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July 24, 2012

$20 = Graphic Designer?

Ad for design templatesIf you're a business owner and this ad tempts you to fire up MS Word and do it yourself, hold on to your wallet for just a minute.

QuickBooks doesn't make you an accountant even though it gives you professional tools.

A player piano doesn't make you a musician even though it plays the music you choose.

Using a pretty template for your company's advertising doesn't make you a designer.

What tools and piano rolls and templates do is make it seem like it's about the final product, not the process. Yet first and foremost design is a process.

By the way, if you're a designer and the ad scares the crap out of you, you're either 1) underestimating your skills or 2) in the wrong business.

How does it look?

The ad implies that if the product looks or sounds "professional", that's all you need:

"...the new Inspiration set offers a range of looks that can easily be used in a number of settings and that can make business documents look fresh and exciting...an easy and inexpensive way to produce stationary, brochures, menus, forms, certificates, and other documents that look professionally designed. [Emphasis added]

A designer's job is not to simply make things "look fresh and exciting" and/or "look professionally designed."

Far from it.

Does it captivate? Is it memorable?

Even the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics takes a broader view:

"Graphic designers create visual concepts, by hand or using computer software, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, or captivate consumers. They help to make an organization recognizable by selecting color, images, or logo designs that represent a particular idea or identity to be used in advertising and promotions."

"inspire, inform or captivate consumers" is quite a leap from "look professionally designed." 

AIGA, the professional organization for design, explains it more expansively:

"Graphic design...responds to needs at once personal and public, embraces concerns both economic and ergonomic, and is informed by many disciplines, including art and architecture, philosophy and ethics, literature and language, science and politics and performance...

Graphic design is complex combinations of words and pictures, numbers and charts, photographs and illustrations that, in order to succeed, demands the clear thinking of a particularly thoughtful individual who can orchestrate these elements so they all add up to something distinctive, or useful, or playful, or surprising, or subversive or somehow memorable."

More than pretty

The big question is not how pretty something looks, but how well does it send your message? Your logo, ad or website should communicate quickly and accurately what your company is all about. It's not enough to make it pretty. In fact maybe it shouldn't look pretty.

Yesterday I was driving behind a Jeep advertising off-road 4x4 adventures. If you want people to know that they can drive their truck in axle-deep mud at your place, pretty isn't going to help you much.

A good graphic designer will make it look dirty enough to be fun, respectable enough that you know you'll survive the adventure.

If you're a designer, how concerned are you about design templates for Word? Does this threaten your business?

If you're a company owner, how likely are you to buy a product like the Inspiration Set for Word?

Add your comments below.

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