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The Dying Art Of Design

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.

You may also be interested in the following related posts:

Draw Comics The Marvel Way Link

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 Lee6. Taking books like How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way7 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 Superman8, 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 Link

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 Veen9 gave a talk that showed how the cargo cults10 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 plane11 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 infringement12. 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 Link

The Designer’s Diet Link

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 Link

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 Tooler2613,” 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 Link

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 iStockPhoto14 and Veer15. 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.

Burger Chef customer service promotional photo, 1960s (via bayswater9716).

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 purpose17, 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 clients18 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 Link

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 machine19, 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.

“When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.”
Kevin Kelly20 (Image: Ibeamee21)

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 Link

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 Link

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 jamiecoull)

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 Link

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.

From the article “The Role of Sketching in the Design Process2722.”

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 Link

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 Rooney23, 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 Leifer.

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 principles24 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 Link

Paul Rand
(Image: Paul Rand)

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 Link


Footnotes Link

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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.

  1. 1

    Benschi Aadalen

    April 8, 2010 3:11 am

    great post =) very intresting!

  2. 3

    i agree with you Francisco! I am in a Media-Design school and have over 4 years Photoshop experience (I am 18). First I only did tutorials, but what i learned in the last 2 years in school (in design theory) is just great and changed my view of design. Many people think that just doing tutorials will make them creative and good at design but that´s wrong. For me, design startet after I no longer needed tutorials.

    This summer I probably start my apprenticeship in web-design/programming.
    I just love web and graphic design!

    Greetings from Germany =)

    • 4

      Doing a course wont make you “creative” either.

      However you can say “I did XYZ so I am ‘qualified’ now”. Much like you are.

      • 5

        Of course no course makes you creative, but we learn how to collect ideas for a project first (on good old pen and paper) and later what rules of composite there are. Something like the golden ratio and such.

        And like Paul Arden wrote (in “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be”) : “You don´t have to be creative to be creative”. The point is, if you know what you´re doing and why you are putting something at a specific position shows if someone knows what he´s doing or if he´s doing it because “it looks cool”.

        And of course you can say that your qualified. Everybody can. I´m not saying that i´m good because i did a course. I don´t say im good at all :> but I am good for my age!

      • 6

        Martin Risseeuw

        April 9, 2010 12:31 am

        I agree it doesnt make you creative.
        But you can learn how you can put your creative ideas on paper.

      • 7

        I’m sorry mate, but I honestly believe that people can learn to be creative. It’s a skill set one can learn.

        People just need to work to learn it, that is all.

      • 8

        Josh's alter ego

        April 11, 2010 4:08 am

        Well Josh, I’m certain you missed the point of his post entirely. Reading comprehension FTW. Maybe there’s a course in somewhere in that. However, according to your philosophy, that would only allow you to say that you’re qualified in reading comprehension, with no actual reading comprehension ability.

  3. 9

    Sven den Otter

    April 8, 2010 3:15 am

    very nice article! thanks

  4. 10

    Lars Händler

    April 8, 2010 3:24 am

    I think what you describe is a general problem and not only design related. As you said we see similarities in the movie industries. I’m a coder and in programming I see the same tendencies. A growing part of programmers just takes what they need from lists, forums or whereever google points them. The program has to work somehow and most of the time noone cares if this google code collection will survive the next update. We live in a faced paced time and time is money. I don’t like solutions that are not well thought. I also don’t like standard design themes and uninspirated design work. But I think we have to live with it and will see more of it.

  5. 11

    Andy Walpole

    April 8, 2010 3:27 am

    “Over 75% of the articles that designers read are either design tutorials or inspirational lists.”

    If I see another jQuery plugin list I’m going to smash my monitor up… grrr…

    • 12

      Andy Walpole

      April 8, 2010 5:50 am

      He is expressing an opinion – but it’s not polemic

      Ultimately what Francisco is saying is turn your PC off and take a walk outside and find inspiration in the world around you.

      A good designer one that has more of a holistic approach to their craft and not just relies on a few sources.

      opps… should have been a reply to Ben below

      • 13

        i find this comment to be the conclusion of this aricle. I recently went on a weekend trip to budapest and everhwhere i looked it seemed like the town was firstly schetched by a designer then buildings done and finnaly colors were added. I rememer thinking: i should really apply this into my designs…

    • 14

      “Over 75% of the articles that designers read are either design tutorials or inspirational lists.”

      This here is the problem!
      Like a dog chasing it’s own tail, getting nowhere fast, following the 1st thing that grabs the attention.
      personally, I don’t read design tutorials or supposed inspirational lists that much.
      I’ll flick thru FFFFound for 15mins every couple of days, or I’ll take photos of anything interesting I see on my iphone when out walking for referencing later, either road markings , signs, interesting ephemera, colours etc…. Or I’ll read a music mag, or a novel or watch a movie on the tube for 25mins or so, I might read an interesting quote or line in a novel that will get the old grey matter spiralling off.
      Cycling is also good for idea creation, I find I often see interesting things while whizzing past, or the mind will go back to a previous question I couldn’t resolve and throw up a multitude of alternatives that I wouldn’t think of while sat in front of a monitor.
      While I think you can learn design to some extent, it is a language after all, knowing the rules will help, Tutorials can be helpful, but personally I think it’s a bit like peering behind the curtain to see that the great wizard is just a little man twiddling the knobs of a machine, the magic is lost…………….

  6. 15

    some time i feel “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.”

    very good article after loooooooooooooooooong time on SM :)

  7. 16

    i know the situation of dying design in e-learning. Where PowerPoint is listed as one of the most popular tool for building interactions which fitting this article as good as possible.

    • 17

      Sascha Brossmann

      April 8, 2010 5:29 pm

      Sorry, but I think you’re misguided here. While I personally don’t like using PPT, and it takes quite some effort to produce something of solid visual quality (especially concerning type), it is still a viable tool for doing (i. e. prototyping) *interaction* design. Besides, this is not the point, quite in contrary: tools employed ≠ design delivered. It’s still the designer who is responsible for the results, not the tools.

  8. 18

    Andrea Austoni

    April 8, 2010 3:47 am

    As a regular author of tutorials I definitely agree with this article. I always try to explain the why of things but ultimately tutorials are for learning the tools not the craft. For that there is culture.
    I’d like to see blogs entirely devoted to the culture behind design.

  9. 19

    Bill Thompson

    April 8, 2010 3:47 am

    What a lame article

  10. 28

    Great article, has given me a lot to think about!

  11. 29

    Wow, what a terrible article, this should have an *The following post is entirely the opinion of the author, and tries to come across as fact, please don’t be fooled* warning message at the top.

    • 30

      What is it that you don’t agree with? It’s not a bad thing that you may disagree, not bad at all. Disagreements are healthy as they help everyone gain perspective. Yet your response adds nothing to the discussion.

      I’m curious to hear why the article stung you so.

      • 31

        Firstly, the iphone fanboy comment related to HTC pissed me right off, it implies that HTC have in any way copied apple, which they haven’t. The Sense UI was around before iphone OS. This comment alone shows the authors clear lack of knowledge. Im not saying lacking knowledge on smart phones makes him less of a person, but the fact he decided to include such an uneducated line in the article shows he clearly has no desire to ensure he only writes statements he can back up, and prove to be knowledgeable about. If he’s this willing to be this inaccurate here, what’s to say the entire article isn’t riddled with them.

        The article actually implies that “good design cant be taught” which is a statement I actually agree with, however then totally contradicts itsself with the line “A deeper understanding or a degree in design (or a related field) can make all the difference.” Design related degree’s are pointless, not worth the paper there written on. I should know, I have one.

        My main frustration is the idea that this guy, who the hell is he? why should we read his words like they are some form of fact? What gives this dude the right to tell us what we are or are not doing correctly, and what or what isn’t the “right way”. This is an opinion piece, something which I have no problem with, but on a site that mixes inspiration, trend showcases etc. with real industry insight and solid techniques should make more of an effort to alert users to the fact there reading a totally fabricated opinion piece, that isn’t anywhere near as balanced or well researched enough to be published on anything but the internet.

        • 32

          “Design related degree’s are pointless, not worth the paper there written on. I should know, I have one.”

          Hi Ben,

          It’s so sad to hear from someone who has a degree in design but feels frustrated about having one. I guess you missed school a lot to actually appreciate it.

          The main point of the article is simply learning the basics before diving into the world of design. Proper education is essential if not helpful to make you better as a designer. Same thing goes with other profession. Right?

          • 33

            The article isn’t all too bad, but he totally lost me with the iphone fanboi comment and cargo cult comparision. What about Apple doing the same and stealing GUI metaphors from PARC/Xerox and selling them as own innovations, or Braun’s form and function in each and every Apple product. Left is 1960ies Braun, right is Apple 50 yrs later:

            The will always be the elite in every field of arts, culture etc. It’s been like that since the beginning of civilization. Not everyone is going to be like Dieter Rams or Paul Rand. Just look at this whole page including circle-jerk comments, it’s what this post is actually about.

            There’s a shitload of good design on the web anyways, many aspire to be good because it comes from the feeling of competition. The rest, well, they’ll either continue to suck or try to find their true profession.

          • 34

            Avery are you serious? Some of the greatest artist’s of all time never had formal education. Does that mean that they were bad artists?

          • 35

            I am so thankful for my schooling. I could have gotten by with out it, but I feel like my education challenged me in ways that I couldn’t have challenged myself, and taught me things in four years that would have taken me a decade to learn on my own. This is coming from someone who is still in school and is about to pull his third all-nighter this week as soon as I finish this comment and is very frustrated with his current situation and workload.

            Some great artists haven’t had any education… but they are few and far between when compared with the vast number of artists without education that none of us will ever hear about (and frankly a lot of those “greats” I personally don’t consider so great). Most of the greats have had some form of training (Picasso, Dalí, Duchamp–as some examples).

            Great design and craft can’t be taught, but learning more about it will greatly assist those who pursue it.

          • 36

            Branden Silva

            April 8, 2010 11:01 pm

            I think people are quick to forget that it doesn’t take a degree to be smart and educated in your field. Albert Einstein is one person people often use as an example, but many successful businessmen today dropped out of college and have made a big impact on the world. I think my degree had a few good tidbits in there but it also trained me to be standard and not exceptional. I don’t consider myself exceptional yet, but I’m working on it. The point is you can’t always learn how to be creative with the best design principles and rules. The people who were creative were the ones whom people mimicked; after that, enough people were inspired to create the rules that most of what design has formulated today.

            The truth is nothing really is yours and we all copy. I don’t care if you sat there and painted on a white canvas in Photoshop all day long and came up with a masterpiece, your ideas, your thoughts, they all come from other places, cultures, and experiences. When you paint a picture of a plant, your inspiration is that of nature. We are all copiers and mimickers of nature in the truest sense. Do you honestly think you could design in Photoshop without the hundreds of designers and developers who worked on it? Heck you can take it as far back as the creation of language. You could not even think about doing anything without a language because you would be an empty sponge. So when you say great design cannot be taught, I would kindly disagree. Nature has been teaching us for ages and the only way you are really going to be more creative than others, is if you master your tools and cut yourself out of the main stream fads and do something that less people are doing; while opening yourself up to the creative juices that flow all around you.

            I’ve seen some creative art work, and although some of it I thought to myself, how the hell is this art? But then I realized it’s more creatively artistic because it invokes me to think beyond what I see in every day life and takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s a road less traveled you could say, but again, it will always be a copy of what was previously existing because it was derived from that persons experiences and thoughts; which are connected to the whole.

