Today's Obsession: You Don't Know Jack

A couple of unrelated, yet related posts I’ve found: Adrian Shaughnessy lists ten things he observes most commonly in current design students and graduates. There are three things that give me chills. He says in point five:

It is getting harder to tell the difference between the work of students studying illustration and those studying graphic design.

And then in point seven:

Few students seem interested in web design. Most admit to being print fixated.

And then he contradicts this total lack of curiosity he sees with this tired old nugget I hear from design educators all the time:

I still hear professional designers and studio bosses complaining that students are not emerging as oven-ready employees. This is often true. Some students have no concept of—or interest in—the professional realm. But it is also true that many are more advanced, forward thinking and future-proofed than the studios demanding graduates with “real world expectations.”

Letting schools off the hook by congratulating themselves for producing “more advanced, forward thinking” designers is a straw man. Nobody can prove they’re producing designers so advanced they simply don’t need to know how to work.

There’s a huge difference between expecting an “oven-ready employee” (come on—nobody expects that) and expecting a fresh grad to have the slightest bit of production skill. When design was print-only, there was never an expectation that a designer would leave school without understanding production, but now? Employers are faced with a bumper crop of designers who have not the slightest concept of how the web’s technology could inform what they make.

On the flipside of that coin, Jessica Hische and Russ Maschmeyer have started a wonderful little site explaining to beginners what production for the web is all about. Young designers, take heed: this is not optional information. It’s rare that a web shop would be willing to hire a designer who has no idea how HTML/CSS and JavaScript work together. Friendly and easy to understand, these guides are a good place to start.

7 thoughts on “Today's Obsession: You Don't Know Jack

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  3. donovan

    I realize that typographic plugins exist (I even saw a prototype for a web kerning tool floating around, which was pretty exciting / cool), but the fact that there needs to be a plugin is my point. A plugin = one more thing that can go wrong (especially with a CMS) + increases pageload times + increases the chances of coding conflicts. Add in the fact that many plugins are poorly supported when new versions of their supporting CMS are updated and, well, it turns into a bit of a headache.
    I understand that there are workarounds for certain issues, but that doesn’t change the fact that that is what they are: workarounds. Having to find workarounds so that you can work around your other workardounds… it makes the web problematic and difficult to deal with.
    Obviously, the web, as a medium, has legs. It hasn’t reached the pinnacle of it’s development, I am not arguing that it has. However, until it develops into a medium that is AS visually stunning and controllable as a beautifully printed piece (which I personally don’t believe happen in the near future), you will have designers disliking it. Just like we still have painters and sculptors. Not saying that is right or wrong, I am just stating that the preference exists and providing reasons behind that.

  4. Elle C

    Well said Amanda – and you will always be in work.
    I Am years down the road from you and started in pre- press design when I physically walked into the darkroom and changed lenses with two hands, passed my photos and hand drawn logos thru developer, fixer, water and comped them on a light table with a slide square. I changed fonts by picking it up and manual engaging either golf ball style or cartridges the size of a novel. I followed the technology and trends and after 14 years along came the Internet. I hated what I saw visually online so I did a few courses and moved across to web design. I’m talking pre Google , pre optimize for web in first Adobe Photoshop and original macromedia dreamweaver without any of the bells and whistles of CS5. I loved Flash and hate that it’s now useless. Ok here now lying in bed with iPhone getting to the point.. That yes designers do need web design, and you do need to get under the hood of it and understand the code especially the total design control of css. You need to be pixel perfect and undestand how your designs are viewed on different OS and hand held devices and above all usability. If I can come from a darkroom to CS5 you can. Just move with the technology of the day and add to your skills. If someone asks me to do something I say I don’t know but I will find out. It’s that simple.

  5. donovan

    Good article, I enjoyed it. However, I think that most students / recent graduates (myself included) are uninterested in web design because, visually, it is (and I am preparing to get a lot of heat for this) an inferior medium. Don’t get me wrong, the web is a great medium for design and provides interesting challenges, however there are a ton of limitations that impede the designer’s technical + conceptual ability.
    In school we are taught to be detail oriented and pay attention to composition and typography. Well, with the web, that kind of goes out of the window. Visual details are almost non-existant due to reduced ppi, composition is limited by predetermined monitor sizes, and typography is dynamically generated (usually) with no attention paid to kerning or widows / orphans.
    Not saying that students should not learn about the medium, I am just supplying reasons as to why designers dislike it / where this trend comes from. It is not necessarily about fear, but more about the strengths and weaknesses of the web. I started out in web design and still do web design and development, so I am not behind the curve. Print is just more enjoyable to work with.

  6. Amanda Soehnlen

    I graduated from school exactly 13 months, two weeks, and two days ago. I was told by multiple professors that I wasn’t going to be able to find a job, that I had to let my artistic side ‘sing’, that I had to live and breathe the art to have graphic design work, and to be able to find work.
    My classmates said that my passion sounded ‘boring’, that they couldn’t see working on corporate branding and web sites all day, about how they longed to make posters and annual reports and ads and work for an agency that only did the above.
    I spent my last two years of college working full time for a Commercial Real Estate company. Was it hugely innovative? No. Did I completely turn around their e-marketing department so that the giant image map they sent through outlook became clean, templated emails that were all visually consistant on brand? Yes. Did I pull the quarterly magazines back to brand-true, and make the print ads match the same? Yes. And was it incredibly fufilling? Yes.
    I got shot down a lot in my class and school because I liked ‘boring’ things, because I didn’t hand illustrate my type and my images. Because I didn’t use entirely my own photography. Asking my classmates what a graphic designer was, usually the first word out of their mouth is ‘artist’. And you know what? That’s okay – but it’s not every graphic designer. Personally, I like doing print pieces, I know how to do them mainly because I had an AMAZING production professor who drilled into us how to use and make dielines, how to pre-flight our own pieces, how to do web production – and I know how to code and do web design because I had 2 years in an IT background in college.
    Having a web background is invaluable. I graduated 13 months ago; 12 months ago I started temping full time. 9 months ago I started working at the place I’m at now. My job title is Marketing Web Designer because they didn’t know what to call me, and I’m working on branding, print content, LOTS of web content, front-end development, email templating, product branding – you name it, I do it, and I couldn’t be happier.
    One of the problems with illustrative graphic design is that unless you are very, VERY good, and your style is in demand, finding a job is going to be hard – and finding a non-contracting job is going to be far, far harder. In short, teach yourself HTML and CSS. Learn how it works. WYSIWYG isn’t enough. Don’t say you’re a ‘web designer’ if you only know how to use the layout side of Dreamweaver. Choose to learn!