On a New Language
Creating imagery on your laptop isn’t sufficient to identify as a graphic designer. In order to position yourself as a graphic designer, a fluency in the design language and history is a must. Graphic design is a visual means of communication that unites balance, tension, form and function. This is achieved through the use of color, line, marks, typography and imagery. Graphic Design is also a language filled with terminology, symbols and references that arouse the mind as much as the eyes.
Only recently, in my final year at Northeastern, am I starting to feel comfortable calling myself a designer. Becoming a graphic designer is complex and in defiance of what many think, it requires years of rigorous academic study and unconditional curiosity. Fluency in computer programs and technical excellence is required but a tremendous amount of a designer's role is the ability to shape content in a thoughtful and critical manner. Our classes balance theory and technique.
This marks the difference between an executor and a designer. Over the course of my two co-ops I’ve seen this live in the workplace: if you haven’t learned to think like a designer your job will be reduced to very little creative freedom. You end up carrying out a task that has been fully conceived and created by someone else and your work almost becomes mindless. To avoid this and contribute to elevating the standards of the creative industry a designer must have a well-rounded understanding of design and a broader history of ideas.
As a graphic design student it is hopeful that by the time you graduate you recognize there is more to design than form-making. When professors at Northeastern began to expose us to theory on design is when I became more engaged in my major. I used to express concern of not feeling more consumed by what I was studying and self-consciously compare myself to other students who seemed to live and breathe design. But the more I learned about what had been done and said in design in the past, the more curious I grew. I began to feed this curiosity outside of class, first through podcasts, then through books. Accumulating this knowledge was building up my fluency in a new language. And with fluency comes a number of opportunities for complex ideas to be generated and powerful messages to be communicated.
I owe a lot to Debbie Millman for activating this curiosity through her podcast Design Matters. Hearing the stories of the inspiring, bold and creative individuals she interviews made me understand there were no boundaries to the remarkable things that can be achieved through design. Design is not one-dimensional; it cannot be reduced to one definition, one job description or one medium. Debbie has interviewed designers who work with anything from data to letters to heighten the general human experience, fill a void and make change. Hearing these people organically share their stories challenged me to be the very best version of myself.