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Is "Graphic Design" afraid of it's artistic roots?

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#1
Nick Springer

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I found an interesting essay today, about how in the current business environment graphic designers are not encouraged to use the word "graphic" and tend to eschew any references to markers, crayons, and x-acto knives.

I have a friend—a designer—who often says that his clients ask him not to call himself a “graphic designer,” because it makes them think he draws things. He feels that the term “graphic design” actually does him a disservice in the eyes of his clients. This of course is part of an ongoing debate in the world of design as organizations and schools scrap the word “graphic” in favour of “communication” or something else. But as those former graphic designers struggle to elbow their way into the corporate zeitgeist, I begin to wonder what they are leaving behind and why.


Read the full essay on the Speak Up blog

Nick Springer

Director of Design and Web Applications: ALK Technologies Inc.
Owner: Springer Cartographics LLC


#2
Derek Tonn

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:rolleyes:

In my own opinion (as a person who had 3+ years of graphic design training as an undergrad and freelanced as a general graphic designer for 5-6 years), I think that most of us "designers" need to get over ourselves. Seriously! There is such an "elitism" sometimes amongst many in the design community -- but NOT the mapping community though, right?! ;) -- when the lion's share of the work out there isn't "new" or "innovative"....just maybe a different color wrapping paper than another person's work that a designer is "borrowing" from. It's also that whole counter-culture type of situation. I equate it to my high school days, when I was hanging out with the kids who wore black, listened to punk and rap music and "raged against the machine." They worked SO hard to not be like everyone else....but that group of kids was a complete carbon-copy of one another....dressing the same, talking the same, listening to the same music, etc., etc.

Graphic design circles sometimes operate in much the same fashion, with maybe 5-10% of the field doing truly innovative, ground-breaking work and the remaining 90-95% drafting behind the "cool kids", using the same colors, fonts, photographic effects, etc. I suppose it was only a matter of time until it wasn't "cool" to be known as a graphic designer too, so I'm not surprised to read that essay. Maybe we should start a movement away from "custom cartography" as a label too! Hmm.....maybe firms like ours could be known as "wayfinding facilitation technicians" or "Point-A-to-Point-B-ologists"? Whatever people call me though, just don't call me late for Daddy Duty with my two little girls. :)
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#3
MapMedia

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The question you have to know at all times is whose business do you want? If the clients you want to do business with want to call you designer, creative guru, or block head, then end of story.
I understand not wanting to be pigeon-holed, and there is legitimacy to creating visibility by using the current terminology, if that is your game, but I think my fist argument reigns.

#4
Derek Tonn

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The question you have to know at all times is whose business do you want? If the clients you want to do business with want to call you designer, creative guru, or block head, then end of story.
I understand not wanting to be pigeon-holed, and there is legitimacy to creating visibility by using the current terminology, if that is your game, but I think my fist argument reigns.


Chris,

I would have ZERO qualms about being referred to as "designer." "Creative guru" is a little over the top...but if it's a person you know well who is just playing around, no problem there either. "Block head?" Well, those clients are hopefully paying a 200-300% premium for us having to deal with them as it is....as if they want to treat us with disrespect or abuse, the least they can do is put our kids through college.... :P

Seriously though, for me, titles....awards.....acronyms....etc. don't mean much of anything in my profession. All that matters to me in designing maps is:

1. Doing something I enjoy for a living while doing the best job I possibly can.
2. Earning enough to pay the bills with just a little extra left over for fun.
3. Doing my darnedest to make sure that any designers working with us are experiencing "1" and "2" as well.

Apart from that, you can call me "Tom", "Dick" or "Harry" for all I care....because it doesn't matter. All that matters (to me) is that little mini-list above.
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#5
ELeFevre

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Interesting article. Your work speaks for itself. You can call yourself whatever you like, but it's not going to make you a better graphic designer, information architect, or communications grunt. As my grandfather used to say, " You can't shine a sneaker." If your good at what you do - and there's a demand for what you're good at- you'll be ok.

And as far betraying the "graphic arts" heritage of exacto knifes and glue, I agree with Derek. It's more about ego than anything else. If I were a bettin' man, I'd bet there's a good chance that those who complain about losing the "old ways" were never any good at the old ways to begin with. People rarely give up something they are good at. Old habits die hard!



#6
Nick Springer

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If I were a bettin' man, I'd bet there's a good chance that those who complain about losing the "old ways" were never any good at the old ways to begin with. People rarely give up something they are good at. Old habits die hard!

Actually, in my experience the ones that complain about losing the old ways are the ones that were good at the old ways and never learned, or aren't very good at, the new ways. That's a bit of what I heard in that essay. It's the designers that haven't adapted to the realities of the current market, that complain about things like this.

Nick Springer

Director of Design and Web Applications: ALK Technologies Inc.
Owner: Springer Cartographics LLC


#7
natcase

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It's funny, because I've been wondering lately about the limitations of our company calling itself a "map company", let alone calling myself a "cartographer.” It's certainly a name with a certain amount of cachet in the right circles, but it does mean often that my work (and the work my company is hired to do) stops at the neatline (actually my business card has always said "Head of Production").

So I am to some extent in line with what the article laments. Here's what I think is a crucial mistake he makes: he looks at renaming as solely an effort to sound like everyone else. I think the object is to point out what you can do better, and to redefine your way out of obsolescence.

An example from a hoary metaphor: livery manufacturers after World War I. Those who persisted in specializing in harnesses and bridlewhips were mostly out of business by the crash of 1929. However, I'l wager good money that some of them got into the fittings and construction business for the auto indutry. Instead of "livery" makers they became "manufacturers of leather fittings." Or something similar.

