Wisdom from the Real World:
Graphic Design Survey

Please note that the Graphic Design Survey is no longer on line because the data collection phase is complete. The rest of the links in this article still work.

As with many professional fields, graphic design is undergoing rapid changes. Computers have altered the way graphic designers work and the breadth of knowledge they are expected to have mastered when they graduate and begin looking for entry-level jobs. In fact, graphic designers, just as journalists, writers, and editors, are increasingly finding their job descriptions include an awful lot of stuff that wasn't there even five years ago. Members of the technical writing list. TECHWR-L are discussing the problems that arise when technical writers are expected to take meeting notes or assume quality assurance tasks for the products they write about. In industry, individuals are being asked to assume more and more tasks, often without additional pay or a change in job title to indicate the change in duties.

New technologies are creating new kinds of jobs for which management is trying to come up with job descriptions. The online newspaper list has recently been trying to create a job description for journalists who are being hired to work exclusively on the web versions of major daily newspapers across the country. John Russial, Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, posted to the this list to comment on a job description for an online service that seemed to be giving short shrift to journalism skills. His comment, however, also addresses this overall trend to telescope more and more tasks into a single person's job that is happening in almost all professions:

I submit that if we look to the last two decades of technology and newsrooms, "what is a journalist" has changed for a variety of reasons that have little to do with journalism. Composition coding became journalism when VDTs enabled newspapers to eliminate half of the back shop. Using a mouse and a screen to align photographs or headlines became journalism when pagination made it possible for newspapers to get rid of the other half. etc., etc. I'm oversimplifying, but not too egregiously. Today, I would imagine, people will argue that writing Java scripts is journalism, and maybe it is. One can argue that new technologies require new ways of thinking about journalism.

My point is that "we" the industry -- of which I'm no longer a part -- typically don't examine these issues early in the game. We let it happen, then ask if it's a good thing. And if the answer is no, too bad. It's a fait accompli.

On the other hand, another list member, Bill Wilt, who describes himself as a consultant on "how to flourish in an all digital world," tackles the job of actually coming up with a title for this new person the newspapers managers now find themselves needing:

Editor? Nope. One-to-many paradigm. Producer? Nope. Same flaw. The real trick is going to be how the heck to p a r t n e r with customers (both the advertisers and the subscribers--and the conversation of the community, really, are customers--so make it three classes of customer/partner....

And what I see is a world turned upside down--the real capital assets are the people and their contacts, relationships, with information and advertising sources, with the process of gathering, assembling, assessing masses of commercial and editorial information. These assets they (the newspaper biz generally) are letting go. Tax law, accounting practices all support them in this. It's called "cost-cutting."

I wonder whatever happened to the notion of "money-making". Profits drop, cut costs. That's one scenario. Cut costs completely by going out of business....

For the $399 million PNI paid for new presses, they could have bought 401,005 computers @995. That's a little less than the daily Inquirer circulation. At that quantity, though, what if they could get a price from Apple of, say, 499 a computer--for excess inventory, whatever--it would be about 799,599 machines, moving close to Sunday circulation of 863,276. Remember that an entire European country replaced their telephone books with eentsy beentsy computers stuffed into erstwhile telephones. It's doable. It's "outside the box" thinking. It's value-added.

I love printing presses, but they're a vestigial, expensive peripheral device on the information engine known formerly as newspapers.

And, were I a newspaper company or organization, I'd stop buying any and all Microsoft products, today. Period. (I mean, why fund your competitor's takeover efforts? Even more particularly when there are better products around, if you're serious about moving information in ways that add value and ease to your customers' lives.) I don't know that I'd even accept ads from the company. Sort of a freeze-out. Imagine offering your customers Macintoshes that you could trade Apple for with advertising space! Talk about the age of cooperative alliances!

Imagine if the whole newspaper industry responded that way. Would that be auntie or uncle trust?

Anyway, it's not content--it's value. And I'd have to assert that "Editor" or "Producer" doesn't capture that, either. Maybe value-added information entrepreneur comes closer. (© Copyright 1996 Wilt Enterprises. Permission to republish with citation.)

It is becoming increasingly obvious that it is no longer sufficient to be a writer or a journalist -- or a graphic designer. These positions now often require a knowledge of programming in html and understanding how to integrate graphics into a web site.

Trudy Cole-Zielanski, Professor of Graphic Design at James Madison University, has developed a survey to help determine what skills an entry-level graphic design professional must have upon graduation to be competitive in the job market. She notes that not only are graduates expected to enter the field with broader subject knowledge than ever before, but also the departments providing preparation for this field are undergoing budget cuts. As she says, "the pie is not only smaller but has been sliced into numerous pieces."

Based on five months of in-depth study on how to best prepare graphic design students for life after college, the Graphic Design Survey will be used to improve the design curriculum at James Madison University, She invites those experienced in the graphics arts profession to visit her site and complete her survey. Individual information will be kept confidential and used for educational purposes only. She expects to have preliminary results of the survey available at the end of August, but is always interested in hearing from professionals about how to improve design programs.

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