Due to switching of platforms. The Francis site is down. This is also probably due to alien intervention. Or otherwise noted. Until I get this working, I'm forced to copy and paste my thesis below.
When everyone’s a graphic designer, no one is.
A thesis on the state of design today, by Francis.
Who knows when graphic design began. The cave paintings at Lascaux, from 15,000 BC, the Sumerians’ tablets from 500 BC, The Rosetta Stone, the Book of Kells, and countless others when human beings began to put order and visuals to their ideas. Symbols stamped into clay and inked onto early paper dominated this craft for thousands of years. So when William Addison Dwiggins first used the phrase “graphic design” in 1922, it would be easy to predict things would not change in the field. A century later, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While graphic design and its techniques have evolved throughout history, it doesn’t compare to the change seen in the last few decades. With the explosion of technology and the use of the desktop computer in the 1980s and 1990s, the field has seen inventions and reactive adaptations that have changed our industry. However, while technology has afforded us the luxury of speed, that luxury comes at the cost of quality in what we produce as designers. With different execution methods and the change in how graphic designers have produced work over the past few decades, the importance of a slow pace, analog materials, and hands-on graphic design in today’s digital world is needed now more than ever.
The Industrial Revolution played a huge part in design. Technology helped factories create goods faster and cheaper, and industrial designers saw the potential to bring good design into the world. As a result, the world began to enjoy the products they were designing. While they were produced quickly and inexpensively, they were also beautiful and functional for everyday life. This concept carried over to the graphic design industry as well. Jan Tschichold created order for the printed piece by idealizing modern typography, proportions, and minimalistic form to the page’s structure in his book, The New Typography (1). However, Tschichold was not first. The standardization of paper sizes dates back to 1786, but was adopted in Germany in 1922 as DIN 476 standard, commonly known as the A-Format today.
The Modernism movement brought stringent rules into this era of graphic design. According to some, modernism was the counterbalance to a complex world, specifically the confusion around the commercial artist and the need for designers to establish rules based on clarity instead of artistic genius or concept (2). There were many “icons” of the modernist movement in graphic design, including Armin Hoffman. In 1965, Hoffman authored Graphic Design Manual, which included the principles and practice of graphic design students by teaching them the basics of the profession in a constantly expanding and evolving world (3). Josef Müller-Brockman wrote Grid Systems, which introduced the importance of layout and composition in the design education curriculum. Müller-Brockman believed constructive design is capable of reproduction, was objective, and established design laws into practical solutions (4). Arguably one of the most famous graphic designers ever to live, Paul Rand embraced the modernist principles set by Tschichold, El Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, and the others before him. The New Typography inspired Rand to focus on modern graphic design where he began to prefer structure and order over hand-made and ornament (5).
Massimo Vignelli, one of the modernist icons, referenced the next era in graphic design’s chronology as “a disease” (6). Postmodernism changed all the rules that the modernists had just established. Flipping through the pages of any design history book featuring this decade tells of the change about to happen. In the 1980s, young designers were tired of the post-war rules of modernism and rebelled against the notion that graphic design must be plain and ordinary. Joy came in trying something new (7). The field of graphic design changed forever with the introduction of the computer and the internet. Some designers like April Greiman, Susan Kare, and Jeff Keedy embraced this new technology while modernist masters slowly evolved to the inevitable adoption. Jens Müller, the author of numerous design books, argues that most designers were eager to move along with this massive change because change is embedded in the DNA of graphic design’s culture (7). Designers like Paula Scher, Chris Ashworth, David Carson, Rick Valicenti, and Vaughn Oliver mastered postmodernism, creating beautiful, expressive, and unexplored work. However, postmodernism didn’t just rebel against modernism for rebellion’s sake. Instead, it introduced a new way of thinking—the ability to see multiple meanings of the same thing and put this control in the viewer’s hands, not the designer’s.
Prior to the computer, printed design pieces were considered final. Designers used rulers, compasses, linotype machines, and a printing process to create tangible work that smelled like ink. The world kept their favorite pieces for decades, saving them as something special. As a new millennium appeared, the field absorbed the computer into the process, and the internet changed the planet. Müller argues that while the digital designs made the work much faster, it also allowed clients to intervene in the design process. Furthermore, this digitization makes everyone—even those with basic skills and a computer—an “expert” in the field exasperated by the internet (7).
The rise of the internet created a new medium with new goals. The term “User Experience” has been realigned to be purely about function instead of design’s subjective and emotional side. As a result, inspiration from the “designer as the author” (8) is almost invisible. The digital products built by designers have become a platform for sharing content, not the content itself. In order to produce digital designs more quickly, different methods were injected into designers’ workflow. The popular methodology called “Design Thinking” allowed for everyone to mimic a designer’s process, but didn’t take into account the organic nature of the creative mind which can’t be replicated in a standard process. “Design Thinking” also eliminated the time for self-critique (9) widening the gap between practitioners and so-called advocates. Additionally, engineers and developers introduced a process called “Agile” into the workforce, which sacrificed time devoted to creative exploration. Furthermore, what was once a guide or language for designers to create consistent brand work, “design systems” was redefined and gave developers—not designers—the ability to produce work quickly and changed the ownership of the final execution to a developer who wasn’t involved in the creative process.
