Why is it that people are so surprised that graphics design requires skill and knowledge*? Sure superficially there is nothing special in graphics design at first glance. Still, there is quite much to know to do a good job. This is the 21st century; everything has already been convoluted to the extreme.
Some of the tech you need to understand are actually very hard things. Let’s take color management as an example. Color management is a complex problem, even in some cases a hard problem. The solutions that exist out there are only adequate, by no means perfect. In many ways the color management problem has many of the features of security, the weakest link in your color chain can screw everything up. To be able to manage all this one needs to know quite many things that are much more technical than most artists would like to be bothered with.
On top of the technical knowledge one also needs to understand basics of human psychology business and so on. But most complex of all a graphic designer is expected to have taste, something that most your clients lack. So why do I meet so many people who assume graphic design is easy?
PS: Answers from people with no experience in graphics design more than welcome.
* Such as how to divide a circle into 5 equal pieces. I didn’t say everything is hard 🙂
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It’s a simple answer really, low barrier to entry.
- No school requirement
- No certifications or accreditation required
- Most people already own a computer so capital investment is very low too. Even on the highest end you’re talking about maybe $3,000 in top of the line software and hardware
It’s like the tagline from the game Othello, “A minute to learn a lifetime to master.”
As a secondary but also important answer. Most people don’t value or know good design. They think they do but they don’t. They associate design with all sorts of other non-design related things.
To try and explain better I’ll use an art piece I’m currently working on. I have a very clear vision of how I want it to look. I sketched it out, found the site to do the photo portion, got a model.
Talking to the model she wanted her hair down and curly. My vision calls for her in a one piece bathing suit with her hair up. Its a little flexible on the bathing suit, but the hair must be up.
She views it like a layperson — “my hair looks good down and curly.” I’m viewing it as a designer with a vision and countered her in a way that explains that — “We need your hair up in a bun because we’re going to be creating a lot of tension between you and the vase, as well as framing your face with your arms and weapon” to which she said, “Oh that makes sense.”
My point is for 99% of the population, design is easy, because they don’t know what design really is. They think if it looks good it is good whether it serves a point or not. They’re perfectly happy with Comic Sans MS, a flyer from their Word Processor, and the most extensive photo editing being a filter in an App. And they think that’s what design is. The attention to detail and thought process that actual designers do – the stuff that pushes boundaries and progresses society – is very rarely done and even less appreciated.
I’m not a graphics designer, but I don’t think the issue you’re describing is in any way specific to graphics design. I think that if you look hard enough, you can find this is issue in any field — I know I’ve seen it in software development, for example.
There’s something in psychology called the Dunning–Kruger effect, which I think is related. It is a cognitive bias that seems to apply to any activity, ranging from (e.g.) understanding a piece of text to being a doctor. The bias is that people who are unskilled at or inexperienced in any particular activity will overestimate their own skill level and underestimate others’ skill level. In other words, being unskilled at or inexperienced in something not only prevents one from performing it, but it even prevents one from accurately evaluating anyone performing it.
Thus, if someone knows nothing or very little about graphics design, they are prone to underestimating its difficulty.
There are a couple of ways to approach this question: in relation to someone new to doing graphic design, and someone new to paying for it.
It’s true, graphic design is easy to jump into – anyone can get a computer, download the software and within ten minutes have a state-of-the-art setup on par with the best designers out there. And you can learn the physical ‘how to’ skills any number of ways; going to school or university, doing online tutorials, or just opening the applications and having a play. But these things, the equipment and the software knowledge, are only the tools; the equivalent of a writer picking up his pen. The real skill in graphic design is the understanding of any number of much more complex ideas.
A great graphic designer will understand things like balance, hierarchy and colour harmony. They will be able to look at a poorly formatted Word document and, without touching a mouse, image how it could look as a well-designed piece of marketing material. They will understand that less really is, more often than not, more, and will be their own biggest critic.
These aren’t things that can be learned from a video or taught from a book – they come with time, experience and plenty of mistakes.
When you consider the fact that most graphic designers are business managers, web developers and communications experts as well, it’s very hard to think of it as an ‘easy’ job.
That said, doing good work gets ‘easier’ with more experience. The more you design, the better you get at it – find a great solution to a design problem and that’s something you’ve got in your pocket for next time. You’re always learning, and always getting better.
As for the client’s perspective, depending on the client, their previous experience with designers and their own taste, they’ll have very different ideas of how ‘easy’ graphic design is. A lot of the time it’ll be based on the dollar figure they’re used to paying for design – if they think they’re getting good value and are happy with the work, they’ll be more likely to respect the profession. Alternatively, if they’re paying through the nose for someone who’s ripping off logos they find on Google, who can blame them for thinking it’s all a bit of a rort.
The only way to guarantee people understand that graphic design – as a whole – is a a genuine skill and not ‘easy’, is to do good work, for a fair price, and communicate it effectively to your clients.
Because good design is 99% invisible.
So because they don’t see it, they don’t notice how hard it actually is.
My opinion (as a part-time web developer with low-mid graphic skills):
People only see the result.
- They know nothing about your thoughts and ideas.
- Recreating graphic design is pretty easy (compared to Photoshop speedpaintings or handmade illustrations for example).
As you pointed out above, dividing a circle into five pieces isn’t hard. It’s a technical skill to handle the software. But the idea and the taste, (idea of dividing to get a particular result) is what really matters.
When I started getting active in graphic design, I wasn’t reading tutorials about “how to draw a logo?”. It was more like looking at other’s work and copying/recreating it your own way, because it’s easily possible in this technique (ex. logo design with Illustrator). But doing something on your own, that’s were the graphic designer does his job, where innovation and your own style and imagination is asked.
It’s because of the I can do that reflex.
Let’s look at the difference between painting and designing.
Any experienced designer can tell you that there is very little difference in effort between doing a beautiful painting and creating a beautiful design.
Everything up to the actual creation of the work is exactly the same: imagining, composing in your minds eye, sketching, looking for ideas and inspiration, and many things besides. It’s only when the designer gets settled behind his computer and the painter behind her canvas that things start to diverge. But less then you might think. A lot of the techniques between both art forms are exactly the same, ranging from composition to color matching to blending.
But to a layman, painting seems a lot harder, because they only see the finished product. It looks like a painting is much more difficult to create because of the technique, because of the skill of using a paintbrush. Whereas they see designing as clicking buttons in Photoshop and let it automagically create a beautiful image for you.
On top of that, it is indeed the case that most people already have access to a basic designer set-up: a computer. They don’t have ready access to paints, brushes and an easel. They think they can prove that design is easy, because they can recreate a design by following a step-by-step tutorial. What they fail to see is that it’s always much easier to recreate something than it is to do it the first time.
In other words: a layman will think they can easily do what a designer does (clicking a few buttons) but not what a painter does (painting on canvas). Whereas I believe both are equally challenging and both require thousands of hours of practice to get right.
TL;DR: People think that design is just clicking a few buttons, and they could easily do it themselves if they want to. They are, of course, terribly mistaken.
disclaimer: this answer is entirely my own view and is not based in any actual research and not backed by any data other than my experiences and gut feel. Also, I am not saying design is better and/or harder than painting or the other way around, there is no value judgement. I’m saying both are equally challenging in their own way.
As mentioned in other answers, this does not just go for Design, but for any skill. The root of the problem is in the fact that everyone starts out as unconsciously incompetent, the first of the phases of mastering a skill. The beginner does not see things they could do wrong because of their lack of skill.
It is only when someone becomes consciously incompetent that the realise they don’t know squat about the skill they’re trying to learn, and thus understand how hard it is to master the skill.
The remaining two phases are consciously competent (I can do this, but I have to think and apply myself to do it well) and unconsciously competent (I do this with my eyes closed, I don’t have to think about doing it right).
My 2 cents. (Some special cases not taking into account like blind persons)
One of the first activities that an infant do, inclusive before talking or walking is grab a crayon and do some lines.
Culturaly, drawing it is taken as a medium of expression. And this is reinforced a lot with complements “Oh what a great drawing”. < This is in most cases full of lies, because no one wants to reduce the self estime of a toodler.
So almost everyone think that they are experts drawing.
The same with spoken language. My english is veeery rudimentary. But people on their mother thong thinks they are proficent enough to solve everyday issues. But very few people study deeply about efficient comunication, leadership, forming arguments, convincing people.
Graphic design is in the middle of this two seas, where people think that they are good at.
III. Art vs Graphic Design
Ok. Let us asume you can draw or paint good. But Graphic design is not a self expression work. Is a comunication process, where the receptor is more important than the emisor. (We can discuss this topic more deeply) Whose persona should I consider while designing my portfolio?
IV. Technical issues
Some graphic designers are afraid about the technical issues, probably because they cost money to test and more money to invest. Well, designers should go deeply on this because this actually costs money and expertisse.
V. Master your skills.
Here is a graph that simbolize the value of graphic design.
It is a 3Dimensional graph: Quality, Income, Type of client.
And the levels of quality can be:
- Do something else!
- Fair enough
- Renown designer
Most designers stay at one level of quality and stay on one “level” of client.
If you are surrounded with cleints that do not apreciate your work… You should push yourself to the next level of excelence.
Speaking as someone who doesn’t do this professionally, I’d say people assume it’s easy as a result of naive ignorance, since it’s something that the general public would never see behind the curtain.
Before I started learning it myself, I never really thought it was “easy”, but I also never ranked it very far up in my mind on the scale of “difficult things to learn how to do”. And I guess that’s mostly true, like Ryan said it’s easy to pick up but significantly more difficult to become truly proficient in.
The extent of my graphic design “knowledge” really only extends to my use of GIMP. It’s something that I picked up out of necessity, and was definitely shocked to see how difficult it was at first. From the perspective of someone paying you, I imagine their perspective is generally similar to what mine was before I really delved into learning the ropes:
It’s just drawing or whatever, it can’t be that hard!
There’s no way I could have guessed at how in depth the process of designing something would really be until after I had to do it on my own, and I’m guessing this same mindset is often shared among those looking to pay for something to be designed as well.
Basically people aren’t very good at recognising what they can’t do. This is a general rule with a few possible outcomes:
- They put out junk designs without realising it.
- They find someone more confident (not necessarily competent).
- They realise it’s hard and either.
- Give up or
- Carry on because they have no choice (this is where I fit best)
I’ve certainly worked with people who think as you suggest, but I don’t recall ever thinking it was easy myself. Years ago I had to design logos because I had software and could use it. I still don’t consider anything I do to be graphic design, just diagramming, laying out posters, and the like. There is of course some overlap in tools. As a scientist/engineer, I work in a community where if something like a poster or a diagram is reasonably clear and the fonts aren’t massively inconsistent you’re doing pretty well.
Compared to being able to draw well on paper (a skill which I lack, but I’ve never met a decent graphic designer without it), design work (and drawing) on a computer seem easier at first. After all, you can move things around and delete them. But just because the tools are easy doesn’t mean design is easy isn’t obvious until you’ve had a few failures. Similarly I’m fairly competent with a camera, but my best shots require a large element of luck because I don’t have an artist’s eye for composition.
Another major factor is that there are people consistently getting paid for design work that’s not up to scratch. A personal peeve is some posters that show scaling and jpeg artefacts on the background image from 10 feet away though the image may otherwise be a perfect choice for the rest of the poster. If something as simple as image resolution or spelling is wrong, the designer (rightly or wrongly) gets blamed and if they consistently get away with it, well it must be easy.
Artistic talent of any kind is often underrated though — how often are designers or authors asked to do some work for “the exposure” compared to programmers or plumbers?
People assume it’s easier than it is because the production work has moved almost 100% to PCs, and people know that computers have taken a lot of the difficulty out of it. Anyone can now do ‘graphic design’ in the sense of putting words and images and colors on a page and having multiple copies spit out of a printer. It might even look good and the words might be in straight lines, but that doesn’t mean the home-made brochures (or signs, logos, package designs, etc.) will be effective in terms of branding, marketing or communication goals.
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”
They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.
“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.
Ok, I’ll stop it here, because I’ll assume that the outsiders have good intention. But still, it’s very hard for an outsider to know what the elephant really is. To really appreciate the problem, they have to think that they are blind to the graphic design elephant.
Next time, if you are frustrating for such ignorant comment, you can ask them to reread the tale. I hope it will not hurt their ego.