Jun 22, 2009

Don't be a Tooler

"Stylized Portrait Illustration" for MacUser Magazine UK.

I ♥ Design
I'm thankful for what I get to do for a living. I really enjoy it, and I have a lot of fun creating and working with my clients and other design firms. I have nothing to complain about in terms of my day to day job, I love.

That said, I've always been one to speak my mind be it good or bad and I'd like to think I'm fair more times than not. Over the last several months I've been thinking through a lot of issues related to the state of our industry in respect to both design and illustration and the end result is this post.

It's a good mix of hard truth, seasoned with just enough sarcasm to hopefully make it fun to read while staying informative. But I'm sure some with disagree with my assessment and that's what comments are for.

I a designer of the United States, in order to form a more perfect creative process, establish drawing, insure design tranquility, provide excellent art, promote conceptual welfare, and secure the blessings of creative liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this blog post for the designers of the United States of America.

Design Needs Drawing
MacUser Magazine UK approached me about writing a tutorial for their publication that utilized the same creative methods I used to create my Billy Mays artwork. I was excited to do this because I'm a diehard MAC user myself and this type of project is just fun to work on so I said "Sure."

Before I got started the editor asked "Is there a way to replace the drawing part of the tutorial with some form of computer method instead?" He suggested the possibility of auto-tracing part of the photo. And there's the rub.

A seemingly nonchalant decision to purposely divorce drawing from the design process.

"Sure, no problem I'll remove drawing from my process. And what the hell, while I'm at it I'll remove breathing from my living process too! Because after all that makes about as much sense."

The dumbing down of creativity is a serious pet peeve for me. Those who want to bake it down so it's not too demanding of the individual and caters to the lowest common creative denominator are just facilitating pablum sucking design noobs who think the computer is the wellspring of their creativity.

"You can lead a designer to a computer, but you can't make them draw."

The Dynamic Duo!

Ebony and Ivory, Analog and Digital
The fundamental problem with so many tutorials (creative processes) online today is they are merely geared for what I would call a "Tooler." Someone who doesn't necessarily want to improve their drawing skills, but thinks if they learn the latest software version, or some new pull-down menu effect, or run a filter in a certain way, or mimic some other type of convoluted Fibernachesque computer process they'll be able to skirt having to actually draw something.

Maybe it's just fear of failure? I'm sure that is part of it to some degree but any creative process that avoids risk is at best a flawed one. Approaching a creative solution from the mindset of "Playing it Safe" is just nothing more than choosing mere expediency. Too many designers look for the easy way out when it comes to a creative process and that is problematic to their creative growth. Instead of bolstering a core skill like drawing they pursue a path of least creative resistance and the end result is a Tooler.

I told the editor "Sorry but my process is both analog and digital. One is not independent of the other. I think that is a good thing to show." Nothing I do is fully digital, nor is it fully analog, I'm constantly going back and forth through out the creative process.

The editor eventually agreed to let me keep it the way I wanted (I wouldn't have done it otherwise) and I proceeded. Compared to my tutorials at IllustrationClass.com this one was going to be an abridged version that had to fit on a two page spread in the magazine.

Creativity via tools equals "iSuck."

The Dispensation of Toolers
Early in my career (pre-computer) people would ask me what I did for a living and I'd say "I'm a graphic designer." and the usual response was something like "You get paid to draw? I can't draw a stick figure...." and they'd proceed to admire, recognize and clearly associate my core skill and craft with what I did for a living.

But now (post-computer) when I tell people what I do the normal response tends to be something like this "That's cool. I have a computer too. I printed some ink jet business cards for..." and they proceed to associate what they do on a hack PC in their spare time using Microsoft Paint, prefab templates, Comic Sans font, and clip-art with what I do as a professional for a living. Gone is the appreciation or even recognition of a skill or craft I possess to do my job. For the most part they don't view themselves as lacking any core ability because the computer in their mind has replaced the skill and craft they once associated with my ability.

Our industry is now inundated with Toolers, who reinforce this poor public perception for what we do. They don't take skill and craft seriously and in essence one could argue they are glorified amateurs who just know more about the software than the general public. Mom and Pop see what they produce and say to themselves "Hey, I can do that too." And thus the Tooler dispensation was born.

Compound this new dispensation with the fact so many designers whore themselves via sites like www.Crowdspring.com, and art schools are flooding the landscape with software savvy, marketing clueless, concept weak, drawing inept students at the tune of about 16,000 every six months (Stats from 2001) and you see the not so pretty big picture that is the future of the design industry.

As for me and my creative convictions I refuse to celebrate mediocrity. But I digress.

How to Recognize a Zombie Designer
When ever I look at design there are "5" specific attributes I look for when I critique it.

1. Is there a core concept?
Great designers should be great thinkers.

2. Is the style appropriate?
It's commercial art, not fine art.

3. Is the art well executed and precise?
Quality craftsmanship is a must.

4. Is it unique?
Don't be a drop in the sea of marginal prefab design.

5. Is it inspiring?
Does it contain a clever visual twist or metaphor?

How these attributes break down for me.

Great Design
Contains all five attributes but is very rare.

Good Design
Must contain 1, 2 and 3. Most often 4 too.

Marginal Design
Only contains two attributes, fails the rest.

Bad Design
Most manage to avoid all five attributes.

I realize not all clients need high-concept solutions so that much isn't ironclad in my critique, it needs to be balanced appropriately for each client and I go over all of that here.

A Tooler however dwells in the realm of "Marginally Bad" and only enters "Good" by accident or by deriving or copying another persons work. Because of this modus operandi and the current trend with prefab design methods, our industry has legions of zombie designers that choose to feed off the corpse of incurious creativity.

Know your Tooler: Computer, check. Turtleneck, check. Thick framed glasses, check. Flawed creative process, check.

The Creative Industrial Complex
Toolers are more than willing to do work for sweat shop pay grade sites like Crowdspring.com, iStockPhoto.com or logoworks.com? Their actions facilitate a growing problem being pimped by multi-national corporations like Getty and HP, who wish to turn the design industry into a mere fast-food commodity revenue stream, or as I like to call it "The Creative Industrial Complex." Makes me wonder if HP's new logo was done by their own logoworks.com for a mere $299, or if a big agency did it for a lot more? Either way it's still a piece of crap.

Mark my words, it's just a matter of time before you see a "LogoMaker" or "InstaLogo" kiosk in Office Depot stores that allows Joe Consumer to design their own logo or business cards etc. Think about it, they have the computer end covered being HP and the design side would be facilitated by the Toolers. So this business model is possible because of designers willing to create the low grade content this type of system depends and thrives on.

And to further complicate the matter and confuse the general publics perception of what we do you have so-called industry leaders like Paula Scher creating prefab design templates for the owners of Logoworks.com.

Which brings up the obvious question "Would Paula design a logo for $299?"