In 2008, Apple released the iPhone, and its popularity evolved the internet again into a mobile platform. In the digital space, this handheld, society-changing invention significantly affected our profession’s importance on quality. First, screen sizes were tiny—restricting what designers could show. The low resolution of these tiny screens eliminated the need for the visual perfection and order designers were trained to follow. “Connection Speed” — the rate at which mobile phones could produce what was on screen — became a new challenge designers had to consider. Second, Apple stopped supporting software called Adobe Flash, one of the leading programs for developing immersive, beautiful digital design pieces at the time. Finally, Google introduced its own phone and a design method of reproducing executions quickly called “Material Design.” Design systems such as Material Design led to fast turnaround times and “flat” designs that were easily replicated on multiple screen sizes. Corporations and clients fell in love because of the low cost of rapidly getting their content out into the world vs. the quality of the content. In parallel, this era’s social media platforms subconsciously rewarded imitation design, where the number of interactions were given perceived “value.” As people were willing to share anything, anytime, with the goal of indirect recognition, it diminished the sense of worth. Content shared seemed less extraordinary because it was so easy to share, and the design pieces of the day seemed less important when there was something new tomorrow. The pendulum swung—far—and the digital discipline of graphic design changed, where the craft and quality of the form became a distant memory in a world that only seems to care about function and popularity.
When Louis Sullivan coined his famous phrase “form follows function” in 1896 (10), other industries have taken this approach. From beige stripmalls to Ford pickup trucks, Sullivan’s concept isn’t new. But it has led to ubiquitous designs that have filled the planet with nothing of substance, but rather a repeatable thing no one seems to notice. Our eyes, once given the gift of seeing beauty, began to ignore the world around us.
It’s hard to argue that technology has given designers the affordance of faster recognition. Gone are the days of commuting with large black portfolios and annual design submissions. Mobile devices have given clients access to more designers, and vice versa. In addition to mobile devices, other technological advances have occurred in the arts: the airbrush, the Linotype machine, the computer, the player piano, the camera, the digital camera, the phone camera, and generative artificial intelligence. However, adaptation—especially in the creative world— is always in the hands of creatives themselves. As digital music changed the industry, a rise in vinyl records occurred. Film photography, the risograph printer, screen printing, and even hand-lettering are similar examples. This interest in an analog mindset speaks to the quiet creative voice, buried within a world that is too quick, too busy, and too efficient to care.
We need an anti-design movement. There has always been a distinction between Industrial Designers, Fashion Designers, Graphic Designers, Interior Designers, and more. Yet today, the title of “designer” has seemed to impregnate itself into every industry without any thought process or delineation. Whether companies see it as a marketing ploy or an attempt to appear trendy, the moniker has lost its meaning. This isn’t the first time creatives have had to endure this blasphemy. In the early 2000s, talented musicians had to watch every typical 9-5 employee becoming a “rockstar” within their job descriptions. In the 2020s, “design” became a trend everyone had to have—and social media, the internet, and artificial intelligence—made everything worse. As graphic design trends happened, graphic designers followed. As the executions of these trends became more popular, more of them appeared. As generative AI became popular, it compounded it all by adding fuel to the fire, and the world of efficiency and greed entered our sacred space. Designers began to question their education, their experience, and their worth.
When do we know we’re creative? When we’re alone. When we make something beautiful, and it’s apart from what the world around us is even possible of creating. With the corporatization of the word “designer,” It’s time to ignore it all. We can’t fight trends. We can’t control what anyone else does, and we can’t fathom the grasp technology has on the planet. But we have control over our next step. We don’t have to go along with any of this—this horrible moment in an industry that gave us so much. It wasn’t our fault. We fell in love with something that brought joy to our everyday. We fell in love when our ordinary lives changed for the first time, and we became graphic designers. Today, unlike 1984, every human on this planet can easily create something without education, experience, or creative passion. Because of this, we’re surrounded by endless colleagues of mediocrity, tarnishing what we used to hold so priceless to our profession.
Going alone won’t be easy. We won’t be more popular; we’ll be less. We won’t be more successful; we’ll be less. We won’t be accepted; we’ll be ostracized. We’ll have to fight harder and constantly explain our rationale to a world that only wants to be the same. We’ll disagree with almost everyone, only allowing a select few to be a part of our microscopic world as we fight for our destinies as long-lost graphic designers: human beings who care about human connections, thought, and the ability to inspire someone else through our own unique voice.
 Tschichold, Jan. The New Typography. University of California Press, 2006.
 Müller Jens. Logo Modernism. Taschen, 2020.
 Hoffman, Armin. Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practices. Reinhold, 1965.
 Müller-Brockmann, Josef. Grid Systems in Graphic Design: A Visual Communication Manual for Graphic Designers, Typographers and Three Dimensional Designers. Niggli, 2007.
 Heller, Steven. Paul Rand. Phaidon, 1999.
 Helvetica. Directed by Gary Hustwit, performances by Massimo Vignelli, Tobias Frere-Jones, Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister, and David Carson, Veer, Swiss Dots, 2007.
 Müller, Jens, and Julius Wiedemann. The History of Graphic Design: Vol.2 1960-Today. Taschen, 2019.
 Poynor, Rick. “The Designer as Author.” Blueprint, 1991.
 “Natasha Jen: ‘Design Thinking is Bullsh*t.’” YouTube, YouTube, 19 Mar. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_raleGrTdUg.
 Sullivan, Louis H. “The tall office building artistically considered.” Getty Research Institute, 1896.
[general] Meggs, P. B. A History of Graphic Design. John Wiley, 1998.