Jessica Helfand | Essays

Graphic Design Spam

Advertisement for graphic design school, November 2008. This (as well as the ads that follow) was rescued from my spam filter over the course of the last six months.

Those of us who choose, for whatever reason, to enter the profession called graphic design have our reasons for doing so. Some stumble into it, as I did, having begun with ambitions of being an architect (and quickly realizing our shortcomings with regard to, say, measuring things properly), soon migrating to a parallel discipline which might be said to require less proficiency in things like engineering. (At least that used to be the case: suffice it to say I am still not allowed to measure things in my own studio without someone else checking my work). There are others who are artistically inclined, who thrill to the idea of working with the music always on, who proudly possess entirely monochromatic wardrobes (and see no reason to deviate), or regard the notion of a lifetime in the studio as one surefire way to avoid the cubicled, fluorescently-lit domain of the office drone, now made brilliantly televisual by the likes of one Dwight K. Schrute. (For graphic designers who are also fans of The Office, who among us has not thrilled to the notion of Pam escaping to New York to study ... graphic design?) Finally, there are those precious few, like Paul Rand, who cite a decidedly more majestic force at work: when asked in an interview why he chose to become a graphic designer, Rand famously replied: "I didn't choose. God chose."

For everyone else, there's still hope: have you received any graphic design spam in your mailbox lately?

Put your creativity to work! Enroll in a cutting edge program! And my personal favorite: Become a designer and quit your boring job! Not surprisingly, the ads themselves reflect little in the way of design ingenuity, with pretty goofy font choices and compositions that even the most visually-challenged would be unlikely to characterize as cutting-edge, unless the young man in the advertisement above is literally cutting the edge off something; or the slice directly beneath the word design is supposed to mimic "cutting-edge" in some kind of form-reinforcing-content attempt at hip, subliminal advertising. Hard to believe modernism plays any role in these programs, but then again, maybe if you put it on a record player and play it backwards, you can hear "Paul is dead." (With all due respect to Mr. Rand, of course.)

But the actual graphic design of these advertisements is only part of the problem: graphic design is more than practice, more than — as it was known long ago — commercial art. Let's assume, for starters, that graphic designers benefit from knowing something about the world around them, and that, increasingly, the challenges facing designers are not only formal and not merely local. Now more than ever, graphic design is a truly international language.

How to explain, then, the preponderance of white women in these ads?

Curiously, men — if and when they do appear — are frequently African-American.

Even more common is the idea that our students have no identities at all, let alone actual faces.

This trend in graphic design spam leads to illustration-heavy ads like this next one, suggesting that if you actually commit to studying graphic design, the horrors of global warming will cause a burning-hot red globe to beam down upon you with flashes of light that cast a purple aura upon your entire being.

Of course, if what these design programs are going for is cutting edge excitement, then maybe these symbols serve them well: spinning orbs, happy students, edges being cut. Regrettably, it's more like corners being cut — the opposite of doing the hard work that real design school entails. I'm loathe to criticize this next one as it is directed to graphic design students with muscular dystrophy, but then again, why should they be targeted any differently?

It may come as little surprise that in graphic design — an industry requiring little in the way of professional certification — the barriers to entry are nothing if not soft. Advertisements like this next one suggest that in the push-button and arguably, interchangeable world of career planning, Joe the Plumber might just as well be Phil the Psychologist, Andy the Accountant, or Gloria the Graphic Designer.

While they allege to promise access to first-rate design programs, such efforts comically reduce design to its most uninteresting components: in the flattened world of graphic design spam, it's all computers and color wheels, logos and Photoshop filters. (I am assuming that the stop-sign shaped cartoon portraits, above, are in a class by themselves.) Clicking on the ads occasionally reveals even more alien territory, including, in one instance, a rather terrifying video about the "graphical arts." Nowhere is there a hint of the underlying armature of design — and by this I mean really simple things, like form, balance, harmony, composition, typography. How daring it would be to see an advertisement brandishing nothing else: would it scare prospective students away, and if so, would that really be such a bad thing?