        • 37

          An opinion can’t be fabricated.

        • 38

          @Ben #19
          I think you are missing the point of this article. the author doesn’t even imply that design can’t be taught. (actually he says quite the opposite)

          the point is that just because you know how to build something, doesn’t mean you should. Just because one person built a poster a certain way does not mean you should.

          I thought the Cargo Cult example was brilliant. I read all sorts of Photoshop tutorials all the time. they teach how to use the tool. knowing my tool alone does not inherently give me good design skills.

          i may know all there is to know about how to use a drill, but that will not help me build a suspension bridge. for that i would need to understand the goals of the bridge, materials available, laws of physics and most importantly the way my materials react with and affect each other. My drill will help me get the job done but i need to under stand why i am putting that beam there. sure i could make a pretty bridge but it may not get the job done.

          Plain and simple, yes the tools are important and they make the lives of Designers easier. But they are not as important as an understanding of why and how things work together to effectively and efficiently do the job. why do certain colors work well together and others do not. why does this color cause this emotional response. what are the affects of the golden ratio? how can those affects be applied creatively and not robotic.

          that’s all he was saying. so getting all uppity because he apparently made a “fanboy” comment against the thing your all “fanboy” about is just petty and proves his point most effectively.

          just a side note, i find it hilarious that you hold a degree and yet cannot speak complete or understandable sentences. that may or may not be the real reason your degree is useless.

        • 39

          Jonathan Gold

          April 9, 2010 1:49 pm

          “Design related degree’s are pointless, not worth the paper there written on. I should know, I have one.”

          Would you mind telling us what your degree entailed?

          My degree is the best thing that I could have done for my career; just being in a creative environment for 40 hours/week talking about really cutting-edge design is something that you can’t get from any listicle.

          Perhaps if your course was a ‘make a poster’ degree you would be wasting your time though.

          • 40

            Not all courses are created equal – on mine no-one discussed design at all.
            They turned up with their work for the Crit and then went off to the pub.

        • 41


    • 42

      I suppose you’re missing something very important:

      The article is not targeting noobs!!!

      Now go pick a good listicle (don’t got too far, SM has plenty) and leave the conversation to the the intellectually mature, will ya?

  12. 43

    Dean Peters

    April 8, 2010 4:08 am

    I think some of the frustration expressed here comes out of the fact that we’re all just figuring out that truly effective User Experience is a collaboration between graphic design, human factors, usability standards and analytics feedback.

    Its until we realize that we’re all going to have to team up and collaborate in these disciplines that we’re going to produce some stellar user experiences.

    Until then, we’re going to have the cats versus dogs versus hamsters debates and/or laments on why UX needs more of ingredient B over C.

  13. 44

    Mostly good points raised that I agree with. The glut of ‘designers’ who do nothing but surf trends and aim to make things look ‘cool’ without actually looking at the why’s and wherefore’s is amazing.

    Have to pick you up on your HTC comment though. Maybe you should do as you say and look into the underlying details of this story – HTC was creating touch screen tech long before Apple and did not copy them. There’s a stronger case for saying it was the other way round!

  14. 45

    Caesar Tjalbo

    April 8, 2010 4:20 am

    There’s simply too much design, too many designers and too much design being applied. The world doesn’t need another chair, to pick the most obvious example.

    It’s an issue that’s not exclusive to design either; the average quality of ‘content’ for example is also very low because of the overabundance of content being created. It’s all about signal to noise.

    • 46

      Agustin Amenabar

      April 8, 2010 7:59 pm

      Oh, but the world DOES still need design, a lot in many many fields. (I agree with you about the chairs)

      • 47

        Tom Dickinson

        April 9, 2010 7:56 am

        I also agree with the chair thing, and the lamp, or espresso machine type stuff. I really think it depends on where you live and what you’re exposed to though. I live in central London, so in the big city the amount of media, advertising and design I’m exposed to is huge, both good and bad.

        I recently had to go to Florida for work and I was blown over at how BAD everything I saw was design wise. My hotel looked like it was in a mid nineties timewarp and everything on the tv and all the advertising was so dated and weak. I know that sounds like a comment about US media versus UK, but I’d like to stress it’s not, since most stuff in the UK is US anyway, I think it’s just the regional work.

        My point is: when you go to a place where there feels like a design vacuum, you re-realise the importance of design to communication, environment and the quality of human lifestyle.

        Good article.

  15. 48

    :) one of the best article on sm. congrats

  16. 49

    Where’s the forum?! I posted important questions and now it has been removed. If the date of closure isn’t stuck to then at least reannounce the forum closure date.

  17. 50

    Yeah… what’s with the completely irrelevant iphone fanboy hating on HTC part? Pandering to your audience much? Sorry Finch, you lost my vote there.

  18. 51

    i can’t even believe SM has the audacity to speak ill of canned design. Pot, meet kettle

  19. 52

    Good article, but the section that mentions Marvel Comics is bugging me, mostly because Batman and Superman are both DC Comics. Maybe switch it out with a shot of Spider-Man and some X-Men?

  20. 54

    This is a great article!

    I feel the same way.

    What Caesar said about content is completely right. Too much unnecessary copy written to cater to the Search Engines, and very little actually communicating the message.

  21. 55

    Right, and this article is published on a page with a massive list of advertisements that make the noble designer’s life an awful lot easier, on a platform that doesn’t exactly stand out being creative or out of the box…

  22. 56

    Ellen Rockett

    April 8, 2010 5:01 am

    Great article, and I definitely agree with you. As a senior in new media design, I was disappointed to find my degree program so lacking in theory… a lot of learning software but little time spent practicing the principles of design. I think we’ve absorbed a lot through our professors’ critiques, but we might do better if we’d learned theory and not just sweet after effects tricks.

    I’d like to see more articles like this on SM!

  23. 57


    April 8, 2010 5:02 am

    Good call Tim. Otherwise an excellent article.

  24. 58

    we live in a time where money is all that matters and and things need to be turned around almost instantly. no one has patience, and no one cares that the work they are getting was ripped off, as long as it looks good and gets done. this article is really great, a breath of fresh air in all of this design mess. everyone’s a designer these days, and that makes it really hard to be sustainable. i guess all anyone can do is try to rise above it and do it for the love of the craft.

  25. 59

    It seems this article is trying to say something along this lines:

    In order to be a designer, you need to read these incorrectly-labeled “design” tutorials that should be called “tool” tutorials, so you can learn what techniques are possible and how to achieve them. Then you will be able to do actual Design, which is the application of these techniques in a manner that provides extra meaning/usability to the content contained within a “design.”

  26. 60

    This post has succintly articulated what I understand to be true about most designers today.

    The lack of depth and quality to their designs are missing because of a lack knowledge of universal principles of design and their lack of knowledge of their clients’ relationship with their customers (the end-user).

  27. 61

    Excellent article. I know too many talented young designers just out of school who I haven’t seen any truly original work from. Many young designers push themselves to learn the latest tips and tricks in the next version of Photoshop, or the latest version of Actionscript or download the latest brush set without spending anytime on developing “real” design skills. This attitude is very shortsighted as the technology industry as shown a propensity to become more user friendly or WYSIWYG with regard to design applications. We are at a point today where many people other than designers know how to use Photoshop and other design programs. If one lacks true design skills how will they sell themselves? How much will they earn now that everyone knows Photoshop? Most importantly, will these psuedo-designers drag our entire industry down.

    My college professor once told us, “always remember—the computer has never had an “idea” key on the keyboard.” True Designers are idea people who solve problems through creativity and happen to know how to use a computer to streamline workflow…

    P.S. HTC seems to be a quality company, however, there are few organizations on this planet that can match Apple’s ingenuity and foresight when it comes to determining market demand for product concepts before going into production. There are still fewer companies that are willing to take the risks Apple takes with regard to launching new products and creating entirely new markets that are product based. HTC knocked-off the iPhone/iPad and even though they are being sued I’m sure their products are quality and they will make a considerable profit.

    • 62

      > My college professor once told us, “always remember—the computer has never had an “idea” key on the keyboard.”

      I think we might have had the same professor…

      Knowing how to do the latest and greatest trick is great. Mastering the tools you’re working with every day makes sense, but decide realistically if it actually makes sense to use it in whatever project you’re working on. Remember when the Aqua effect was EVERYWHERE, anyone?

  28. 63


    April 8, 2010 5:11 am

    Thought provoking. Thank you.
    I have discovered that the time spent looking for just the right free resource is a complete waste. Often, just by creating the thing you are looking for, you save time (which equals money) and end up producing a far more original piece of design.
    However, that being said, I still think that there is a place for using free resources and tutorials. Inspiration material and tutorials are great ways to learn but they should be informative in the design process and not the only part of the process.

  29. 64

    Excellently Amazing article with a great point of view. Merely scrolling through the images was enough impact to make your point loud and clear. Perhaps in today’s society we make everything too complicated. Even design.

  30. 65

    thanks for composing such a great article. Great resource links as well! (Don’t Be a Tooler)
    We believe sketching is FUNDAMENTAL and the FOUNDATION of great design, whether industrial or UX. We developed PixelPads for this very reason.

  31. 66

    I know a lot of designers won’t like this article. Maybe it’s because they recognize themselves in it.

    “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?”

    I think I’ll print this, frame it, and post it on my wall.


  32. 67

    Is it really dying or just changing? Or is it just that we’re being exposed to so much design now because of the speed of information/communications.

  33. 68

    Edward Calugtong

    April 8, 2010 5:24 am

    I couldn’t agree more!

    Designers nowadays consider anything just to design w/o considering the process, the art process. Its not just making things nice and appealing.

  34. 69

    This may be the best and most valueable article ever written in this online magazine. Thank you and Bravo!

  35. 71

    We live in an age of science, not art. When we approach design today we are now trying to find empirical evidence why specific things work. Cognitive and behavioral science will take over marketing departments in the near future.

    • 72

      wow!! a smart comment… congratulations

      This is the real problem, we are not living on Italy in the 16th century… Today, being pretty is not enough, companies need ROI !!!

      The art of design is still alive, but companies doesn’t care anymore.

      • 73

        I think the fact that people like to see pretty things will continue to keep our skills valuable to corporations. As superficial as it sounds, on first impressions I’m much more likely to buy a product that’s pretty than functional, and if it’s both, then I’m sold. I don’t think corporate competition will destroy good design. In fact it may create more demand for it, especially as programs like Photoshop become more accessible to those without true design skills.

        • 74

          Agustin Amenabar

          April 8, 2010 8:03 pm

          I think there’s a general misunderstanding about design, we are not painters, first designers were architects and design was first called Applied ARTS, function comes first, aesthetics are part of the function, no the whole mission of a designer.

          • 75

            I somewhat agree with your point about the functionality of design, however, I believe art is much more a part of design than you give credit. I tend to think of design in these terms—A piece of art is subjective, that is to say varied individuals can look at a piece of art and take away totally different feelings or thoughts about the work. Design is art that is focused with one communication in mind. Designers are artists with an intense focus on visual communications. When a designer creates something there should be one clear message or view point that everyone can grasp with limited effort.

  36. 76

    Victor Nogueira

    April 8, 2010 6:18 am

    Great one.

    Sometimes I find SM frustrating because of the huge amount of lists and tutorials. I prefer to visit sites like A List Apart, because they offer more conceptual and in depth articles, that really make me think

    I ordered the SM book, and I was a little frustrated because they shoot in every direction, talking about inumerous topics in a superficial manner.