Toolers are to these sites, what a moth is to a bug zapper. But to see talented designers cater to this problematic formula albeit sincere, are sincerely wrong.

Fast Food Design.

Big agencies like Pentagram, Landor, Wieden Kennedy, Leo Burnett and others for the most part don't care about these issues, they think it's below them. They're too busy working for million dollar multi-national clients like HP. But the vast majority of the design being done in our industry isn't by big agencies for multi-national corporations, it's being done by boutique firms and designers like you and me creating for small business owners.

So Toolers whoring their design through sites like Crowdspring.com, iStockPhoto.com and Logoworks.com effects everyone including the big agencies whether they want to admit it or not.

Most of the major design publications have avoided any in depth and honest debate on this topic. Sure there have been a few sidebar articles but never once has any publication done a full-blown expose on this topic. And no surprise, just look at thier advertising and you'll see why. It caters to Toolers. At least the AIGA has attempted to address it in a general sense but they never bother to get too specific and name names, that is what blogging is for I guess?

The fast food design generation is here. So, would you like fries with that design? How about super-sizing your logo perhaps?

Toolers are creative comrades.

Creative Communism
As I thought about what the editor had asked me to do, I started to think to myself "This isn't like you're drawing from thin air? You're just drawing from reference, so why try to short cut it by auto-tracing? It'll just look like crap and you'll never get it to be as well thought out or precise as you do from drawing it. Besides what they liked wasn't created by avoiding drawing."

It's like someone enjoying a wonderful meal at a nice restaurant, appreciating the eloquent cuisine of a gifted chef and asking for the recipe. The chef writes it down and they look at it and ask him to replace ingredients because it'll be too hard for them to cook. Of course this is an absurd request and if granted it certainly won't taste like what they enjoyed to begin with. It's not just the change in ingredients, it's also the lack of skill and craft involved in cooking those ingredients. (All analogies fail at some point, but you get my drift)

Creativity is all about exploring. If you don't fail, that means you're not trying hard enough. Some however seem to think a process shouldn't involve any risk? When sharing a process like my tutorial there is a mindset that thinks it should enable everyone to do it via some method that doesn't require any learned skill, just the knowledge of what to click next. I'd call that creative communism, red art if you will.

"If you view my tutorial and you determine that you can't do the drawing part too well, than the tutorial has taught you something. You need to improve on your drawing skills. That is what growing as a designer is all about."

Download "Stylized Portrait Illustration" PDF below.

Anyone Can Improve Their Drawing
I think drawing is very important as a designer. Whether or not you ever want to be a full-blown illustrator or not isn't the point. Improving your drawing skills will make you a better designer period the end. You'll be able to take the intangible idea in your head and flesh it out on paper, it's that simple.

In the following video Milton Glaser discusses the importance of drawing.


When I spoke at the HOW Design Conference in Boston (I've updated my presentation since HOW) I made the following statement concerning the creative process:

"Our industry may be digitally driven but ideas are still best developed in analog form."

That'll never change no matter how advanced our technology gets. So step away from your computer, grab a pencil (It's that yellow thing not tethered to a keyboard), start drawing, stop whining, take some creative risks and see where it leads you.

In other words "Don't be a Tooler!"

Download Tutorial PDF
"Stylized Portrait Illustration" PDF Tutorial
IllustrationClass.com Tutorial Post

PS: If you'd like me to present my step by step creative process presentation called "Illustrative Design" at your design event, AIGA group, AdFed group, Design School or program just contact me and we'll talk. (See top right side bar)


Melissa Barton said...

You outdid yourself here. I completely agree with you on so many points. It is that lack of understanding of the creative process that seems to truly be missing.
As a blogger, you might have made this a "series" though. I had a hard time getting through your whole piece but will bookmark it to review again later.
Thanks for your "rant" ;-)

Jet Girl said...

wait... your saying there is a dropdown tool that will auto trace stuff? not in MY illustrator!

Emily Lozano said...

Brilliant! It saddens me to see more and more logo "factories" online. It cheapens our collective product. We need to educate clients that the prerequisite for being a designer is not a having a computer, it's having design skills. Good job.

John Moorehead said...

What a breath of fresh air. Thanks for writing this.

I especially like this:
"1. Is there a core concept?
Great designers should be great thinkers."

When it gets tough I think to myself: "If the design is not coming easily you're doing it right." Failing is still better because you learn from it. Push that idea!

Brandstacker said...

Seriously excellent post.

I do have to ask why people have a problem with Brandstack? (aside from the majority of their users being toolers at best). What do the rest of you do with unused concepts? Is it unethical to try and make a few bucks by selling them at Brandstack?

Von, if someone wanted to purchase your unused "advanced air" concepts, would you sell them?

I'd like to know your thoughts on selling unused works and/or concepts that were created for fun.

StudioXIII said...

I agree with this 100%. You make great points. As an illustrator it shocks me how many designers just copy or use filters/plugins and call it their work.

A personal pet-peeve is using auto-painting in Painter and calling it a digital painting that you did, when all you did was import a photo and press a button, but I digress.

Every designer should know the value of a pencil, of the conceptual process and of the need to pre-work ideas.

TonyM said...

Your argument is flawed, I personally draw everything on paper before I touch keyboard. However You presume all clients require a concept to brand a company... simply not true. for a vast majority of start-ups for example (the very people who require a logo for anything) they can simply apply a logo to templates and hey presto... instant stationery. Their budgets don't reach to your high perch and never will... In comes spec design.

A logo is nothing if not backed up by a company ethos and service no matter how great... I would invest money there first before asking a professional designer for a shiny new thing.

I agree with the concept, but the reality is you are preaching to the congregation. Try the same speech on a prospective client, and see what you walk away with.

As for people 'whoring' themselves... it smacks of someone who's been thinking about this far too much for too long. good luck with that.

lavachickie said...


Michael said...

Good post... and I totally agree.

When I first started in my career, there were plenty of people who got Daddy to buy them a new Mac and all of a sudden they were "graphic designers". Even then, I had to differentiate myself from them just like we do now. It's just that there's a lot more of them nowadays since the cost of entry is relatively lower.

I try to take it as a kick in the rear to step up my game and actively make myself more valuable to my employer/clientele.

When it comes down to it, there are people who know why they're hiring a "good" designer/illustrator and people who will never know the difference no matter what they are shown. Kinda like having a market for a Rolex and a market for "Pssst. Hey, buddy. Wanna buy a watch?" The people who are going to want a genuine Rolex will seek out and pay for such. The people buying watches from a guy in a trenchcoat aren't ever going to cost Rolex any business, because they'd just as soon do without.

Former Logoworker said...

You should visit Logoworks/HP's offices in Utah. I think you'd be pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere and the people. It is a busy place to work, but hardly the sweatshop you seem to think it is.

As a senior designer I was paid $60k a year, which is the 50th percentile according to AIGA. I also had full medical, dental, vacation time, 401k, and stock options.

