I Am a Graphic Designer, not a Programmer

There is something that I wanted to talk a little bit about that strikes close to home. As most of you know I am a graphic designer. I spend pretty much all day every day making things look pretty. I design logos, business cards, letterheads, envelopes, websites; you name it. I have a healthy amount of experience in Photoshop (ranging from version 7 to the all new, and improved (even though some of you might argue that) CS4), Illustrator (even though I like Macromedia Freehand more), InDeisgin and basically every other Adobe based software. I have had countless classes teaching me the software in and out and allowing me the chance to built a portfolio that I am not only proud of but one that I have used to get me a job in this extremely competitive industry.

Don’t think it is competitive? Well, let me paint you a picture. (See, even in my blog posts I use art!) When I began thinking about a full time design job the first step that I took was to research the firms in my area. I began with the big dogs first and made my way all the way down to the smaller less established ones. And as I began this journey I was immediately attracted to a firm called Mediasauce. They were based on the north side of town, where I lived, and had a very stacked list of clients. Their website was fun, energetic, and I felt that I would fit right in doing whatever they could throw my way. And then fate walked into an upper level design class room.

I was sitting in the corner and our professor told us that we had a guest speaker. It was the recruiter for Mediasauce. His name was Ryan and he spent the next hour or so telling us about what working in the industry was all about and what we could expect when starting to look for work. I was a junior at Purdue University when I first met Ryan. After he was finished talking, being the network junkie that I am, I went straight to him to learn more detailed information about the firm. He and I set up a time to talk outside of the class room and we met about a week later. Long story short we met a few more times after that and I actually interviewed with the firm several times for various positions never once landing a second interview. That was almost two years ago. And from the understanding that I have, they have not hired a single person, actually laying off several, since those meetings. Ryan was one of them.

But the thing that stuck out in my head (all of this plays into the competitive nature that I was talking about) was when he first asked for my portfolio. And as most, and even still, designers would hand him a CD with samples of his other work or simply have print copies of their pieces. However, I handed him a personal business card that had my portfolio website on it. Not a big deal, right? It was. He told me that over 100 people approached him weekly in hopes of landing a job at Mediasauce. Out of those 100 people one or two of them had an online portfolio. The other applicants went straight to the trash. Basically he was saying that if you did not have an online portfolio do not even bother applying to a firm that is worth a damn.

But how does that create competition? Out of those two designers that had online portfolios, one of them was capable. One of them had the set of skills that are required by a designer. And I fit that mold last October with the firm that I am currently working for. I am a web designer for IMAVEX based on the north side of Indianapolis. I spent over a year trying to find a fit for my skill set and I have found it here. Sort of.

I did not know HTML when I started. I did not know CSS when I began. I did not know what JavaScript was my first day. (I still don’t.) I had no idea what PHP was. But now, after a few short months, I have made a lot of head way and I have learned more than my pay check can even begin to add up to. I am a sponge, always have been, and I am learning everything that I can. When I started a bold tag meant nothing to me. But now I use them every day.

So why is that important? Other than being a skill that is becoming second nature in this industry, it is something that when you hear the word web designer you do not think of. You think of a designer as someone that designs. Someone that codes is a programmer. Well, in today’s market, with the competition that graduates year after year, more and more designers are learning, and being forced to learn, how to code. And that leads me to the point of this article.

I came across some key points of why a web designer needs to be able to code his or her own website. It was interesting and while I might not agree with every point, it made some sense. Some of those key points are what I wanted to talk about today. The first one that grabbed my attention was talking about how a designer should design a website that fits the modern trends and the current standards in design. You might not think that is a big deal but when you sit behind a PSD (Photoshop document) and start to design the next best website (250,000 new websites hit the Internet every single day) you want pretty colors, moving parts, and big bold action letters to grab the attention of your audience. And while that might work in some, and rare occasions, it is not standard. Do you know the standard line height for content? Do you know the proper padding for an area of text inside of a container? Do you know the font size is considered too small? Or too big?

The second point was communication. Communication is something that I think is one of my best assets. I hold that to the highest regard and I consider myself an expert in verbal, written, and digital communications. I am never more than two steps behind a text message or an email. (Don’t call, I probably won’t answer.) But in terms of design why would you want to compromise that communication? If someone designs it based on his or her style you are throwing all that out the window when you pass that off to a programmer. You are allowing them to now make the decision on things that may or may not fit the design. You loose all sorts of communication and even more so if you are farming that code to someone that is not in your office.

Another key element is that of time. If you are a designer and are doing the visual element of the design, then take the time to pass that off to a developer, who has things on his or her plate outside of your design, you are then placing that time table on their lap. If you pass it off, they have a bad day, get lazy, or go on vacation you sit waiting while you could be working on the code of your website. So when a project is quoted to take a month ends up taking three you have no one to blame but yourself. You are taking the liability off your hands and placing it on the developers all the while the client thinks you are the one taking three months to do something that should take you one.

The last thing that I felt was crucial in this list of reasons was that the designer becomes more marketable. If you work as a designer for three years at a firm coding, designing, and building applications as you go along, and then leave for a better opportunity you are not only adding experience to the table but you are adding skills that you might not have learned. If I ever leave my current positon, CMS (content management system) aside, I will be able to state that I know (and valid at that) HTML and CSS. Those stand for hypertext markup language and cascading style sheets. And that is what I call the invaluable experience of my first full time job.

But it makes me want to learn more.
I want to know as much as I can. I want to learn everything that I can about code, design, colors, layering, style sheets; you name it. I want to be the best damn designer I can. And ten years from now, when print media does not exist any longer, I will be a mile ahead of all those guys I went to school with and all those designers that are scared to learn code. If a designer is reading this, and you do not know HTML or CSS, put this down, buy a book, and start learning. If you want to be considered a graphic designer in the next ten years, you will have to have not only an understanding of how to build a website, you will have to have a stock pile of examples.

So quit reading and go code. Your future depends on it.