    Other than that, books like the bible “The Elements of Typographic Style” are always ahead any kind of web article, and also require more commitment, time and patience to learn.

    One point that should be more emphatized is that it’s more efficient to inspire yourself from another media. If you are doing a website, maybe take a look at some posters, or book pages, or vinyl sleeves can give you a wider perspective. Look at another related websites, for instance, leads to poorer and cheaper results.

  37. 77

    Victor Nogueira

    April 8, 2010 6:25 am

    You should check this list out:

    favorite: “Don’t try to create and analyse at the same time. They’re different processes.”

  38. 78

    Brad Proctor

    April 8, 2010 6:25 am

    I have interests in a lot of different areas and every major topic has people writing articles like this because they are afraid of change. It’s not that design is dying, it’s that the old way of design is dying and that is not a bad thing.

    I’m an amateur photographer and read all the time about how people think that the art of photography is dying because of digital cameras and Photoshop.

    I work in marketing (partially) and I see stuff about how traditional marketeers just don’t get it with the new way of marketing through web.

    The list goes on and on. People need to learn to accept change or they will find themselves obsolete.

    • 79

      Victor Nogueira

      April 8, 2010 6:32 am

      Brad Proctor, I think you misunderstood the point of this article. The author is not talking about tools, but about processes and thinking. Though he suggests pencil and paper, he’s just saying you should think while you design. You should plan, before doing. You shouldn’t be a robot applying textures, shines and trendy effects. These tips are golden and timeless.

  39. 80

    Jonathon Monkhouse

    April 8, 2010 6:31 am

    Superman and Batman are DC Characters, not Marvel as the title suggests! Should have took that as a bad sign and not wasted my time reading this hopeless article.

    • 81

      I thought it was weird that he used DC characters instead of Marvel characters.

      Yea, it seems pessimistic to think that design is dying. Everything is dying at some rate but to view the current state like that is truly counter intuitive. I do agree that people should look at the beautiful designs nature has shown us and be inspired from it. Design is everywhere, you just have to look at it differently.

      • 82

        Well, at least the characters were actually drawn by Jim Lee. So he was a least half right. :P

  40. 84

    Jeremy Shuback

    April 8, 2010 6:41 am

    It’s nice to see an article from to time that essentially say “don’t read our website and all of its tutorials. You’re wasting your time. Books are better. Seriously. Stop looking at the screen. Our site can only get you so far. Seeing the top 100 designed sites from Brazil can’t ever compare to a 400 page book on Typography” I love it. It’s as if SM is publishing an article going directly against itself.

    Also, I agree that more people need to start creating their own illustrations and photographs. I’m guilty of using stock in a timecrunch as well, but it’s always a timecrunch and there’s no good excuse.

  41. 85

    I don’t agree at all.

    Design is like life itself. New designs are made everyday, some crap, some perfect and most of them somewhere in between. I think the ‘survival of the fittest’ applies to design as well. The best designs in their genre stay and will be remembered, the worst designs will be forgotten. So yeah, there will be some bad designs, a lot of them, but none of them will stay.

    Designs are simpler to create, everybody now has the tools to make them. And whether that’s good or not (I think it’s positive) a lot more crappy designs will be made: Most people just aren’t good designers. The good designers, however, will be respected and honoured.

    I think no design will ever be truly original, but that’s no reason not to enjoy it.

    • 86

      I agree. Design itself is not dead, but it has regressed a little or merely transforming to a whole different aspect since the arrival of computers and the internet. Take a look at T.V.’s for example, the designs for the teleV has taken huge leaps over the past few years since it was first created. Computers, Cars, Shoes.. design is all around us.

      I think design has lots of influence on current art movements. I havn’t seen anything besides some boring modern art and some low brow stuff for the past 40 years or so and i’m getting a bit tired of it myself. I believe we just need something new!

  42. 87

    Design as I remember it is certainly dead. I’ve worked for some great creative firms, specialized in creativity and original ideas. What happened? They all went out of business. Not because we didn’t know how to run a business, not because our work was bad; but because no one wanted to pay for creative thinking and original ideas. Most projects had such a low budget that we couldn’t build a decent/original site without outsourcing over seas (which kills the US design industry). As a result, we had to “dumb down” our designs to make them “cookie-cutter” templates just to keep up with demand and price points.

    I’ve been doing websites for over 10 years, and the industry we face today is certainly not the great industry it once was. For the past 7 years I’ve tried to get people on board with quality service, design skills, and overall quality of work. What people want is cheaper, faster, and “make it look like this site”. All the education in the world will not change that. Until people outside the design industry truly understand and appreciate design as more than “looks pretty”, the design industry has a long ways to go before we see anything new.

    Now, I will say larger firms (Nike, Apple, MS, etc) they get design and what it can do for them. The average firm doesn’t get it, and despite my efforts to educate and inspire, the wins are few and far between.

  43. 88

    Interesting how these ideas translate across all types of design. I am a product designer and I often troll for freebies since I am under stringent deadlines. I also am solely responsible for obtaining inspiration since this economy means I have no budget for outside activities and if I want to keep my creative tank filled, it is up to me to do it. So, yeah, while I would love the time to spend sketching, thinking and conceptualizing, I am overloaded with projects (due to downsizing) and must take shortcuts. But, nothing lasts forever, and eventually the economy will turn around. Maybe then I will have the time to be innovative, and creative.

  44. 89

    I thought the article was good and it did get me thinking. It pays a lot of attention to everything ‘designers’ are doing wrong and hardly anything about what they are doing right. A good opinion to take on board (but not rely on).

  45. 90

    I agree with everything you said. I’m studying Industrial Design at Ga Tech, and I own a freelance web business. Even though I am in many ways a “self-taught” web designer, I have learned through my education that there needs to be an “intention” behind every design choice I make. Designers are not just people that “make things pretty”, and the problem with our profession is that many people believe that is what we do.

    We [designers] are multidisciplinary: we can communicate visually and verbally, organize and manage projects, and also build intuitive interfaces that address issues of usability, accessibility, technology, and aesthetics.

    I define design as the intersection between engineering and communication, and I wish that more web designers would talk about design intention when they are reviewing an interface, versus just focusing on the aesthetics.

  46. 91

    If I see one more blog with a huge banner that says, “HELLO” I swear I’m going to barf!

  47. 92

    Jeremy Goaziou

    April 8, 2010 7:19 am

    I totaly agree. Design is not about tools or photoshop tricks. Design is thinking and make things usefull ..

  48. 93

    Doug Barned

    April 8, 2010 7:27 am

    Great article!

    Bugged me a little that the “Draw Comics The Marvel Way” bit had an image of two DC characters though.

  49. 94

    A silly, alarmist article – or title, at least. Like any other field, there are a small number of great designers (not me!) and a bell-curved distribution of people who follow them. It’s generally a passion-driven curve.

    People are peripherally more aware of design now; it’s a commonly used word and more people are “designing”. The vernacular use of “design” (to simply mean creation) isn’t the same as the classical definition of hyperconscious study and application of discipline-specific techniques.

    I’d argue that a proliferation of “bad” designers probably is the best sign that design as a true discipline is alive and well. At the least, this article is a good poke for people who are on the edge of subscribing to design as a study / philosophy.

    Doug – I totally noticed that too re: DC.

  50. 95

    Jason Stone

    April 8, 2010 7:35 am

    Very interesting read SM, lot’s for designers of all levels to take on board. I freely admit I have used freebies from time to time, i’m sure most designers have (even if they won’t all admit it), but the satisfaction and originality you get from a completely custom graphic, icon, web site etc is unmatched, and knowing it can only be found on your work is even better.

    Until someone comes along and gets a little too ‘inspired’ by it… :p

    Loved the line ‘Many designers have traded in the pencil for the pen tool.’.
    So true.

  51. 96

    Dan Sensecall

    April 8, 2010 7:37 am

    Not one of my favourite reads, Smashing… Some pretty valid points, but generalising a bit don’t you think?
    The title was pretty sensationalist, not too accurate.
    Aside — I’m sure a lot of respectable designers have used or asked for freebies at one point or another, its nothing to be ashamed of.

  52. 97

    Uh… Superman and Batman are from D.C., not Marvel

  53. 99

    totally agree with the article

  54. 100

    Pete Skenandore

    April 8, 2010 7:53 am

    I don’t think this article takes into account the myriads of wannabe’s that are enabled by new media. Having experienced both traditional design school and my fair share of online tuts, I think there is an incredible value delivery from the free medium mimicry.

  55. 101

    Great article! Something that is slapped together with canned elements is not design. Design is thoughtful and guided by personal principles.

  56. 102

    I am no designer, nor do I aspire to become one. But I’ve been on the customer side of design projects, and it has always been a disaster. (just so you can get a picture, I once had to tell off a so-called design professional for creating a printed brochure using 72-dpi jpegs pockmarked with 3-mm-compression artefacts). The bad practices you list here were among the contributing reasons for every mediocre result we’ve had to pay good money for. Some of them were plagiarising sources so widespread that even we customers had seen them before. So I sincerely hope that more designers read articles like this and start producing work worth paying for.

  57. 104

    It is exceedingly rare to read an article or tutorial on design blogs these days that actually benefits me as a designer.

    I don’t have a problem with modern design tools and processes. Anything that helps a designer work more efficiently without limiting their options is progress in the right direction. What is harming the design community is this “plug and play” mentality that design blogs implicitly encourage. While that kind of information can be useful to designers, it’s not design. Design is solving problems and creating solutions in creative but effective ways.

  58. 105

    Many good points. Reminds me of when I was in college and knew folks that were in design even though they had no artistic interest.

    It’s a rough reality that many of us have to churn out design after design and sometimes the creative process gets muddled because of it. It’s easier to pull stock than spend the time to illustrate each individual piece, and with tight deadlines it reduces the project time significantly when you can do so. And it’s a tough sell to budget-conscious clients that a custom illustration that adds to the bottom line will communicate more effectively than something they saw on some clipart site.

    But I’m with you. The projects I take the most pride in are the ones that tax my creativity and theory.

  59. 106

    I find it ironic that a lot of what the author decries is exactly what websites like Smashing Magazine and Noupe provide. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree with this post.

    I believe the problem lies not just in the abundance of online resources and software tools, but in the overall attitude (or “malaise”, if you want to get wordy) the internet has bred in the current generation of creators. What’s more worrisome than the Cult of the Cargo the author describes is the ever growing Cult of the Amateur. This is the mindset who finds something noble, honorable, and pure in the complete lack of standards, talent, ability and training a so-called “artist” demonstrates when they put their work and their persona online. They subscribe to the myth that the world is full of creative savants and artistic geniuses who have henceforth gone unrecognized and overlooked by the world and now see the internet as a revolutionary tool to subvert the traditional, repressive model known as “professionalism”.

    All of us, when starting out as designers and artists, are guilty of many of these infractions, I’m sure. But too many self-proclaimed designers never grow out of this infant stage and continue to label and market themselves as creative professionals while never truly living up to and deserving that title. That not only dilutes the marketplace (why pay a skilled designer when someone will do a job that looks 1/2 as good for 1/4 the price?) it dilutes the title itself. It may be alarmist, but if we’re heading for a future where “designer” is as valuable as “street musician”, then we’re all in a lot of trouble.

    The internet is great in so many ways, and the easy sharing of ideas and techniques is a wonderful, revolutionary thing. But, like the other says, we should never replace the fundamentals of great design. It’s a craft as much as it is an art, and like any craft, its rules are there for a reason.

