I had a long discussion with a friend the other day about the notion of a “graphic designer” as it applies to web design. She opined that graphic design is largely relegated to static mediums and that online we are designing for interaction and behavior. While there is truth to that last bit, the first part really bugged me. Mostly because of how unsure it made me feel about what I most closely identify with.
I have always called myself a graphic designer because I like the idea that I can design in many mediums, not only the web. I realize this can seem elitist (and she agreed) to not embrace the moniker of “web designer”, but I’ve never been able to identify with it. That’s not to say I haven’t tried. Every time I’ve told someone I’m a “web designer”, the word “web” stuck while “designer” soared clear over their head. The outlander’s perception seemed to be that web design was more about building than designing. This belies the skill and experience that a good designer contributes, instead making them out to be some sort of worker drone.
So, perhaps I am a bit elitist in this regard. Web design does employ images, words, and ideas in the same way traditional graphic design does. The real distinction lies in the use. Visitors aren’t merely taking in the design and information as they would a poster or periodical, they are interacting with it, and more critically, reshaping it by that interaction. This is the important difference, because as we all know, it’s not always how it looks, but how it works. Is that really so different from the design goals of a book or a sign? The success lies within the effectiveness of the function, not the aesthetics.
Whither Graphic Designer?
I trained in traditional graphic design in school—that being print design—and only ended up in web design after graduation. At my first job I held the title of “Graphic Designer”, and worked equally in print and web. I rarely do any print work these days, but I employ the things I was taught in my design classes almost daily.
The catchall term “designer” works for some, but I hate the generality. It’s the difference between an “appliance” and a “kitchen appliance”, the latter has an implied duty and place. I don’t design furniture, and I don’t decorate living rooms, I specifically work with type and image to communicate. Unfortunately, the term “communication designer” is practically unknown outside the industry, leaving most people to wonder just what it is you design for the phone company.
This isn’t meant to spark a debate between titles (if you call yourself a “New Media Assassin” please, just leave), but I’d like to hear what you think about the place of graphic design on the web. Should the term be relegated to just traditional design, or is there room for it online?