Does Photoshop Make a Designer?

So you can use the software, but is that enough to call yourself a graphic designer?
You know what a layer mask is, you can group all your layers together and apply blending modes, you know the difference between RGB and CMYK colour modes. But does knowing these details of the software and a few technical terms make you a designer?

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The Young Gun Graphic Designer

We have all noticed in recent years the increase in graphic design crowdsourcing websites, and the proliferation of pirated software, especially the ease of use now of getting the Adobe Creative Suite software. Has this lead to an increase in bad design, by so-called ‘designers’?

There have been many occasions where I have witnessed poor quality, badly designed logos, leaflets, advertising material, all coming from so called designers. Too many times these are based on Photoshop Tutorials found on the internet and worked through by the designer and sold on as their own work.

I’ve noticed a lot of these designers are still in secondary school or college, for you non UK readers, that puts them at no older than 18. The ease of getting hold of a domain name and designing a website has allowed anyone to set themselves up as a trading Graphic Design Company.

How can someone at this age claim to call themselves a designer? Yes when I was that age I was messing around with Photoshop and Illustrator, but I was just experimenting with what I could achieve using the software, I didn’t have the balls to call myself a graphic designer and charge people money for my services.

I’m not going to name names of people, but needless to say there are people who have followed me on Twitter that fall into this category.

I’ve been using Photoshop since my mid-teens, the perks of having a father who was a DTP operator for a London University. The software I used was legitimate, I honestly find it hard to believe that a child of this age could afford software priced at what it is, let alone a MacBook Pro for it to run on. The problem I have with students this age claiming to be designers is that they are nowhere near learning the fundamentals of design that an older professional designer may know. I’m talking about composition, kerning, colour theory etc. These are skills that even now I’m still learning and practising on an almost daily basis, to grow upon the tuition I received at college and University.

The Perils of the In-House Designer

I’ve also noticed that there is an increased use of Photoshop and other Adobe packages by staff in companies that aren’t designers yet are producing material for their workplaces. I wonder how many of these companies employ an in-house designer, yet don’t use them? I can speak from experience that this does happen, frequently. In my day job, I see this attitude on a day to day basis, bad work coming into my department for inclusion on a digital signage network, that is poorly designed. So what do you do? Spend a couple of hours on a redesign, only have to have the member of staff feel aggrieved that you changed their hard worked on design.

What Can We Do?

What does all this mean for hard-working, talented designers out there? I think it means we have to work extra hard to stand out in all the chatter and noise that is now around. Self promotion has never been easier, via Twitter, Facebook and Behance. Make sure your portfolio is current and shows off your strongest work. Don’t let weak work pull you back down into the crowd.

Educate your current clients and potential ones. Hopefully in them coming to you, they already see that your work stands out above the others they have looked at. We all know that in tight financial times design is one of the industries to suffer, but this shouldn’t be to the detriment of either business. Yes, money is tight, and budgets even tighter, but should companies and business scrimp on paying for an expert to do the work for them?

Remember that it’s not the software that is the designer, it’s the person operating it that is. They are the person with the knowledge and creative vision to help carry your ideas forward to your clients. Its your graphic designer who knows that a box just looks right sitting 3mm further to the left on a page to be printed, just because, well they know. Creativity can’t be taught, it’s a natural spark in certain people, that yes over time can be nurtured and honed into a talent. Learning to use a piece of software does not mean you’re creative or a graphic designer, it just means you’re good at learning.

Tony Hardy is the Founder and CEO of Canny Creative. He is a graphic designer, web designer, brand consultant, blogger, Newcastle based entrepreneur, drummer, and wrestling fan.


6 comments on “Does Photoshop Make You a Designer?

  1. Mark Sims on

    A lot of well made points in there. I have to agree with it in the most part. I started dabbling in PS in my mid-teens entering competitions on forums and learning the basics of the software and it was a great experience and it was this that made me want to pursue a career in design.

    I’m not going to lie and say that I have too much of an issue with people using pirated software during their teens to learn on, I did the same and if weren’t for this pirated software I wouldn’t have gone into the career I did and, as a result, ended up paying for the software later down the line. Personally I think it should be free to use for students for educational purposes.

    I do agree that something needs to be done to educate the general public about the difference between professional, educated, experienced designers, and those who are just ‘having a go’.

    • Tony Hardy on

      Thanks for the comment Mark.

      I too started practicing and messing around with Photoshop in my teens. However, I wasn’t going out and trying to sell my work. I was playing around, it was a “hobby” so to speak. That eventually made me considering turning my hobby into a career and off to college and University I went. I also believe Adobe should have some sort of free to use for learning scheme, but then how would they regulate it?

      I agree with that last statement. But at the same time, if a client is willing to hand over hard cash to a young Photoshopper to create a logo, and both go away happy, is it really hurting anyone? Well, I guess it’s hurting the value of graphic design.

      It’s a big area of discussion. Too big for one blog post to cover I think!

  2. Dave Hudson on

    I’d never even used photoshop when I began training to be a designer, in fact for the first year of college the use of computers was forbidden, in favor of learning the art of technical drawing, typography and marker rendering. Back then Adobe’s Creative Suite was new and exciting and Macromedia was the powerhouse of the digital age, so the chance of getting a pirate copy of either was slim.

    In essence I believe that the methodology behind being a ‘photoshop designer’, who’s learned the software (legitimately purchased or otherwise) is dangerous for the creative industry. It side steps many of the core principles and rules learned through studying the art of Graphic Design and promotes a belief that software lead design on screen is best practice rather than said software being one of many tools at the disposal of the modern designer.

    • Tony Hardy on

      Whole heartedly agree with you their Dave. It’s the lack of understanding basic design principles and then offering your services at a cost. Again though, like the crowdsourcing argument; if people are putting themselves up for it, others are always going to take advantage.

      Hopefully, both parties involved end up getting their fingers burned a little and learning what the cost of good design is and should be.


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