Professional writers didn't disappear after people started learning how to write their own letters. But "scribes" became "secretaries" or "authors." There are still professional photographers, but the bulk of them work for the media, while portrait photographers, where the real money was 120 years ago, got in large part replaced by amateurs and by big-box operations.

My point is, some of the things that set cartographers and graphic designers apart in the old days (you know how to do the process, you know how to use the arcane tools) have not become irrelevant, but they're heading away from (I'll be blunt) the real money.

When I started, we could think about drawing a street map from scratch, because that was how you got consistent linework without jaggies. And we field-checked everything because the base data was so unreliable. Now I look at GoogleMaps and 95% of the time I say, well, my work here is done. Or irrelevant. Or it will be eventually.

So the challenge is to look at what we do well (without using the word map—try it, it’s an interesting exercise), and find a way to frame that that doesn’t restrict us into livery-makers.

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#8
ELeFevre

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If I were a bettin' man, I'd bet there's a good chance that those who complain about losing the "old ways" were never any good at the old ways to begin with. People rarely give up something they are good at. Old habits die hard!

Actually, in my experience the ones that complain about losing the old ways are the ones that were good at the old ways and never learned, or aren't very good at, the new ways. That's a bit of what I heard in that essay. It's the designers that haven't adapted to the realities of the current market, that complain about things like this.


Ahh ha. Good thing I didn't put any money down!



#9
ELeFevre

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It's funny, because I've been wondering lately about the limitations of our company calling itself a "map company", let alone calling myself a "cartographer.” It's certainly a name with a certain amount of cachet in the right circles, but it does mean often that my work (and the work my company is hired to do) stops at the neatline (actually my business card has always said "Head of Production").


Nat,
Any ideas on how you would identify your company if you stopped using "map company"? Geographics? Information design? Spatial Design?



#10
natcase

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It's funny, because I've been wondering lately about the limitations of our company calling itself a "map company", let alone calling myself a "cartographer.” It's certainly a name with a certain amount of cachet in the right circles, but it does mean often that my work (and the work my company is hired to do) stops at the neatline (actually my business card has always said "Head of Production").


Nat,
Any ideas on how you would identify your company if you stopped using "map company"? Geographics? Information design? Spatial Design?


Well, no, I don't have a clear sense. There really isn't a defined word for what we do well. We deal in information:
  • we collect comprehensive, accurate sets of information.
  • we figure out the best way to sort/organize that information.
  • we produce graphic representations of this information, geographic or otherwise.
  • we organize these publications into attractive publications
Or, any subset of the above.

The thing is, there are lots of established professions and company types that do most of these: directory publishers, reference publishers, libraries, public opinion research groups, map publishers... But not (to my knowledge) a comprehensive one that covers all those bases

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#11
Derek Tonn

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To me, this issue seems like a potential POSTER-CHILD for "Ockham's Razor". Testing the "theory" of what to name ourselves could simply be a matter of a series of focus groups where you put a group of clients, potential clients and users/consumers of our services in a room, then see what they have to say about how they would describe our services. We might have day-long seminars at NACIS to discuss how we might define ourselves in the greater design and cartography landscape. However, the longer I have been doing what I do, the more I try and "meet individuals where they are at", as opposed trying to CHANGE them into sharing my own world view.

A perfect illustration of this, to me, is "3D perspective" maps. That's what we call them anyway, since we are depicting the width, length AND height (X, Y and Z) of our subject matter (as opposed to planemetric mapping, which only depicts width and length...although 90+ percent of the planet would probably give you that blank "deer in headlights" stare if you mentioned planemetric mapping to them...but I unfortunately assume that a lot of us LIKE it that way, as it makes us feel just a bit more smart/superior). Other names I have heard for "3D perspective" mapping include:

- bird's eye illustration
- oblique
- "illustrated" (the most vague term, which I personally dislike the most)
- pictorial

...among others. So, which label or descriptor is "correct?" I think the answer is simple: the one which the individual(s) we are speaking with can best relate to and understand. :)

Adapting ourselves and our own points of view to meet the world around us, rather than spending SO much time and energy trying to force the world around us to change to meet us. If a client of ours wants to call a "3D perspective" map illustration "Bird's Eye" or "Larry", I personally don't care. As long as we can understand what one another wants/needs/means, Bird's Eye or several other labels are just as accurate and useful as several other labels they might use (maybe not "Larry" though, LOL). Besides, the more I brow-beat or critique their "label(s)" for me, the more arrogant I will likely appear....and the (probably) less likely they will be to want to work with me going forward.

Please don't think that I am not advocating "education" as part of our responsibilities as cartographers and map designers! Folks calling a map style "Larry" might need a little coaching! :) All I am saying is keep the focus on meeting people where they are at, rather than forcing them to to concede to our own biases and world view.

Derek
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mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
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#12
Kamil Nieścioruk

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Terminology, terminology... Who cares? But seriously - where's the border between cartography and graphic design? Is there any border?
The thing I'm afraid now is lowering the position of cartographic products. What you need nowadays to do a map? Corel/Freehand/other gfx soft. That means everyone who is a bit "computerized" can produce a map. You can say market will verify it, but not always. You can't be good cartographer without cartographic education! And you can't be good cartographer without graphic education/sense of art. In Poland students of cartography have lectures on design, are taught some good rules of visualisation, Bertin's variables etc.
I am not ashamed of calling myself "cartographer" as I know it means someone who's best in transferring Earth to flat surface :).




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