The Dying Art Of Design

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Progress is good, but we need to make sure that we’re progressing in the right direction. Our fundamental skills and the craft of design have started to take a back seat. Using the right tools and techniques is certainly an important part of design. But do our tools and resources make us better designers?

Taking a close look at the current state of design, we can see that sometimes modern design tools and processes do more harm than good. Please note that in preparing this article, we presented basic questions to designers, from beginner to expert, in an unscientific poll. Close to 600 designers participated.

Draw Comics The Marvel Way

As a teenager, I loved comic books: the art, the stories, the super-powers I wished I had. I remember the point when I went from reading and enjoying comics to wanting to create them. I became obsessed with being able to draw exactly like the great comic book artists of that time, people like Jim Lee1. Taking books like How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way2 out of the library was like having the artists themselves sitting next to me, showing me the way. Many designers can relate to this, because today through blogs and Twitter we can follow those whom we consider to be the best designers in the world, learning what they read and where they go and maybe even getting a glimpse of how they create the work we so admire.

Superman and Batman
Batman and Superman3, drawn by Jim Lee.

This “how to” approach is reflected in the design resources we find today. Soon after a certain style or effect becomes popular, tutorials and other tools to create it become available. But the element that was missing from my “how to” books is the same element that is missing from these tutorials, lists, and galleries: “why.” Why did they choose that typeface? Why did they opt for a minimalist style? Why did they use that particular technique to spotlight the product? We can go through the motions of creating a design, but we really need to understand why it works. As we’ll see, certain historical developments offer additional insight.

Imitation And The Cargo Cults

What is original? More to the point, is anything original? Defining originality in design is one of those complex gray areas. This subject has sparked ongoing debate about what is inspired and what is blatantly copied. Last year, Jeff Veen4 gave a talk that showed how the cargo cults5 of the World War II era relate to this discussion about design today.

During the war, islands in the Pacific region were key tactical locations in the battle between the US and Japan. The two countries began to air-drop food, weapons, medicine and other supplies there. Some of these supplies were shared with the indigenous people who lived on the islands. When the war ended and the air bases were abandoned, the cargo stopped dropping.

Cults sprouted up that enacted rituals imitating what they saw the soldiers do, believing this would bless them with supplies. They even constructed air strips, bamboo control towers and straw planes, all in the hope of bringing back the airplanes with their bountiful cargo. The reason this copying didn’t work, Jeff Veen points out, is that they missed all of the underlying principles.

Straw Plane
Straw plane6 made by a cargo cult of the South Pacific.

We can see modern-day examples of this by comparing the iPhone to the subsequent copycat phones that failed by only mimicking what their designers thought made the iPhone a success. Simple imitation completely misses the point of what made the original great. Some phone makers, including HTC, wound up being sued by Apple for patent infringement7. This goes back to how we use the design tools and learning resources available to us. There needs to be an element of intention and a deeper understanding first.

The Modern Designer

The Designer’s Diet

The diet of a typical designer is low in in-depth content and high in inspirational lists, tutorials and freebies. A review of blogs and our poll of design professionals shows a clear trend in the informational diet of creatives. They consume a lot but bypass a deeper understanding of design. In-depth articles and case studies are the least-read articles. Over 75% of the articles that designers read are either design tutorials or inspirational lists.

Designer Diet

Designers feel most comfortable starting their latest project by sifting through inspirational lists and working in their favorite computer application (Photoshop was used by our poll respondents more than all other software combined). And what about those freebies? Designers devour them for their projects. In fact, they said they use freebies more than client-provided, stock or original assets. To be fair, this is likely because these types of articles and tools are highly visible online, but this is still a bit daunting to hear. This content would not exist without such a big audience.

Tutorials Should Foster Thinking

On nearly every design blog right now, you can find some sort of design tutorial. They range from useful techniques to borderline useless “how-to”s. The problem isn’t just the tutorials themselves or their perceived usefulness; it’s how they are positioned relative to design. These tutorials are not “design” tutorials; they are, more accurately, tool tutorials.

This may seem a negligible difference to some. The problem with the former label is that it implies, falsely, that you are learning to design. If someone follows certain steps in creating an effect, that is learning how to use a particular software application. “Design” has many definitions, and every designer will give you a different one. But I think most designers can agree on what design is not. And it is not a 10-step recipe for creating a “Super-Awesome Laser Beam Effect.”