Clearly, the harsh economic realities facing all schools (and by conjecture, their design programs) oblige us to cast a potentially more forgiving lens and wider net, possibly accepting such questionably accredited curricula, but implicit in that notion is the lowering of standards, across the board, with regard to what we characterize as graphic design. The good news is, it's all up for grabs. And the bad news? It's all up for grabs. Never has there been more opportunity for designers to embrace multiple forms of expression, to work in different media, to produce and disseminate visual ideas on a global scale. But at the same time, never has there been a more uninformed community of graphic design wannabes. You may not choose to put these spam-promoted design courses in the same class as, say, RIsD and Yale and Cranbrook and CalArts (an abbreviated but by no means complete list of rigourous, international offerings that includes options in both Canada and the EU) but to assume the general public makes those same distinctions is a misguided assumption. Outside the design ghetto, there is no difference between graphic design and the graphical arts. But maybe there should be.

Posted in: Graphic Design

Comments [45]

I got my start through a "Draw Me" ad for the Art Instruction School. I wanted to be a famous artist. I enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts to be a famous cartoonist. At the school, I became a graphic designer. Not famous, but had fun for 55+ years as a graphic designer.
pat Taylor

Numerati is pushing ads in our faces.
ian b. shimkoviak

Graphic Design and me go way back. well not really (like 5 or 6 years).

The only reason i Graphic design now is because i went to a magnet high school and i was forced to choose between film, fashion, graphic design, architecture, and industrial design. GD seemed like the most artistic of them all. i just want to draw and sculpt and in GD class i was encouraged to use my drawings in my designs. so for 3 years i studied that.

Now in college i study graphic design and have a job as a designer and i kinda hate it now. i feel so bored with it, especially because at work i mostly do advertisements, posters and flyers. i want to design some cool packaging (im really big on paper and paper sculptures), or something many people will see, or something that will make a difference.

And then there's the notion that i will really never do anything noteworthy in my career in design. face it, when is the last time some one mentioned their favorite artists or art piece and they were refereeing to a GD?

Yes, I too hate to see those stupid web advertisements; the ones that have GD as one of those single-click-you-can-do-this-in-your-pajamas-degree. its all in your artistic skill, there is also some technical prowess, but most of what makes GD yours and what makes it different than what a computer can design without you is not learned in a classroom. GD is not a degree its a way of thinking.

ha! it felt good to vent at those stupid advertisements and i definitely envied Pam. I wish i lived close enough to go to NY and study design. But in the end she came back to jim without finishing -maybe she didnt think NY design was all that cool or worthy?
Pedro Rodriguez

Great compilation! I'm glad to know that others feel as annoyed and amused as i by these horrible graphics. Unfortunately it is commonplace for an agency or creative director to have the idea that these visuals are what we are striving for aesthetically.

Like so many other things, you have to sift through so much crap to get to the good stuff.

I think these ads really mean we designers can now hold our heads up with the Psychologists, Criminal Investigators, and Medical Billing Assistants of the World! After all, there we are right alongside them! Finally! Isn't this what Graphic Designers have always wanted: Respectability and acknowledgement that our profession is legit?

Joking aside, I do think that these ads (I've never gotten one myself) do suggest something about the desirability of becoming a graphic designer in today's world. For better or worse, I think their mere presence is an indication that design is a much more mainstream profession than it ever has been.
Rob Henning

Galt's Gulch anyone?

I went to study Graphic Design with big hopes to be creative and do something exciting, but have ended up doing similar ads to those you show.

People want them and want them fast. In matter of hours a design has to be submitted for approval. 4 to 6 pieces a day.

I got tired of this and have gone to many interviews on places that expect this type of work. I haven't come a cross a single work place that values research and experimentation. Not to mention that the "new" is discouraged; only what has been done before (by you or anyone else) will be approved.

Cookie-cutter-template-base design is hot among employers. And since no other options are available, is what most of us, Graduates from Graphic Design Schools, ended up doing.

So far, the biggest heartbreak of my life. I think I need a career change.

Oh, George—say it isn't so! Heartbreaking, indeed. Can you name some names? I think it's time we outed those employers, or maybe — even better — we gather together to stage a mutiny and torpedo all those ads immediately. (Then redesign them.)

Another side of me says: maybe it's a question of strategy — in other words, do you suppose it's not so much about what we make but how we present and talk about what we make? (Some people refer to this as "educating the client.")
Jessica Helfand

Great article and nice group of ads. I am not a graphic designer myself because all of the things I produce look worse than most of the above, but am very interested in people who innovate in the field.

I think you make a great point about selling the work. I would imagine the most important thing is that the client is happy, so working on your persuasion skills may help to prevent someone from ruining a good design. What do you say to a client that basically wants you to digitally draw the bad design in their head?

