I started my design career fifteen years ago as a graphic designer in the publishing industry. I would pulled my designs together in QuarkXpress and sent them on to the Linotype film processors and hoped there wasn't a PostScript error waiting for me. I dragged myself to the press floor at 2 a.m. to work with the press operator — making sure the blue was the right shade, that the foil wasn't getting bound up in the paper fibers, that the registration was acceptable, that the folds were hitting in the right place, and the list goes on.
As a communication designer, I was responsible for picking the paper, cut, fold, ink and any other embellishments the piece needed. I was responsible for understanding the constraints of each variation as well as communicating the options these constraints generated back to the client. Understanding those constraints is no small task which is why a good designer shows up for a press check — your last chance to react to the constraints.
I recently attended an event where the local design community pooled their talents and resources to help local nonprofit organizations with their design needs — many of which included Web work. I led one of the teams that weekend.
My team’s task was to create a Web site for one of the nonprofits. Within the first hour, one of my teammates approached me about narrowing down a template to use so they could begin filling in the content. My knee-jerk response was "These nonprofits need our design help, not template help."
As the weekend progressed, I was struck by the fact that all of the teams that needed Web work resorted to a pre-built WordPress template.
I came to two conclusions about the design community that weekend
1) Too many of us opt for the lazy approach and just see design as a way of making things look better.
No designer worth their salt would download a brochure template and just fill in the content. The templates are for NON-designers.
A decent designer uses the content to advise the brochure, not the other way around.
The same applies to the Web.
2) Too many of us design for a medium we're not disciplined enough to learn.
A print designer knows what paper qualities make for good letterpress and which ones are good for foil stamping. They understand the constraints of their medium.
The same goes for digital design. You must understand the constraints of the medium!
I'm not saying that designers should become developers, just as I'm not saying that designers should become press operators. What I am saying is that when you don't understand the constraints, your design suffers, the client suffers, and ultimately you and your craft suffer.
So here is my challenge to the design community (myself included):
- Make it your business to deliver more than pretty.
- Understand the constraints. All of them.
- Embrace the medium you design for.
- Don't abdicate understanding to someone else down the production line.
- Stop making excuses.