Bad Tutorials

Online tutorials focus so much on the tools that many designers are learning to use the software well but are losing fundamental design skills. In his article “Don’t Be a Tooler248,” Von Glitscha talks about how the craft of design is being watered down and skills like drawing are being forgotten. Many designers have traded in the pencil for the pen tool. He says, “Too many designers look for the easy way out when it comes to a creative process, and that is problematic to their creative growth. Instead of bolstering a core skill like drawing, they pursue a path of least creative resistance, and the end result is a Tooler.”

The focus on trendy effects encourages cargo cult-like ritual in which designers mimic a technique without understanding what makes it suitable for a project. A Photoshop filter or gallery feature becomes the driver and turns a design into a meaningless visual layer. This reflect poorly on the industry, showing designers as being proficient with design applications and resources but not design itself.

Ingredients of Good Design

Good design is the result of great thinking, as well as great ingredients. Typical ingredients are compelling photography and strong content. The job of the designer, as a sort of master chef, is to measure, blend and cook these elements into a successful project. Where do these ingredients come from, and just how good are they? Some elements come from clients, some are original work, and others come from stock vendors like iStockPhoto9 and Veer10. But the majority of ingredients come as freebies. Free WordPress themes abound. One can download thousands of textures, graphics and social icons to use in their next project.

Chef
Burger Chef customer service promotional photo, 1960s (via bayswater9711).

Using cheap or free design elements is like a five-star chef using canned sauces and pre-made dishes in the spirit of a fast-food restaurant. Creating from scratch seems to be a thing of the past. Photo shoots and original illustration are now usually done only by agencies that work for big clients with deep pockets.

Certainly, factors outside of the designer’s control will affect these decisions, such as budget. But the price of using only cheap or free assets is that designs will increasingly look like replicas of each other. In addition, clients will come to expect assets for free or next to nothing, so budgets will not be there for future projects.

There are even risks with using paid assets such as stock photography. A photo could be used by another company for another purpose12, thus diluting your client’s brand. Granted, not every client can afford a certain caliber work. Time and money are often a luxury. Many designers openly use freebie art and pre-designed WordPress themes for clients13 to save time and money. The question is not whether this is right or wrong. This is up to the designer to disclose to the client. The question is is this making the craft of design more efficient, or is it killing it?

Harmful to Your Design Health

Dependance on resources such as freebies and tutorials is turning our design industry into an assembly line that churns out the same exact piece, with perhaps slight variation. Design is not a commodity, but the more that designers use freebies and the like, the more it will become one. The Web is just a large copy machine14, as Kevin Kelley puts it. Design seems to be going down this road, too. Even our information resources—the design blogs themselves—are clones of each other.

Designo's
“When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.”
Kevin Kelly15 (Image: Ibeamee16)

No wonder many clients see the designer’s role as being to create eye candy or a beautiful “skin.” With this view prevalent, designers will never be considered people who can solve problems for businesses and their customers and who can effectively communicate ideas. We will simply be a mindless pair of hands that knows how to apply some trendy colors and glossy effects to make things look nice. A technique with no purpose makes a design irrelevant. If design becomes irrelevant, then at some point we may be, too.

Return to the Art of Design

The solution is not to never read this type of content or to use these assets, but it needs to be measured. Designers need to push themselves with the fundamental craft of design.

Inspiration Requires Perspiration

Remember when special effects in movies were real? When the stunt man actually jumped onto a moving car? When characters ran around a luscious green jungle in South America, not in front of a flat green screen in a warehouse in Los Angeles? Computer technology has become integral to the creative workflow. It definitely has benefits; but the problem is that the “should we” has crept into “we can, so we will.” Many shallow stories are built around amazing effects, as opposed to engaging stories being supported by technology. In design, the “story” is communication and problem-solving. We need good reasons to use the techniques and graphics that we use in our designs.

I’ve seen posts in forums from designers looking for great paper textures or certain free graphics. What about finding a real piece of paper, scanning it and creating your own texture? Or sketching a graphic element and importing it to the computer to create your own unique piece of art? Sometimes we need to get our hands dirty. In the end, it will give us a new appreciation of the work, and we will be proud of the result. It doesn’t always work out because of time or budget constraints, but make sure the decision is based on those and not laziness.

Graphic Design Books
(Image by jamiecoull17)

Reading a quick article online or scanning a few nice websites is easy. More difficult is digging deep in a book or finding the time and money to attend a conference. Plenty of books and offline resources have great information on design. A little research is all it takes to find plenty of libraries and universities with good graphic design programs in all parts of the world. Great design takes more effort than a few clicks.

Build Skills With Purpose

Practicing and honing skills are vital to growth. Knowing the ins and outs of our software is an important part of the job, too. Thinking conceptually and devising solutions should come first, though. If a designer finds that he needs to brush up on a tool or technique, then a tutorial is the ideal way to learn. Our tools and resources are a means to good design, not the end. Identify the purpose first. The purpose might relate to the website’s user experience or a message in a product advertisement. After you’ve determined the purpose, find the best tool or technique to support it.

Sketching
From the article “The Role of Sketching in the Design Process2518.”

Designers are more comfortable with their favorite design application than with good old pen and paper. Sketching is about getting ideas out and finding the best solution on which to iterate. Some sketchbooks of designers are so beautiful that they are almost intimidating. But great drawing skill doesn’t make the thinking or result any better. And some of that skill is gained with practice. The point, though, is to focus not on how great the sketch looks but on how sound the concept or user experience is. On the computer, we focus too much on getting the lines and colors just right, which ends up distracting us. Buy a pencil and paper: it’s cheaper than any application you’ll find.

Train Your Design Brain

Boxing is one of the most brutal sports. Learning techniques and conditioning the body is critical to being able to compete. But even boxing has more to it than the aggressive physical displays that the audience sees from the seats. Some of the greatest boxers, like Muhammad Ali, recognized this balance; they were great not just at knocking out opponents but at out-thinking them, too. Mike Rooney19, a former boxing trainer of Mike Tyson, says, “Boxing is 80% mental and 20% physical. Anyone can get in physical shape.”

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali versus Sonny Liston (1965), by Neil Leifer20.

Design is similar in that anyone can imitate or find free assets that make for pleasing visuals. To be great designers, we need to improve our mental game. We have many ways to get our minds in shape to be the best tool in our arsenal. When we get in the ring with the client, we need to be ready to take some punches. We also need to be trained and armed with the fundamentals so that we can help clients understand that we’re not just sharing our feelings or loose opinions but that we have sound reasons behind our design choices.

If you don’t understand or can’t explain fundamental design principles21 such as negative (or white) space, balance and contrast, how do you expect to consult with a client on the best approach for a project? The website design industry is great, and many designers are self-taught. They don’t need certification to ply their trade, and they aren’t required to continue their education, as in other professions. But this is also a disadvantage, because anyone without training or understanding can call himself a designer. A deeper understanding or a degree in design (or a related field) can make all the difference.

Great Design Is History

Paul Rand
(Image: Paul Rand22)

Design began like any craft: people practiced it, studied it and challenged themselves. While modern design tools and resources certainly make our many tasks easier, they don’t always improve our work. Tools and shortcuts are temporary. Great design is timeless. The best tool available is sitting in our heads; we just need to upgrade it once in a while. Training and experience leads to solid solutions and happy clients who demand our expertise.

We determine the type of information made available to us. Every click (and tweet) can be a vote for a better and smarter design community. Please choose wisely.

Resources

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Footnotes

  1. 1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Lee
  2. 2 http://www.amazon.com/How-Draw-Comics-Marvel-Way/dp/0671530771
  3. 3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Batman_superman.PNG
  4. 4 http://ignite.oreilly.com/2009/08/jeff-veen-great-designers-steal.html
  5. 5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult#Other_use_of_the_term
  6. 6 http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1415/1217833732_d7fcaebe17.jpg
  7. 7 http://www.engadget.com/2010/03/02/apple-sues-htc-for-infringing-20-iphone-patents/
  8. 8 http://artbackwash.blogspot.com/2009/06/dont-be-tooler.html
  9. 9 http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php
  10. 10 http://www.veer.com/
  11. 11 http://www.flickr.com/photos/87362701@N00/236994628/
  12. 12 http://fairtradephotographer.blogspot.com/2010/03/microstock-why-would-reputable-company.html
  13. 13 http://www.sabrinadent.com/2010/02/23/template-whore/
  14. 14 http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/01/better_than_fre.php
  15. 15 http://www.kk.org/
  16. 16 http://www.flickr.com/photos/ibeamee/66113100/sizes/o/
  17. 17 http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamiecoull/3675544300/sizes/o/
  18. 18 http://psd.tutsplus.com/tutorials/drawing/the-role-of-sketching-in-the-design-process/
  19. 19 http://www.markstraining.com/2009/10/kevin-rooney-on-mike-tyson.html
  20. 20 http://216.117.181.169/picture.php?pict=1101&page=1
  21. 21 http://www.andyrutledge.com/contrast-and-meaning.php
  22. 22 http://www.paul-rand.com/index.php/site/portraits/
  23. 23 http://ignite.oreilly.com/2009/08/jeff-veen-great-designers-steal.html
  24. 24 http://artbackwash.blogspot.com/2009/06/dont-be-tooler.html
  25. 25 http://psd.tutsplus.com/tutorials/drawing/the-role-of-sketching-in-the-design-process/
  26. 26 http://www.andyrutledge.com/contrast-and-meaning.php

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Francisco Inchauste is an interaction designer at Universal Mind, helping clients create great Web experiences. He regularly contributes to Web design blogs, magazines, and books. He recently served as Editor of Smashing Magazine’s UX Design section. You can connect with him on Twitter, or read more on his blog.

