Why Graphic Design Isn’t Just Graphic Design Anymore

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When people ask what I do, and I tell them I’m a graphic designer, their usual follow-up question is, “Right. But what do you do?”

This question used to confuse me. I thought the term “graphic design” was synonymous with what I did. But then I realized how right people are to ask because… what does a graphic designer really do these days?

Google “graphic design” and you get different versions of the same generic definition. Graphic design is generally defined as “the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books.”

Now compare that to my daily tasks of designing advertisements, logos, web graphics, and homepages for new websites, then developing those designs, writing lines of CSS, HTML, and creating email signatures — and that definition falls more than a little flat.

The same can be said when we look at the thousands of graphic design job postings filling up recruiting sites across the internet.

Companies want a graphic designer who can combine text and imagery — that is true. But they also want someone who knows their way around a website build and maybe has experience with video editing and photography. And let’s not forget the basic ability to meet projected deadlines and communicate well. It’s a long list. Call me crazy, but…

I don’t think that’s asking too much.

Text reads "Graphic design is generally defined as 'the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines and books.'

To stay creative and competitive as a graphic designer, you have to adopt the lifestyle of a perpetual student. You’ll need to endure a couple late nights and learn a new program, skill, or technique to stay relevant. If agencies and companies want to stay relevant, they look for designers who make it a point to stay relevant.

So what’s the problem?

Obviously there are more problems in the creative industry than just redefining graphic design. There will always be “bad clients,” poorly-led companies, and bad days. There will also always be more creative problems to solve than there are hours in the day.

But a part of the problem isn’t necessarily what agencies and businesses are asking of designers; it’s how we define graphic design to people who are not in our field.

Graphic design isn’t just graphic design by definition anymore.

People are just now starting to catch on to its depth.

I think the best definition of graphic design I’ve seen so far is from the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). Their definition starts with the combination of visual and textual information, but expands upon it to include interactive media.

According to them, “Designers are also responsible for interactive designs where the content is fluid, sometimes changing minute to minute, as well as interfaces that help users navigate through complex digital experiences. This work differentiates itself by adding another element: responding to the actions of the viewer.”

As long as content remains fluid, so too will the definition of graphic design. Because of this ever-changing nature, it’s important for graphic designers to work hard and stay on top of the latest programs and trends.

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