Think of the photographer who captures a fraction of time or the illustrator who tells a story. Will these moments not exist if it weren’t for the camera or the pencil?

They exist in spite of the tools used to capture them.

The ideas that we develop for our clients, the messages we wish to communicate, exist in spite of Photoshop or any other piece of software. The lines of code wrapped in an interface do nothing but hold a (virtual) expression of our ideas. Much like the photographer’s moment, the ideas exist whether captured or not.

But so many insist on calling Photoshop mishmash pieces design, when they are nothing of the sort as they hold no idea, just stylistic nonsense. A hammer can help build a house, does that mean hammering two planks of wood together is good enough to be a home?

Oh Photoshop, Your Crown Is Too Heavy

Yes, Photoshop is, today, an essential tool of graphic design. Yes, knowing our tools well make our jobs easier and can help our work become beautiful — there is no denying that.

… the tool does find validation in the expression

But it isn’t enough to know the tools well without an idea to which they can be applied. The expressions these tools craft will be without soul, meaning or story.

The idea is not validated by the tools used to craft its expression. But the tool does find validation in the expression. The tool relies on it to be considered valuable. Photoshop is no different than any other tool.

In 100 years, discussions about what version of Photoshop was used to produce the wonderful work of today will not be held. It will be called it a tool. It might be a wonderful tool to wield, but it is only a tool. It may have changed the way we express our ideas, but it shouldn’t change the way we conceive them.

Wait … What’s Graphic Design?

If you were to stop using Photoshop, would you no longer have any ideas? No longer know how to express the message of your client? No longer know how to guide the eye, apply balance, stimulate through colour, harmonize with typography, dictate visual interest via illustrations or attract, entertain and enlighten audiences?

The next time you see a magazine or book proclaiming to teach you the 50 Essential Photoshop Tricks That Will Make You A Great Graphic Designer, do me (or yourself, or the profession) a favor. Destroy it. Rip it into a million tiny pieces and call it the scum that it is and bury it in flames. (Probably best you paid for it first though, though that goes against my point so … maybe just run out of the establishment screaming its name like bloody murder.)

Social media has upped the contrast. An average and random collection of many cousins to graphic design (Photoshop heavy pieces especially, but also motion, photography, illustration etc) can find legs and be thrown around the web at an astonishing speed. And with this average article, average assumptions on behalf of the author are made and taken on as knowledge in much of the audience — they’re being shown work that isn’t graphic design, but is being touted as such.

This Is So Wildly Scary To Me

I fear this because there are many who are jumping online and accepting diluted definitions of what graphic design is, what graphic art is, what typography means, what illustration is, what photography can be and on and on and on. All these wonderful mediums are being abused into a concoction that would best find a home at the bottom of a witch’s cauldron.

It isn’t the fault of … anyone. The author might not know better (right?) and when the audience is young-in-experience, they definitely don’t know any different. But those of us who ‘get’ the elegance that is found in design (rather than just see them as ‘vintage and cool Swiss design’) should say something, shouldn’t we?

We should bother to do so because of the coming years. With a loose definition of graphic design it’ll become harder to study it independently and talk about it with those who call themselves graphic designers. Most importantly, selling it to our clients will be trickier — what their last graphic designer did might be utterly different to their next.

A rose by any other another name

Graphic art isn’t something to look down upon. Nor is illustration or photography. I believe without these mediums that graphic design would be a horribly dull vocation and give such results 90% of the time. These things are essential to the work we do and enliven in ways a purely typographical and geometric-shaped laden design cannot — to say otherwise would be simply foolish.

That is why I hate when I see a piece of graphic art declared graphic design — it diminishes what the illustrator and artist does (as people think that if you’re a designer, you’re an illustrator or vice-versa) and it confuses what the specialty of the designer is, as if all our skills are so easily interchangeable — it’s lose/lose.

I don’t believe that graphic design is a strictly restricted practice and devastatingly sharp lines need to be drawn between the disciplines that touch it. Many graphic designers are very talented illustrators or graphic artists, so there is often a definite overlap. But what I worry about is that there might not be any lines what so ever, and rather than aspire to be masters of any, our new practitioners are attempting (assuming?) to be jacks of too many.