The profession of designer is often plagued by preconceived and false ideas shared by both clients and members of the general population. In fact, everyone, their grandmother and her pet dog seem to carry some prejudice about designers and/or the field of design. As a designer myself, strange but widespread statements fall into my ears on a fairly regular basis. While I usually simply brush them off, taking note of their invalidity, I believe it is now time to educate the masses.
In this article, I will be debunking 5 popular myths about designers. Ready? Here we go!
Myth #1: Designers need a Mac
This is perhaps the most common myth. I hear it all the time. People seem to think creative people should use Macs because somehow they’re better for them. Even worse is when a designer justifies the purchase of an Apple computer based on their profession: “I’m a designer, so I need a Mac, you know.”
This is a myth that needs to go. Software used by designers, be it the Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Gimp, Quark or Corel, to name only the most renown programs, is available both for Mac and PC users. Except for the appearance of the machine, there is no difference between an Apple computer and a well-built PC or a quality laptop running Windows. In fact, most customers end up paying more for a Mac because of the brand while competitors (Toshiba, Sony, Samsung, Alienware/Dell, etc.) can offer the very same performance for less money. My personal opinion of Apple is that if you want to buy one of their computers or devices, do it because of their excellent customer service. Otherwise, besides the name, there is no real benefit.
If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to compare yourself. I personally haven’t met a single designer whose work has improved because they bought a Mac.
Myth #2: Designers are all good artists
I recently had a friend complain to me that because he is an artist, his friends tend to assume he is also a designer and ask for his help in a field where he is uncomfortable. The same is real for designers as well; it is sometimes (often wrongly) assumed that designers are also illustrators. Although it is true in some instances, it is not always the case. In fact, it is only a minority of designers who can dabble freely and equally in the fields of arts and design.
Design can be separated into different specialities such as graphic design, web design, UI design, fashion design, interior design, industrial design, and so on. Like engineers who select a domain of study, designers most often specialize in a field or two and their knowledge of the others is generic or even vague. Using myself as an example, although I am proficient in graphic design, web design and illustration, I know next to nothing about interior, fashion and industrial design.
In conclusion, drawing and painting skills, however useful, are not required for someone to be a good designer.
Myth #3: Designers must use Photoshop
Although Photoshop is without a doubt one of the most popular graphics editing software, it is not necessary for a designer to use it to produce good work. There is panoply of available alternatives.
Only in the Adobe line, a designer may choose instead to use Illustrator, Fireworks or InDesign as primary tool. Other decent (or half-decent depending on who you ask) commercial software include ArtRage, Corel and Pixelmator. In the freeware category, you’ll find Gimp and Inkscape, among others. For a more extensive list, see this Wikipedia page.
While I must admit Photoshop is an incredible and versatile tool, it is not the only option out there. When I was stranded on Linux for a week, I used Gimp and I was able to function, mostly.
If you are looking to be hired as a designer in a company, I admit at least knowing Photoshop is a must. However it is not necessary to use it to produce results, especially if you are a freelancer. After all, no client will be watching over your shoulder, judging you based on the software you’re using.
Myth #4: Designers require special notebooks
Many designers I know seem to be suffering from specialitis. This widespread but (thankfully) curable disease is characterized by symptoms like the unjustified need for fancier tools which provide no real enhancement on productivity and the gratuitous compulsion for throwing money by the window. Designers suffering from specialitis will often hang out together to reinforce the validity of their symptoms and they will frown upon fellow creators who do not share their views.
You probably know where I’m heading with this by now. I keep reading and hearing over and over that designers should buy expensive notebooks such as Moleskine and Field Notes because they are better for them. Often, these claims are spread by the afflicted creatives themselves.
Let’s be clear about something: Although Moleskine and Field Notes are beautiful quality notebooks, in no way do they increase anyone’s productivity. They are what they are: nicely bound pieces of paper. A brand on the cover and a saltier bill will not make the user a better professional. Buying a hardcover notebook at the dollar store will produce identical results. I personally respect creatives who support brands because they enjoy the final product’s quality, however attempting to justify such acquisition based on false claims like production increase can only be described as silly.
Owning or not owning a special notebook will not make a designer better than another. What differentiates a designer from another is how dedicated they are to their work and how much they practice their craft.
Myth #5: Anyone who uses Photoshop can call themselves a designer
This myth is my favorite amongst all. Many hobbyists who know Photoshop basics, protected by the anonymity of the internet and the ignorance of their unfortunate clients, auto-proclaim themselves as designers. They plague the web and they can easily be spotted by a simple critical look at their questionable portfolio, too often populated by posters displaying text in Papyrus, Curlz MT and Comic Sans.
Although I strongly believe that designers should not be judged on their education (many talented designers I know don’t have a college or university degree but are instead self-taught), knowledge of Photoshop does not give anyone the right to call themselves a designer. Photoshop is merely a tool graphic and web designers use; design on the other hand is the creation of a solution to a problem in the form of an object or system. There are good and bad practices in design. There are also guidelines and rules which, once understood, can be broken or employed depending on the intent and desired result. Without prior knowledge of design theory, how can one call himself a designer?
Design theory can be learned many ways; in a classroom at college or university, in books like Graphic Design: The New Basics (a good book one of my design teachers made us purchase) or on countless websites which offer free tutorials and articles on the subject. You can check out Noupe’s great post featuring 45 free lessons if you are interested in acquiring design knowledge.
Being a designer is so much more than using software; like in any profession, it requires understanding of principles in order to apply them and produce satisfying results. Art might be subjective but design theory never gets old, trust me.