BA Graphic & Media Design
The world is currently in a state of uncertainty, perhaps not seen since the Second World War which ended seventy-five years ago. The change in people’s daily lifestyle has been immense. Working from home, where a commute which was once one hour and two changes on the tube has become a journey from bed to desk, perhaps via the kitchen for a morning coffee. During this lockdown people’s mental health is also being greatly challenged, and a lot of creatives that I know have struggled greatly with their sense of self-worth, especially in their discipline and are they good enough?
Considering my discipline during the lockdown has been something which has been more than challenging at times, it is obviously an amalgamation of different emotions and experiences which have created times of question and uncertainty towards my practise and ability. The more I thought about it I have considered that I thought about the amount of skills I must have as a graphic designer. When the world is functioning normally I work part-time in a café in Old Street, home to both big corporate tech companies and small creative studios. Over time I have had many encounters with customers, some friendly passers-by, others that are daily regulars whom I have gotten to know over a couple of years. Whenever it is mentioned that I am only part-time and I then go on to mention it is because I study graphic design, everyone has a different response.
Oh, you study graphic design? Theo Hersey, 2020.
I am aware that a lot of the people who gave these remarks do not work in the creative industry and most likely don’t know what a graphic design degree entails, much as I have no clue about their complex sounding office job. However, it did make me think what does a graphic designer do, and what do people expect of us?
During our Letterpress workshop induction in first year of university, I remember the technician explaining how fifty years ago that the degree in type-composition was five full days a week, and was seven years long. After your degree, you could then join in the bottom end of industry. Now the letterpress induction is done in a two-hour crash course style and from there you can learn more about type setting as you explore the workshop and methods. It made me realise just how different the requirements of individual designers are in the current day and age. Are graphic designers expected to be able to do everything?
I’ve invested all my DPS year up until April working in Letterpress. In doing so I have had the opportunity to develop a deep knowledge in one specific skill, as opposed to exploring various avenues. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for some of Europe’s foremost Letterpress practitioners this year and that has certainly been a high point of the year. Since returning from Berlin in March I have been aware of the negative side of only investing my time into one skill — especially such a rarely used one. This has prompted me to undertake an internship in something completely different, now working for two co-owned companies undertaking branding and marketing tasks.
What does a graphic designer need to be able to do? Theo Hersey, 2020.
I asked my peers what people have required from them when they have mentioned that they are a graphic designer, these are the things that sprung up. That is a lot of different things.
During the current lockdown, I was asked by Marion Bisserier, a friend and recently graduated GMD student, to participate in a zoom call to assist with her research into mental health and its link to the creative industry. The discussion was very interesting, and to hear a mix of different opinions from creatives at different points in their creative journeys. One key point which I picked up on and made me think was raised by Alexandra McCracken (2020) was “Once I graduated, I realised that you don’t need to be able to do absolutely everything.” Stemming from this imperative point, the discussion then went on to point out that It’s okay to not know how to do 3D animation or illustration, because someone else who is a trained in that field will collaborate with you providing the work needed.
This scenario reminded me of our preliminary DPS classes and when Reason magazine came in to host the editorial workshop with us all. I was sat with my housemate at the time, who is an illustrator and admits he isn’t very proficient in InDesign. Working with him to collectively curate our own twist on the editorial piece was an interesting collaborative experience. Viewing the classes efforts at the end of the session was also interesting, you could see how some practitioners had created vast differences in the style of the editorial and others had not made many clear alterations at all.
So yes, of course it is important to be able to do be able to execute a variety of different skills as a graphic designer, and the more you can do, the more versatile you are — which is particularly useful as a freelancer. However, it is also okay to have a more in-depth knowledge about fewer areas. For example, some designers specifically focus on type design or motion graphics. It seems to be a balancing act of how wide a variety of skills you want against how much depth and knowledge you have in these fields. Being a graphic designer, or any creative for that matter, it is important to understand collaboration and utilising the skills of others. It is okay that you can’t do everything, but remember to ask for help when you need it. We’re only young and will continue to develop our practise throughout our careers.
McCracken, A. (2020) ZOOM video call to Marion Bisserier, Africa Pombo, Ella Sutherland. 6th May.
Hersey, T. (2020) Oh, you study graphic design? [Image taken from PDF]
Hersey, T. (2020) What does a graphic designer need to be able to do? [Image taken from PDF]