Today’s graphic designer has moved beyond graphic. The term “graphic” fails to accurately describe our profession to the business community and the public. We should consider replacing it with a more relevant, accurate description of what we do today. Why?
As graphic designers, we’ve been so busy defining our client’s identities that we forgot about a far more important identity: our own. Ironically, the entire communications industry is in a state of self-inflicted confusion: marketing, advertising, corporate identity, branding, web design, new media, multimedia, interactive, packaging, graphic design. We have accumulated so many terms — old and new — that people in our own industry don’t understand what we do, yet alone our clients. Many of these titles have become obsolete — especially “graphic design”.
The term “graphic” limits the advancement of our industry. Graphics refer to pictures and images — not strategies, concepts, words, sound, or animation. With the digital revolution, graphic design has truly moved beyond graphics. Today’s graphic designer has outgrown the job title. Some have tried to combat this by dropping the descriptor and calling themselves “designers”. However, this is a vague term that confuses people and bundles us with other types of designers (interior, industrial, fashion etc.).
Although our expertise creates value for business, we are not valued as professionals by the business world. Compared with the average advertising budget, graphic design fees are minimal. Businesses spend millions on marketing or advertising, but only thousands on graphic design. It’s easy to understand how our expertise and services are not taken seriously. As much as the graphic design community has worked over the years to educate businesses, few people really understand or value what we do. As a result, graphic designers are not considered crucial to an organization’s success. Graphic designers get little respect in the boardroom and are constantly trying to justify their existence to clients. Are we fighting a losing battle by promoting obsolete terminology?
Many of us are members of professional graphic design associations. While these associations succeed in bringing us together, some may fall short of elevating our profession to the status of professions that are respected in the business world (lawyers, engineers, and accountants).
The respect we deserve in the business world will continue to evade us as long as “graphic” remains part of our name. Most business people — the ones that hire us — think that we are at the table to create the “look and feel”. They see our work as decoration, a nice-to-have after the strategic thinking is performed. This is why graphic designers remain at the bottom of the communications chain — below advertising professionals, communication consultants, and marketing strategists. As long as we are seen only as visual enhancers, we will never command the respect (or fees) that other professionals do.
Phototypesetting/Paste-up > Desktop Publishing Software > Web/new publishing software
In the past, people who learned desktop publishing software called themselves graphic designers. Now, technology-savvy people with Web publishing skills are calling themselves Web designers and are often crossing over into print. Again, we are faced with the problem of unqualified people using their technical abilities to pose as design experts. To combat this, the new designer must emphasize communication as their strength and be fluent in all forms of media. Communication ability — not software ability — should qualify them.
Commercial Art > Graphic Art > Graphic Design > … Visual Communicator ?
“Design” once replaced the term “art”. The term “design” communicated that the work we did was more than artistic. Now it is time to replace “graphic”. A term like “communication” may be best as it deals with all of the communication elements that today’s professional must work with: concepts, words, type, color, sound, animation and, of course, graphics. It also suggests that we help clients communicate in many mediums — not just print but also digitally and 3-dimensionally.
“Communication” conveys that the work we do is functional and not just decorative. A “communication designer” must be not only creative, but also strategic. Our work must deliver a message, not just a “look and feel”. We can work visually and verbally in all media because our talent is communication, not technology.
How can we command respect and fairer fees when we haven’t communicated our own “brand” to the public? We must band together and take our industry to its rightful place in the professional business world. We either redefine our own profession or graphic design ourselves right out of existence. The first step is retiring an outdated term that is doing us far more harm than good.
Are you beyond graphic? Do you support a debate and global review of our professional title?
If you agree that your professional title of “graphic designer” could change to better reflect what you do, then please take action: