This question is often asked in relation to the design of print media, as illustrated by this comment on a website by Mark Sadowski, who is currently the Head of Graphic Design at the United States Marine Corps:
“A graphic designer is an artistic mind with a strong understanding of what’s important. I understand that a print designer cannot work with all media, but they should be able to understand the aesthetics of the materials they design for to create an illustration that really works for the target audience. In that sense it’s not that different from a cinematographer, and it is, in a way, equally important to design for the cinematography and design for the audience.”
“The problem of design is in the ability to design for design”
What is the Job of a Graphic Designer?
While the definition of “design” itself may seem nebulous to the layperson, it can be made explicit if you look at something like the American Society of Newspaper Design, who describe the role of a graphic designer
“The job of a graphic designer is to design information systems that meet the needs of society in ways that are both functional and informative, and in the process produce information that is relevant and interesting to the general populace.”
So what does the definition above leave us with? If you want to design for a specific purpose then the job is not done.
A designer should have a background, and be familiar with their craft, and they should communicate that on a consistent basis to the team they work with. At least in the case of graphic design, most designers are well-versed in computer based design techniques and should be able to work effectively in one of the more technical software environments. That means that they should have the ability to use Adobe Illustrator for design, as opposed to more esoteric programs like Adobe InDesign or Photoshop.
In the case of graphics however, a lot of the basics have become lost along the way in terms of terminology, as well as the practice of design in general. Instead of defining a “style” in terms of how something should look “good” and “imperative” in every context, we are more inclined to use terms such as “form” or “content”, which in turn limits or even denies the role of designer. But that is not to say that we can’t define a style, or that we can’t define a “design style”, because there is definitely merit in having someone who can tell us how to use a design
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