Reading this post and the comments depresses me a little. I work in a flurescent-lit, beige cubical. This isn't why I got into design.

But, instead of blaming bad design on others, we have to take responsibility. I don't allow myself to get depressed by bad design and uninspiring jobs. We are really the only people who can change that.

So, George and everyone else, don't let it get you down. You will find situations like these in any field you choose. If you really love design, stick with it.

I've also realized I love design in general, not just graphic design. So now I'm going back to school for interior design. All design fields connect in someway. I'm rambling.

I'm still trying to figure out how to levitate red globes in the palm of my hand. I can only do it with green ones. Maybe when I'm a "senior" designer.

George it sounds like you need to get the hell out of wherever you are if it bums you out.
Raphael Del Rio

hey, do i want to be a famous designer? sure, of course. but, i'm starting to realize that maybe that dream won't materialize in a day. hey, how many doctors have become famous right after school? how many lawyers take on big CSI-style cases right after they pass the bar (or whatever it is they do). i'd like to agree with the cat who commented that now, finally, design is considered a real career, just as real as any of the other professions. we're not playing with crayons all day, we're helping businesses meet objectives. we're informing audiences, producing print and digital materials. hey, a day of being a designer is a heck of a lot better than what most people have to do for a living. i mean, c'mon, medical billing? seriously, how can anybody truly enjoy that?
John Mindiola III

I was a fine art student, because I hated precision and using knives and all that. Then my parents (mostly my mom), threaten to kill me unless I go into something scientific since I seems to get A in all of the academic class (Physic, Chemistry, Calculus, etc.). Of course, I didn't budge. So the middle way is Graphic Design. Even as I was learning it in the beginning, I knew it was a mistake. I hated having to switch between blue and black pencil and using the compass. It infuriated me even more when I painted 3cm x 3cm logo with black poster color with 0 size brush only to have my teacher say, "you didn't make any mess, but the thickness of your black is uneven, I will subtract 5 points".

But I remember learning about typography, and my professor was showing an example of playing with type. And there was this picture of a letter f falling on a letter a which then falls on a letter l which lean on another letter l. It was that moment that all my hate turn to love, and I think I can do this forever.

Anyway, one thing I noticed, is that people are really jealous of my, our profession. Even those who claim to "not know what we really do and why we get paid". They really are.
Is it difficult to master? Yes. Is it tiring? Oh yes. But then,
all of us looks like we have so much fun doing it. I certainly do. I can talk design in my spare time without end.
These spams just mean that an e are finally catching on to the feeling.
Panasit Ch

These type of spam ads are exactly what pulls people into this profession that honestly have no business being in this profession. They treat it as a joke, and if it's a career you can just pull out of a hat.

It goes beyond disrespectful in a way, and makes me wonder how many careers would be exempt from these kind of ads because they're taken too seriously. How about a lawyer or surgeon for example?

All I mean with that is as someone who is studying and entering the profession, it disgusts me that it's still treated as art class, where people do it just because they have nothing else to do.
Nick Burroughs

I can see where George is coming from. As a recent graduate, I was filled with great visions of how design was going to change the world. I didn't even care if I would be famous but I just wanted to make a difference. But in a post graduate internship, I was "designing" things that I was ashamed to say I even designed. I can't even say it was good design.

Now as I am job searching, it's is a bit disheartening to see a lot of places wanting graphic designers to do work such as mentioned in the article. In the reality of the "real world," I feel it is hard to find a job where you are doing work that is truly satisfying.

But I love design, it has turned into a lifestyle for me. As Michael Beirut said, "Design is about everything." So I will stick with it and I'm going to keep trying.

It almost makes you wonder what their doing over at Yale.

Heart U
Carl W. Smith



over at gd.risd
Carl W. Smith

The general public probably puts opera and musicals in the same category as well. And why not? Both involve theatrics and singing. It's only another index of our society's generally low level of cultural awareness.

What this article is really about is social class. Sophistication is what allows one to consider educating oneself at one of the art schools named above (to which I'd add MCAD, SVA, Parsons, Pratt, Art Center, CCA, and a number of University-based programs) versus attending one of the franchise-type schools the ads above depict. One's social class also allows for the use of irony in creating distance between yourself and these chain schools.

Manuel you are right about social class . . . over at Cranbrook

“Graphic Design Proper doesn’t exist and never did.”
Carl W. Smith

The establishment of "marketplaces" such as iStock has acted like a scythe through the traditional process of DESIGN. It’s everywhere and it spells doom.

good guest page.
thank you.