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  1. 1

    Don’t do tutorials.

    Do projects.

    Done. Check!

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  2. 152

    I guess this is a good point of know more than what we have

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  3. 303

    This is a great article! I think the design community really needs it!
    Most of us have became too lazy to create our own graphics and for sure we abuse the stock imaginery, either to save money or because we don’t have budgets, but we should keep being creative even if its in our spare time! This trend can be seen everywhere, even in tv cartoons, where are all the crafty and well drawn characters? In art, this day if you put couple of circles on paper you are an artist! It is all so frustrating!

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  4. 454

    wwoow…this is very very helpful stuff….and Motivating too… thankyou so much for the Post

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  5. 605

    I haven’t read this thread, nor have I ever commented anything here at smashing magazine.

    This article goes beyond good and was much needed. This message needs to be communicated throughout the community.

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  6. 756

    Many words for a short message. But I absolutely 100% agree. The question is how we get out this “client want’s it faster and cheaper, so I have to use presets” spiral/competition. I see no real answer to this in the article.

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  7. 907

    I really enjoyed this article. Thanks SM!

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  8. 1058

    This article makes a good point but not a new one. This is an issue that probably existed since we lived in caves and discovered fire. Imitation is all around us, there are the few true originators and many imitators who will cash in on what the most successful innovations are and make a lot of money in doing so.

    There are plenty of designers out there who just don’t have the ability to design well. These designers leave collage or university and get jobs in average design agencies who do work for average clients who equally just want to imitate the best in their field. The client inturn sell their product to a customer or consumer who also is just wanting to imitate.

    There is no point a designer offering up a great piece of design up to some numpty who wouldn’t recognise a great idea if it bit them in the face or more importantly make them a load of money.

    There is a place for rubbish design it only helps the truly good design stand out!

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  9. 1209

    We are very much interested in new progressive designers and artist please check out our website it is quite immense and is growing all the time. Just google 2134magazinr. or ww.2134magazine.com Thanks

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  10. 1360

    wow…very nice article…makes you scratch your head and think of the ‘ol days with no internet.
    Running around with your camera and notebook to take pictures for your projects and use some glue and colored paper to create a fantastic layout…sigh….have to do that more often!

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  11. 1511

    I know I’m being nitpicky but I just can’t get over the fact that the picture under “Drawing the Marvel Way” is of Superman and Batman (DC characters). LOL Other that that, good post.

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  12. 1662

    “Someone get these dang kids off my lawn!”

    That’s more or less the reaction i instantly have to this type of droll narcissistic hogwash that demeans the new generation as some sort of technological mirage that pales in comparison to an aging generations ideal of doing things “the right way”.

    Design is a rule based construct, but it isn’t built into stone and those rules evolve with every generations additions to the system. I fully agree with you about the fact that people are learning design categorically backwards from previous decades. But I would dare ask why that is wrong? As long as they are learning? Simply because someone learns how to do a quick mask in photoshop or construct a website using jQuery before they discover typography, form, whitespace and what would be we see as design fundamentals, does that somehow impair their ability to create? If anything I’ve found taking non-designers, with their wealth of preconceptions, and complete disregard for these fundamentals and exposing them to design creates far more interesting designers in the long run. People more willing to break the rules, but with full understanding and awareness for why they do and what effect it creates. That perpetual self-awareness that they are out of their field, that they require an understanding of their craft is what provides them with the ability to succeed in both commercial and artistic contexts.

    Design is not dying, if you think it is, I recommend typing in “design” into google and seeing what you find. Plenty of people still have a very good grasp on design principles, and shock to absolutely no one, plenty of people have a dreadful grasp. The main difference is that thanks to the magic of the internet, you actually get to see more examples of the bad. Even more magical is that the same people who create the bad will eventually figure out the design principles based on the content online. In the end, good for everyone’s eyes, but probably pretty bad for your lawn.

    Cheers,

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  13. 1813

    Patty Gradishar

    April 25, 2010 5:55 pm

    This artical was confusing to me. Is it assumed that just because you know graphics software that you’re a Designer. Programs are only tools and tutorials are just “how-to’s”.
    It’s a rediculous statement to try to also include Design theory and thinking. Good Designers are educated. I studied fine art and design for 4 years in college. 2 years of life drawing, oil painting, photography, 2 and 3 point perspective architectural drawings, my 3d class was actually building a piece of sculpture. Commercial art and design, art history and art theory rounded out my education. There was no photoshop when I was in school. When I had to learn it I did with no problem because I always had that end vision in mind. There are fundamentals of design that are crucial, take time, money and practice to achieve.

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  14. 1964

    This was an interesting article, but I feel like it ignores a fundamental truth, the dark side of design if you will. You are not being paid to be personally creative.

    This is a conclusion I’ve arrived at through the unscientific method of working as a designer for 8 years, listening to a lot of my colleagues and reading a lot of articles and blogs.

    The world of design, the public face, is very concerned with things like this. Creativity, fundamentals, etc. There is a lot of lamentation, just like this article. What no one will say is that it doesn’t matter. I’ve often felt that, on the very first day of school, intro to design or whatever. Someone should say 85% of you will spend your professional lives copying things.

    The private face of design is design as it is practiced everywhere but at the very top, it’s a passive process of executing someone elses ideas or reproducing something commercially successful.

    The first one is what it is. Client has a vision. Wants the thing. They don’t know Photoshop or XHMTL/CSS. You do. They want you to build the thing for them. Regardless of what you learned in school, they are committed to their vision and want to see it executed. Case closed.

    For the second, innovation represents an unacceptable risk. Certain companies like Apple are the leaders and comfortable with the risk. Many more are not. There are more leaders than followers. It’s just basic economics that, based on the success of a product like the iPhone, other companies will tell the design team “Make me an iPhone.” It is more productive and much less risky to attempt to divert a portion of the revenue steam of a product that has already proved it success in the marketplace then to attempt to compete with innovation of equal magnitude.

    Tutorials and tips are just tools. If you need to make 30 distressed t-shirts in two weeks that look like popular brand x, then a tutorial or a freebie ends up being the logical call. Since most of us are being asked to replicate anyway, not using them is counter productive.

    While I objectively agree on an ideal, philisophical level, on a real day to day level for a lot of working designers, duplication isn’t a problem, it’s a mandate. This is the job for a lot of us. That needs to be acknowledged.

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  15. 2115

    Great article! I’ll make shure all my coleagues read it :p

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  16. 2266

    When you look at the renaissance it was in part created by children. The 1st relic of the renaissance was half painted by Giottos students and I am talking about the bottom half or the church of St. Francis of Assissi. The graffitti artists of the 80’s inspired that whole art movement of the time and even gave impetus to the Memphis design movement. Children and art were instrumental in creating exciting art like renaissance churches which today show the cornucopia of inventiveness and playfullness. Today design is too serious and adult oriented which is bad for art and design because the masses do not care for art and design as per MOMA. They do however unanimously like the renaissance art. When you get to the late renaissance and baroque you notice how the churches become standardised and the art gets more and more boring. Another example is if you talk about Picasso and Van Gogh how great they were, yet they were never given trully big social public works projects which were standard in the renaissance. Just imagine how much greater these artist would have been in importance and accomplishment if society gave them such projects which I am sure they craved. I mean that a painting or sculpture in someones home is nice and charming but true public works art is trully great and means something for society and culture. A painting for a living room or a gallery or a museum does not defie great art. Society must abolish museums and galleries and take art to the streets the way graffitti artists did. They were trully inspired kids who with instinctual acumen did something no museum or gallery could have done, they are true heroes of the world, bringing peace, creativity and wealth and inspiration to the world unlike any other profession. It was after all Socrates who after investigating all the professions said that it was the artist who was the only one able to achieve perfection, while all the other professions failed to acomplish this. Art and design are the true human acomplisments that are worthwile, everything else is less than perfect. Humans crave beauty and are made to foster beauty which gives humans culture, and a better standard of living, and not grafic art or advertising billboards and flashing signs of times square.

