphic design, despite what job titles might declare. This is more a description of a 'finished artist' or 'graphic artist,' a highly skilled technician who is invaluable to any studio or print shop. They can reproduce any artwork, quickly and effectively mock up other people's ideas using the available software and perhaps most importantly, they solve logistical problems of getting conceptual artwork into the correct format for production, be it print or digital. From time to time they are also asked to come up with ideas themselves. This is an important job, and although the graphic artist needs many of the same skills as a graphic designer, what they do is not 'graphic design.'
The other, broader definition you both refer to is the only one I think of as graphic design. It differs from the role of the finished artist in two ways: process and deliverables. In terms of process, the finished artist is most dependent on their technical skills to complete their work. The graphic designer, on the other hand, works more like a photographer, in the sense that while the job demands technical skills, they are used in tandem with strong conceptual skills (Design Thinking). In terms of deliverables, the finished artist primarily trades in 'finished artwork,' (hence the job title) that is, computer files that are ready to feed into commercial printers. The graphic designer primarily trades in intellectual property, to paraphrase Melbourne lawyer Trevor Choy.
A person or business who employs a finished artist has a greater immediate need for, say, a new business card, than for managing the public perception of their business. If the same business employs a graphic designer, the only tangible deliverable they receive may be a business card, but it could be expected to be a more effective card than they would have obtained through a print shop because of the higher visual literacy and greater fundamental understanding of visual communication that the graphic designer employs in his work.
I think the two are often confused by people outside of the graphic design profession because they both 'look like a duck and quack like a duck,' so to speak. This situation is not helped by practising graphic designers common lack of awareness of 'how they design.' Still, whether your average practitioner can verbalise the significance of their practise or not, I firmly believe the visual literacy, visual rhetorical skills and conceptual development graphic designers develop through their practise will continue to set them apart from the technicians no matter how ubiquitous their physical tools-in-trade become.
Gunnar, as someone who has gained my degree only a couple of years ago, I would be surprised to hear of any person genuinely practising graphic design who relies on default settings to the extent you describe, particularly if they have any interest in typography. Although I do know of studios and practitioners who quite cynically do the equivalent of relying on default software settings, fulfilling each brief with remarkably similar technical specifications, irrespective of the client's needs. I suppose it is a matter of practise ethics.
But this raises an interesting point. You imply that by relying on default settings the designer is 'letting the computer/software design.' Certainly the designer is relinquishing some of his or her creative control to the software engineers, but does that constitute 'not designing'? This line of reasoning suggests that any professional who uses default technical settings is not carrying out their craft, that they effectively turn themselves into operators. Is this true of photographers using 'auto' mode on their cameras, or architects who use CAD out of the box without customisation?
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>>> "Swanson, Gunnar" <[log in to unmask]> 18/08/09 12:01 AM >>>
Since graphic design is a bit of a cargo cult, I've been trying to find useful flotsam in Terry's notion of the scientific future of a scientific future where machines do the designing and, of course, there are some large crates that are well worth opening. While others search for beetles, I think it's worth pointing out a couple of things before we turn too much of it into a bonfire on the beach.
Some of Terry's description of design can be justified by noting what might be called extreme affordances. Most users of graphic design software never adjust default settings so many "decisions" are never consciously made by "designers." To this extent, the software is doing much of what designers think of as designing.
One doesn't have to argue about consciousness or agency or such to note that much of the work done by graphic designers and by those employed by graphic designers a few years ago is now done by software and that much of what was called wisdom or taste or judgment is now called "the default setting." We can also guess that this trend will continue.
One good example is the spacing of letters. That used to be a matter of looking closely and spending the time to make careful choices. Until the conversion to small computers, most graphic designers left most of that to their typesetters but Herb Lubalin famously sliced away at the most expertly set headlines. Now InDesign does a better job of making those "subjective" decisions than do the vast majority of graphic designers.
I have argued on Typo-L that most of the judgments we call "standard typography" (i.e., the skillful setting of large amounts of type for continuous reading) is rule based even if there is no agreement on the rules. Any set of rules can be made into software so the typographer's craft will be automated. This argument is not as obviously true of other aspects of graphic design or of typographic design as we move farther away from book typography but it is clearly true that most activities--from writing to cooking--include making the same decision repeatedly and any such decision can be automated.
If we assume that the demand for graphic design services (kind and quantity) were stable, Terry's description of a few developers of software and knowledge for software, plus many machine-tending drones would be more compelling. The nature of the "deliverables" for graphic designers has changed enough in my career to belie the implicit notion of stability. (Of course Terry could argue that the software designers change faster than the graphic designers so stability is not required.)
Terry's description of design and the future of design education got me thinking about how (and/or if) it applied to graphic design education as I see it (and as I might project its future.) If the purpose of graphic design education is to train people as computer operators and if computer software will be doing more and more of a non-expanding task (and if the software will become easier and easier to use) then the only conclusion would be that the task of graphic design education is shrinking.
If the task of graphic design education is to train computer operators, one would also wonder why this is a university major. If the software tending is ever-and-ever easier, it seems that graphic design would be (and should be) marginalized in the university more and more.
It is possible that Terry is right and that this realization drives much of the resistance to design research and design becoming scientific. If we define graphic design in the narrowest sense and assume that the role of design education is to minimally prepare people for the minimal description of the job, this seems to make a bit of depressing sense.
As my previous post showed, I don't buy Terry's description of the task of graphic design. (It has little to do with what I did for a living for most of my adult life and is a much narrower job than mine.)
Although I don't object to the broader views of design as possible models for education (some of you are familiar with my 1994 Design Issues article on one such approach http://www.gunnarswanson.com/old/writingPages/GDasLibArt.html), it's not the basis of any design education I'm familiar with. There are some programs that claim to teach "design thinking" as a separate activity from design as I think about it. (Some of how I think about design as an activity is evident in a slide lecture in the form of a Flash movie I did about a year ago. It's at http://www.gunnarswanson.com/definedesign and requires a chunk of downloading, sound on, and a screen bigger than my smallest laptop.)
Roger Martin, dean of Rotman School of Business says design thinking is, instead of choosing from existing models, the ability to develop new models. Several people on this list say that design is pretty much any effort to change the present reality.
Most design education is almost necessarily narrower. The student population comes expecting to learn how to function as designers. (Certainly many of them have expectations of that in line with Terry's machine tenders.)
My experience is that the activity of designing combined with analysis of the activity and the designed objects that are the result prepares students to do the sort of thinking that Martin describes better than most university majors do. I don't have any direct experience with the teaching and/or learning of design thinking divorced from design doing. I would love to hear anything that anyone has to say about "design thinking" programs.
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