So far, the biggest heartbreak of my life.

Oh C'mon George. Get a hold of yourself.
If you were Paul Rand, you would humbly say that the Lord struck you down for something you deserved (what did you do? Use Gill Sans?).

I designed cookie cutter crap for 7 years and I can tell you this: you won't break out of GraphicDesigntanamo® by complaining to the guards!

felix sockwell

personally i am very glad pam decided not to become a graphic designer....and i hated the idea she could go to school for three months to become one.

from last week's episode: "i thought you were good at flash" "i was....but they switched to acrobat right when i was learning quark!"

WHAT! this statement makes no sense! and QUARK?! are you shitting me?! are any institutions seriously still teaching quark? who did the writers use as their graphic design consultant?

i'm sure other forums have discussed this; i just haven't looked for any.

I equate these terrible ads to the same ones for lawyers I see on tv that ask me if I've been in a slip and fall accident or been bitten by a dog. You think lawyers aren't insanely pissed off that after 4 years of undergrad, 2-3 yrs of law school, studying for the bar and 60+ hour work weeks they want to be seen in the public eye as defending dog bite victims? But the ones who are successful, who are practicing law in the field they love, they don't complain - they press on and ignore it. Do the same thing and prove to the world that design is more than those red orbs by persevering and sticking with it.

Actions speak louder than words.

So, if you're designing ads for snowmobile association magazines or home builder magazines, deal with it. Any experience is good experience in this economy. I WAS that guy who was designing those ads. It was terrible for all the above reasons (client wanted the old look, gave no design concept yet rejected anything but cookie cutter design, wanted 80 words where 20 would fit, wanted clip art and bursts, etc) but I loved design so I found my own outlet through freelance. I did so much pro-bono stuff that I should have been charging for but I wanted a creative outlet more than a paycheck.

I'm 27 and I just found my dream gig. I dealt with roughly 5 yrs of miserable commercial work so I could get to where I am. Just don't quit if you truly love design. I'm in this for the long run and complaining is an easy cop out rather than doing something about it.

I went to a franchise school in the mid-90s. Looking back, the focus was on the more technical aspect of design. They were still teaching the 'basics,' but it was more like a broad generalization of the world of graphic deisgn. At the time, desktop publishing was making it's way into the 'norm'.

We weren't allowed near a computer for the first nine months of our education. I actually take pride in that fact. At least the faculty were 'trying.'

Anyway, the program was 15 months long and I had an associates degree in visual communications in my hand.

I've really struggled the past 12 years as a designer. My best friends graduated from Tyler, and we've gotten into 'many arguments' over this thing we call 'design' and my struggles. But, its not their fault, it's not my franchise alma mater's fault. Its my fault.

I agree with Mike from 11.17.08 ...we must take responsibility. Ms. Helfand is right, it is up for grabs. We must educate ourselves through reading design books, practicing our craft, and most importantly, never giving up, no matter your situation. I may be a product of one of these "schools", but I refuse to let it define me.

So, George & Grace... while I understand your situation, please understand that persistence is your secret weapon. If the plan is not working, change the plan. Say "Fuck everything, I'm doing this on my own" ...research like hell, practice like a mofo, and free yourself from this 'cookie cutter' bullshit.

It may not be much of a plan, but doesn't it sound better than what you've already experienced?

I think anyone who decides to pursue a career in graphic design because it is fun and creative is in it for the wrong reason. I suspect those who tread that path truly desire to find their calling in art, but for whatever reason (parents) decide that Graphic Design is the more sensible decision, because it's somehow connected with business. Or in the case of the completely clueless, someone once told them that graphic designers make a lot of money by making stuff look cool in photoshop.

Graphic Design is not art. It is ideas, it is communication, it is persuasion, it is strategy, and good drawing skills and Gestalt principles are only some of the tools used to execute these things. These design spam ad programs are all about execution. The smart & successful people that you want to work for don't hire you because you can make some nice vector art. They hire you for your ideas.

The next time someone tells you they want 10 vector icons in the next hour, you should understand that they are asking for execution, not design. As a designer, you should act as a consultant, and say 'Are vector icons really what you need? I suggest an interactive flash piece instead because of x y z.' - and if they listen, even a little, the project is back in your hands, and your ideas. If they don't listen, then get out. The job won't get you anywhere.