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  17. 2417

    Another thing is that art and design should be about decoration because in the end that is the most important thing about art and design. Art has a decorative purpose and today all we have are boring advertising that no matter how creative it will always remain boring, flat, and abnoxious and repetitive. Where is the playfulness the charm the uplifting experience of art, which should be decorative because beauty and spiriuality are synonymous, even more than religion and spirituality. Art is what gave the church its glory and not religion. Art is the most innocent of the human endevours and that is why children practice it so religiously. Even Branciusi said that to be a artist one must become like a child. Today we have compartamentised art into a adult endevour which has no place for children. The universities and corporations have usurped art and design and archtecture and claim that they have a monopoly on taste. Well it is like the old tale of the blind leading the blind. To achieve a true renaissance in art we must somehow include kids because adults have lost their sense of beauty especially the beaurocrats at galleries and museums who maintain the status quoe at the expense of society, which it keeps ignorant thinking that Van Gogh was so great. He was but he could have been greater if society gave him public works commissions and not just painting lame pictures for peoples living rooms which in the end drove such a great man crazy and eventually to kill himself. I think anyone in his shoes would have been of the same mindset. Society is at fault and especially the hierarchies of museums and city state beauroctrats, mayors and such who do not have one creative ioda of a idea what society is for, and that is to create beautiful murals, sculptures, and building for the visual benefit of the public in the arena of the city state , not museum gallery hypocritical state. Imagine all the money that goes to the sucessfull artists of today whom the masses do not even know exist. IF you took all that money and implemented it in decorating subway cars with beautiful mural for the good of the public similar to what the graffitti artists attemted to do in a little disorganised manner but nevertheless they tried something and to me it was good but could have been made better if embraced by the city state, and organized and made better. Wow you could then have a really great city with a flourishing culture and pretty made for everyone and not just museum snobs. But instead we get boring advertising all over the subways even the interiors of subways that are plastered with boring repetitive advertising whcih just depresses the masses and creates a depressed state, under the guise that they need money. Why? when we pay the fare the interior should be decorated liek for a prince and not for paupers. But that is the mindset of the powers in charge which is uncultured, mundane, boring, kitchy, ugly and depressig. Its like all they want to do is put in your head doctor Zizmor’s services or to be a alcoholic dringking beer and such, and many other depressing information. That is jsut too bad for the ignorant masses which in the end are not bad people and they do crave embelishment and beauty instinctually but the leaders of the city state do not allow anything creative, they would like to strip the city of all creativity, even Frank Lloyd Wright was for a period of time without jobs and commissions. This just shows you how the state of modern art and design is being killed and attacked by beaurocrats at large. Beaurocracy is the killer of art and design and uncooperative people who want everything witewashed and bland, both museums, galleries, critics, and politicians are the culprits. Even Keith Haring did his murals illegally, which goes to show that to create pretty pictures in the subway you have to do it illegally because the gian beaurocracy of art for transit is incapable of doing anything meaningful even after all their meetings and brainstorming. Which is mostly done by beaurocrats and not people that have anything to do with art and design.

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  18. 2568

    Loved it. So true – the sad fact is $$$ requires us to be sloppy and quick. I wish I could spend months on one project hand crafted and perfect using all my own artwork with a custom font. When I find the client who will pay for it and appreciate it then I will :) Unfortunately, I’m learning that design skill is commonly only recognized by those who understand its concepts. Clients often time are happy with quick sloppy designs because they don’t understand how horrid they are and hey, the saved a few bucks.

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  19. 2719

    Loved it, especially the part about the web becoming one big slick copy machine.

    When I see some of the designs and illustrations done circa 1930-60, without the benefit of computers and Photoshop, I’m just stunned. Makes you realize how empty some of today’s vector art is. I’m a great admirer of technique, but without a great concept, all you’ve got is a pretty picture (and probably a copy of a copy).

    Great article, thanks.

    0
  20. 2870

    I wanted to like this article, but parts of it just came off so pretentious. Yes, in an ideal world every client would give you the time and resources to go out and do your own photography and make your own background textures, but that’s just not realistic (or necessary) most of the time.

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  21. 3021

    Arthur Charles Van Wyk

    September 20, 2010 10:29 pm

    I believe the following text is fallacious:

    “If you don’t understand or can’t explain fundamental design principles such as negative (or white) space, balance and contrast, how do you expect to consult with a client on the best approach for a project? The website design industry is great, and many designers are self-taught. They don’t need certification to ply their trade, and they aren’t required to continue their education, as in other professions. But this is also a disadvantage, because anyone without training or understanding can call himself a designer. A deeper understanding or a degree in design (or a related field) can make all the difference.”

    I have been designing since I was 12 years old, and I have been able to explain why I do what I do since then. Over the last 5 years or so I have created identities for a plethora of startup companies and they “get” what I gave them because I could explain my work without reverting to “textbook jargon”. White space isn’t always the actual colour white, so why even use that particular term. Colour contrast can be explained in more elementary English, and I have actually done this, e.g. I refer to a gradient as a fade.

    The point. Design is not something that can be learnt. It is a talent. Something you’re born with. And there is a distinct difference between talent and skill. Skill can be developed. You merely refine your skill by studying toward a degree or certificate and learning textbook terminology for words you’re already using in everyday English.

    -4
  22. 3172

    Francisco is right; using tutorials doesn’t reflect your knowledge of design. I have only been using Photoshop for a year and most of my projects have used a tutorial. It may look good but I never actually learned how to create the art, it was just merely an illusion.
    Being original is also a great factor, it takes a little longer but it will pay off in the end. Your design won’t look like another persons design. I also believe sketching is a big role in design. In my previous graphic design class I never sketched and it was reflected on my design. Sketching gives you a committed design layout.

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  23. 3323

    In a way design is becoming easier but less original, instead of creating your own brushes and fonts we tend to save time and go online and download all of the fonts and brushes we can get a hold of, as a designer this is less than ideal but a true timesaver. It is basically like the usage of a machine, humans created them to make shortcuts, and to give us more time for ourselves. A problem with this method is that designs are becoming more alike and we will be starting to see the same images and brushes redundantly displayed in most amateur design work. I know from experience that finding something online and incorporating it into your design does not give you that perfect look you were going for, but saves time from any extra labor.
    Reading a tutorial and mimicking mindlessly step by step is not creativity, it is someone else’s creativity or idea that you are copying. Though tutorials are good to get you better accompanied with learning software, they do not in any way show your creativity, critical thinking skills or your own style. Sketching with pencil is quick and in my opinion, the best way to get the creative juices flowing.

    0
    • 3474

      I agree but please stop with the pencil sketching stuff. Do I sketch yes I do but it is like saying because a blind man cannot write music he cannot play an instrument and be a true professional.

      0
  24. 3625

    I agree with this article.
    With more technology comes a greater array of communication. In many ways this is good; in others it produces laziness. Producing original design is very hard in today’s design world. With more designers each year there are others with similar ideas. This results in the label of “imitation”. With opportunities available to simply recreate art concepts, many people tend to take advantage of them. In recreating someone else’s work you get no pride out of it. Simply taking something and placing or tracing it is not original design and is highly misconnected. Tutorials should simply be used to learn what a tool does or help. Tutorials should not become your design.
    Rewind, take a step back, and really think about what a professional designer would do. They wouldn’t sit down and take the easy route; they sit and plan the most efficient route to take. It is important to get knowledge and actually know what you’re doing, before you do it. Although the internet is the most convenient that doesn’t mean it’s the best resource. People that already know and have studied design write books. Those books are there to help you. The two most vital tools you can use during design are your mind and criticism. Without them your art will not progress. Progression makes you a better designer and helps you really take pride in your work.

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  25. 3776

    First of all, Batman and Superman are NOT marvel comic designs. They are DC (Detective Comics) designs. Please if you are going to make an article please make sure you are using the right characters for your title.
    I’m sorry but if you love comics so bad you would have realized this and fixed it before you posted your article. Oh and you should have given credit to Wikipedia for using their stock photos.
    I refused to read any more of this article because if the first thing written I know is false, then how can I be sure that the rest of the article can be trusted?
    Oh yeah , Batman was drawn by Bob Cane and written by Bill Finger.
    Superman was drawn by Joe Schuster and written by Jerry Seigel.
    The photos you have displayed were ALSO drawn by Scott Williams.
    You should be citing your information correctly. And those were PROMOTIONAL ART!!!
    Again Batman and Superman are DC Comics, not Marvel.

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  26. 4078

    This article is really top-class. The responses and arguments are the proof.

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  27. 4229

    I understand the intent of this article, but I would like to point out that the HTC and other smartphone companies being sued by Apple for patent infringement is not a great example. Apple repackages ideas from Linux, Unix, and open source constantly. Apple is more guilty of imitation than even Microsoft in this regard. Everyone competitor involved in tech is guilty of this, though, as there is a vast market to be had in the smart phone and tech gadget industry. I’m all about originality but you fail to understand that engineering companies, when designing a product, do vast patent searches and a large part of industrial design is re-appropriating techniques and technologies. Downright copying is wrong, but I mean smart phone companies that made touch screen phones after Apple are no more guilty of copying Apple’s design than Apple is for copying the design of a cell phone, or tablet PC with touch screen, or any computer architecture for that matter.

    1
  28. 4380

    The problem of today is that we are flooded with information and so we are less prone to read carefully, be patient, read and think,then think again, have some days pass by, go back to our idea and re-think again. Same for drawing. In my opinion this started with the TV era and is amplified now by a trillion factor by the internet. We are loosing the ability to think and draw well because we don’t disconnect from the huge flood of information and images bombarding us.

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    • 4531

      Alessandro with all due respect, stop making excuses. The web is not the problem, the industry is not the problem, the economy is not the problem… People are the problem. I have 200 plus cable channels and if I don’t feel like watching T.V. guess what I turn it off and I pick a pencil and pad or break out the guitar (which I suck at) or hit the gym.

