Do I look worried?

While I served as National President of the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) I would field all sorts of enquiries from members regarding business practice. I recall there had been much discussion about the advent of desktop publishing, what with the new functionality of programs such as PageMaker and Quark XPress, along with their lighter weight counterparts. The industry was about to be ruined by a hoard of back-yarders, many were complaining. The DTPers didn’t go away, even though the job description did, and what constituted being a graphic designer changed permanently. My advice had always been that ‘the desktop’ would create a more visible divide between what was good and what was merely average, and the trick professionally would be to remain clearly on the high ground in terms of capability and service – it was actually an opportunity.

And now, twenty years later, we hear similar cries being brought about in relation to the online community: Crowdsourcing; digital ‘sweatshops’ in Asia, Canva, 99designs freelancing (“graphic design made easy”) and so forth, all supposedly marking the end of what we know to be graphic design. Again I say all this presents an opportunity to those who wish to mark out some high ground.

I recall reading that the designer of the original Twitter symbol received $10 for their troubles – this was actually an illustration that had been made available on a professional image library – and when questioned over what they thought about this, given the value of the company and the brand, they (surprisingly) answered that is was really ‘cool’ – presumably as a mark of humility for the piece of work being so highly regarded and well renowned. We all gasped! But on reflection, the value of this overall branding project sat with a different collection of thinking, that which created the Twitter concept, function, name etc. and then went on to source a suitable visual marker for what was already a foregone conclusion. But the question remains as to whether the value of that illustration should have been more than $10. If the illustrator had been represented with anyone resembling a Hollywood agent the picture may have been quite different!

But for all the graphics work that is commissioned to a ‘virtual’ designer, the client is missing out on a number of valuable assets: Face-to-face consultation (which can’t be beat); depth of experience; cross-media/platform/touchpoint continuity; consistency over time (weeks, months and years); secure availability; as well as the general value that builds from the notion of ‘know your client’ – along with the odd Friday lunch or beer o’clock session that follows a successful project or stint of work.

Sure, there will always be room for technical tasks to be put to a ‘farm’, or for components of a website build to be put to some jockeys in Poland or wherever, I do this from time to time with certain projects myself. But I know what clients find value in, and it comes from being on the ground. And besides, when the sparks start to fly, it is easier to send heavies around to a street address as opposed to an IP address! ;)

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