Is graphic design dead?

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Is graphic design dead?
I keep hearing terrible rumors that graphic design is dead. That people with no training in graphic design are picking up their smart phones and tablets, and graphic designing. Well, in part, this is true, phones and tablets are getting smarter by the day, and are helped along by some really great design apps. Canva is one of these apps, its actually really good, and if you have a little bit of creativity inside you, this will help bring it out.

But what does this mean for graphic designers? I mean the professional ones, like myself, that earn a living from this art. Well, to be honest, I’m not scared. I think its great that people can pick up apps like these and design what they need. A lot of people simply cannot afford the services of a professional graphic designer. Logoglo provide really accessible prices, so people can come and use our expertise. Which brings me to my next point.

Why people will still use graphic designers. The fact is, a creative thought and an app sometimes do not cut it. The experience of a seasoned designer, far outweighs the pre-sets of an app, and all ways will. If a business is serious about its image, they will turn to a graphic designer. The experience they have, creativity, and taste, will all help in creating that perfect logo. Also, when it comes to print, it can get complicated, dealing with colors, margins, gutters and bleed, are all technical aspects that your app will not help with.

So, I would say, use those apps for fun, or for small projects like invites, cards, etc, but if you need anything done professionally, like your companies brand design, use a professional, every time.

  1. Hi Gary,

    Very well written post. Sorry I’m just finding it now long after the fact. I’d love to believe your theory that customers will always value a true professional’s experience over an automated app, template, or cut-rate solution, but I’ve seen the same thing others have noted here. I’ve been in the design business for 20+ years and have noticed a similar steep decline in graphic design work volume, particularly on the small business side where it was once thriving. It’s just too easy for the average person to download a template, use a Squarespace site, or go to 99designs/Fiver to get their small projects done. Is the result the same as if a professional had worked closely with them to create a custom solution? Maybe not, but it’s close enough that the cost savings and convenience outweigh the decline in quality for most.

    The other thing I’ve seen, and this has turned me off on the design business in general, is that there’s no longer a clear competitive value placed on visual uniqueness in many cases. This really hurts conceptual designers who liked to iterate, trying to find a creative, one-of-a-kind visual solution. It seems that the current market largely doesn’t care about visual differentiation or breaking the mold. The new approach is to simply grab a template, drop in some stock photos, and do whatever everyone else is doing. In fact, if you try to do something completely different visually, many will think you’re crazy for putting so much effort (and budget) into something that is no longer seen as a cost-effective differentiator. The reality is that visual design is now vastly secondary to content and strategy in communications. It’s a new world driven more by data and statistics, not individual creativity.

    I’ve been fortunate to be somewhat tech savvy and I left the traditional graphic design field years ago to become a UI designer. However, I’m seeing the same thing happening in this field now. Many of my coworkers will question why we can’t just use a prebuilt skin for our app as it’s so fast to implement and already looks great. Or they’ll ask why we can’t simply use a well-documented and proven design system, like Google’s Material design library. Honestly, being visually unique is not really a key selling point in app design anymore (most have noticed apps all look roughly the same; it’s more about features and functions nowadays). Given this, I don’t have a clear answer for my coworkers as to why the company really needs a high-priced UI designer.

    I was recently contacted by an old colleague who wanted me to do some responsive email designs for him (another once unique space that is now highly commoditized with mostly templated approaches). I felt bad charging him for the work and even advised against it; I wasn’t sure I was adding much business value over just populating a template. Would my “unique” design touches add value to an audience that just wanted more of the same visually? Would the email get a higher number of clicks because it was a custom design and not a template? I’m not so sure anymore.

    At some point, I lost faith in the business value of great design in the current market. Somewhere along the way, the audience became ok with sameness and standardization. I’m looking to pursue a different career path. It’ll likely be something related to tech, maybe in the HCI/UX space as those disciplines are still a few years away from being a commodity. Regarding traditional graphic design, I think it lives on, but the work is being pushed to extreme, opposite poles. It’s either a cheap or free commodity or a high-end, boutique specialization. A lot of the everyday “in between” work is disappearing. It’s same thing that happened to photography and, before that, illustration as technology moved forward.

