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The Case For The Defense

By Rick Monro
You may not be too surprised to hear a designer jump to the defense of designers and the role they play. However, this little narrative has not been inspired by the instinct for the self-preservation of my industry, but rather by a blown gasket. A blown top. You see, someone said it again.

With startling frequency I am informed, by inference or otherwise, that my computer does my job for me; "that's just Photoshop isn't it?" I am asked (or told, never can tell); and this belies an all too common perception. It is assumed in many quarters that we designers fire up some software package, tinker around for, ooh, minutes and bingo - instant design. No creative input, no trial and error, no development process. No doubt it is also assumed by some that we copy someone elses design? which their computer put together as well of course. So by that same logic, presumably ownership of Microsoft Word implies we are all potential John Grishams. If I install AutoCAD, I am Richard Rogers in all but name. May I be so bold as to point out that a set of paints does not a painter make.

This misconception is fuelled by the sales pitches of certain companies. I read on a web site recently that "Company X uses all the latest software to ensure a high quality web site". Not only is that a ludicrous statement - the "latest software" of course guarantees nothing - but as a potential client I would not be in the slightest bit interested as to what software my designer was using. I would instead be curious as to why Company X was not declaring the strength of their creativity ahead of their computer skills.

Dont get me wrong, design is not a black art; neither is it an ability bestowed only on chosen individuals who mysteriously acquire the "gift" at birth. Yes, talent is involved and yes, some will have more of a natural aptitude for the craft than others. However design, like anything else can be learned and developed. Visual literacy improves with time and experience. Sound familiar? Yes, its almost like - shock horror! - any other profession. By the same token, it should be afforded the same respect as other professions in which time and effort are essential elements in achieving successful results.

A current television advertisement for a large computer company features the following classic lines. "Where are the web designers? "Snowboarding", comes the reply. I must admit I like it - it affords me a hint of street cred when the truth is I am about as "rad" as a duffel coat. Sadly It also helps to sustain a belief in some quarters that designers are somehow fooling all of the people all of the time. We are out windsurfing/jet-skiing/breakdancing, while the computer is back in the office working on that new corporate identity.

The truth is that good design is frequently noticed only in its absence. Take it away, and the results would be clearly apparent: the Guggenheim, Bilbao becomes a boxy cattleshed; the new VW Beetle, an angular monstrosity (Lada, anyone?); and Apple's iMac becomes... well, a PC I suppose.

Design at its best will merge seamlessly with the function of the object/idea it is built around. This is true for brochures, web sites, restaurants, even towns and cities. Without it the world becomes a less enjoyable experience. Ability, talent and experience are key to design, not version X of software package Z.

Remember this next time you commission a designer; if their main selling point centers around the tools of their trade, you have a problem. Let them loose on your project, and you risk ending up with that cattle shed, that angular monstrosity.

My rant now over, I'm off to rake the leaves... er I mean, pull off a totally rad 360 on my ?board. Dude.

Copyright 2001 Rick Monro, Monro:Design

Rick Monro: Designer. Belfast, Northern Ireland. Five years print, four years web.
I got involved in the web in 1996, when it became clear that web sites were being put together purely by those who *knew* how to do it... by that I mean that only those skilled in HTML were able to put a web site online and most of the time design took a back seat. Soooo, with my sleeves rolled up I delved into HTML and took it from there. The web kind of saved my enthusiasm for design; in early 1996 I was losing interest. The internet represents a whole new medium to design in, one that is constantly evolving.

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