What is a Graphic Designer?

Ask each of your classmates to give you a quick and precise answer to the 2 questions on this sheet, report each answer. See how many yo can come up with. Move to  the next person every 2 minutes. We call this a speed dating exercise.
Afterwards let’s report back and gather all answers, so we all have a full sheet at the end.
What is “Communication Design?” Is there any difference to Graphic Design?


It’s like a dance, watching people in a discussion is a repertoire of conventions, reactions, body language, and so on.
Communication design is that dance, but using a layout.

How to be a Graphic Designer

Surrounded by communication, we need a design to understand it. Of all stimulus, we only process the very smallest consciously. We merely react, like robots. (visual tricks like the gorilla walking through the video). We are trained to look for certain clues. If we don’t get them, we are not paying attention, not listening (that’s why most people don’t listen in a conversation, we perform that dance around each other).

Visual Pollution, Choice Paralysis

Visual input is omnipresent. We need capable designers to make it usable. (imagine walking through a city with a foreign alphabet, yet we still understand most of it > international conventions)


For many Graphic Designers it is not a job, it’s a calling, a living, (I am secretly judging your font choice). Sometimes design can get so personal, that one becomes arrogant and defensive, which is usually a sign of insecurity. We have to learn to get critiqued (all newbies (and wrinklies) need to learn that). To do good work you need to get it out there to get scrutinized, ripped apart. Keep in mind that it’s easy to criticize if one doesn’t know the stakeholders.

Graphic Design has a Goal

So design is goal-directed. Design works when the goal is archived, not if it’s pretty or if you like it. The question is, does it work? In a critique, let’s always keep that in mind. Craigslist works but doesn’t look “good.” Zozo looked great but didn’t work, myspace looks “ok,” but didn’t rebound. What makes something work isn’t all about design, it is the whole user experience, and that is much trickier to research.


Since the 1980’s computer replace many tasks that took a lot of skills, space, money, and time before everyone can be a graphic designer. The personal computer is a significant democratic development but also the rise of amateurs. Let’s change that and become experts, which takes a lot of time, research, and skills. Biggest mistake: thinking it all looks so easy.
Besides, as a freelance designer you also need to know about accounting, pitching, proposals, content management, copywriting, publishing, pre-press, branding, motion graphics, UX, UI, illustration, web programming, the list is endless …., or be specialized in one style and niche.
Specialization is a little bit like a crush. You find it, and it sticks to you, and you can’t stop thinking about it.

Work Scenarios

Advertising: work with brand character and audience targeting. POS (point of sales) materials (shelves, posters, hangers, tags..), billboards, print ads, tv, web&apps, social media.
Print: publishing books and magazines, record covers, biz cards, menus
Illustration: ousted by stock
Identity & Brand: style guides, logos, user experience
Typography: design typefaces
Packaging: labels, boxes, bags, bottles…
Web: apps, eCommerce, editorial, …
Signage: architectural


Would you design for a company that makes terrible or deceiving products? Salaries or principles? Self-initiated projects. nuclear or pharma industry, tobacco, political views,

Break assignment:

fill out these sheets


Foundation, tricks of the trade, connections, validation, time, and space to grow.
Nobody will ever ask your grade (unless you work for some government agencies or universities)
Learn historical context, learn the talk, pitfalls, take critique, internships,
Learn technical programs and ask questions when you get stuck.
Learn the craft, then learn the business once in a job. Experiment to find your style, go crazy, get confused and lost, and then come back.
You can also teach yourself with youtube, skillshare, Lynda, the library, community college courses, meet-ups, and many more. New technologies will emerge faster than colleges can offer classes.
Teaching yourself might narrow your point of view, a mentor might give.
“You are lost: You don’t know where you’re going, and nobody’s seen you coming” (Kerry Chandler, musician)
But schools rarely mention clients, get them, and how to deal with them. To deal with clients often discouraging for students because they don’t know how to deal with a second-guessing opinion. Clients are not trained designers. (https://www.dropbox.com/s/u0kj8259lwirkz3/Design%20Is%20a%20Job%20-%20Mike%20Monteiro.pdf?dl=0)


Why they are essential, and what’s a safe password? Edward Snowden: “MargaretThatcheris100%sexy”


Has many opportunities, but also a lot of competition, which can make job hunting frustrating. But it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, what matters is how fast you get back up.
NYC is exhausting, aggressive, loud, too full of interesting people, too much to do. A.D.D. is a good thing in NY.
People in NY move around jobs often.
NYC is expensive, but you can also live quite well on a bag of rice from Chinatown.
The purple cow (by Seth Godin)
Please be weird, unexpected, fringe, new. Everyone has seen a cow next to the road, but if you have a purple cow, then people will talk about you. The trend is towards niche and otaku markets because the internet makes everyone an expert. It’s easy to find these little groups everywhere, and each one becomes a tribe.

CMYK videos:
What you need to be a designer
You need to find who you are. Your own brand, The “elevator pitch”/ 1min party answer. And you need a resume, and portfolio (web or insta, or physical), and something to talk about, a vision, a plan.
At the interview:
After a lot of research about the company, job, and persons.
Show curiosity, language skills (can you express your ideas, team player or problem. It doesn’t always need to be grammatically correct as long as it conveys the idea, translanguaging), craftsmanship, in that order. Interaction, take notes, biz card, let people talk.

Different forms of Work

Freelance the lone wolf, the free spirit. Often hired for one style or specialization. Takes on projects at home, or works at a client’s office per hour. You decide when and how long you like to work. No health insurance, no weekends, A freelancer without self-determination is not going to last. ADD is a plus here. We can’t sit still. Companies hire freelancers when deadlines are getting tight, so it’s always close calls. It’s very unpredictable, feast or famine. That’s why I teach; at least it’s lunch. I don’t like to be confined to just one job, I would get bored. Graphic design is more than an occupation,
Permalance Freelancer that is always working for one company, but is not hired. (freelancer rates are usually higher than full-timers, but don’t have contracts or insurance). It’s kind of lame because you can be let go at any time and have little bonus or corporate perks, but it’s sometimes lovely to sail the gravy train if you need to make money.
Own studio Your ideas get ignored at the agency?, You like control, recruit all your clients and work from your own office that is your style and empathy perfected for your plan only. It’s good to have the experience, it’s dangerous if you don’t know how to manage financials, marketing, and legal paperwork. Easy to become overworked, Then you outsource freelancers when you have too many projects, but still all the responsibility is on one person, and it can be lonely up there.
Employed work full-time for a studio (usually 10-6.30), you get a salary, don’t need to recruit clients, health-care, 401k retirement plans, sometimes bonuses if the company is growing, but you are practically owned to the company during work hours. Overtime might not be paid.
Retainer client gets a special rate for booking x-amount of hours or guaranteed projects/month.
Contract: large project, outlined in a proposal, but with a fixed budget. If it’s quick, it is a good deal for the designer, but if it drags on it can mean extra work without pay. Mostly done on projects that are easy to estimate or have a fixed budget.
Partners: become a partner in a studio, bring in your own clients, and share all the risks as well. Often this goes well at the start, but when it grows more significant, money and responsibility become bigger, partners misalign over workload and pay, and it can end up in greed and fights.
In-house designer: a company that, for example, makes a product, but has enough need for a full-time designer instead of giving projects to a design company.

The Process

It’s always:
1. research, 2. concept, 3. design, 4. implement. And then there is client input: make them feel like it was their idea, while math, aka testing, can’t be argued with.
There are techniques to do creative thinking step-by-step. (my 5-step plan to get things going).
And then there is this larger plan:
1. Saturation (gather as much material as possible),
2. Simmer (mix piles of thought together),
3. Aha phase (when things make sense, trends develop)
4. Evaluation (does it work? otherwise go back to stage 1)
5. Elaboration (build it out)
Pretty soon an idea will emerge, now you have to validate it (1% inspiration, 99% perspiration)
Ideas are easy, it’s implementing and selling, explaining, and validating them that takes time.
There is a lot of work for a mediocre designer

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