I'm not saying it was all roses and ponies, and yes some of the work sucked, but it is that way at ANY studio, any where. It is impossible for it to be all good all the time, in any industry--not just design.

Overall, I was treated well at LW, liked my co-workers, had the latest Mac equipment (Yes, even at HP we had Macs--ironic I know), and had an enjoyable living.

The only reason I left, was for something even better.

Vonster said...


Correct me if I'm wrong but Logoworks.com also has an off-site network of designers too. Not all designs are being executed from the in house designers. Maybe that has changed in the past few years?

But the situation still begs the same question I'd ask Paula Scher:

"Would you design a logo for $299 for your own clients?"

If you would than that is problematic at best. If you wouldn't than maybe you can understand the majority in our industry who view this type of business in a negative light.


Terry said...

Dude, great post! I myself am a veteran designer---having worked in-house for 14 years, and now full-time solo for the past year---who still believes in starting each project with a marker pad in hand. But, believe it or not, I no longer cast the "prefab design" industry in such a negative light as before. Because in this world of small clients being able to afford less and less of my "custom" work all the time, I've found myself evolving into two separate businesses to survive: My "Premium" design services are geared toward the agency/studio crowd, and my "Standard" services/products allow me to continue serving my Startup clients without going broke.

But even those standard, "prefab" services/products are based on original designs, and blood/sweat/tears that I've put in, on the front end, to create a good product. It's just that my lower-end clients now get to take advantage of the same quality that I provide my heavy-hitters. I mean, my dream as a designer is to finally reach the point where I can design my specialty logos all day long, for top-shelf clients---but my "reality" hasn't got there yet. No need poo-poo'ing on reality, dude---just gotta take it as it comes.

But seriously, great post---and between you and me, I listen to Freelance Radio primarily to hear your advice!

Robgl322 said...

Communist Design - Ouch! But I here what you're saying.

kerrie said...

I agree with a lot of your points.

As primarily an illustrator, I start all of my pieces with pencil on paper, but I do a lot of computer editing. I do only have a stylus (no mouse), so I'm still drawing in a very traditional way.

It always amazes me when someone asks, "You can draw?" They somehow think I illustrate using clip art. I just don't get that mentality.

My bigger frustration is with "just-out-of-school" kids who really don't know how to use typography. That also seems to be missing in a lot of designers bag of tricks.

Catherine said...

Informative article Von. You should get fed up more often...

Erin said...

Oh, Von - I love you. :) Well-written and well-reasoned, as usual. If only more people listened to you. :)

I also think you hit on a very important point, which is that true designers are always looking to improve themselves, whether it's their design skills, their software skills, their conceptual skills, etc. True designers always want to be better at their craft and push themselves to do so.

Dave Waite said...

Excellent, well-thought-out piece, Von. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Destroying Röy said...

Von, great article!

I sell computers and printers at Office Depot, and as a matter of fact, Office Depot's Copy and Print department has been offering services from HP Logoworks for more than a year now. Granted it's done over the internet, and I haven't heard a single customer ask about the service. But it's there and available on your lunch break!

Gabriel said...

my favorite part:
"...and they proceed to associate what they do on a hack PC in their spare time using Microsoft Paint, prefab templates, Comic Sans font, and clip-art with what I do as a professional for a living."

this is all too common, but this ignorance comes with not having ever used a Mac, Adobe and thought of all the work behind every piece of print media they see... everything from candy wrapper or a potato chip bag, to the 10 story mesh on their office building...

Im going to keep in mind the anti-tooler, zombie designer 5 Qs u have

again thanks 4 this blog entry

Tabatha said...

Kudos for not 'selling out' like that. Hurrah!

Louis said...

In a previous comment for this post someone wrote that you’re preaching to the choir but I don’t believe that to be the case. You’re well respected in the industry. A number of young designers are likely to read this post. You’re reiterating what they are hopefully being taught in school – the importance of good drawing skills and conceptual thinking as a strong foundation for successful design.

A good foundation is the key to success. A similar analogy might be music. How many people when they first take guitar lessons want to learn Smoke On The Water instead of learning the pentatonic scales? Learn the scales - play any song. Learn one song – play one song.

I wonder how many people with GarageBand think they’re composers.

grafikdetail said...

great job von!!

1cc said...

Although right when mentioning what makes Design good, you failed miserably in explaining the reasons why. Like TonyM said above: Design is not about honor. We are not Samurais, and we don't have a code to follow.

As much as it pains me to, I won't press my client in doing what I think is right, if he insists in having it his way. I'll do what he likes, and get paid.

Besides, for every single one of your works (and I've seen all of those that you have online on your websites), I could point one or several more flaws. And I could, even though I'm a rather young and rookie designer (wrapping up my studies). Yet, I notice gigantic mistakes that you make in terms of concept, originality, and readability.

You're not a bad designer in theory, but your creativity is completely off. Your works are too cartoonish (and to be honest, remind me of most toolers' works, even thou you start the concept by hand, it ends up mostly the exact same way), for a simple reason.

I'll tell you what that is:

You use the exact same techniques on most of your works OVER and OVER again. And THAT makes you a tooler. It limits you. And you've been doing it for so long now, that you'll probably have a hard time letting go.

Rounding off pointy edges, mirroring stuff, and using textures randomly (specially on that summer festival poster.. which looked decent before you put the texture on it). Those are just 3 issues you have when designing. The rest of them revolve around drawing absolutely nothing that looks realistic enough (everything is a children's book to you), and most of your work involving typography gets completely slaughtered by your lack of attention to detail and disrespect for fonts.

You could be called the pope of Design, and I would still think about it the same way. I actually used to defend you when several colleagues of mine, and even teachers, pointed out the flaws so obviously present in your works. And only after really opening my eyes did I start to notice the idiocy.

Anyhow, remember.. Your theory is in tip-top condition. You just have to improve practise. I don't doubt you draw increadibly well.. but your work is dull. It wouldn't be, if it didn't look all alike.

Probably late now, but I didn't mean to be mean or rash. Everyone has an opinion, and sometimes that opinion is plain stupid, or based on gibberish. Not the case though, and I'd advise you on doing one big introspection on your works.

Print them, put them on the floor of your living room, and take a good look.

See the similarities? That's the issue. Limitations.

And I apologize, since English's not my native language. I live in Portugal.


Brad Thomas said...


Thanks for fiery post. I'm encouraged to pursue drawing more aggressively and beware getting sucked into the "Tooler" movement. Thanks again.


Beth said...

While I don't disagree with anything, really, I think that there are times and jobs where sometimes, honestly, it is just about getting the job done or making something pretty. Sometimes a client actively rejects a strong concept or sometimes you have two hours to push out a flyer, so you do it. I guess what I'm saying is - while I always try to strive for better (and think we all should), there's a time and place for being average too :)

Mike Erickson said...

1cc, Von has given back to the design community more than any designer I know of. One of the most creative people I know. Show some respect. A very skilled, versatile and professional designer. Jealousy comes out in the weirdest ways sometimes and in any language. thanks for your unlimited advice and tips Von I appreciate everything you do Family,Community and all.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Wonderfully put, Von. I believe that any designer, regardless of success, will creatively die unless they improve their artistic skill in some way.

Making the artwork come from the heart and soul adds the certain creative dash that can take a design from weak to solid or solid to amazing.

To anyone who disagrees with you, I'd just say look at Von's work. He knows whereof he speaks. You can't argue with that style.

Anonymous said...

How do you say "douche" in spanish? I think JN needs to go back to his studies and give his ego a rest. Nice post on sticking to your roots.. it may not be everyone's method, but I can see your point.

DaveG said...

Bravo! Well said. Although I'm not a designer (or an artist) and yes, I couldn't draw a straight line if someone tossed me a ruler (that's why I'm willing to pay for a professional high-quality designer!), I face the same stupidity as a professional writer-editor. When I tell folks "I'm a writer" or "I'm a technical writer"--I get the response, "Oh, I've always liked writing, one of these days I'll write a novel" or "We don't hire tech writers, we have our engineers do the writing."

Yeah, right. At least with design, art, and photography, folks can readily admit (maybe not as frequently now as they did before Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and digital cameras), that they don't have a clue. But with writing, hardly anyone will admit that they have a spelling problem, a grammar problem, or even an English language problem (even if it's obvious from their writing that they DO have the problem!).

But nowadays, companies and clients want *cheap*... and they are outsourcing and offshoring jobs wholesale. And usually getting crap back. But because they have no educated discernment, they don't recognize that what they are getting is crap.

I've assembled some of the goofiness I've had to put up with at my Blog on Editorial Rants and my Squidoo Lenses on Editing and Writing. I'm definitely going to link to your blog from some of my lenses--as well as I'll be forwarding this to many of my designer friends who are also frustrated with what's happening to the perception of our crafts.

Thank you so much for expressing this problem so eloquently!

pListOFF said...

1cc said… "As much as it pains me to, I won't press my client in doing what I think is right, if he insists in having it his way. I'll do what he likes, and get paid."

1. Your #1 job is to do WHAT'S BEST FOR YOUR CLIENT. That sometimes mean protecting them from themselves. The client may have likes or dislikes but that doesn't make them right - it just means they have opinions.

2. Getting paid IS NOT the goal - presenting your client's image in the best possible light you can IS. If your client insists on doing something hazardous to this result, take your kill fee and walk away from it (What - No kill fee? What NO CONTRACT? Guess what? Not professional!)

3. It is better to walk away from a job that will sully your reputation than to have poor work in the public you have to hide from or try to explain. (If you're under a retainer you may have no (or less) recourse but that's also why you negotiate a contract, right?!)

4. There are better Artists than you, me, or Vonster but not necessarily ones with a better reputation. Your reputation is sacred - guard it with everything you have - it's very often the trump card in getting more work.

You have a lot to learn, my friend.

PS: What you see as self-same in Vonster's work is part of what draws clients to him. He has a well defined style that is mature are very recognizable. Being a master of Layer Effects in Photoshop (or some other silly notion of being a master) is having no style at all. It is also the same crap that about 20 million other people can do.

Mauricio Cosío said...

"I'll do what he likes, and get paid"

Oh, man... I hope he never goes to a doctor who has the same working philosophy.

What are you hiring a PRO for, then?

I believe Von is right in each point; some of you might not like it, or might not understand it; or prefer to go the easy way around, which I believe is mediocre and precisely the main subject in this post.

It happens with designers, it happens with politicians and everyone... what are we aiming for? just getting paid? Come on! What kind of thoughts are that in a "professional"... ?

Sean Hodge said...

Hey Von,

Love the rant. The 5 points you mention for critiquing design are great. I'm a big fan of your illustration process and it's been great working through your tutorials.

Encouraging people to draw seems kinda obvious to me. If you want to illustrate, then you need to learn to draw. At the very least, you should have a good drawing education or loads of practice. Though there are some very talented illustrators that have successfully built there creative process to the point that they are 100% digital. That doesn't mean they can't draw traditionally, but that their workflow doesn't require a pencil. Some can jump right into Illustrator and work directly with the Pen tool or brush, others use a Wacom in Photoshop as examples. Also, there are some illustrative styles that are less drawing intensive, such as photo manipulation based styles, though a traditional drawing and painting background will certainly help here.

The best tool is the ability to visualize, which means using your minds eye. And then practicing a workflow which delivers excellent results. Also, aside from drawing, photo references can be a big help.

I think you could replace your pencil with a Wacom if you wanted to and put some time into it. Or at least you could use it instead sometimes.

Beginner designers should have fun learning digital tools, and create artwork the best they can with them, but don't ignore developing traditional artistic approaches.

My own drawing skills are mediocre, but that's what I do in the evening and weekends is practice drawing. I'm mostly practicing drawing characters at the moment, but I throw in some traditional drawing exercises when I feel inspired as well.


MWorrell said...

Von, I agree with you, but I do have to say that every trade has its hacks and its craftsmen... that's just life on earth. And in a way, a perfectionist craftsman who far overshoots what the client is looking for in terms of cost or time spent is just as bad a designer as the person who lacks some basic design talent.

I'm capable of great design... there are always flaws, but I have had my moments. But not every client wants that. There is some appalling design out there, but it meets a demand. You can be Saks Fifth Avenue, someone else can be Walmart. You have different customers.

apriltarablog said...

Great article! Love your work!

I actually work for one of the "Logo Mills" out there and speaking from my side of things...for me it has been a substantial in building style and experience in the design marketplace. You are given full creativity for the most part and can even work on your client communication skills to boot. I actually sent this post to my co-workers.... some of which were peeved and others completely agree. But I think one point a fellow coworker made was that our type of clients are going to be your small business discount folks...none of which would EVER spend gobs of money on a Logo.

However, we do provide the best work that we possibly can, some of us are extremely talented and hit every one of your "Great Designer" points...It's almost like We're getting great design out to the Mom and Pops that truly need it, but can't afford substantial costs in this area. Its one of those chicken or the egg situations...

PLUS, you have to keep in mind that alot of us are just starting out in the design world. For me it has been a huge blessing in that it has gotten my feet wet...so to speak. I have actaully earned the respect of some of these bargin bin clients and they continue to seek my services outside of the company I work for. All of which is great for trying out the freelance side as well.

Overall, we get it and we agree. Unfortunately we are all in a place in our lives where having that steady job, gaining experience, gaining skill, and having that reference is more important than graphic designer honor and integrity (whatever that may be).

Your article has however opened my eyes and has inspired me to try for more!! Thank you so much! and again your work is awesome! :)April

Erin said...

