Why graphic design is not dead

DK and I chatted a bit yesterday about GradEx. We quickly went to “What is the point of this exhibition,” then to “Our program has no personality,” and then beyond. But as I pondered this today I realized that the fact that our program has no personality is not a showstopper.

Bringing organization to disorganized elements and imposing a scheme to a composition that has no harmony shouldn’t be something foreign to us: This is what graphic designers do.

I still remember during the post-conference townhall at AIGA’s 2012 “Pivot” conference when Ric Grefé talked about the importance of keeping our “craft” or risk losing our “specialness.” I was skeptical we had anything special to talk about. Doesn’t everyone have our technical skills these days? And then I was not even a good graphic designer.

But the amazing thing is that even a not-so-good graphic designer who has never even been properly trained was able see problems that even people trained in other design disciplines apparently failed to see. I see this as validation of Ric Grefé’s claim: We do have something special (I still don’t know what it is), and our specialness does not lie in our technical software skills—our “craft” is something else.

Which I believe brings us back to “What is the point of this exhibition.” When I chatted with the guy who’s showing sculpture next doors today one thing I mentioned was that I wanted to do GradEx because I didn’t feel I finished until I do this. When NW said it’s almost finished and I said “Two more days!” I really felt those were the right words to say.

For a design student, the end is not having thesis done (“I thought thesis was hell; GradEx is also hell,” as relayed by RT), neither is it having technically graduated (as I so call my awkward situation), nor is it convocation; the end is having gone through GradEx, in all its “hellish” ways. Like what DEEP and INCD’s “Culminating Festival” should have been, GradEx is a full environmental graphic design (EGD) project, complete with inclusivity and accessibility issues to solve.

This year’s two cohorts have not tackled it rightly, as an inclusive design problem (to be fair, neither has OCAD Administration tackled it rightly, as an EGD problem), so we have mostly squandered the precious opportunity. I wish next year’s cohort will take GradEx more seriously for what it is—an EGD project worthy of tackling from an inclusive design viewpoint.

Spec, something that people in my program shouldn’t even be worrying about

Today is August 30, the last day for submitting an entry to a certain design competition, but I’m not going to submit anything.

Nor will I likely submit anything two months from now when the other competition closes — one that, if this means anything, I would probably not do well in any case but was still really excited about — in my eyes, it’s all about identity and EGD. And if you asked me, I was really disappointed when I found this other competition to be “equivalent to spec”: I was talking about my ideas with one of the docents at The Power Plant and neither of us thought there’s anything wrong with that competition.

I had dug through hundreds of discussion postings on spec-vs-no-spec before I had any connection to the AIGA, but I have always felt real contests — especially those that are clearly branded as student contests, one that you find on your art school’s job board even — had to be some kind of an it’s-still-ok-even-though-it’s-kind-of-grey area. But compared to AIGA’s pretty much advisory position, RGD’s position leaves little room for interpretation. In a sense, the RGD’s much stricter position forces you to think more, so it’s a good thing, I guess.

My program’s program director likes crowdsourcing, thinking it to be possibly a good way to get those pesky accessibility problems solved. But crowdsourcing in tech circles isn’t really the kind of taboo it is in the graphic design world. So who in my program will worry about spec? Probably very few.

In any case, September is coming, and I will be back in the ceramics studio very soon. If I’m fortunate enough to be able to log sufficient time to enable me to produce some decent work before I finish my thesis in what now appears to be May, then maybe — just maybe — I might be able to show my work in some less controversial venue.

Design and social change

I went to the “Navigating the World of Design (w/ Zahra Ebrahim)” forum today, without really knowing what it was before I went. So it was a really good discussion (not really a “presentation” in the usual sense of the word), and Zahra turned out to be really friendly and approachable. Too bad I have never been good at coming up with good questions to ask.

But in any case, the career related stuff aside, two things really struck me: how much her vocabulary overlaps our program’s (“disability” and “social impact” in particular, and probably a couple more, but I bet she’s unknown in our class), and her assessment on the state of graphic design.

A few days ago—in fact last week after that class that “accidentally” happened—Brandon was talking about graphic design being “dead.” I was not convinced. But today Zahra also mentioned the fact that traditional design firms—even large firms—are failing, and this is something I was not aware of. Her conclusion—if I am not mistaken—the value of designers is in design thinking and our process. (Ok, am I allowed to say “our”?)

Which is exactly what AIGA has been saying for the past two years. (And Ric Grefe calls it “craft.”)

So, there, perhaps this is why we have such divergent views: Brandon views graphic design as print; print is “dead” (or so they claim) and so graphic design is “dead.” But I view graphic design as more than print: My idea of graphic design includes print, web design, environmental grapic design, and video, and I was never convinced that graphic design is “dead” because even though people might argue that print is dying, web design, EGD, and video are obviously not dead.

But the essential question remains: Can I say I “get” the process? Can I say I “get” design thinking? I really don’t know but I suspect I might not like the answer.

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