Too many non-designers romanticize the career of a graphic designer. They think we sit down to a computer or notepad and create beautiful images in a single instance. Then we chug back four cups of coffee and doodle for the rest of the day. There are so many lies about designers that circulate, but how do we tell people that design isn’t just about doodling and making things pretty?
Here are some of the biggest lies about graphic design that I’ve come across in my career as a designer.
1. Photoshop Is Design
If you know Photoshop, you know design, right? I really wish this wasn’t something people actually thought. So many people know how to use Photoshop these days that it’s become a verb. That does not mean those people can design. Being able to design and knowing how to use Photoshop are different things.
Photoshop is a tool, used by designers, to edit and create imagery for use in design work. The same goes for any design software. Knowing how to use any design program is not equal to being a designer. In fairness, it really helps to know the software, but design knowledge is more than technical knowledge.
Designers need to have an understanding of composition, pattern, balance, hierarchy, and so many more concepts that have little do do with knowing a software program.
2. Doodling All Day Long
Designers just draw and doodle all day; didn’t you know? I lost count of how many times I heard this one early in my career, though I never really understood it. Graphic designers are not illustrators. I mean, sometimes we are, but even then we’re not just lounging around, aimlessly doodling while we sip iced tea.
I’ve been told “You must love to just be able to draw all day” or “I wish I could just doodle all day.” I was like, “I haven’t actually drawn anything since college.”
I think this misconception comes from people not really understanding what designers do, and not really caring to ask either.
3. All Designers Can Draw
In design school, a fellow student was actually shocked that there were a number of students in the class that weren’t amazing illustrators. This is probably because so many graphic designers started out by being interested in illustration. Others, like myself, became interested in graphic design after using the computer to create graphics. Don’t get me wrong, I used to be an amazing illustrator… in grade 4. These days, not so much.
You can be a successful designer without knowing how to illustrate. At a minimum, you should be able to draw clean stick people, create basic shapes on grid paper, and be able to create a rough penciled sketch of a composition. None of those require much illustrative talent.
Strong illustrative skills are useful for a designer, just not mandatory.
4. Apple Everything
Designers are all Apple-obsessed Mac fiends right? To be fair, I do actually know a number of designers who are, in fact, obsessed with everything Apple. But that’s not the case for all designers.
There’s also the idea, within the design community, that design work needs to be done on a Mac. This has never made much sense to me. As long as your computer can run Adobe programs, has sufficient RAM, and lets you use a good mouse and keyboard, it doesn’t matter what operating system you use.
In school I was taught design on a Mac but I’ve used a PC in most of my design jobs. Currently, I design on a PC and use an iPad for sketching in Procreate.
5. Designers Should Know How To Code
This is one of the more recent things I’ve seen about design, and it’s coming from within the industry. The idea that graphic designers should know how to code worries me. As someone who went in to learning code in school immediately after my design program ended, I know it’s not something you can just casually add to your design resume.
Being a great programmer takes a lot of skill and there are many other side-skills that fit better with design than programming; especially since designers tend to prefer creative pursuits. Programming is not creative; at least not in my experience.
There are designers who can program, and honestly, that’s great. Unfortunately, they’re usually only good at either the coding or the designing. And why should they be good at both? You want to be a great designer, focus on that. Learn branding, colour theory, typography, UI/UX, composition, print and web design, and leave the programming to programmers.
There is enough to learn in graphic design that it will take your entire career to learn it all, so focus your energy there; where you want it to be.
All that being said, it’s not a terrible idea for designers to know what HTML and CSS are. Really, they just need to know the basics so they can discuss website design and functionality with their R&D team. But that’s it.
Is the purpose of graphic design to make things prettier? At a very basic level, yes, graphic designers make things look better. However, we don’t really appreciate managers and clients giving us requests to ‘just make it pretty’ when referring to a project. There’s a lot more to design than just making something ‘pretty’. I mean, we do that too, but we don’t just give it a coat of lipstick and mascara and send it on its way.
The best designers are problem solvers who take a client’s problem and solve it in a visual way. In the process we make things look cleaner, more professional, and let the most important information speak first.
7. Open Offices Are The Most Creative
I think, maybe, employers like open offices because they can fit more people into a space; thus saving on monthly rental fees. If everyone had a cubicle that would take up too much room right? It certainly seems like it, although I think I did my best work when I had my own office. With a door, window, and separate heater. That was great.
The problem with an open office is that you will inevitably be distracted by a thousand different things every single second of the day. Seriously. Someone opens a lunch bag, two people laugh together, someone gets up from their desk quicker than normal, etc. All these things distract you from the task you’re working on, and very rarely does an open office make people more creative or lead to higher productivity.
At a previous job I had my entire design team in a small area with me, so calling a quick meeting was easy, and asking a design question was easy. That’s where the open office benefits ended. The rest of the day was distraction after distraction.
There’s also the slight stress you undergo when everyone in the office can see what’s on your monitor. When everyone can continually see your in-progress design work they are sure to comment on it; regardless of those comments being helpful or not.
Maybe, due to Coronovirus, office cubicles will make a comeback. You can’t have people so close together anymore. I wonder, though, if cubicles are the best answer. Is there something better for creativity and productivity than both office options?
Lies About Graphic Design: In Summary
There are plenty of misconceptions and lies about graphic design that you’ll hear regularly in your career as a designer. Fortunately, part of your job is to educate your managers, clients, and coworkers about what designers really do and why graphic design matters. You can involve people in your process, ask questions, and explain why you’ve made certain decisions over others.
What other lies about graphic design should be added to this list? Let me know in the comments below.