  60. 107

    What is this? Another article blaming the designers for using tools to be more productive. Photoshop, stock photography, these tools are there for a reason that is to use them. The rest is Bla, bla, Inspiration, Sketching… This is in la la land where you get paid what you are supposed to and have time to spare. (Only in dreams) To run everything by the steps. Understanding what the clients wants vs. needs, brainstorming, prototyping presentation etc.

    The reason being all this design that you are calling unoriginal or freebie, is because the entrepreneurs, business owners and most of this “Business minded” people don’t care about design or design thinking and all it’s benefits for their business. All they care is productivity, fast, fast get it done, etc.

    What you all and you (writer) should be thinking about, is how to get to this business owners to trust designers and involve them into a more executive, top level, position, where decisions about planning, strategy “business” and all the good stuff gets look at.

    Ask whats the role you play into decision making when it comes to your company?
    How would you , through design, would improve business?

  61. 108

    So, Smashingmagazine is dying of itself useless roundups, right.

  62. 109

    David Lindes

    April 8, 2010 8:44 am

    Love it!

    I came to design in quite an informal manner and without a lot of core training. As one who didn’t begin with understanding, it’s easy for me to see its essential value (I could feel I was missing something vital) and seek it out. This article is a well-written, compelling reminder that as designers we ought to be about the heart of matters. We are great because we can think. Ultimately, that’s our greatest skill – the ability to think through a problem and devise a solution. Tools are a part of that, but they are the limbs, not the heart. A big thank you to Francisco for bringing that message home.

  63. 110

    I think people are missing the point of this article – it’s not stating that tools, inspirational sites, or pre-made designs are all bad. In fact, those can all be extremely useful.

    The article is simply pointing out that people are jumping into design and never getting past skimming the surface of trends or using other people’s ideas; the danger in the number of “designers” who are only capable of producing tweaked templates or largely unoriginal ideas. It encourages people to not just learn the “how” of a technique, but to learn “why” – and then innovate their own solutions.

  64. 111

    I think that as time passes, more and more people will be skilled in making “beautiful things” and have good tool skills. This will ultimately get us to a point we’re everything is overloaded with pseudo-information, and truly skilled designers will be on top again. People will see that it doesn’t just take a skilled toolman to make a good design. As far as I’m concerned, good design is often buried because people want things to be safe, esthetic and neutral. Good design should always communicate with its audience and not necessarily trough it’s visual form, but the message that it holds within.

    Sometimes I refuse a project just because it had to be done 3 days ago – good design always takes time.

  65. 112

    good article,

    when I freelanced before I worked a 9-5 I used to create everything myself, from backgrounds to icons. But now working in a web design studio I’ve come to realize that I was the exception not the rule.

    ‘Toolers’ will always be there and not eveyone can be the next Paul Rand….that’s why people like him are special.

    Personally I wouldn’t be able to just use a tutorial and not alter it or change it or experiment with the techniques. Some people like to just copy the tutorial exactly and say ‘Look what I did’ and wait for the applause…..yeah.

  66. 113

    An interesting read. A growing trend that I am seeing is that anyone with Photoshop automatically thinks they are a designer…anyone can recreate tutorial fed content, it is more of how you use that information and adapt it to different processes and solutions that people need to learn.

  67. 114

    I’m amazed. Excelent. Thanks for share your point of view. It’s time to stop the loop and get inspiration outside.

  68. 115

    five-star chefs using canned or pre-prepared ingredients? more like college bachelors or something, but that’s ok. pre-prep elements improve the output of people whose skills or time are limited. the advent of Quark XPress stirred the same discussions. sure, it resulted in seemingly ubiquitous rectilinear layouts with troublesome typography, but people wanted cheaper design options and more control.

    although every project would benefit from elite skills, few projects require them. drum machines didn’t eradicate live drummers, they just made them a more specialized solution.

    if you ARE a five-star chef, i agree: don’t be any lazier than necessary. you owe it to your discipline and yourself. if you’re not yet an excellent designer, i also agree: reach for greater heights where you can.

  69. 116

    This article makes me feel like there’s hope for shedding off the shell of triteness that the design world has built around its self.

  70. 117

    Sarah Nichols

    April 8, 2010 9:18 am

    Hey there thanks for this great and really quality article. I really enjoyed reading it and have bookmarked it so that I may read it again and again to remind me what’s real about this industry.


  71. 118

    As someone on the other side of the fence, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here…

    I have a Fine Art background and have been in Graphic Design for nearly 3 years now. Software is my weak link – it doesn’t seem to understand the way I think (or vice versa). Often times I’m scolded at work for not using resources or references, trying to be too clever and make it all up from scratch. In some areas, I’m way below the quality of ‘canned’ design and the bosses would much rather grab something off iStock.

    One of my very talented co-workers has a technique that involves grabbing stock elements, collaging them and then making a painting from that reference. It’s one of the most brilliant things I’ve seen.

    One could liken modern Design to Hip-Hop. I could spend a year learning to play the violin, or call in a seasoned studio musician, but if all I want is a 3-second run from some concerto in F, I might as well sample it and throw it into the mix.

    Besides, part of what makes a master chef so masterful is that you could give them minute Ramen and a tin of tomatoes, sit back, and watch what they do. You say it yourself, it’s not the what, it’s the how.

    Where we definitely agree is that tutorials do not a designer make. But no-one ever said they did. The clue is in the name – a tutorial only documents a specific process. Liken it to a putting masterclass from Tiger Woods – you won’t win the PGA tour by doing it but it will improve your game, at least in some aspects.

    I don’t know enough designers to comment on how healthy the design diet is, but the ones I know are well rounded and draw from a wealth of experiences and interests.

    Finally, I appreciate the effort that went into your writing as well as the accompanying illustrations.

  72. 119

    This article is so good I had to go outside for a walk just contemplate what I just read. Awesome. Thanks.

  73. 120

    Very nice meta-article about design. I’m considering becoming a full-time freelancing designer in the next six months. The only reason I’m hesitant deals with this very idea of being a ‘tooler’ vs a ‘creator’. I’m asking myself is this a job in itself? Is it enough of a job? Does it make enough difference?

    In India, the design industry is pretty nascent. When I tell people I’m a designer, they dismiss me as just another maker of pretty gradients and idiotic flash slideshows. I think it is important for designers to distinguish themselves from ‘toolers’ – for their own benefit.

    Regarding ‘tooling’ – there’s nothing bad about it. When I first got interested in design, it was all about picking up the skills and knowing the software, from illustrator to flash to fcp to cinema 4d. I spent over a year doing just that.

    Then I moved onto a phase of thinking more about concepts, understanding colour theory, etc.

    Perhaps the industry will also evolve in such a way – learn the tools first, then spend time understanding the rest.

    • 121

      I don’t necessarily agree with what you just said there. More than often I’ve come across people who claim themselves as designers, but all they do is just to use Photoshop. No educational background, no understanding of design theory. I am very offended by that. Just because of these self-claimed designers, people don’t take the design industry seriously. What you said there is just that, and it is just other way around. You should have understood what design really is – it is really a problem solving process. Before designing, you must plan ahead and know that what is it that you are aiming for and why. Then, find the most appropriate program to solve the problem (design issue). Stop destroying the design industry for the real designers, you toolers.

  74. 122

    When I was studying graphic design, we didn’t touch a computer until our 3rd year. Two years of learning things the hard way and doing them by hand was a good way of understanding the why’s of design. When you’re busting your hump for 12 hours working on a design that would take you 20 minutes on a computer, you tend to want to know why you’re doing it. fourteen years later, it’s sometimes hard to remember all that stuff, but I think it’s still a subconscious influence on my work.

  75. 123

    Srecko Bradic

    April 8, 2010 9:50 am

    It seems that artist are now specializing into the specific fields. Who know…

  76. 124

    does this mean smashing magazine will go away from the roots in which it started, and stop capitalizing on digg and stumble algorithms by publishing articles like “20 must have photoshop brushes”?

    If this is so, i am really happy!

    Its all about the theory.

    • 125

      Why does everybody keep bashing SM for “lists”? Come on, guys, for months now, SM has published tons of in-depth articles. Sure, there are few lists here and there, but that’s just to keep a good balance. You can’t bombard your readers with 1000 words of deep content every day. That’s one of the reasons “A List Apart” only publishes 4 articles per month, without exception. They realize that really good content is rare, and so they select only the good ones for publication.

      Let’s just accept the fact that SM has different goals, and is trying to publish a variety of things to cater to a wider audience. The SM bashing is just getting lame and immature and the bashing itself seems to be just as “trendy” and meaningless as the points the author here is discussing about the design community .

  77. 126

    Yea, I think “design” as we know it IS dying. Well sorta. I think it’s just becoming cheap and so the ability to sustain a life from a “career” in design is actually what is dying. No one wants to pay any money for it. “Oh, my sister’s fiance took a weekend course in Photoshop, he can do the same thing. I’ll get him to design for me, sorry, you’re too expensive.” THAT happens ALL the time.

    Or hey, here’s another one for ya, how’s that $1 stock photograph? What a great idea. Wow, yea, too bad for the photographer though. Even if they can make money in volume…The real problem is perception. Perception of buyers. People buying these design services then believe design is overpriced. It drives down the value of design.

    How many successful print designers are there these days? Not as many. Is there more competition? Maybe. I don’t know. I went to SVA and I know the school grew in size and more people went to be graphic designers. I know it became a popular career choice. I know more and more people want to buy Apple notebooks and sit in Starbucks with fancy clothes designing things. Screw it. I don’t do print design now. I wish I did, I love it, but scrap that education. I’m doing web design and web development.

    But what are we talking about here for print design anyway? Out of college, or a few years after, making 40, 50, even $60,000 a year? In 2010???? Uh, I better be living in the middle of no where to swing that. You go to a college like SVA or FIT or Cooper Union, get out…Actually want to stay in Manhattan…Now you have $1500+ rent plus $500+ in loan payments each month?? Not happening. Sorry.

    What does pay? Web design. You can make more money with that and even more with web development. Ah…So the internet is where the design went and where you can make money….Yes, I did then pay loans and rent and lived in Manhattan for years.

    A few years later…Oh snap! $12 web templates?!!?!

    Looks like it’s catching up to the internet too….Yea, I think design is dying. It’s sad because design, art, photography, and all creative careers are interesting. They are fun and limitless. It’s just that who would think in such a limitless and evolving career, the value of it would drop?

    You’d think with competition and evolution and change that you’d always have to re-learn your job (which you do anyway) and that would make you valuable. With experience you’d get more money and it’d be a fantastic career.

    Sorry. It’s not.
    However, the good news is the internet STILL is limitless and just because one day you won’t be able to get by alone on production doesn’t mean you still can’t have a good career with the internet. You just have to adapt. It’s still creative skill, just not applied in the way you might expect. Much less traditional…But boy is it ever going to be tough!

  78. 127

    I really enjoyed this. This is the difference learning under someone, or professional study (learning the “whys”) can make. It’s something that people who just cracked open a copy of photoshop and call themselves designers just can’t replicate without years and years of finding out the hard way, if they ever find it at all. They don’t know why.

    You just need the good foundation.

  79. 128

    I agree 100%. As an example of one source of the problem are a number of schools that base thier schedules on shortened classes, i. e. 4 weeks. Last summer I attended just such a class—”Design Fundamentals”.

