When somebody asks me what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a graphic designer, they make a noise.
It’s not a negative noise, it’s a curious noise. It’s the type of affirming noise you’d make when you finally remembered the name of that punk band from the early 80s that had a song about being a graphic designer.
Ahhhhhh. That kind of noise. A noise of discovery.
It’s also rarely followed up with another question asking me to explain what that is, because most people think they know what a graphic designer is.
Most people don’t know what a graphic designer is.
My parents don’t even know what a graphic designer is.
Most of the time people will introduce me as The Guy Who Works In I.T. or Can You Fix My Printer Because You Know About Computers. I know very little about computers, I just use one every day of my life for about 10 hours. That’s what I tell people anyway. To most people, they is no difference between Jimmy who works as an I.T. apprentice and a graphic designer. They both use computers, right?
Other people think I just Google stuff all day. My dad rings me up in the middle of the day asking me to Google stuff for him, and to remind him of his password. People presume that because I’m sat at a computer that I must not be doing any work, like most of the rest of the world. Because a lot of people use computers as consumption devices, they forget that there’s a whole industry of people out there who use them as production devices.
Everybody else think I just draw things all day and colour stuff in. Whilst I like to joke with my mates and say that’s what I do, the truth is I spend very little of my time actually doing my job. I spend most of my time answering emails, helping other people do their job, meeting clients and securing new work.
So, what does it actually mean to be a graphic designer?
Mostly, being a graphic designer means caring about the stuff that others don’t even notice. It means you’re fiercely passionate about the spacing between two letters in a piece of signage. It means you’ll have full-blown arguments with clients about the sizing of their logo. It means that low resolution images make your teeth itch.
It means you’ll spend days making multiple different ways of laying out 1000 words of text, only for the person paying you for the job to prefer the version you did last week. It means you’ll become an expert in making people pick the thing that you think is best. It means you’re a full-time psychologist, part-time colour expert and hobbyist typeface enthusiast.
Being a graphic designer is an age-old tradition, a proper Craft with a capital C. It’s a skill you’ll need to spend years developing. Even though anybody can buy a laptop and download the tools to become a graphic designer, it’s a skill that isn’t learned quickly.
It’s a skill that will become like a reflex. It’s a skill developed through years of experimentation, one developed over years of trying out thousands of ideas.
Being a graphic designer is much like being Batman. You’re the hero the world deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
It is also nothing like being Batman, except for developing a bad back and a mean face.