So true. I can NOT stand people who think they can create what I do by clicking a button. I'm a very meticulous artist, so when I undertook a project of drawing a portrait of my sisters and myself, it took me months and MONTHS. I gave my very prized drawing to my mom for mother's day. (Now, let me tell you, I'm not full of myself AT ALL. In fact, there are only a few projects that I am COMPLETELY proud of, and this is one of them.)
A few weeks later I overheard my mom tell my dad, "I just scanned a picture and clicked a button and created a drawing as beautiful as Erin's! I can SELL these!" ....ug.

Ujval said...

Beautiful one... I gone through all post.. Amazing work..

Vonster said...

1cc (JN),

In regards to your "Pope of Design" comment:

1. I never wear pointed hats.
2. I'm certainly not impeccable
3. I'm not celibate
4. My opinion isn't Ex Cathedra

So I guess that means your attempt at humor isn't funny either? But I digress.

You're entitled to your opinion too so I won't debate you regarding your various attack statements. I think the truth is self-evident for everyone to see.

I will address one point you made. But I need to preface my response by mentioning that I've done work for no other reason than to pay bills. Everyone does that. That's life, but it's certainly not my primary creative goal as a designer and I don't let the client steer my decision to do so either.

You said "As much as it pains me to, I won't press my client in doing what I think is right, if he insists in having it his way. I'll do what he likes, and get paid."

Well you are nothing more than an extension of your clients arm going that route. A methodology that does that all the time results in a portfolio that simply won't reflect your potential but rather the limited vision of your clients.

Everyone wants to do the best job they can but that isn't always possible but there is nothing wrong with wanting to live up to that ideal and in that pursuit do the best job you can.

I know a lot of illustrators that I'd consider way better than I am but it's also a vastly different genre and client than I work with. My client and project types dictate the style and if the goal of illustration was to illustrate everything realistically then what is the point? Just shoot a photo.


Jeff said...

In regards to the people who think that learning Photoshop makes one a designer, there is a phrase which applies:

"The music is not in the piano."

sourced to Clement Mok, as best I can determine

jojo said...

Von, I love your work, love the "style" of it. Follow your blog, and follow you on twitter. Your work is always fun, fresh, colorful, and illustrated great. But i would never classify you as a graphic desinger. You're an illustrator.

I'm a bit dismayed to see how you trash Paula Sher like that though. As she is no tooler. What she has ultimately done is brilliant, she sees an avenue that will bring good design to the masses. People that don't know any better. She in essence is raising the bar in this particular effort. Not lowering it. Nor minimizing what you do. She is a graphic designer in every sense of the word.

I whole heartedly agree with the arguements of "toolers" and what they do to our overall devaluing, but this instance, with Paula i think you're off the mark.

Vonster said...

This may be semantics but I don't refer to myself as an "Illustrator" or as a "Designer," I refer to myself as an "Illustrative Designer." That defines what makes up the majority of my work. Design projects requiring an illustrative approach.

But, if you want to get right down to it though I am a designer. It's only other designers who tend to want to label me as a mere "Illustrator." And it's only illustrators who tend to want to label me as a mere "Designer." In reality this is a false dichotomy since both skill sets fall under the greater banner of "Graphic Design." I just happen to leverage both in my work on a daily basis.

I didn't trash Paula Scher. And I certainly don't think she is a tooler either. My comments weren't an ad hominem attack of her personally, they were merely directed at specific work she produced that would relate to this post. 

Pointing out what she is doing in regards to the HP templates and questioning it in a fair and open manner isn't a bad thing. You may disagree with the premise for me doing so, but my motivation isn't to slam anyone, it's to simply address a growing problem that manyleaders in our industry seem to avoid like the graphic plague.

I appreciate your comments though.


Kyle T. Webster said...

Best post I've read all year. Thank you.

Louis said...

Von although I do agree with the importance of good drawing skills and conceptual thinking as a strong foundation for successful design, I have to disagree with your reference to the predesigned templates created by Paula Scher. I certainly don't speak for Paula Scher and the HP site wasn't functioning when I visited it so I don't know what kind of templates they're offering, but prefab templates are for business men and women that have the need for professional looking layouts. Those templates aren’t intended for professional designers to lift and call their own. If professional designers use those templates under the pretense that they created them then that action speaks to their integrity not the designer who created them. At least a professional designer was hired to create the templates. Also, the people that use those templates probably wouldn’t hire a professional even if the templates weren’t available. They would probably attempt the layouts themselves in Word or similar software. Simply because many projects, such as internal newsletters, aren’t allocated enough of a budget to a hire a professional designer. Numerous illustrators sell stock illustrations – some frown upon this and others don’t. Why shouldn’t a professional designer be afforded the same options and have the opportunity to offer “stock layouts”?

Topher said...


Amazing post, I totally agree with everything you said.

At first it scares me, that all our clients might start hiring toolers... But then I realized, that no matter what, there will always be those who can tell the difference between a good steak from a fast food burger.

keep cookin' good steaks!

Vonster said...


I understand your point of view and you make several well reasoned arguments. I wasn't talking about a total prohibition about any form of stock services however, I was directing my post towards the companies that facilitate the downgrading of our industry in the bigger picture.

HP does that through their sites like "Logoworks.com" and "LogoMaker.com" and the ones providing the content are for the most part toolers.

I asked the question "Would Paula design a logo for $299?" because she chose to create prefab design for the company who serves up fast food prefab design. Maybe it's just me but I see that as problematic.

I doubt Scher would create templates to help Joe Consumer avoid hacking together something in Word and instead buy them from TemplateMonster.com. Why is that? Well I'd bet it's because they don't have the perceived equity that an HP does nor the ability to pay her what she would need to make it fair or profitable.

And that is the fundamental problem with prefab. It's not being facilitated by those who know better it's being fueled by those who don't care, it's just another way to get at least a little coin designing for no client. Glorified student work if you will.

But eventually they'll realize the futility of their creative ways and will change their tune once they have to pay a mortgage each month. Then the next generation of toolers will fill in and the vicious cycle continues and the poor public perception deepens.

But I digress.


Louis said...

So is it correct to say that you’re not against the fact that she served up “stock layouts”? It’s her decision to partner with hp, the owner of the sites, Logoworks.com and LogoMaker.com, that is questionable and the root of a larger problem?

It would be interesting to know if she would indeed do it for a smaller company such as TemplateMonster.com. Although TemplateMonster.com offers logo templates and corporate identity packages also so they wouldn’t be the proper company either. Perhaps her motives were well intended but she chose the wrong vehicle. None of us would be able to say for certain. She would have to address that herself – and hopefully honestly. If her decision was purely driven by monetary gain and she knowingly disregarded the negative effects of the aforementioned sites, then you would be correct in suggesting that she’s aiding in the obliteration of her own industry.

Maybe further discussions of Paula Scher lead off topic. We agree on the fundamental principle that sound drawing skills and conceptual thinking are a strong foundation for successful design.

Anonymous said...

"How to Recognize a Zombie Designer" -

You should also be taking into consideration the designers client direction. You can do those 5 steps all day long and any seasoned professional knows the deisn is only as good as the client allows and pay's for. just because the clients demand for a direction does not mean the work is not great for what is is. Look beyond your own style and aesthetics.

This is very junior level thinking if that is all you are critique on. While I understand those elements as good steps for someone just learning the craft in school - these steps should not be used solely to judge one's overall talent.

Maybe we should also realize not all have the opportunity to turn down a $299 logo job. People need to start somewhere and be able to live and eat to survive.

Terry said...

One thing is for certain, Von. Your comments surely set off what became an entertaining debate! Keep the rants coming...


Chad said...

I would leave a witty thought out comment to your post. I would attempt to encompass the amount of time that you put into this post to beat down the banter and weak sauce "I can has design" approach society is starting to take because their son has photoshop and he's 10 and never had any schooling but he's a "designer".

I would try to improve on this post but, I don't know if I can. You honestly did such an outstanding job that even now Sept, 26th 2009 the post still rings true. Even after Crowdspring has taken off and iStock photo is going to be selling logos.

My hat is off to you sir. Empowering, amazing & just damn brilliant writing. It made me think, challenged me and reflect.

-Chad Engle

Dan said...

Von, you have two different (incompatible) rants going on here:
1) You encourage designers to operate at their highest potential, be the best you can be, don't take the easy way out, etc... Great Stuff, Love It!

2) You chastise clients who are not looking for, don't need and will never hire that kind of designer. It's like becoming upset at goldfish (and the people who serve them) for not understanding and buying your skills.

Weak, student-level thinking.

Emmanuel Gilloz - Wat said...

I read all the post and comments and I can’t agree more with the main topic off a (recurent) misperception in the creation.
It’s even worst in France, where when we said « i’m a designer », people don’t really know what is it, though…(I exaggerate a little but not so much)
In the same way I read in a comment, I’d like to say : A good tool don’t make a good user. But unfortunately today there is so many "good tools ready to use", and less and less persons who simply spend the time to « think ».

Evidently there is a problem. But, in a larger view, for you where it is ?
Masses who aren’t well-educated ?
Peoples who don’t care ?
Peoples who think they must have everything, instantly and for nothing ?
Media and ads who sell that « dream » ?
Or it’s simply the age of stupidity ? (I had to watch this film a day…)

Even if the global wisdom of the humanity improve slightly than somes centuries ago (and I’m not sure of that point), today, this « level » is also to low to compensate the foolishness of our specie.
To go back about « logo » that’s remind me an interview viewed not so far : http://www.designinvestigator.com/?p=159 , and the last question about… « bid sites for logo, price down etc. » I like the answer.

Finally I don’t know if I can pretend me a designer, but sure I’m a sort of.
My « traditionals » drawings skills are not awesome, but I think a lot. And because of that peoples thought I’m weird (and maybe there rights sometimes…) but often when I ask them a question I’ve only a blank for response.

A day I’ll post the diagramm that I’ve done recently after a bunch of trys (it’s probably also my logo), it’s began with somes sketches and passed trough a variety of tools.
I created this to explain what are the fields of design in a way to be understood by other (with somes exemples of objects), even if they never heard anything about design before.
It seems to works. Somes tests, and after I’ll see.

Sorry for the possibles mistakes, I’m french ;)
Bonne continuation !

mave said...

Excellent post, Von. I'm a big fan of you and your work, and it's for all the same reasons I hate toolers (great term that will come in very handy, thanks!). Contrary to what goofball said up there, your work is finely crafted and has a strong conceptual basis that answers key communication needs. Just because the toolers often copy your style, that doesn't mean your work is tooler-ish. Chicken and egg, my friend.

I run a graphic design community on LiveJournal - a large, diverse community of designers from every level, but many of them are young and/or starting out. One of the most commonly asked questions is "Do I need to know how to draw to be a designer?" I think a fair answer is, "No, you don't, but if you want to be a really good designer, you should have strong drawing skills." That's part of the practice, part of the hard work of becoming good at what you do. It's an important part of learning how to conceptualize and execute unique, high quality work.

It's not unlike knife skills for a chef. I'm sure they could cook something excellent without using those skills, but it's partly those skills, that practice - that hard work that enabled them to take their craft to the next level - to where they can create something without using/needing those skills. That's part of the paradox of excellence. As they say, "Learn the rules so you can know how to break them."

I hear a lot of people say that logo sites, "crowdsourcing" (one of the most vile euphemisms of our time), and so forth are frequented by "clients who can't afford to pay our premium prices", and that our arguments against spec work somehow lack validity because we would never charge what those clients could afford. I think that's an extremely weak argument for a variety of reasons, and it assumes we're arguing for our own sake - that we see those scenarios as lost opportunities for client work.

The reality is, we're not arguing for our sake alone - we are arguing for ourindustry, our community, and for the people most hurt by this type of thing - those just starting out, who need that type of mom-and-pop, SOHO business to build their experience and cut their teeth on. Every designer needs strong, hands-on client skills, and every client at every level can benefit greatly from having a consultative relationship with someone who is going to work hard at coming up with a customized, individual approach to their specific communication needs.

Younger designers who choose to work with spec services and "contests" are hurting their careers. They are building up their design skills in a vacuum, without any client experience and without that all-important process of conceptualizing and consulting. A huge part of learning/building strong design skills comes from that client relationship, and from that process of briefing, conceptualizing and developing alongside the client and all their attendant preferences, whims and expectations. If I were hiring a designer, I'd choose one with client experience over one who'd won "contests" and worked spec sites. Every day of the week. I don't want... I don't need... nay - I'd openly AVOID working with a tooler, no matter how shiny their work may be. As would anyone in the industry who knows where quality comes from.

These small businesses are hurting themselves by working with spec services, too. For all the same reasons. They aren't going to build a brand or get any experience in managing their image - they aren't going to build an appreciation for the importance of marketing/communications - by working with Lee press-on logos. They just aren't. A client who has an opportunity to work hands-on with a designer has so much to gain from that process, and not just in terms of the "final product". I've watched it happen many times. Clients I worked with who were really new to working with a designer and really new to the whole idea of "branding" going on to become savvy marketers because they had the opportunity to see first-hand the principles and value of good communication design.

mave said...

And as for Paula Scher, she joins the long list of people and organizations in the industry who have let me, who have let all of us, down. Our community needs champions and advocates at every level. In the same way I stand up for those coming up behind me, I fully expect those ahead of me to do the same. No, there's nothing necessarily wrong with her creating quality templates - I think layout templates are a valid use of design - but doing so without making her position clear to all regarding where the boundaries lie is just irresponsible. She should know better than that. She should realize her silence and her template work will lead to assumptions that will hurt the industry.