    Oh sure, anyone can teach the foundations of design IN FOUR WEEKS! I feel for anyone who really thinks that is true.

  80. 129

    This was a great article…something I come to expect from this site. I completely agree with the author, but I am a developer (read code monkey) and so-so when it comes to design. That hasn’t stopped me from trying to get better though and I prefer to start on paper.

    The only issue that I run into as someone who has to pay the bills comes in the form of clients with smaller budgets…i.e. under $5,000, and no current website and no ranking. At that price point, custom layouts and designs are pretty hard accomidate…especially good ones. I have a lot of clients in that situation. And considering it takes time to create compelling content and build rank…I often recommend buying a template.

    For me, if the client can’t afford a custom design but needs a website, this fills a major need. The template is selected based on a 25 question checklist (based on all aspects of the clients business, category, history, branding, etc) and then adjusted for their needs. I take the template, rewrite the code so it validates and follows best practices, and port it to a template based CMS. The idea is to spend their limited time and money on the things that will get clients to their site and make them money. (In-site SEO, content and link building) Then, when they have the money…move up to custom design and branding (that I refer to a very talented designer). And because the content should largely be there and the site is in an easy to skin CMS, the upgrade is greatly simplified.

    While I agree completely with the author…great design takes time and money, something many small businesses can’t fully afford. I don’t believe these people should be forced to be site-less. Great design and layout should always be the goal and constantly evolving…but many people need to start with a Ford before they can move onto a Ferrari.

  81. 130

    Maria Manoela Porto

    April 8, 2010 10:19 am

    I am a big fan of SM but this article should never be here!

    First of all, this title is wrong. Design is not art so there is no “art of design” to be dying!!! It could make a little sense if it was all about art and being an artist but a designer is not an artist.

    Design is for use and comunication no matter what. And that’s why the design won’t ever die because it’s around every single piece of stuff we do, we read, we wear, we are nowadays. So if you are a designer and ever feel like you are dying as a professional, you simply need to study more, to get to know new ways to do stuff. It is common to any kind of business in this world. If a doctor doesn’t know the last tech top operate a paciente he will be obsolete. The same will hapen to a designer if he leaves it all to “talent”. Leave the talent for the true artist, whose works are atemporal and will also never die but will become part of history and culture.

    It is a shame that Smashing Magazine publish an article with this title. The rest doesn’t even worth reading.

  82. 132

    Fantastic read! Thanks! I certainly agree on most of the tutorials out there – I don’t ever enter one thinking it’s going to teach me how to actually design – it’s just going to teach me some techniques and different ways of using my tools. But just because I know how to scan a crayon line and turn it into a brush stroke doesn’t automatically make me a fantastic designer. I need to use knowledge of design to understand where, if ever, that crayon brush stroke is going to be an appropriate fit for a design.

  83. 133

    okay first of all

    @Anjum, don’t trash SM ;) Smashing Magazine is my temple and my religion is very Smashing :DD Its articles are always beyond deep and enlightening..ehuehue

    that said..onto the article

    @ The article – I couldn’t agree more on this note and ALSO I couldn’t be more relieved after reading this…turns out I was caught up in this freebie and tool training rut as well. Generally I am really good at finding concepts, but I entered the design school without any knowledge of the media to be used at the execution stage, which ACTUALLY can really slow one down, but at the end of the day a designer shouldn’t dwell on that (like I did). I am doing my Final project right now and I am (was) obsessed with doing every single cool tutorial I can find online, cause it’s so cool and hip and whatever…my concept finding abilities began to fade away. You’d be surprised to find out that it is actually possible to spend half a day if the entire one downloading free stuff and gazing at tutorials. (which are gonna sit there doing nothing anyways, but hey it was free so who cares if I can count the amounts of the pixels on my two hands :S )

    Bottom line, I am glad to have read this article before my potential in conceptualizing was absolutely outdated due to lack of informational updating.

    Freebies and tool training and abundance of relevant free online sources is a QUICKSAND for any designer, BECAUSE IT IS FREE and even if it is not free (as the article mentioned) IT IS A SHORTCUT or a TRICK. But at the end of the day you end up TRICKING YOURSELF.

  84. 134

    Hit the nail right on the head.

  85. 135

    It seems like some commentators here really don’t like this article – relax, it is an opinion piece and one which I personally do not entirely disagree with.

    I am not a professional web designer – it is a hobby for me and has been for years. I haven’t taken the time to read some of the great books that I know are out there about design. However I have taken the time to learn the importance of colour, of good typography and usability,

    There are a lot of sites and blogs out there saying and doing the same thing and with very similar designs. However I think that web design, at least, has come a long way. The standard of the tools available has increased and so, irrespective of the effort put into creating an online work by an individual, the quality of websites has increased. I would far prefer that there are thousands of websites using similar themes that are semantically coded, accessible and not offensive to the eyes, than thousands of websites built using some crappy wysiwyg design tool and animated gifs (like back in the day!)

    In an ideal world, everyone that is involved in design would take the time to learn about design theory. As far as the Internet is concerned – it is free and open, anyone can do it and this is both the Internet’s vice and virtue.

  86. 136

    I would completely agree with this article if it were titled “The Dying Art of Web Design” because most websites out there look extremely similar per category (blog, news, etc).

    However, if you step outside of the web design world and look at modern day concert posters, digital paintings on places like Deviant Art, modern works in a museum or online art gallery, and contemporary design for everyday things such as furniture, there is an AMAZING variation of design.

    • 137

      Caesar Tjalbo

      April 9, 2010 1:58 am

      [blockquote]there is an AMAZING variation of design[/blockquote] there’s also an amazing amount of sub-par design.

      • 138

        That is the case in every single aspect of the universe. Nothing is as great as it could ever possibly be in every instance of it’s existence. So that’s a silly comment to make.

        • 139

          Caesar Tjalbo

          April 9, 2010 5:02 pm

          No, variety is beside the point. Load up new brushes in Photoshop, take a new course, learn new tricks, etc, that’s variety. It does not however change the thesis of the author that design is a dying art. With all the variation in the world, design can still be mostly crap.

          edit: “Victor” a few post further down puts it more eloquently.

  87. 140

    Chris Bontas

    April 8, 2010 11:47 am

    This must be the greatest article i read so far this year.
    I myself am getting tired of all those articles about tutorials and tools on how to create “design”, no wonder that if you visit a css gallery website you’ll find bunch of websites which look the same except for some different icons here and there, and only 1-2 out of 10 really standout as great designs.

  88. 141

    I don’t understand why people are coming and generalizing things, what does medicine even have anything to do with design, OF COURSE the patient will go flatline if the doctor doesn’t know how to operate the new robotic device. HOWEVER the point is that design is not a precise science and isn’t science at all. The point is that you don’t see doctors preferring scissors to a scalpel just because he wants to experiment or because his hand will shake less or better yet because they are closer than the scalpel or cause they are by Mac and it happens to be the doctors favorite brand….SO people…form your analogies properly, otherwise your comment is the one “doesn’t even worth reading”.

    And talent doesn’t equal coming up with a good idea. So no one is leaving anything up to talent.

    I always loved Chermayeff and Geismar.Their top priority was to come up with the function and then the form, because you can’t deny that what is on the inside will always out no matter how much you try to conceal it with clothes, in the designs case its the effects and techniques.

  89. 142

    Thanks for the article!

    I am a design student, and I used to find myself always buying ‘inspiration’ books adn looking through web galleries, but I’ve learned to stop looking at the galleries and books because they weren’t the best at helping me to gain my own style and become a true creative.

    Anyone with a little knowledge of the tools can copy what he or she sees, but a TRUE designer creates ideas, not imitates them.

    Thanks again!

  90. 143

    Good read with lots to chew on. Thank you.

  91. 144

    Sean McPherson

    April 8, 2010 12:20 pm

    This is, without question, one of the best articles I have read on Smashing in a long time.

    Well done.

  92. 145

    I’ve got some bad news…It’s too late, design has already become a commodity.

    The good news? If you’re really any good at it, you have nothing to worry about anyway. Here’s my logic.

    Design is now a commodity, and a cheap one at that. You should accept it. Don’t fight it. Embrace it as an inevitable truth. It’s the result of widespread technology and the aura of “hipness” and appeal that surrounds the design industry. Everyone wants to be a “designer” and now they can, and are. Therefore I use the term “designer” loosely. It refers to both traditional designers trained in design theory from universities and colleges, and self-taught “jack-of-all-traders” trying their hand at design to make a quick buck. Technology has opened the floodgates and there’s no turning back. Just look at the number of agencies, studios, freelancers, (and amateurs posing as professionals) out there competing.

    I know many of you will say that competition is a good thing because it helps fuel creativity and drives innovation. That may hold true on a grander scale, but when you’ve got millions of hungry designers out there who all want a piece of the pie, anything new or exciting quickly becomes diluted in ubiquity and therefore is regarded in the public consciousness as a commodity.

    Competition this steep also drives prices down. I’ve seen the notorious “craigslist designers” going for $10-an-hour in the US! It’s a basic marketing principle that once the customer becomes accustomed to a lower price bracket, they don’t go back up.
    These “fauxsigners” are cheapening the trade, and that sucks, I don’t dispute it. CMS’s like wordpress, predesigned template businesses, and cheap design outsourcing to countries like india have also contributed to the downfall of design as we know it. Point of all this being…design is already a commodity.

    But I don’t care. I don’t feel threatened one bit by this one bit. I have three things much of the competition doesn’t: quality, experience, credentials. I hold a BFA in communication design. What was once a standard requirement in the industry is now a huge advantage. Because of my education and my understanding of design theory, I’m already a step above much of the lower-end competition. I can create completely customized original work, that speaks for itself. Work that actually improves the client’s communication with their customers, instead of just pretty for pretty’s sake. In short, real design with real results.

    Authentic designers will always get work. They won’t accept cheap rates, because they won’t have to. People will pay for real results, and if they won’t, they’re not worth your time.

    So in conclusion, its the very same “designers” that started this manufactured movement, who are in trouble. They’re the ones who will suffer when it all comes crashing down. Authenticity will prevail. In the words of the Joker from The Dark Knight “If you’re good at something then never do it for free.” Create authentic, original works with purpose, communicate effectively, and you don’t have a damn thing to worry about.

    • 146

      You said: “I have three things much of the competition doesn’t: quality, experience, credentials.”

      Quality and experience are blurry concepts that can´t guarantee efficiency and nobody cares about credentials. If a 18 year old can make a website for $50 (using a template) is fine for a lot of companies.

      The skill that 18 year old don´t have is “business mentality”, the ability of work with communication goals and objectives. Add this weapon to your list and you will be safe.

  93. 147

    Screw the “How to recreate the trendy look of the moment” tutorials.
    I’m logging off and going to go draw now.

  94. 148

    Great article, I really enjoyed it, not only because of its content, but also because of they way it was written.

    I almost completely agree with the article. We see the same web sites and styles over and over, no matter what the industry, theme or message of the respective site is. Fancy techniques and free resources don’t make a great design.

    Besides understanding what effect or impression a certain technique or tool creates (e.g. a shadow adds depth to a design) is only one of the things we have to learn and understand (something I always try to include in tutorials I write on my blog). The second, much more challenging part is to know when depth or texture or minimalism is required. That’s were a true designer can shine.

    Knowing the basics, such as color theory, typography or perspective is much more important – how to translate this things into actual graphics on the computer is something you can worry after you figured out what and how you need them.

    To get to an end here: Great article, more please!