  2. I totally agree with Camille and Smith above. I have a college degree in design, and I wanted to do print design far more than digital, although I was pretty skilled in HTML+CSS+Photoshop and when Flash was big, could do loads with that. But print design is what was most desired. You produced a real, physical, tangible product and clients saw that expensive-to-produce and print magazine ad or brochure or poster or tradeshow display and it added a real sense of worth to what you provided.

    Nowadays, because no one pays for anything (just look at how Billboard charts have done cartwheels and backflips to try to stay on top of how to gauge “success” of artists and music in an age where the vast majority of listeners outright refuse to pay for anything), design has been essentially killed. Sure, a few design gigs exist here and there, but due to insane #s of qualified workers the pay is abysmal and most design positions have been merged in with responsibilities of writers/marketers/PR people wearing a “marketing” hat at companies. Gone are the days when you could focus on visually communicating an idea or concept or getting to the heart of what a customer wants. Now you gotta crank that design out and spend all your time dinking around in Google Analytics and buying AdWords. *yawn*

    Design isn’t even fun anymore. I’ve switched to a completely different field, and my last design-related job ended well over 3 years ago. I made less then over a decade post-graduation than I did fresh out of college with no real-world experience. It’s dead, Jim.

    BTW – I loathe social media too. It’s fundamentally changed and effectively killed the internet as we know it over the last decade.

    Everyone has a soapbox, and everyone shouldn’t have a soapbox.

  3. I have about 30 years of experience, and have had my own design business for 15 years. In my market – it is all but completely dead. Just ten years ago it was like another world. The other thing is that depending on what market you are in, there is a lack of value put on design services by many clients and corporations. They view it as something that can easily be addressed in-house with some very young employees who will not affect the overhead costs to any great degree.

    I even attempted to re-enter the job market again, but have had no luck in two years. Why? Probably because I am too old to be hired as a designer at this point. Why would any corporation hire a senior designer when the market is flooded with new graduates who are willing to work for anything? The introduction of iPhone apps, web sites, and just general social media have all but completely choked out any need for a seasoned designer. To be honest, most graphic designers have historically been much more interested in printed collateral over digital. Digital design just doesn’t have the same impact. In much the same way that digital download services have rendered the need for amazing vinyl record packaging as obsolete, GUI and social media design have taken over print because it’s a faster-to-market medium. It’s all temporary and trend-based. For designers who have been focused on print their whole careers, this is a death blow, which is becoming quite obvious to those who cannot find work.

    In closing, the most depressing aspect of this turn in the industry, more senior designers like myself have a very negative view of social media for many reasons. Namely, it creates a false narrative and is based on antisocial behavior. This is to say, someone may post a comment to gain acceptance to a particular group, but that individual might oppose that opinion, but would rather be accepted in lieu of their own personal beliefs. This has already shown up in much of the social media world, and is a good reason why many a seasoned designer frowns upon social media (which is pretty much what graphic design services now), and either changes careers or becomes part of the collective, or at least tries to.

    Real design is still happening, but it seems to be connected to bigger markets where the clients are more aware and educated about the power of good design, as opposed to the wasteland of social media. These companies are few and far between: Pentagram, etc.

    Good luck everyone.

    1. A very true and valid response. People really do not take “design” serious anymore as they believe they can do it themselves. Which in part is true, they can make things on canva, vistaprint even has a logo maker. I think the majority of our customers come to use, a: we are pretty inexpensive, and b: they still would prefer the eye of a trained graphic designer.

  4. I’m a seasoned professional graphic designer of almost 19 years, self employed with my own business for almost 14 years and I’m just about dead. I used to have more work than I knew what to do with and lived on a very comfortable income. I’m now below poverty income level and my business is almost dead. It’s not just smart phones, tablets and apps. There are professional graphic designers all over the world. SO many freelance sites where creative professionals in India (for example) can and do work for $5/hr. How about – yikes! Vista Print – OUCH! It IS a dying profession for the individual graphic designer. Well, at least it is for me. I’m not throwing in the towel quite yet, but if business doesn’t pick QUICK, I’ll have no choice but to walk away from my beloved profession and business that I’ve worked so hard for. What will I do? I don’t know. Probably flip burgers.

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