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I Once Hated Graphic Design


  • By OSNS

    Published on 13 June 2012

I want to talk about what happened yesterday, when in the "Australian In Front Forum”, there was a yet another typical discussion, with yet another frustrated and depressed graphic design student who had graduated only to discover that all the romantic hype about being a “cool designer”, was yes, just that. Hype. 


You cannot really blame him for swallowing it all, because as a society we are conditioned to only hear good news. But it's really wrong that this is happening, and I believe that educational institutions (who have become like shops motivated only for profit rather than people's well being) are responsible. During their preselection, they need to be more honest. This is what he said: 

“I'm not too sure what happened but the things I used to be interested in now seem so shallow. There's so much noise already, we don't need any more and I'm not comfortable with helping people sell things either. “Same Briefs, same keywords, same small talk”

According to Stefan Sagmeister, we are “drowning in a sea of professionally designed things that nobody gives a **** about”. At Old School, we agree, and so ask you honestly:

Are you sure that you want to be a Graphic Designer? We ask this because we believe that it’s important for you to understand your motives. And this is why we like to believe that our design program is very honest, and doesn’t lead you down the only too well trodden path to that morbid state of disillusionment you reach, when you have been asked to follow one style guide too many. Don't worry though. Read on. 

So what IS going to help you then? 

Well, the answer was only too evident in the forum. All the people who were happy seemed to have discovered that the answer was actually in not having a high expectation, freelancing (it pays better) rather than working in a large studio, and on working on personal projects that have steered them toward working in new, more satisfying areas and collaborations where they feel that they are making a difference. From my experience as a designer, I have preferred working as my own boss, and most of my ex students are also running their own show after first gaining studio practice working in a studio. 

Other designers in the past have stated it so brilliantly. One of my favorites is the paper of Lisa Grocott from the then Studio Anybody, in 2004. She starts off by saying:

“To state that I once hated graphic design is neither, provocative nor original. Many graphic designers before me, have felt the physical and creative malaise I experienced after twelve-hour days of mouse-clicking week in, week out. This chapter describes the creative equivalent of a recovery program for disenchanted designers. This story narrates how my colleagues and I conceived of an ongoing research project, that positioned our studio practice as the research subject, our professional dissatisfaction as the primary issue and calling for creative speculation within the workplace as our key argument.”

In the rest of Grocott’s paper, she describes how essentially asking questions, and making stuff to answer these questions kept a whole studio of 5 designers excited, enchanted and busy, and how this also lead to more paid work, while also helping them to understand themselves, their process, and their direction better. You should read it though, it’s a good read. Speculation was the key to her whole practice. 

Further to the topic, yesterday, I was privileged to find this inspiring post on my tumblr by Small Studio who are right here in Brunswick Melbourne. 

This post essentially says the same thing. That you need to keep making stuff, to then look at it to help you better understand your individual style, to help you find like minded people with whom to collaborate. (This is known as speculative practice)

I cannot recommend this post enough. It is written in such a personally engaging way with gems of golden wisdom. Thankyou Small Studio

Finally though, we have Stefan Sagmiester who asks “Can Design Touch Someone’s Heart?”

Sagmeister is asking whether design can do more than:

“sell products for our clients? Can design move someone enough to change the course of events? Can design play a bigger role in solving societal problems? “You could also say, do something that matters,”
I have nothing against selling. I do it, too. But I also think design can do so much more. It can inform, delight, provoke, support and simplify someone’s life.” The answer must come from your own heart. This takes an innate understanding of where your particular passions and design skills can make a difference to someone else. It takes soul-searching.
“So much of what designers do is technically very good,” he says, “but it leaves people cold and has little meaning in their lives. The question came out of a frustration of drowning in professionally designed things that nobody gives a **** about, neither the maker nor the receiver. The main reason for all this stuff is that most designers don’t believe in anything. When your conscience is so flexible, how can you do strong design?”

So this is why we say at Old School that you need to “Free Your Spirit and Create From Your Heart”. By this we mean that you have to be true to yourself, and create and make that which you find inspiring. This may seem to oppose the premise of design as a business, but it is possible. Life as a professional designer does not need to be about completely sacrificing your own truth and integrity. 

My ten years as a design educator and designer has helped me become an expert in supporting you to first see and understand your individuality or creative truth, and to nurture it, channel it and enable it to grow. This is the essence of a good design education. Don't believe all the hype, it isn't about being cool. 

It is a good idea to think about this before spending 20K on your design education.After you graduate you should question whether spending big bucks going to an elite design school with industry legends is going to help you? Ask about their background in helping you find and understand your individual style and strengths? What is their training and skill in supporting your individual path of self discovery.