  95. 149

    I am not surprised designers look at 75% inspiration and tutorial related articles. It is out of necessity. We have to deliver great design that our clients will buy. I can have a really nice design with hand drawn illustration and personal photography… but if it doesn’t have “a nice letterpress text effect seen on Apple” our clients will see it as foreign. We are providing a service here. We have clients to make happy, checks to cash and mouths to feed. Keep the tutorials and inspiration coming!

  96. 150

    Downloading and controling photoshop doesn’t make you a designer. even making nice compositions of nothing, doesn’t make you a designer.

    In hebrew we call all of these people “Executers”, they are good at a technique but have no design education.

    I began as one.
    that’s why i went to a design school.

  97. 151

    Irina McGuire

    April 8, 2010 1:31 pm

    I think Web design is now like the fashion industry. Every season brings new trends and colors, and most designers feel the urge to keep up. Although it’s wonderful to keep pushing the envelope and try out new techniques, however, it gives designers no time to do things properly and do them with the purpose. It’s funny to see how much time some Web designers spend blogging about their work. Makes you wonder when they find time to work on the actual projects and execute them correctly (really get to know the client’s vision, do proper research, write good code) while they are blogging about it 24/7. Home life must not be good… I do love all the latest fashion though… ;)

  98. 152

    Design Earth

    April 8, 2010 1:33 pm

    Interesting Post!!!

  99. 153

    I was taught that as designers, we should strive to be creative problem solvers, always trying to be original, but functional. Unfortunately, expectations and budgets, along with a desire to “mimic” instead of create by clients really has changed what’s expected of most designers I know (myself included). I takes a lot of coaxing to get a client to open their minds and take a chance with original design and slightly deeper pockets.

  100. 154

    I really enjoyed this article and feel like you hit the nail right on the head. Unfortunately, we live in a world where everyone is trying to make a buck. Everyone is a designer, web developer or a photographer now. They take a class in Photoshop or Dreamweaver and buy a DSLR and that makes them an expert. It’s kind of sad.

  101. 155

    rt @PatiKay

    “Walking isn’t a lost art—one must by some means get to the garage”.
    – Evan Esar

  102. 156

    Are Designers the Enemy of Design? –

    “Designers suck because they are arrogant. The blogs and websites are full of designers shouting how awful it is that now, thanks to Macs, Web 2.0, even YouTube, EVERYONE is a designer.”

    read article for more!

    IMHO…good designers are real cocky and they are very selective as to who they want to work with…even if the client is willing to listen to them. as soon as one of their designs land on these retweets of top 10 design lists, their prices & ego go through the roof…25k-50k/design??? given proper specs, 1 main UI & 8 inner page UIs should take 1 week max working at 8hrs-10hrs/day & breaking that into HTML should take another week…that’s 80-100 man hours…which translates to approx. $250-$600/hr…are you f***** serious? Designer egos need to be managed more appropriately! The end!

    • 157

      I’m afraid you’re looking at design as a profession and designers differently than any other occupation in the world. Take lawyers for example. Any lawyer (we’ll use divorce lawyers for this example) does the same thing, however, the lawyer who has been recognized for large accomplishments or winning certain cases can charge double, triple or even 10x what the average lawyer can charge. Moving on, it’s the same with doctors who have performed successful and complex surgeries, or even contractors who have constructed beautiful, solid works. Design is no different, and the right to charge higher than the average designer comes with the hard work it takes to achieve that recognition/name.

      Another thing you have to realize is that a designer’s services are often more long-term than a lawyer’s, doctor’s or contractor’s who is conducting a one-time service. A website can last a company a decade, and a lifetime in the case of a logo/branding. Regardless of how long it takes to create the product, it is truly a product of increased significance over most. Accept the fact that we’re in a profession with the opportunity for high return and make use of it.

      Lastly, no designer should be charging hourly. First, for the reason mentioned above about the value of the product. Secondly, if you limited everybody to making whatever you might say is a reasonable hourly wage, there are many people whose services are well worth 100k a year but wouldn’t make enough to support themselves. Take public speakers. These professionals often only speak 40 times a year for a few hours, and if payed $100/hour they would only make $12,000. Something is clearly wrong there. You can’t charge per hour.

      • 158

        Excellent points, except I would argue that the services from the lawyer (won a custody battle?) and doctor (got a new heart?) last you a lifetime as well! Yeah, all analogies have a breaking point I suppose. ^_^

    • 159

      Maybe you should consider the manhours taken to learn the laws of aestetics to make that smashing design? AND what that smashing design means to the company, it’s value is not easily measured but more easily overlooked.

  103. 160

    Scary true… From at least 100 “designers” that I know, maybe 10 know how to draw a tree :S .. They just know how to vectorize logos and erase backgrounds. everything else is downloaded from the internet.

  104. 161

    Scott Tonges

    April 8, 2010 3:31 pm

    Awesome article. Completely agree. Learning about the history of design certainly helps to uncover the ‘why’. Reading design manifestos, studying architecture, researching typography and grids and reading insightful design books all helps to broaden your appreciation and understanding of design. Tutorials tend to appeal only to the superficial, while true understanding of the ‘why’ fosters a far deeper appreciation of design. I’ve only begun to uncover and understand this in the last 6 months and it has proved far more beneficial than any piece of adobe software. Like Francisco noted, as tempting as it is to dive straight in to Photoshop, it’s time to trade the pen tool for the pencil!

  105. 162

    Another stupid post on SM. What the author fails to realize is that many a designer is hogtied by their CLIENTS. We have to listen to what the client wants or we wont get paid. If the client wants to ruin your beautiful modern design and turn it into a 1995 style website….so be it. It doesnt mean the designers are at fault. Sure, there are bad designs out there…but you dont know who is to blame, so to make an article about bad design on the web is pretty absurd.

    And how many possible unique designs can you have for the billions of websites out there?? There are going to be cookie cutter designs out there….not only is it getting more and more difficult to design from scratch, there are time restrictions as well, or just maybe you have 5 websites to pop out this month. Sometimes…a template is the best way to go. So what?? Who cares?? I recently had a client tell me he wanted his website to match a certain website that was on my portfolio. So I did. As long as the client is happy….its irrelevant what “artists and designers” think of other website designs. Until you pay our salaries….you have no say on the issue.

  106. 163

    As someone who works with designers I have to agree with much of the article and comments (both sides). I’ve been lucky enough to work with a designer for many years whose background is in the fundamentals. The tooling was learned over time and the creative talent evolved with it. When we went to hire a new designer, our priority was the raw creative talent and the tooling was secondary. Yes, budgets are an issue. Yes time is always an issue, but I’m willing to negotiate with our clients to get the best out of our designer first before sacrificing the perceived quality of the design.

  107. 164

    Great Article

    I find the best stuff i see lately are from the ones that are taking risks in their designs. Even doing things that aren’t working completely but are trying to do something innovative (maybe mixing other disciplines) and aren’t just using this years design trends, or how ‘apple’ does it.

  108. 165

    Excellent article! I’m a musician, and I find the exact same trend happening in the music world! Great tools (like GarageBand, or even paid applications (and therefore pirated)) are making it very easy for just about anyone to drag in free instruments and loops in the process of making their own “music.” Not that a song written in GarageBand is automatically to be considered “not music,” but that (like you said) the compositional and musical processes must always be first and foremost in the mind of the creator.

    In the realm of music, I find that music for TV commercials is becoming a commodity. Just listen for a few seconds to commercials and you’ll realize that music (typically of the same fad) is being copied over and over with slight variation. Anyway, all that to say that I totally agree with everything you said. I’m certain the principles in this article apply to any artistic field.

    Thanks for the wonderful, well-said reminder!

  109. 166

    I think all of this depends on the type of training you’ve had – if any.

    I am currently studying a Diploma of Graphic Design, where we are taught ‘how to design properly’. We have been taught skills like technical drawing/figure drawing/illustration and photography, painting, silk screening etc, etc, during our Cert. IV and are now getting to master these skills during the Diploma.

    I am seeing more and more young people learn a couple of things in Photoshop and claiming to be designers. I’m sorry, but you’re not a designer just because you know how to make a gradient. I mean, it’s great that you’re 14 and know how to use photoshop and have an interest in it, but *please* develop your skills more, you can be ten times better than you are now. A lot of people cannot be bothered to seek good information and theory. I am seeing so many designers get caught up in making things look pretty rather than developing the conceptual side of their work, which is really sad.

    I think drawing is especially a skill that every designer should learn and not be afraid of. Drawing is like singing – I don’t care who you are – you can probably do it, you’ve just got to learn the skill. I personally don’t understand how anyone can just draw an image with the pen tool – (even with a Wacom) without first doing a pencil. I also cannot understand how someone can even think they’ve come up with a good design without doing thumbnails.

    Also, photography is another skill that people should be learning, it’s also like drawing, it’s a learnt skill that you can probably do. I don’t know how people can take pride in their designs if 80% of the time, they used a stock photo, unless it’s for an Annual Report or something.

    and theory is also extremely important, how are we meant to move forward if most of us don’t know the history of Graphic Design, or anything about colour theory? I learnt so much about Graphic Design after actually mixing palettes off-screen in gouache for hours on end.

    On the other side of the coin, it seems as if design companies and clients are expecting too much from designers. It’s not enough to be just a photographer, or just an illustrator or just a typographer or a package designer. These days, if a designer wants to make a living, they have to be jack of all trades and master of none – which, as we’re seeing just now, is resulting in the Graphic Design industry preforming subpar.

    Currently, you have to *know*:
    Photography & Photoshop
    Illustration & Illustrator
    Flash CS4

    It is a bonus if you know:
    Cinema 4D or Blender etc…
    Silk Screening

    The list may not look long and I’m sure I can add many more skills to it, but trust a designer when they say learning all of them and keeping up to date with these skills is a freaking bitch and a half.

    Anyway, I could rant for hours on end about design, but I’ve got projects to do! lol !
    Thank you for the good article. This should be the first thing that young Graphic Designers read before embarking on anything. At all. :)

    • 167

      Agustin Amenabar

      April 8, 2010 8:15 pm

      I agree with you, design is so big, that a single designer can’t tackle it all.
      But great designers have some common things, a special broad mindset, that, I believe, can be taught. Also relentless workers and perfectionists.

  110. 168

    Sascha Brossmann

    April 8, 2010 5:56 pm

    While I heavily agree with some of the basic points of the article, I don’t think that design is dying. Absolutely not. We’ve had the same flood of copycat “designers” when the great DTP wave swept over the lands and the discussions were rather similar. We are still experiencing a large democratisation of means, which hence also leads to a larger mass of often bad and mostly mindless *styling* (i.e. putting lipstick on a pig – something which actually should not be called “design”, anyway). Sooner or later some of the stylists get a grip and move on to design (and some better than others), many don’t. So what?

    The article could be well summed up quite simply:

    Copying skips understanding, but design requires understanding – or it isn’t design. Hence, stop copying if you want to be a designer, but rather start to get your mind & hands dirty and work for real.

    ‘nuf said.

  111. 169

    This is so sad but true, im so used to referencing and tooling that i forgot how to create something different.

    im a tooler!

