What is a Graphic Designer

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the graphic design industry, from both the client and designer side of things. Some people believe graphic designers are artists, some believe they’re simply middlemen who can bring pre-existing ideas to life (or as I like to call ’em, pixel jockeys), and some believe graphic designers are problem solvers. I’m in the ‘problem solver’ camp myself.

My belief is that an extensive knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite, color theory, and the fundamentals of typography is not what defines a graphic designer. These things are simply tools in a designer’s tool belt, like a wrench to a plumber. What truly defines us as graphic designers is our ability to think creatively to solve a client’s problem by using these tools. Our job is to ask questions in order to discover the root of the problem, and to create a solution using methods that the client may not think of, or may not even know exist.

Too often I speak to designers who take the pixel jockey route, taking orders from a client and regurgitating them onto a digital canvas. I’ve found that this is especially true of younger designers. Perhaps it’s is due to a lack of confidence in their abilities, an academic mindset acquired in school (you complete projects as close to specifications as possible for a good grade), or simply due to a misunderstanding of what it truly means to be a graphic designer.

Pixel Jockeys

It’s essential to present ourselves as experts to our clients, offering them advice based on their problems, and giving them guidance on how to solve them from a design perspective.

For example, a client may come to us wanting a new logo, citing that their brand has become stale and their sales have decreased. As designers we instinctively get excited and think, ‘Awesome, a new client!’ So we immediately set about creating the logo to the client’s specifications and come up with a snappy design. At first the client is quite satisfied with their new logo, their customers seem to like it, and everyone’s happy. Unfortunately, a month after the client has launched the new logo across all of their platforms, the client’s sales still haven’t increased, and they’re upset that they wasted all this time and money having us design a new logo. Needless to say they won’t be coming back to us the next time they need something designed.

This could have been avoided if we thought of ourselves as problem solvers rather than order takers, and took the time to ask a few questions up front. ‘Why do you want a new logo?’, ‘When did your sales first start decreasing?’, ‘What feedback have you received from your customers about your logo?’, etc. If the we had asked some probing questions such as these before starting the project, we may have realized the client’s logo wasn’t the problem at all, and that the real problem was a lack of exposure. From there we could have offered to design an advertising campaign that would bring the client the spike in sales they were looking for, thus solving their true problem. I’m willing to bet the next time that client needed something designed they’d come back to us first, because we presented a solution to their problem and established ourselves as experts.

In my opinion, this is the true job of a graphic designer. Like any good doctor, plumber, or mechanic, we’re problem solvers that utilize a specific set of tools to solve those problems, not order takers. So remember: Don’t let your tools define you, make your expertise available to clients, and don’t be a pixel jockey!