Are we still just GRAPHIC?

Mark Busse – 2 Comments

I’m repeating myself a little with this post, but I thought it worth another moment of consideration. One issue at the recent GDC AGM in Edmonton that kind of got my knickers in a knot was a presentation by the legendary Walter Jungkind and Yves Rousell, who researched and wrote a new official definition for the title “Graphic Design” as the definition of our industry.

The new definition, which was approved by the council, is as follows:

Graphic Design involves effective visualization of communication concepts, primarily in print and electronic media (including interface design), in the context of business and technology, socio-political, cultural and educational environments, in transmitting government and institutional aims and services, and in visually explaining and exploring medical and scientific data and processes. Clients usually determine project aims.

Graphic Designers help to achieve communication goals by analyzing, structuring, planning and creating images and text to enhance visual communication for specific purposes. They often act as consultants.

An alternative version to the above also presented:

Graphic Designers help to achieve communication goals via analysis and interpretation of client needs. They plan, structure and communicate information and ideas, appeal to emotions or facilitate orientation, by creating or combining images and test for distribution to specific publics. Efficiency and high aesthetic standards are hallmarks of work by professional designers, who frequently act as consultants on design strategy. Consideration of the public good is a bonus.

Now, I have no problem acknowledging this definition as an improvement over what was already in place. And I’m grateful to Walter and Yves for their efforts in improving the definition. My issue is with the title itself – Graphic Designer. This title implies that we are merely decorators using graphic means to pretty things up. And by updating the definition officially in this manner, the GDC is sending a clear message of support for this antiquated title to the design and business communities, in my mind anyway. The title is so wholly inadequate a definition of what we do as strategic and conceptual thinkers using visual language and many other means to solve real business problems and elicit a response or reaction from a particular audience.

There has been much debate over this contentious issue for many years, such as this lively dialogue between BC members on the GDC BC Blog or Errol Saldanha’s But the reality is that the international community and organizations such as Icograda and Proscodi have already concluded that the title was erroneous and open to too much misinterpretation. They’ve all changed the professional title to Communication Designer in their constitutions and marketing materials.

Further, nearly all design schools have changed the name of their programs either to Visual Communications or Communication Design long ago, including the program I teach at. Even Walter Jungkind himself admitted to me that he felt the title Graphic Designer was outdated and should be retired, hence the reason he named his program at the University of Alberta the Department of Visual Communications. However, he informed me, the issue hadn’t been formally tabled and was not yet on the GDC National Agenda. Well, my friends – it is now. Next year’s AGM is scheduled to happen in Montreal and I am already looking forward to tackling this issue straight on – between mouthfuls of poutine of course.