Dynamist Blog

The DIY Threat

Graphic designers seem to live in terror of amateurs with Pagemaker, as witnessed by Michael Bierut's famous post on Design Observer and the many, many comments that followed:

What stings here, I think, isn't just the specter of do-it-yourself. We're used to that. Some of us even applaud it. Once graphic designers possessed unique technical expertise: the names of fonts, the phone numbers of typesetters, the formula for calculating the precise length of a 200-word manuscript set on a 14 pica wide column of 12 on 14 point Bodoni Book. Today, anyone can do it. If some untrained-in-graphic-design parent wants to support Junior's political ambitions, out comes the Photoshop and some awful typeface and before you know it the printer is cranking away. (Of course, Junior, if he's got a brain in his head, has already launched his viral video and won't get around to hanging your pathetic old-skool posters. But it's the thought that counts!) For graphic designers, our craft is now a commodity.

It's a little depressing that there are some designers who can count on a little respect. Do you have to be a trained product designer to create a new sports car? Do you have to be a trained architect to design a new house? Despite Divine Design with Candace Olson and Pimp My Ride, the answer is still yes and yes. You don't see Business Week offering any fun courses in industrial design or architecture, at least not yet.

So what's an embattled graphic designer to do? During my three-year term as president of AIGA, our members consistently ranked one priority above all others: proving the value of design to the general public, and specifically, the business community. To put it bluntly, we were all searching for some magic formula that would make clients predisposed to respect us, and to demonstrate that respect by paying us large fees. We wanted design to have "a place at the table." We yearned for a silver bullet that would slay our insecurities once and for all. The silver bullet took a variety of forms. Perhaps the process of design was too mysterious to be credible: would agreeing on a standard 12-step sequence reassure clients that there was valuable science behind the art? So many amateurs out there: shouldn't we be licensing graphic designers so clients could distinguish the professionals from the dabblers? And, oddly, so many credible firms participate in unpaid competitions: can we make it, if not against the law, than at least professionally embarassing?

Chill, I argued in the comments back then and in this new article in Print magazine. DIY is not only here to stay. It's not a long-term threat to good professional graphic design.

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