Towards the end of my foundation course at art college, one of my tutors tried to persuade me to go on and study graphic design and illustration. I was only eighteen but had a sneaking suspicion it was a boring career to follow. My actual words to him were, somewhat pretentiously, "the film industry needs me more", and at the time I was obsessed with film, and went on to make films and generally have a good time.
(He also said as a graphic designer, it's better to design something you're not interested in – the example he gave was Val Doonican album covers – in order to remain objective. Well, after years of designing car, technology, fitness and financial magazines – which have all bored me to death, I have to disagree with him.)
Years later, when reality hit and I reluctantly became a designer – literally, against my will – I was being interviewed at a design recruitment consultancy. The woman interviewing me, barely out of her teens, told me I wasn't passionate enough about my work. Well, for a start it was crap, but mainly because, well, graphic design isn't a passionate profession; it's measured and precise, and not very interesting. It's not like being a painter or filmmaker; you're not expressing yourself, you're fulfilling a brief and providing a visual solution.
Graphic design is a popular choice for young people. They all want to work in a Google-type office with bean bags and table tennis tables and create pretty pictures and imagine it's a glamorous, cool profession. But whether you're earning £18K designing catalogues or a local newspaper, or £80K at a hot design agency, either way you are essentially being told what to do and staring at a Mac screen (worse for your eyes than PCs, apparently) for eight hours a day, like I am right now when I should be designing a DPS for a financial magazine.
In short, being a designer is boring. We've (designers) got cool design books and magazines (Eye is the best), we've got blogs (design observer is good), we've got typography talks (actually quite interesting at St Bride in London), but on a day-to-day basis, and compared to other people doing completely non-skilled jobs often in the same office as the designer, it is a cheerless, underpaid, unrewarding, anhodonic profession.
I'd say graphic design is a skilled profession. It's not an art but it's a craft which takes years to learn. Sales and marketing (for example), by contract, from what I've observed, requires no skill or qualifications apart from the gift of the gab or being blonde and bubbly, yet they are lauded and praised like Gods. And paid twice as much as designers (if I owned a company, everyone, from admin assistant to CEO, would be paid exactly the same). Profit is king.
Sales guys get lunches and bonuses, commissions and conferences in Cannes and Vegas; journalists get to eat foie gras at Grade I listed houses and go to free football matches; marketing may get hampers from Fortnum & Mason. In 15 years as a designer I have literally yet to get taken out for a cup of coffee.
Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 graphic designers
Top ten jobs
The offensive office
In terms of moving forward
Aspire to be average
Graphic design work: