Thursday, April 12, 2012

For What It's Worth 33

As I sat down to write the editorial for Issue 18 I became conscious of just how much has changed since I began my career as an illustrator that led to a career as a graphic designer and eventual ad agency creative director and business owner.

I’m going to sound really old right now but this was the time before computers and even fax machines. We made appointments by phone. We carried large portfolios that also served as delivery envelopes. Work was presented directly to the client—both the roughs and the finish. The art was prepared on a surface—hot or cold watercolor paper, vellum, paperboard, canvas—that would then be photographed by a large camera prior to assembly at the printer or publisher’s facility. Handwork was the modus operandi of the day from the artist to the printer. Type was handset. And then hand-sliced, sometimes word for word, line by line, to get the best kerning and rag. We used wall-mounted Artographs and stats to size both type and imagery for comps and reproduction. Film was hand-stripped.

Back then designers were more commonly called commercial artists, which also encompassed those graphic artists working directly for printers and publishers. Walking away from the term commercial artist was the first major step in establishing graphic design as a more specialized part of the graphic arts.

As a designer there were primo jobs to be had, newsletters, annual reports, corporate brochures, album covers, posters, book covers. Budgets were good, i.e. you could actually make a living designing newsletters. These were not your everyday corporate communications tools, these were conceptual and colorful and expensive to produce. That all changed. Enter Pagemaker and the CEO could have his secretary “produce” the newsletter. Those projects disappeared. As did annual reports. Album covers became CD covers and are now reduced to postage stamp- size images on iTunes. Social media takes the place of many branding projects. YouTube is now an advertising media for new products. The projects are dwindling for everyone.

As we head further into a totally digital world I contend design will take a backseat, but illustration won’t. Where once I thought being a designer had many more advantages with not only the type of projects but also the budgets, my feeling today is that design will continue to shrink, illustration will expand. Why the optimism? The market will crave images and those that will be doing the craving will be without a resource. Except for hiring illustrators.

Look no further than the area of game design, 3-D movies, apps and information graphics, which are totally illustrated. Think somebody’s secretary can do that? Art trumps design in all these areas. And if designers can’t draw they’re missing out on tomorrow’s opportunities; illustrators aren’t. The bottom line is that the future of illustration is brighter than any time in the past. We will be able to charge more for what we do because we’ve combined the essence of design and illustration into a new art form. We’ll stop referring to what we do by traditional classifications; we won't be designers or illustrators, we’re now visual communicators.


  1. I love that point of view and I think you're right.

  2. Thanks so much for this perspective, Charles! It's very welcome indeed.

  3. I needed this optimistic view of the future! thanks!

  4. Hi, I just came across this article and have to say I agree with you completely. I am a designer/illustrator and must say the few publishing companies I have cold called have all been more receptive than the bigger number of potential design clients I have been in touch with. I think the fact that a number of traditional marketing mediums are dying out means people more focused on generating entertaining content such as videos and images will benefit over designers. It's similar to web design in my opinion. Most companies can get by with sites made on Wordpress and the need to pay high cost web developers is diminishing greatly.

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