Interview With A Graphic Designer
I recently interviewed an older graphic designer that’s still very much in the game. He started before the digital age and then fortunately he embraced the new digital tools as they came out, pretty interesting stuff, take a read below.
Don Whitmore is a 60 year old graphic artist/designer with approximately 35 years of experience. He started in the graphic design industry in typesetting and page layout in the late 80’s. Since Don has always been enthusiastic about computers, this came at an opportune time, as the graphic design industry was changing dramatically from traditional ways of producing pasted-up pages to producing a final printed piece using computers only. He spent many hours burning the midnight oil, learning the technology and implementing what he learned on a daily basis into his work.
The college and university courses available at that time were minimal, with the technology being so much further ahead than what was available in school. As a result Don did research on his own, read trade magazines and books exploring the new technology, as well as researching the history and traditional methods and disciplines of this industry. The information he got from all his hard research he used in his business which gave him a competitive edge.
Don owned a graphic design firm in Toronto for over 25 years; currently he lives in Calgary and works mostly in web design and online marketing.
Some of his work can be seen here:
What is the difference between fine arts and graphics arts?
Fine art is a communication between the artist and his audience, and is very personal. Projects and themes are chosen by the artist. His communication can take a variety of forms and media; in this case, my first preference was painting. On the other hand, graphic design, a graphic designer or commercial artist can be commissioned to carry out a project on behalf of another entity, to promote that entity, whether it be an individual or a large corporation. This is a commercial arrangement between an artist and another party. A fine artist can be a commercial artist, and vice versa.
Can you tell me a bit of the history of graphic design and how things were changing when you got into the field?
The graphic design discipline had been based on handicraft processes: layouts were drawn by hand in order to visualize a design; type was specified and ordered from a typesetter; and type proofs and photostats of images were assembled in position on heavy paper or board for photographic reproduction and platemaking. Over the course of the late1980s and early ’90s, however, rapid advances in digital computer hardware and software radically altered graphic design. Digital computers placed typesetting tools into the hands of individual designers, and so a period of experimentation occurred in the design of new and unusual typefaces and non-standard page layouts. Type and images were layered, fragmented, and dismembered; type columns were overlapped and run at very long or short line lengths; and the sizes, weights, and typefaces were often changed within single headlines, columns, and words.
How does the graphic design field relate to the internet?
The digital revolution in graphic design was followed quickly by public access to the Internet. A whole new area of graphic-design activity mushroomed in the mid-1990s when Internet commerce became a growing sector of the global economy, causing organizations and businesses to scramble to establish Web sites. Designing a Web site involves the layout of screens of information rather than of pages, but approaches to the use of type, images, and colour are similar to those used for print. Web design, however, requires a host of new considerations, including designing for navigation through the site and for using hypertext links to jump to additional information. Of course I had to keep up with these changes by continually learning, observing and doing. Many of my colleagues in the industry who did not keep up were left behind and left the industry.
What are the advantages of being a graphic designer in the digital age?
Even when it first started, you still had to see clients in person, show them physical proofs of the work you were doing for them. Since the advent of the internet, digital proofs are sent, video meetings are conducted, and final sign-off for a project can be emailed. All final work can then be electronically sent to printers or produced for the web. For example I had a client in the U.S. that I have been doing work for for years and have never met them in person. What I believe is the greatest advantage for me is that I can work anywhere in the world, as long as I have internet connection. This gives me a great deal of freedom.
Have you observed any changes to training standards in the graphic design industry?
I think that in order to try to keep up with the technological changes in the industry, some of the traditional rules and standards have been omitted from training curricula. For example one sees many typesetting errors in current high-end promotional pieces, spelling errors, grammatical errors and even errors in image placement, balance, etc. I believe that one of the reasons is the ready availability of personal computers and programs, making it possible for people with no or little training or understanding of the proper design process to enter the field of graphic design. So, while on the one hand, the technology has made the process easier and faster, on the other it has allowed “less professional” individuals to change the standards in this field.
What different media have you been involved in over the years?
In the beginning, the mainstay of my work was print media, such as paper. As I expanded my services, I provided final art and design on other media such as canvas, film, etched glass, vinyl, clothing, even as large as one full side of a building. As the years went by, I became experienced enough to be able to produce whatever the client required, in whatever media worked best for each project.
Have you noticed any censorship in the graphic arts field?
Yes, years ago, it was more conservative, and you could not get away with ads in bad taste or risqué, and often the ad would be pulled or cancelled. Nowadays, it is a lot more liberal, as society has been desensitized, and of course the internet plays a large part in this, where it seems anything goes. To me, censorship is a moot point — a good designer can create a dynamic ad or piece of promotion or website, without it being in bad taste or offensive.
What do you think the future of the graphic art industry will be?
I think that the print part of the industry is dying as people turn to digital means of communicating. All magazines, newspapers and newsletters, for example, will be delivered to your devices in digital format. Already, most billboards have converted from paper to digital. This transition will not be overnight, as it is still more cost effective to print on paper than buy large devices to display advertising.
Graphic artists will have to change to go with the flow, but if they’re good at their trade, only the tools will change — the need for good graphic designers will never die.