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  29. 4682

    I read this article and I must say that I have mixed feelings. The article is very good and has some very valid points indeed. But I am also tired of all the “designers” who want to stand on soap boxes and rave about what “design” is. Design is different for different industries and it’s meaning changes. If you have a client driven service and they want something in particular and it might be against what is considered “proper design” then so be it. Design changes as times change, the things that you can do today are not the same things that you could do yesterday. I agree with the article of finding a happy medium and everything in moderation. People on here post “take your time and rethink a design for 12 days and then come back and rethink it some more”… seriously. I applaud this article for injecting a quick stop and think moment but when Jim Lee first came out penning for Marvel a lot of people disliked his “art style” as well and were missing the time when art was art when John Byrne drew X-Men back in the 70’s (which he was amazing). I am flooded with clients and the trend is that they are more and more aware of what direction “design” wise they wish to go so it it is very rare that I can be let off the creative leash, so to speak and design some truly amazing stuff. I put Pride in my work and I take plenty of joy that I have helped a client’s visualization come to fruition. New York City is known for its competitiveness. Step your game up folks the money is out there and Design is a live and kicking just work hard to be better then you were yesterday. Also (not directed at this article) stop blaming the world around you, just because there is junk out there don’t mean you gotta use it be smart about the way you design in what ever you design.

    Cheers

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  30. 4833

    I say this as a hypocrite, but the likes of photoshop has killed creative thinking. I’m gonna sound old now but, back in the day, late eighties/early nineties, we relied on craft and technical freehand skills as well as our brains for ideas. We didn’t have Photoshop to bail us out. I see people posting work, people of 17 years of age who have had some of the biggest clients in the world. 17!

    How does that happen you say?

    Well i can only subscribe to the theory that tools boost output and make things look better than they are. At 17 25 years ago, you would have found it very difficult to pick up work from a top brand with the kind of work you would have churned out at the time. At that age you were usually doing a foundation course across different mediums, before taking the next step to university, where you would hopefully blossom and refine your skill set.

    These days school kids start learning photoshop and it’s become staple. Too many people lose the skill of composition, colour, tone and as the main article tackles, the REASON behind what you do.

    And here i am finishing off work in Adobe Illustrator, or designing sites in photoshop. I’ve recently decided to get the pens and pencils out and go back to basics and unlearn from a digital perspective, if anything to save my own artistic soul.

    1
  31. 4984

    Thank you! You’ve articulated really well my own thoughts and views on this subject. I’ve been a designer for almost 30 years but am now tired of being asked to make stuff look like what’s already out there so I now concentrate on trying to teach the core design principles to others. I also make a living by creating presets for other designers to use which is bizarre but it actually allows me to BE CREATIVE and experimental.

    It’s weird, I can see a day when there will be a sea of change where people who would traditionally have been the designers are making new ideas and distributing them. These are being picked up by kind of design-factory-worker-drones, put together by them into a recognizable and sell-able package that crowd-sourcing websites can churn out to the masses. It’s all very uncomfortable and scary.

    Anyway, enough rambling. I’d love it if you’d take a look at what I wrote to attempt to address the lack of design skills in the industry. It’s my book, “Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist” and attempts to introduce the core principles of design to people in the Motion Graphics industry. I would love to hear your thoughts so please let me know if you’d like me to send you a review copy.

    All the best, keep up the great writing!

    Angie

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  32. 5135

    A lot of what is being said here is very true, it is in fact a great article.

    However, with the economic downturn in the last few years clients are spending less, the market is very competitive and the only way to compete in that market is to be cheaper. To be cheaper means less time spend or billed and this means that use of templates and other tutorial/resources is a very viable way of still making a living as a designer. Every now and again a great budget will come along where you can play and develop more, craft things from scratch.

    I propose that each designer should take it upon themselves to make time for a personal project where they can develop their design skills without the limitations of client and budget. As you develop and grow as a designer those skills will start shining through more strongly. Working on tutorials and templates does give you some great insight once you start dissecting and working with each one in-depth. Be mindful when working with them and ask yourself why they work.

    If you’re serious about design and feel you’re not developing then rather go and study design. If you lucky enough to work in a team with experienced creatives then learn from them what you can.

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  33. 5286

    “But do our tools and resources make us better designers?”
    Only if we understand what those tools and resources can do and we know what WE want to achieve… not what the tools and resources want!

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  34. 5437

    Just right of the title is an advert for 6000+ web templates and Creative Markets Free design assets.

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