If you really want to stick with design, then persevere. Stick up for yourself. Surround yourself with other thinkers and successful people. Focus on ideas, not execution. Learn everything about everything, and use it to inform and persuade. Be a good person. That's how it gets to be fun.


I think that the motivation for making such garish web icons is the wrong assumption that potential designers (or any market audience for that matter) adore staring into moniters. If a computer is seen more as a tool than source of entertainment, than web-based advertisements could take on a more toned down appearance. That could make them less obtrusive and more effective.
Eric MacLeod


"Graphic Design is not art. "

What is art then?? I don't think the slop that those spam ads are selling is art, but it might open your mind to what real design is, which IS art.

"They hire you for your ideas."

Ok....no, they don't. A good company will, but clearly not all. Ideas are nothing without the ability to implement them. That's where all the schooling and reading and critiquing come in.

Thanks for the cheer-up.

Can you name some names?

I think it've be better no to say names.

educating the client.

I would love to educate the client, but hardly ever get to see one. All I get is a sheet of paper that describes what the client wants ("like the dancing alien on this ad, but with dogs instead" or "like my business card but bigger and long") and what to deliver (web ad, mail out, flyer, etc.) And don't forget that many of them request a "WORD" version of their stuff.

it sounds like you need to get the hell out of wherever you are if it bums you out.

I have been looking for a different job for over a year now. No lack of jobs really. I have rejected 7 for being the same or worst than the one I currently have; from manufacturing companies to ad agencies.

I need the money from work, so I'll keep this one until finding a better one.

Is good to know one is not alone in this.


Please forgive me in advance if I appear to jump on your statement. But I want to draw attention to the following:

Graphic Design is not art. It is ideas, it is communication, it is persuasion, it is strategy, and good drawing skills and Gestalt principles are only some of the tools used to execute these things.

I would disagree with the statements made above. Art is about ideas, it does communicate, it is persuasion, it is strategy, and it too, relies on technical abilities of craft, like drawing or painting.

I would elaborate by stating that perhaps Art may appear to be "opaque" or lack the ability to communicate, is because so (relatively) few members of the general public engage in learning about Art. It is easy to dismiss art when one has not had the opportunity to learn about it. I run into the same problems trying to teach graphic design: my students don't have an exposure to art, photography or sculpture history, and worse still, they lack a history of graphic design. They don't see themselves as part of a cultural continuum, but rather as service providers who are given "tasks to complete" and there is no linking relationship between one project to the next—or between what they do and what say, Piet Zwart, Wim Crouwel or Gert Dumbar did or are doing. So few graphic design students see themselves as individuals who engage with culture (both historic and current). And it is sad but a challenge worth fighting.
David Cabianca

I have a hunch that most graphic designers start with a notion of "graphic design" that is more on par with what these ads are presenting. The profession draws people in who are first and foremost visually-oriented.

In April I will graduate with an interdisciplinary B.Des. What I will leave my education with is a set of skills and a conception of graphic design as a "practice" that is much different from what I entered it with.

Back then, to me, graphic design WAS logos, corporate identity, brochures, web sites, and, yes, colour wheels. I'll even say it was drop shadows and outer glows. Today, it is much harder for me to define. It's process, it's concept, it's practice, it's research. It's users, experiences, communication. Nonetheless, design is founded on the same ground as visual arts—an obsession with the form of things. Design helps bring order and meaning to form as a means of accomplishing higher aims.

Here, I cut myself off from my diatribe. Now, only because you raised the issue of graphic design's international relevance, do I have one more thing to say. You wrote:

"Now more than ever, graphic design is a truly international language."

And then later, remarking on a certain "class" of design schools in the US, "Canada and the EU"—citing these as "international", I would ask you to consider the definition of international. What DOES graphic design look like in India? In Sudan?

This reminds me of the discussion ensuing that now almost forgotten post by Bill Drenttel critiquing Adbusters' selection of panelists for the One Flag competition.

All that being said, I do appreciate the post—any plans on looking at ads in design publications for the print industry? ;)

Tom Froese

I think anyone who decides to pursue a career in graphic design because it is fun and creative is in it for the wrong reason

I did pursue it because it thought it is creative and fun, and it is. If it's not I wouldn't be doing it, because it's hard work. I certainly didn't pursue it as part of my patriotic duty.

