Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hands-on design

Michael Bierut recalls his days as a graphic designer in the 80s, when personal computers (much less Macs) were unheard of and the job was still literally hands-on.

If you worked in a design studio in 1980, you were surrounded by colored paper, rubber cement, X-Acto knives and cans of aerosol spray glue. Our work, whether an annual report or a poster, was done by hand.

Today most kids who do graphic design don't even know what X-Acto knives are and aerosol glue is something the older art directors use to stick printed studies to foam boards for client presentations. Everything is done on computers which, we have to admit, made things faster but took away some of the craftsmanship in graphic design. 

What's ironic in Bierut's story is the fact that they were the ones who created the packaging for IBM's personal computers. 

All of us assumed that these machines were just fancy hybrids of typewriters and calculators. We did all the artwork with rubber cement, colored paper and paint. We had no idea, but we were looking at the beginning of the end, and the end came quickly.

Not that there's anything wrong with using computers. A good designer is a good designer regardless of the tools he uses. Bierut uses a computer now, as do most designers his age who are still active. What's deplorable is the idea that owning a pirated copy of Adobe Illustrator is enough qualification for anyone to design. 

This leads to abominations like CrowdSpring, which hold contests among "designers" in an attempt to corral cheap labor. According to the site's founder:

"The beauty of our site is that it doesn't matter if you have a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design or if you're a grandma in Tennessee with a bunch of free time and Adobe Illustrator," says Samson. "If the client likes the grandma's work better, then she's going to get the job."

Of course he fails to mention that a logo or an ad campaign is more that just pretty pictures painted on pixels by bored grandmas and struggling students. Besides, what the client likes isn't always what he needs. 

At least during Bierut's youth he can show a client around their workspace and give the impression that what they're doing is something the client can't. But clicking on a mouse? Grandma can do that, too.  

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