What is Design Anymore?

Hey, guys. Amy (@branding_queen) here. I recently attended a dribbble meetup at Ramsey Creative, and, since the meeting, my mind has been spinning. During the meetup, we watched the movie Design Disruptors, and it turned my world upside down. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it did get me thinking.

Two big questions seemed to resonate with me: What exactly is design today? And what’s the purpose of a designer’s title anymore?

Like many other industries, one of our biggest struggles is identifying and recruiting talent. Although it seems our industry is flooded with designers, we can’t seem to find anyone who can really design, and design well, under client constraints. We receive hundreds of resumes, and yet we are hard-pressed to hire a designer who can use the programs while also being able to problem-solve and work within limitations set forth by our clients. Seriously, where are all the designers?!

Design Disruptors really seemed to answer some questions for me while shedding light on this issue that I’ve been struggling with for months on end. Let’s be real — years on end.

These days, design is E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E. I think we partially have Pinterest to thank for that, with Instagram running a close second. I have to say that it’s a beautiful world that we live in!  With beauty and great design being so accessible, would-be designers seem to be coming out of the woodwork. But, newsflash: Having a pretty Instagram feed does not make you a designer. And, sidenote: You’re really not a designer if everything you design is created using a thin sans serif font and then outlined by a rectangle.

So what does a designer need to be able to bring to the table?

Design Disruptors put it perfectly. Designers today are problem-solvers. Period. This could mean designing a large-scale solution for the masses (think Uber, self-driving cars, etc.) or simply solving problems that crop up for clients on a day-to-day basis. And, keep in mind, it’s typically one problem that they come to you with; however, there are usually a slew of little baby problems that first have to be solved to provide an overarching solution. So, no, a filter and a sans serif font are not going to do the trick here — and, oh yeah, just to keep it interesting, client problems come in all different shapes and sizes with varying budgets and deadlines that range from completely understandable to completely unreasonable. So, on your toes you must remain.

In practical terms, a designer no longer has the luxury to be provided with a beautiful design brief chock-full of valuable information that allows them to sit down at their big ol’ screen and actually design. Instead, they have to pull together the pieces that they do have and map out a plan of action before putting their design skills to work. You’re no longer getting a headline, body copy, a photo, and a media contact for submission. You’ve got to analyze the client’s problem, and then tap into your noggin to figure out how your design can provide the solution. Then, you have to think about what outlets are available to you and how you can craft your approach to take full advantage of those outlets. More on that here.

So, obviously, to be a designer today, you must have the fundamental skills required to complete compelling compositions in an unjust amount of time. But you must also be able to critically think and come up with executable items, typically within an inappropriate budget and timeframe — no pressure, right?!

Ok, now that we’ve established what design is and how complex tactical design can be, let’s delve into who these designers are and how they can be successful.

So, now I am talking to you. Where exactly are you at this point in your career as a designer? Junior Designer? Production Designer? Senior Designer? VP of Design? Creative Director? The list is endless and completely unregulated (you know how us creative types like to make up our own rules). Here’s one clue: you’re not a Creative Director if you just graduated college, unless your name happens to be Mark Zuckerberg. You’re not an Art Director if you can’t complete an ad series with zero input or direction from someone else. It’s embarrassing to read some of the resumes that make it to my inbox these days. “Hi! Hire Me. I’ve just completed my last semester of college and I’m a Creative Director.” DELETE. I’ve never seen anything like it. Ok, stepping off my soapbox now.

So, given the current murky waters of the industry, how should you position yourself to be successful in an agency environment?

Here are my 30 seconds of advice: Be creative. Be smart. Be savvy. Be a thinker. Be on-trend. Be willing. Be humble. Personally, I like to think of the most well-rounded employee from the agency perspective as a Creative Strategist.

Creative in the fact that you (meaning you) know how to design well and fast. You can come up with great ideas that work across multiple channels. That means on social media, in print, online, email, and in person. You (meaning you still) are able to create a compelling advertisement from a sentence brief AND craft a perfect photo to increase engagement that activates a brand’s look and feel.

Strategize in the fact that you (yep, still you) can craft systems for deployment that align objectives, and then you can execute those systems effectively. You can create a brand’s look, voice, and behavior to build customer connection and brand loyalty. You (you got it!) understand how different channels can work together or work alone. You get that what worked last time may not work this time because the world is evolving daily, and you’re totally in-the-know.

You make mistakes (potentially daily), and you learn from those mistakes. You can create a system to measure effectiveness, analyze those results, and apply that knowledge to your semi-permanent memory bank. And to top it all off, you are able to react with grace, because things are thrown at you that knock you off balance on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis… (depends on the day, of course).

Fast Co. recently released an article with seven design industry jobs that will prevail in the future and five that will not exist. You’ll find Design Strategist on the “nice”’ list.

And one more thing: Good design goes unnoticed, which kind of means that you might go unnoticed. That is, if you’re doing something right. You work really hard to pull things together that work, and once things are working… things are working. There’s now no longer a real urgent need for you. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so when you’ve implemented something that is working, your hard work will go relatively unnoticed. Just be ready for that, and if you’re in it for the glory and the gushing praise, you might want to get off this train at the next stop.

Now that we’ve broken it down, we hope that we haven’t broken you down, but instead shed some light on a few things that will ultimately build you up.

So, are there any designers out there? If you’re reading this and just shouted “ME!” at your computer screen (or more likely at your mobile device), could you please stand up? Because you should; you deserve a moment. You’re something to be treasured, and we at Nice Branding Agency salute you. And while you’re at it, go ahead and send us your resume to holla@brandnicely.com.

So let’s start with the fundamentals. To be any type of designer, you need to be able to perform the fundamentals of design. What are these things? Of course, this is subject to opinion, however, one must know how to use fundamental design programs such as Indesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. They must understand not only how to open these and adjust brightness or contrast, but they must also know shortcuts and the full functions of the programs. They must understand colors and how those break down in a printing or digital process. They must understand production, whether it be from a print standpoint or a digital standpoint.


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