  112. 170

    I have no design education, I can’t draw and I can barely use Photoshop. I do however get paid to make websites. Learning about negative space, typography, color theory and other design essentials is important, but it ain’t quantum physics, and it definitely doesn’t require years of formal education. All the hacks and wannabes out there (myself included) may be producing mediocre work, but we enjoy the process and appreciate good design when and if we recognize it. I’ll disagree with the author and say that design is not dying, it’s flourishing. Just because design is getting more popular doesn’t mean it’s lost its bite. The same thing happens with a local band that gets big. Once the band signs with a big label there are those “real fans” who claim that they’ve sold out. They haven’t sold out; they’ve made music that a lot of people like. In the same way, design hasn’t sold out; it’s just gotten more popular, and thus the “real designers” gripe about the death of design. While you wallow in that illusion, the rest of us will continue to enjoy design in all of its bounty.

  113. 171

    Good article, and time one of these big design ezines denounced the dross of lists & tutorials which sadly spoil this community.

    There is one section I take issue with. “Typical ingredients are great photography and great content.” You’re mistaking design for art direction or editing, both of which might be necessary skills for independent publishers or portfolio creators, but have nothing to do with design which is about presenting good content to its best effect and building a usable experience around it – NOT creating or choosing the content itself. Essentially, this is the same mistake made by the subjects of your ire: the confusion of design for something else, in your case art, in their cases techniques. Design is a craft not an art. Forget it at your peril.

    • 172

      Wow! you think Design is not Art, than you definitely have no understanding of the subject you are commenting on.

  114. 173

    Michael EH?

    April 8, 2010 7:41 pm

    A career counselor told me, “Web design? Any one can do that.” Sadly she was way off the mark. Many may try but far too many fail.

    For me, I fall in the hack and bash things together. I have no formal training. The guy who was suppose to do my site quit leaving me to figure it on my own. I try to find good elements and CMS here and there.

    Still I have a good idea where to take things. It’s just getting there is the chore of making design to work. Design might be easy, maybe anyone can do it,.. it’s making it work is the real job.

    • 174

      Agustin Amenabar

      April 8, 2010 8:17 pm

      Copy what you like, that is a fabulous way to learn design, just like drawing forces you to actively and truly observe the object.

  115. 175

    What a great article, you really touched on something there.

    It covered alot of what I have been thinking about of late, i.e what really makes a designer?

    I think alot of people don’t view designers as problem solvers, graphic experts or creatives but just people who are handy with photoshop and that can act as a go between for them and the computer.

    I think the best way to combat this is to up our collective game professionally, not to be lazy designers and as the article suggested get in the ring with the client and spar.

  116. 176

    Great article, thanks a lot!

    It reminds me of a recent discussion on the Pixelmator forums. Some users asked why Pixelmator hasn’t this or that “one-klick-there-you-go” effect. The devs then explained they dislike this idea because users no longer know or even understand what is going on behind the scenes. Because once you’ve learned how the given core tools work and what they’re good for you aren’t limited to a given set of fixed effects anymore.

  117. 177

    This seems like a new perspective on an old topic, so maybe there is something to be learned from its history:

    There was a time when everything was made by people who had the skill to make it. Then, around the 18th century those skills became less valuable. Instead, people became valued for their productivity in performing repetitive tasks that require virtually no skill at all.

    As expected, the skilled workers were not very happy. They most likely argued that these “toolers” were taking over their industry and mediocrity was becoming all too popular. Economists, on the other hand, loved the idea because greater productivity (as is widely known) makes a country wealthier on the whole.

    Presently, people pay less for the mass-produced products and only buy the hand-made stuff when it makes sense. Also, the quality of the mass-produced products seems to have increase over time, even though there is arguably even less talent required on the part of the specialized workers. For the most part, people seem to be content with this balance between quality and accessibility.

    So can we expect a similar end-result in the design world? I’ll admit that some factors make it more difficult. But to imply that the correct mix of skilled-production vs. mass-production is to have everything be produced by a skilled worker is, I think, somewhat biased. It is also, in my opinion, naive to think that no positive effects can possibly come from “toolers”. The fact that you failed to observe a direct and immediate positive effect may turn out to mean very little in the long run.

    If the purpose of this article is to convince toolers to become skilled designers, I say forget it. There is a place for both in the design market. Neither competes with the other! Those who are skilled simply have to differentiate themselves; let it somehow be known that they are superior; become the Lamborghini of the design industry. Who cares if the vast majority buy a Honda Civic. You make your money elsewhere.

  118. 178

    The fact that you guys just mistook superman and batman (dc character) with marvel character just points out the fact that you don’t do your research and just throw stuff out of your belly in the wysiwyg editor. It’s a big mistake almost as big as the one where Smashing magazine tells the readers to super commend / make an index and a nice fable in their css file making the css file about 177 kb.

    FTW Smashing Magazine (sarcasm)

  119. 179

    superb post! thank you!

  120. 180

    James Fenton

    April 9, 2010 2:35 am

    Tutorials and inspiration lists definately create a DIY culture that opens up design to a much wider audience to give it a go. There are also plenty of applications that allow the novice to produce their own website, with an off the shelf designed theme, which looks like a hundred other sites. And this of course does do damage to the value of design and create the impression its all just easy [ Shit – Building a wall looks easy, though if you want it to stay standing, you either learn brick laying properly or you get in a bricklayer. ].

    You have make the distinction between a professional designer and a design enthusiast. There should always be room for DIY, because its affordable and fun for people to do, which makes people happy, and in the end the shit makes the brass shine.

    You can go and watch a cover band mimicking your musical heroes in bars and clubs everywhere. The band are having fun, the audience enjoys singing along, its all very cheap and cheerful. Though I don’t believe anyone thinks that its a replacement for seeing the original artists.

    There is still a great deal of good design out there, and lots of great designers too, who draw from a wealth of design history, to produce amazing new work. Ok it might go largely unnoticed by the general population, who prefer Ikea wall art, instant coffee and X-factor, though it is still there.

    Great design filters into the subconscious of a culture and is only trully appreciated in retrospect, as part of social history.

  121. 181

    Jeremy Carlson

    April 9, 2010 7:32 am

    You know….I actually thought this was going to be another crap article like the other one about the dying community. But….I actually like this one. Not that I agree with anything or not, but because the author goes into more detail on what they have a problem with.

    I find the discussion about the design degree thing above a little funny. I don’t agree that a design degree is pointless, because I have one, and I am glad I have it. But “design” doesn’t pay very well. Which is why I went into development. I do the design AND build the sites. The actual building gets you paid nicely.

    As to the comments on “why someone positioned things, or why the designer used that color or typeface”….a lot of the time it is because you are TOLD to put it there. No matter how many times you tell the client/manager or whatever, there are a lot of decisions that are made that are NOT up to the designer. A client wants that menu system using jQuery? Then that is what they get, cause they are paying.

    And don’t respond with “It is YOUR job as the designer/developer to tell the client they should not being doing x or y”. Cause if you work in the corporate world, you will find that it really isn’t up to you sometimes. They just want you to do it….and do it now.

  122. 182

    I think the best part of this has been reading the comments and conversations that followed. Good read anyways.

    Also stop complaining about articles wasting your time, it couldn’t possibly have taken more than a couple minutes to read through this. Especially if you claim you went to college ;).

  123. 183

    Wasn’t the point of the article to discuss embracing the process of design? There’s a huge difference between designers and software manipulators, each having talents in their own rights. Designers embrace the creativity that happens before their fingers ever hit the keyboard. Regardless of the level of education, it happens as a result of maturity and knowing that working the process reaps many more benefits than just jumping in with the first ho-hum idea and taking it digital. Just because someone is crazy handy at Photoshop, this doesn’t make them a designer. Both are often mistaken for the other in this day and age.

  124. 184

    Dying Design is a Design.

  125. 185

    Francis Baptiste

    April 9, 2010 9:50 am

    wow, look at all those comments! wish I had time to read them all. You know what’d be cool? A CMS that allows comment leavers, or maybe the admin, to color code comments so you know which are negative, which are positive, neutral, pointless, etc. Like, if I were to color code this post, it would be brown, for off-topic or pointless. That would make it easier for reading all these comments, because I’ve always believed that with articles like these you can always learn just as much, if not more, from reading all the comments.

    Design is definitely something you can learn. I think the point this article is trying to make is you shouldn’t rely on learning trendy techniques. Basically, as designers, we can’t forget to think about what we’re designing, instead of just relying on techniques we learned on some tutorial.

  126. 186

    Very true… I see a lot of juniors who call themselves smart by using all Themes and Freebies… Where’s designing, User Experience & Creativity there…

    I guess Artists with the thirst to do something different everytime needs to step into the arena quite often… but actually people with knowledge (only tools) in photoshop & Corel enter designing… ;-)

  127. 187

    Every article written by a human being is bound to be biased. weather the author is right or wrong is seldom the point. The point is to educate yourself with the ideas of others so you can create your own opinion.It seems the main point of this article was missed by many and may be I did too but what I got out of it is this:

    We should not think of tutorials as tutorials for design. Learning how to use crayons when you are a kid does not teach you the principles of arts and crafts, it merely teaches you a use for that particular tool.

    I love tutorials, I have learned so many photoshp shortcuts and uses for many filters. But in the end this are tutorials for filters and Photoshop shortcuts, not design principles. what I got from this article is that we should not be happy with just learning these techniques but we should go the extra mile and explore our own ways of using these tools. I believe that good design techniques can be taught, but we must learn to understand that some articles talk about particular design principles and others are tutorials on how to use tools.

    To summarize: creativity in design is dead when all we do is copy a technique we have learned how to use, without understanding why that technique works. That is what I got from this article.

  128. 188

    This is great, Long have a waited to read something like this. I have felt like design is dieing for a long time. All we see now is decoration, decoration, decoration which looks cool sometimes but it does not recognize progress in design. This was great : )

  129. 189

    Jierna Wheeler

    April 9, 2010 1:36 pm

    This article came perfectly timed for me. I chose to become a Web Designer about five years ago and wanting to do it right, I immediately enrolled in a college for the study. I was surprised to discover that the majority of Web Designers I met, thought it was a waste of time. It has only been a couple years since my graduation, but I can affirm that the fundamentals and techniques I learned have been invaluable.

  130. 190

    Brian Goulet

    April 9, 2010 1:58 pm

    I think this article is pretty good, not because it’s ‘facts’ this and ‘facts’ that, but because it is someone’s opinion. Anyone can gather facts and restate them, but it takes thought to come up with an opinion. That being said, I probably have a unique perspective on this whole topic. I’m a fountain pen maker who sells paper and ink, and I was led to this article by a very tech-savvy friend of mine who has recently taken a keen interest in writing with fountain pens. Strangely enough, the majority of my customers that buy my products are people that use iPhones and laptops and have very technical jobs with higher degrees of education. They have no ‘need’ for writing on a pen with paper to do their daily work.

    HOWEVER, and I think this is where the article was going, there is something about actually using a pen/pencil on paper that can foster a different type (good for some, maybe not as effective for others) of creativity. Most authors will type on a laptop, but there are some that choose to write it out in manuscript using inks with different colors to represent each character in the story. That’s just one example. The whole idea of the ‘dying’ art of the physical medium (which I think applies to your design world just as much as my world of writing) is really a transition from need to desire. When computers made things easier, it made it more accessible to the masses, which flooded the market with amateurs. It’s the same with photography when digital cameras came out, musicians with autotune, and writers with laptops and spell-check. I think the main idea is that the tools don’t make the designer/artist. Tools are just tools. You need a foundation (whether you get that in school or on your own, which I believe is each individual’s choice), and beyond that you need art. Art is what makes the difference.

    • 191

      I agree but what is “ART” what is “Design” if you asked every one that question and had them write it down on a piece of paper you would get so many different answers. Theory is well… just that that… “theory”.