Even when I haven't slept for days after completing a big project that left me so exhausted I can barely move (and i used to work in loading docks, it's not that easy to wear me out), I still enjoy every minute of it and can talk to people about principle of design forever.

I had no idea I was in it for the wrong reason.
Panasit Ch

to keep it short and sweet...

my career path has not been what i expected or even what i wanted when i left school. i have done some questionable designs and i've flooded society with more than once with visual crap. but it doesn't end there. don't give up because you sit in a cubicle or use templates. find a better job. it's not easy but what else are you going to do? in the words of stefan sagmeister "complaining is silly. either act or forget"

i'm learning dutch and german and within two years i'll be overseas. that's where i'll be happiest and that's the next chapter of my life. it won't be easy but man i can't wait!
l. rand

For a moment, let's not question the quality of these ads or why one enters the field of design.

Instead, let's question what design schools advertise and what that means. Have we stepped past the boundary when advertising ones institution was taboo? Or are we at a juncture when there are so many candidates for design that it is a noble, education, and profitable venture to advertise.

As a freshly graduated high school student, I selected my (now) alma mater with a different education, knowledge, and opinion of design than when I graduated. It scares me that I could have fallen for one of these ads.

Looking at the ad for Basel is a breath of fresh air compared to the previous ones, but I hesitate to encourage the Yales and RiSDs of the world to join the garbage pile of online banner ads.
Tim Belonax

This discussion - to me - has highlighted a design market that is over looked by credible studios and designers.

There is a market for quick and cheap design.

I have seen so many design awards handed out torushed, quick projects done over a night. We need pressure to come up with good ideas right? So why cant a good designer achieve credible adverts in such a small time frame? Is there some undiscovered theory, or process or frame of mind that we haven't come to realise or accept?

I look at google adwords and I see a simple concept and execution to a problem that could involve an un imaginable amount of man hours to produce if the solution was anything like 99.9% of Internet advertising out there.

Every industry has a market for cheap and quick. Designers are smart and agile minded. Is this a problem worth fixing? Is it fixable? Is it even a problem?


I'm in my 1st year in design school.. it makes me remember 7 years ago when I was 13 who started dreaming of doing design.. Not because it was fun but it's just different and I just can't have an office job doing endless paperwork though I still handle paper like more kinds of paper. But yea, whether it's the right school or not, I think all design schools are the same, just the way you choose to think and how you want to design. so yea (:

I have a soft spot in my heart for the term "commercial art," since that's what it was called when I was a kid growing up in NY. Two of my friends dads were commercial artists, and I was fascinated by what they did.

As for the ads, that one targeting muscular dystrophy victims makes me think of Mugatu's video used to hypnotize Derek in "Zoolander."

I look forward to such ads for "Be a United States Senator!" or "Be a 747 pilot--no experience necessary!"

Seriously, folks. Don't be offended by these ads. Bargin-bin educational offerings have been around for a long time. It's not like they just started doing this for graphic design.

Not everyone can afford Parsons, RIsD, Yale, et al.

The folks seriously considering these ads are looking at the offerings from their local community colleges, and will probably be one day churning out production work for the local Super-Kwik-E-Marte chain or what have you.

Yeah, sure it's not high art, but it fills some business's need and generates a paycheck for some schmuck in crappy-economy Smalltown, Anystate. They might be the first person in their family who even has a degree. They didn't grow up going with mom and dad to the MoMa on the weekends. I did, but I recognize my own privilege.

You guys got lost in the Thomas Keane gallery and are demanding to know where the Hopkins and Pollocks are.

Seriously, don't think your cred as a designer is threatened.

Regarding the ads themselves, I am conflicted because on the one hand, it is highlighting the career I have chosen* but also because it could also suggest that I would create something like that.

For brevity, my first "real" gig was for an investment banking firm, I wore a tie everyday. Marketing was branded. Within 2 years I was laid off and the echoes of "he was too creative" were heard.

I am glad to have put that time in to learn other things while I was there like PowerPoint, fine tune my production skills and such. I wasn't proud of the work I did, but I was proud that I was pushing the boundaries of what the branding allowed and that I thought about everything I did. I always provided two versions at least. My version and the version they would choose.


@Jessica - A little bit of fire that I thought didn't exist. Down with employers is usually my bullet to fire.