I just wanted to close on one final note. A bone to pick, in a sense. I really take strong exception to the use of "PC" as some kind of slur. It's bigoted and asinine. Politically it's just a really indefensible stance to take, to state or even imply that someone's choice of platform determines the quality of their work or of their character. If you're not a tooler, then stop wearing your tools on your sleeve, Mac zealots.

Vonster said...


I appreciate your comments, very well spoken.

Don't take too much offense as me using "PC" in a derogatory sense. The majority of machines and operating systems are "PC" and the very fact they are cheap (both in price and in many cases quality) they've facilitated the growing problem. So it was more of a percentage call really.

That said one could also argue that the Mac makes it so easy to do things that it caters to the growing problem as well. So tools are tools.

I have friends who work on PC's and do great work. I think good ideas don't require allegiance to any one platform, but oh what a beautiful platform the Mac is. But I digress.

What can I say I'm a Mac addict since Apple II days.


mave said...

Fair enough - I love my PC (although for much of my career I was a Mac addict and I still can use/enjoy both systems), and I don't think there's anything wrong with being vocal about what we love. The only point I'd caution you on is in appearing to denigrate other people's preferences in any way. Just as I think it's important for Paula Scher to make her support of the industry clear, I think it's important for high-profile people in the industry to show their respect for everyone's right to use whatever equipment they choose, and not fall in line with attempts to polarize us all based on platform. It's just in extremely poor taste, and not in ANYone's best interests (except, of course, the corporations selling the gear).

Just say no to Mac-vs-PC foolishness! Shame on anyone who plays that game.

Drew said...


Had bookmarked this post ages ago, and just now got around to reading it. Just wanted to make sure and send kudos for what I think is a brilliant article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently and passionately.

Still looking forward to the day I see that expose on this topic in a major design publication.

Drew Davies
Oxide Design Co.

Vonster said...


Well I've floated this article (Offering to re-write it) for a design publication but none of them responded.

Design publications are dependent upon ad revenue from the "Creative Industrial Complex" so it's no surprise they won't willingly kick a hornets nest.

Everyone knows it exists, the industry can debate it openly online via blogs like mine and others but the mighty dollar trumps good journalism be it a design publication or not.


Heather said...

Agreed. First time I've come across your blog, and I found myself enthralled by the whole thing; had to mention that first.

I think you're right with regards to most of the tutorials though. I'm not a graphic designer, I'm more of a 3D person (though I'd like to learn). Same deal there though, if you can do something step by step and not think about why then there's a tutorial or several on it. Suppose I've been guilty of writing a couple on my blog, though when I do I try to add in elements like 'research' and 'reference' (surprising how often those are neglected). Or I teach only the tools and don't spell out how they can be used, I like those more, it tends to require you to think a bit.

Anyway, before I deviated, I wanted to say that reading tutorials stops helping you after a point. Love overviews that show the process someone's gone through, but you still have to learn and grow on your own. They're a bit harder to find though. In the land of 3D I've found a few sources there, but less so with graphic design (so I just try to follow the principles whenever I do make something).

Think we need to restructure how tutorials and so on are presented, because its getting to the stage where any fool can follow a tutorial to the letter and make something cool but derivative.

Abbey said...

This is the best article I have read in a LONG time. You have some great points and they will certainly stick with me. It helped me remember design before "tooling days". It seems like clients are in such a hurry for work that they do not understand time and research are very necessary for projects. You have inspired me to get back to pencil and paper when designing logos instead of going directly into Illustrator. Thank you for addressing this topic!

Shannah Pittman said...

I get where you are coming from but don't make your gripes the industry mantra. You look bad and it just looks bad on the industry as a whole.
The reality is that everything is in evolution, and that might suck right now but in time a new wonderful reality will become of it all. You must admit there is a valid and important purpose for the toolers, just as there is for you. But human creativity will not be held down. Just keep your integrity high and embrace the oncoming changes, and likely, you will wash ashore while all the trend-chasing toolers sink away in process-driven self-destruction.
Besides, when AI comes full term all the toolers will be put out of work anyways... at least this is my hope.

golan said...

For usability purposes it would be better if you organize the most recent posts first.

I really enjoyed your article and as a designer i am currently suffering.

I am a designer in Israel working for a design firm that caters the interactive industry.
We mainly do campaigns that include banners and landing pages and we also build and design websites.

I get no more then a day and a half to come up with a home page that has a unique graphic language and GUI for a website that the client pays a grate deal of money for.

This is obviously a joke it is impossible to create anything good in this time frame but the problem is that this are the demands and the time frame and there are a lot of company's like mine in Israel.

As a result I can honestly say that i have definitely became a tooler.

I am currently in the process of getting myself out of there in order to basically save myself.
It is just sad that this kind of practice exist.

Steve said...

Thanks for the list and also, the comments on this article have been as informative as the article itself. Back to work now...

RAWVOLTA said...

Hello everyone.

Great article.

When I am writing down that I am a designer, I always say in my head that I am designer to be. It is just shorter to say : a designer. It always feels like I am not there yet. Maybe the reason for that is the tools one is learned to use at school.
There is too much confusion and I think articles like that should be around. Maybe at some point the client needs to read them as well.

I want to say ask you, Von and anyone who had an opinion for a thought.

The county of a state came to my school and asked for an Identity.
I know that it's very popular to do that, but wouldn't it be better instead of asking 50 people to design something, make them 1. collaborate or 2. take a look at their portfolio and ask few/one to do that. There was a lot of hassle, because you don't have a chance to interact with the client so basically you work blind.

But the most weird part is that they ( county people encouraged by out teacher ) wanted us to submit ai, psd, eps files on top of PDFs.
The official message sent to the people from the board of the county was : YOU CAN PICK AND PAIR AND CHOOSE. So they can brake apart logos/propositions/pieces and make their own one.

I refused to submit anything beyond PDF and it's not because I am so protective, but I think the core of the request sucks, it doesn't do any good for designers/to be, it teaches them a bad lesson and also I am sure after they chop it up there is no chance to be credited.

What do you think about practices like that ?

So, this relates somewhat to what was discussed here I hope.
I love honesty of you, Vonster and I wish all the best!


Vonster said...

I appreciate all the comments regarding this post.

If you have questions please direct them to: http://www.snipurl.com/gsquestions

I'll answer every question and that allows others to benefit from them too.


RAWVOLTA said...

BTW — I am sorry for all typos etc. I was rushing a bit;)

Brian Goulet said...

I probably have a unique perspective on this whole topic. I’m a wood craftsman turned fountain pen maker who sells paper and ink, and I was led to this article by a very tech-savvy friend of mine who has recently taken a keen interest in writing with fountain pens. Strangely enough, the majority of my customers are people that use iPhones and laptops and have very technical jobs with higher degrees of education. They have no ‘need’ for writing on a pen with paper to do their daily work, yet they choose to use physical weekly planners or write letters for correspondence.