  131. 192

    simply brilliant..

  132. 193

    Design isn’t dying, designers willing to design are

  133. 194

    I love how SM is censoring posts here. I made a well thought out post about why design is the way it is today, and its nowhere to be found….I guess because I put my opinion here about this article being stupid offended some thin skinned authors.

    Ill say it again….design isnt dying. Clients are going to demand what they feel is right on the websites you design for them. As I mentioned before….this past week was a nightmare for me. The client nitpicked and tweak and changed my design from a beautiful piece of work to a dumbed down 1995 style design. I guess because he built the company’s website 5 years ago with Microsoft Office (and it looks like 1990 style) he thinks he knows what a website should look like. The colors are atrocious. In the end, when the site goes live…who’s fault is it?? The designer or the client who demanded the changes and approved the final POS??

    We dont know which website is the result of poor design or client taste. To make an article implying design is dead is absurd.

    Also…why do we need formal traditional art training?? I went to school for my training…all I got was a bunch of elitist and arrogant artsy fartsy types who thought they knew what the masters were thinking, or whatever they read from a book that week. Bottom line is…who would you rather learn from…a professor who couldnt succeed in the real world, or working as an apprentice under Donald Trump?? I would rather learn from the school of hard knocks than some elitist professor who’s been locked away in a classroom for 30 years.

    I recently went to my old college’s website and saw the art departments portfolio. I almost fell out of my chair at how average the art was. There is no right or wrong in art…only what you feel. When you have the freedom to do your own website, do what you feel is right. You cant please everyone, and there will always be the ignorant clients who dont know jack about design, and the elitist “art major emo” who thinks they studied enough art from books or DVD’s to know better than you.

    • 195

      In the end, when the site goes live and it’s (to use your phrase) a POS, it is always the fault of the designer because it is the responsibility of the designer to instruct and guide the client or, as I have done, hand them a kill fee and walk away from the job…
      The best decision I made was the day I learned to say no to idiot clients and put my rates on a sliding scale. The better the client, the less they have to pay. The worse the client, the more they pay… and some of them are so arrogant, they will pay five times what I charge my best clients just for the benefit of hearing me say no to them. that’s what working in the design biz for 25 years will do for you. Give you some experience…

  134. 196

    Patrick Hill

    April 9, 2010 5:57 pm

    Fantastic article! I’m currently a design student and I consider myself extremely lucky to be in a program that focuses almost exclusively on design concepts, fundamentals, history and many of the other things you covered here while only teaching program tech when necessary. I actually think one of my most helpful / interesting classes was on the history of graphic design. Anyway, keep articles like this coming.

  135. 197

    Mark Stuckert

    April 9, 2010 6:49 pm

    Hahahahahaha this is hilarious!

  136. 198

    I found this article to be timely and interesting as I’m a undergraduate art student working on my BFA thesis project in a digital design program. The core idea of my thesis states reliance on web resources such as design blogs, web showcases, tutorial, freebies, etc., are detrimental to the development of an artist’s unique creative vision. I found during my education I became focused on trying to compete with fellow students who seemed to easily master the software and coding. In the process of trying to play “catch up” I spent too much time on tutorials and trying to find image resources material or inspiration from trends. I should have relied on my existing art strengths and focused on becoming better versed in how to solve conceptual problems.

  137. 199

    Sadly I think you have demonstrated the concept you’re complaining about in your own article in your comment about HTC. If you believe HTC or Google’s Android simply tried to copy the iPhone then you have missed the underlying principles. Not to mention that any market projections you look at show that Android is far from failing.

    What you’ve done is looked at the animations used in the iPhone and saw similar transitional animations in Android and said “hey they just copied”. Nevermind the fact that Android multi-tasks (something Apple had to do back and add), lets you manage your application shortcuts/icons (something Apple had to go back and add), allows applications to control the deepest parts of the device and even replace the core functions of the phone (something Apple will have to go back and add to compete…watch for the iPhone OS 5) and does a host of other things not found on an iPhone. Its a bit difficult to say the iPhone is being copied when its busy copying its competition. Its also worth mentioning that alot of what Apple has sued HTC over can be found in prior implementations. One patent ridiculously covers whats known as Flash “easing”.

    Don’t worry about criticizing others while you yourself are in the Apple cargo cult. As I mentioned before market projections show Android overtaking iPhone sales possibly as early as next year….and at least equal by the end of 2010. You’ll still be talking about copy-cat failures while not realizing the iPhone has been dethroned and you won’t understand why.

    • 200

      ^ I have to agree. This article also assumes being sued by Apple means the company being sued is in the wrong. Which, in itself, is hypocritical.

      I generally agree with the general underlying premise of the article, but it seems a bit alarmist. Nothing is dying. If anything, design is flourishing. More companies than ever are taking design seriously. In turn, customers are taking design more seriously. Apple wouldn’t be doing so well if this weren’t true.

      Designers should take their work seriously and approach it analytically, but that can be applied to life in general — and it should be.

  138. 201

    That’s why I don’t like my school… I’ll graduate in 3 months, but this graduation is just a line on my CV. Why ? They’re making toolers, they learn us how to use the CS Suite and that’s all, so we will be masters un photoshop, After Effect and all the shit, but nothing about theory of design, it’s useless, as I can learn all this thx to tuts… That’s not the reason I chose a design school -_-

  139. 202

    A fantastic article, yes the brain is the best computer we have, use it. I would also advise any designer to focus on typography as this is so important. I have noticed lately that design is looking much the same, I have been looking at old design books, which require you to think and use typography to create a great design, alot of these designs are timeless.

  140. 203

    couldn’t have said it any better! many forget the essence of a concept just because the art made is “sureally” done. its not just about the effects, but more importantly “does it serve its purpose?”

  141. 204

    Bruno Camargos

    April 11, 2010 6:13 pm

    I guess this is a good point of view. We have to think about it.

  142. 205

    Eduardo is right. Design isn’t dying, designers are just getting lazy because they know a client will pay for a well polished piece of crap. But no matter how much you polish a bad design, all you get is a shiny turd. Something like putting lipstick on a gorilla.
    Design is not an art, it’s a process and the first step has to be a strong concept. I also believe the best designs begin by doing nothing, just thinking about what your concept should be, before you even start to sketch. And I always sketch before moving to the computer.
    Once there, I also believe that the most important part of a computer is the mind of the operator. Notice the term, operator. I don’t agree with designing on a computer. You’re not designing, you’re letting the computer lead you somewhere you might not go with pencil on paper… Completing a design on a computer from a pre-planned sketch is strictly production.
    Want to learn about design? Start with type… Read old books. Develop a sensitivity for subtlety. And don’t think you’ll learn everything in a six week course… I spent four years immersed in design school back in the 1980’s. The last time I ever had to hand comp an entire font family… but what a lesson my wrist and brain learned from that exercise… so don’t sleight your education, you’ll only regret it later.
    And if you think you want to understand the mind of a designer read The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher. It’s the best book on design ever produced…

  143. 206

    Design for web is slightly overrated. There are too many sites with a great design but google cant read them because they where made in one big slow loading swf file. Web-design is about 3 elements in this order;

    1 Information
    2 Functionality
    3 Design

    If a website looks great but functions bad its a waste of money.

  144. 207

    Really great article, seriously. It made me thinking… a lot :P

    Do you think that the Smashing Magazine Book is a good point to start? Do you recommend any book or something?

    Thank you very much!

  145. 208

    In a few years you can ‘design’ something in one click!
    Can’t wait till the tutorials show up with replies like: ‘i rly liek this tutorial will try noa!’.

  146. 209

    guys, “design” is dying!
    don’t you realize how serious this is?
    in time, “design” will be dead. dead and gone.
    while you sit here and argue about the meaning of the article, design is breathing its last gasps of air.
    this matter is so serious that only people who know “design” well are aware that it is dying. that’s why we have to spread the word to all the people who are learning about “design” and tell them that it is dying.
    write the obituary,
    come up with a drab epitaph,
    prepare for a world without it.

  147. 210

    The future of freelance design, as I see it, is cheap shitty freelance by those eastern profane shitheads out there, who know nothing of design but 2-3 tutors and downloaded 10-20 templates from rapidshare. The sad thing is the client cares of his budget more than of the result’s quality in “the circumstances”.

    However there’re exits and opportunitites: learn as much as you can, not just design, but related stuff as well; work fulltime rather than freelance — freelance is a romantic dream which never came true, at least for people with ambition.

  148. 211

    Damn you 9 to 5!, i can’t wait to go home and read the rest of the article… i got to read all of the links supplied in the article and the “Tooler” one left me quite wondering how many of “my” designs haven’t actually be changed due to a design trend or may i say, “tooler” trend… so far this article left my desk full of remains of a tuna baguette and quite a fishy smell around the area… I just spent my lunch hour reading, enjoy and heavily thinking about this, so i guess this is quite by far, one of the best posts i’ve read in smashing magazine….

  149. 212

    Jeremy Carlson

    April 12, 2010 2:49 pm

    I get the feeling a lot of these “designers” are not working in the corporate world. The designer here creates dozens of sites a month, hands it to myself and a few of others, we slice and dice, build, add javascript to what is needed, customize, test, someone adds content, then go live. From start to finish, a website takes about 4-5 days. 1 for design, 1 waiting for approval, 2-3 to build…DONE.

    There is NO time to stop. The day of creating a design, presenting, and getting paid a huge sum is over. Templating is what is selling, because no one is willing to pay the price for anything else. This isn’t the designers’ fault, it is the people unwilling to pay for anything more, and wanting to copy whatever site they see that caught their fancy.

    If people coming into the design world now, are expecting a lot of designers sitting around a table talking for hours, drinking a Starbucks coffee and talking about how to go about a design, then create something, then present, then tweak….you are in for quite a surprise.

    You BETTER know your “tools” (and you better know your js), and you better be fast as hell. If you don’t, then the don’t expect to get paid, no matter how awesome your “designs” are.

  150. 213

    Without reading the entire comments list, I just wanted to add that Jim Lee never ever got a formal art education before diving into comics. I think that speaks more about the comics industry, but I just think its kind of funny to note.

  151. 214

    Mark Stuckert

    April 12, 2010 8:21 pm

    Don’t do tutorials.

    Do projects.

    Done. Check!

  152. 215

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

  153. 216

    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.

  154. 217


    April 13, 2010 4:01 am

    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!

  155. 218

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

  156. 219

    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.

  157. 220

    I really enjoyed this article. Thanks SM!

  158. 221

    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!

  159. 222

    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 Thanks

  160. 223

    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!

  161. 224

    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.

  162. 225

    “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.


  163. 226

    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.

  164. 227

    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.

  165. 228

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

  166. 229

    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.

  167. 230

    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.

  168. 231

    Adam Black

    May 7, 2010 4:53 pm

    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.

  169. 232

    Mark Armstrong

    June 21, 2010 8:43 am

    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.

  170. 233

    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.

  171. 234

    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.

  172. 235

    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.

  173. 236

    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.

    • 237

      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.

  174. 238

    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.

  175. 239

    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.

  176. 241

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

  177. 242

    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.

  178. 243

    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.

    • 244

      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.

  179. 245

    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.


  180. 246

    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.

  181. 247

    Angie Taylor

    March 22, 2012 7:51 am

    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!


  182. 248

    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.

  183. 249

    Rodney Smith

    May 28, 2013 3:04 pm

    “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!

  184. 250

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


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