Though I can attest to many of my friends, who have enough talent to be good designers, being stuck in these cheapo, craptacular marketing/advertising/design factories. This is all too common. Then when you couple their plight with a bunch of associates degree graduates who basically just got the technical stuff out of the way and still have no idea Comic Sans is a faux pas also beating down the doors of the same employers I'm sure at this point the firms HR departments or CDs are just like....great.

What I find is the issue are the employers of "good" firms. Now I'm not gonna disagree that you can't hire the seven people that want to work at your place to the one you can afford to, but this is the problem. Not enough jobs are being created for the number of quality graduates that are coming out of school each year. When I hear of a small firm getting 200 applicants for one position, um...hello...there are some people out there willing to work. I'm sure George has been there and has been rejected based on his words. Sorry dude.

The irony is you have motivated people stuck in this s@*tty places where they can't do better work, because they work under a writer turned bad art director, who doesn't know the first thing about design principles or the like. So they try to take their best work to an interview their lucky enough to get anyways, but of course never have a chance in getting the job.

Since their is only a voluntary accreditation process at this moment, mailboxes and sidebars on web search will be full up with "Become A Graphic Designer" for a long time to come.

I'm just wondering when firms are gonna start employing the people who want to be employed first.


For anyone to doubt the power and relevance of graphic design, even in the commercial design houses, we only need to see how much of an impact the field had on the recent presidential election.

It might be advertising, but what work exists in a vacuum?


I just wanted to say that I also hated the idea that Pam could go to art school for three months and become a designer. For all we know, she could have well been replying to one of these ads in her Dunder-Mifflin inbox...

I get upset like most people when I see the "Earn-Your-Degree-From-Home" commercials and GD is a program that they offer. But then I realize that the time I spent with my professors, in studio, at the art building until 3 a.m. working on a single page of a book layout...that puts me way ahead of people who learn how to use photoshop filters from an online course.

You can always tell a real designer from the "designers" that come from these ads. Drop shadow, anyone?

Annalise Johnson

Great article.

Yes, there should be a distinction.

The distinction is what is "true" graphic design; a discipline that requires talent, skill and education, that creates awareness for issues, brings order and thereby understanding to information, and ultimately adds value to our lives, versus what is graphical arts, a.k.a desktop publishing.
Daren Guillory

Oh dear, everything is more, free and now. I recognise some of the images in those Ads - they're from iStockphoto.com - or some other bargain basement stock photo/illustration site.

These Ads promise the free and easy life of a top creative. The problem is it doesn't exist.

$150 an hour? Ads like that should be banned for misleading the public.

Being a Designer is like any other profession - there are a few of us (me not included!) who make it to the top and the vast majority of people (yup - me included!) who just don't have what it takes.

Could be just bad luck, could be lack of talent. Whatever it is it's all part of the system - just like in tennis you have just a few players able to make a good living from the game.

Anyone with a rational mind would take one look at those Ads and think : " if this program is so good then why am I not thinking this Ad looks great, looks different...?" "if this program is so good then whay are they using RF stock?", "if this program is so good then why is it not endorsed by someone like Jessica Helfand?".

The link to Cranbrook submitted by Carl W. Smith is a real eye-opener. What utter tat from a self-styled Academy.

Oh god, these make me cringe. For me, graphic design is more a side effect of my artistic inclinations, and a way to pay the bills. The last year or so I've been obsessed with vintage and antique typography, so now literally everything I make has some bit of hand-drawn typography in it somewhere, inspired by something I dug up from 70 or 100 years ago. Luckily I have a partner with a full-time paycheck and am able to work freelance and pick and choose the jobs I want while working on my art on the side. It's a pretty sweet gig. And like Paul Rand, I didn't choose it. I have a friend who I've also worked with in the past who is what I'll call a graphic arranger - all she does is arrange elements (fonts, clip art, stock photos) in a nice way. She can't draw to save her life, and all her own branding (which she obviously did herself) is HIDEOUS (I'm never sure what to say about that big red and purple dragon she calls a logo. There's also a dolphin in there somewhere. I think she must have gone to one of these 'schools' back in the late 90's). Anyway, she's self-employed now and does it because she has more time with the kids/more flexibilty with school vacations. I think that's why so many of these ads target 30-something white women. "Look ladies, here's something you can do while still being a stay-at-home mom so that when people ask what you do, you don't have to say you're a housewife and watch the look of feminist disgust creep across their faces!" Me, I fit my other choices (partner, kids, country of residence) AROUND my real life - which is art, because there's no changing that. I'm in it for life.
Kiki B

Jobs | July 12