HOWEVER, and I think this is where the article was going, there is something about actually using a pen/pencil on paper that can foster a different type (good for some, maybe not as effective for others) of creativity. Most authors will type on a laptop, but there are some that choose to write it out in manuscript using inks with different colors to represent each character in the story. That’s just one example. The whole idea of the ‘dying’ art of the physical medium (which I think applies to the design world just as much as my world of writing) is really a transition from need to desire. When computers made things easier, it made it more accessible to the masses, which flooded the market with amateurs. It’s the same with photography when digital cameras came out, musicians with autotune, and writers with laptops and spell-check.

I think the main idea is that the tools don’t make the designer/artist. Tools are just tools. You need a foundation (whether you get that in school or on your own, which I believe is each individual’s choice), and beyond that you need art. Art is what makes the difference. There is always a challenge to be had when the 'barrier to entry' is lowered by the advancement of technology. Heck, as a wood worker, I might spend 20 hours making one pen case, where you can buy one (not as nice, but functional) on amazon for 1/10th the price from 10 different sellers that all buy from a factory in Taiwan. I suppose the struggle for all of us is how do we redefine ourselves and our art in a world where everything is becoming accessible?

Doug said...

I've been designing for a number of years now. However, I can't draw. Not even a little. I can, however, design. The implication that you have to draw to design is insulting. Drawing, like photoshop is a tool. Your tools make you an artisan, not a designer. You can be a master of drawing but unable to design.

Being able to draw makes you an artist. Knowing what to do with that drawing is what makes you a designer.

Besides, what about the web? It's commonly accepted that the majority of web is typography. So... That's not design? Joseph Müller-Brockman created some amazing posters. They were almost completely typographical.

He's not a designer?

Your ability to draw has absolutely no bearing on your ability to design. They are two completely separate things.

Oh, and I'm not a McDesigner either, another term I find extremely insulting.

heath said...

Seconding @Brian Goulet's points. Eye-hand coordination practice and work builds brain mapping that energizes creative thinking. Words, images, concepts, and shoulder, arm and finger motions, are connected. The more texture under the hand -- variable resistance and response to directional flow -- the more brain stimulation, I think. When I write poetry by hand, it's more dimensional and subtle than that which I compose while typing. When I draw with pencil or soft media on toothed paper, my understanding of what I'm doing is somehow enhanced. About flow and direction, I had lost a lot of my handwriting skills through so many years of not really using them. Recently, to learn how to handle some new brushes in Painter, I did a few hours of repeated oval shapes as practice one night . The next day, my handwriting skills had completely returned. They've faded since... but I don't worry about it, as I used to, as all I need to do to get them back is some hours of directional flow practice with eye and hand.

Vonster said...

Some of you are reading into this post what I never said. I never said you HAVE to draw to be a designer. You don't, that much is obvious.

My point, which some of you fail to see is that the skill set of drawing WILL make you a better designer regardless if you ever want to be an illustrator.

Design is not limited to just graphic arrangement, it also involves the use of illustrative flair for many approaches and the better you are at drawing the better you are at executing those type of approaches.

This was never a debate in art schools of the past, every designer was expected to draw but in todays pre-fabricated marketplace of pull-down menu tactics it's becoming a lost art.

I'm not sure why people insist on taking offense at what I posted? It's not like if you start drawing it'll ruin your creative process. Is it really a problem to suggest that designers should draw more?

It's only the modern design conscience that finds this offensive.

Brian Goulet said...

I got your back on this one. I don't feel that you were negative about designers who don't draw, it was more of a 'try drawing and it'll only make you better'. I typically only write, not draw, but last night i broke out my sketch pads, a marker pen, and some fountain pen inks with a q-tip (for coloring) and I did over 30 pictures. My mind felt so stimulated, and I was coming up with all kinds of ideas to draw. And I don't even have to or need to, I just enjoyed doing it for the mental and creative exercise. I don't care what anyone says, there is just something about working in a physical medium that stimulates creativity in a different way than on a computer. Now whether that's better or worse or more effective...that's going to be an endless debate because it will depend on the individual's preferences. What I find interesting with all of the 'modernist' artists, whether writers, photographers, designers, etc, is that they tend to take such offense to the suggestion that they should build a foundation in the old medium. Yes, technology is great, but you can't forget your roots, and there are some fundamental skills in every area of work that WILL enhance your ability to create, whatever that means for you.

Going with a completely different example, it's like if you want to be a stock trader and you based all of your job on your ability to operate e-trade, and you took insult from someone saying you should have an education in math and finance before getting into trading stocks. The tool makes it easier, but it doesn't make the artist. That's basically what I'm getting from this article.

Joseph said...

I agree with everything except for the failure part. Failure doesn't teach you how to do things right or how to learn, it only teaches you what *not* to do, which sure as hell leaves a lot open on what you should be doing. Failure isn't a right of passage. Like evolution, a mindset on what it is you got right to guide you towards the full picture should be the focus.

Ethan said...

Great discussion here... I think one of the key points you allude to but hasn't really gotten a lot of attention here is the importance of a concept. Design is problem solving, and identifying the needs of a project and coming up with a solution are the first steps. I can't count the number of times a client has come to me saying "we want it to look like such and such, why don't you put together a comp and we'll give you content later?"

Different solutions call for different tools and I think a true designer understands this and can pick the appropriate tools for the job. Whereas a "tooler" has only a sledgehammer at their disposal and uses the one-design-fits-all approach. While Josef Muller-Brockman's final pieces were not created with a pencil, he devoted a portion of Grid Systems to the importance of planning with thumbnail sketches and his examples are impeccable, just like his posters.

Software does not give you the ability to make appropriate choices in the design process. Only experience, intuition and understanding of the craft can do this and yes, a big part of that comes from making mistakes and learning from them. One of the things I love most about being a designer is the constant progression of my ability, I almost always cringe when I look at my work that is more than a few months old and can't imagine how boring things would be if I didn't.

Sorry for the rant, thanks for the excellent article and following discussion.

kinger said...

I decent artist will always be capable of producing better results.

You remind me of photographer's who used to say that digital would ruin their trade. NO, it just raises the bar.

Nene said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this article, I actually found it posted on Smashing Magazine's site yesterday, bookmarked it and couldn't wait to read it. You took the words right out of my mouth! All the frustrations finally clarified into an eloquent argument.

I haven't drawn in years, I know it's awful, and it makes me sad. I draw sketches of my sites, very rough ones, but I'd like to do more, and your article has further persuaded me to make the time to do so. I love sending articles like yours to my boss who wants to rush through every design (I usually never get enough time to even research). Thanks again!

Cody said...

I was only able to thoroughly read through half of this because work caught up to me, but I completely agree with you on the entire first half. Keep up the good work and your illustrations are honestly great.