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What Is A Graphic Design Profession?

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Summary: Graphic designers, computer graphics and mechanicals work together on a project. Graphic designer is the conceptual generator while the people in computer graphics give a digital form to design and do some finishing work if indeed. The mechanicals are the ones which produce a mechanical final product.

Graphic design

Although some people have been known to pick it up on their own, most graphic designers have formal training. That is because designing graphics is not based merely on personal taste or the haphazard placement of lines and shapes on a two dimensional surface, as clients are often inclined to think; it is based on solid design theory, patterns of eye movement, and the psychological effects of color, pattern, and texture. The study and application of these methods date back to the early Greeks and Romans. I am always sardonically amused when a client says of an ad or brochure layout, 'Just make it pretty." Pretty has nothing to do with it. Pretty is a personal opinion that varies with each individual. Good, sound design involves a myriad of complex elements that are all interdependent. If you change one element (which clients love to do) that changes the relationship of everything else in that space. That means the entire space will have to be redesigned to accommodate any changes.

Computer graphics

A whole new field in graphic design is opening up with the advanced technology of computer graphics. Most art and design schools and an increasing number of college and university design programs now offer a wide variety of courses in computer graphics. While the most popular computer graphics course is still desktop publishing, there are many other courses that involve the use of computers in illustration, producing camera ready art, logo design, video graphics, animation, and three dimensional design. Desktop publishing is a generic term for a number of programs available that are capable of producing page layouts and typesetting for newsletters, brochures, and other types of publications. Many agencies presently use computers in some capacity for design and typesetting, and this trend will continue to grow rapidly. The more you know about the application of computers to the field of graphic design, the more attractive you will be to an agency.

Graphic design breaks down into two distinct job activities.

Layout design When a general concept for a project (print ad, logo, billboard, brochure, etc.) has been decided upon by the client, account executive, and agency creative people (art director, copywriter, creative director, etc.), a graphic designer is then asked to develop a series of rough sketches or layouts to illustrate a number of different ways this concept could be visually developed. Using tracing paper, the designer begins to explore a variety of visual options in the form of tiny drawings called thumbnails (because of their small size, usually no larger than one or two inches). In these initial layout sketches, all of the elements that must go into the finished project are loosely laid down in pencil or colored markers.

These sketches will indicate where the type could be placed in relation to the photos or illustrations and then in conjunction with any copy that might be used.

A designer will often do as many as fifty different thumbnail variations before deciding which layout works the best. This may seem like a lot of work, but that is where true creativity begins to unfold. If you remember, my definition of creativity earlier in the book stated that creativity is simply the act of finding as many different solutions as possible to any given problem. That means you cannot settle for three solutions or even ten when there might be more if you keep working at it. Once the greatest number of solutions have been explored, then finding the best solution the most creative solution will be evident because you will have it right there in front of you. You will not have to guess or wonder if the idea you have selected to work with is the best possible solution; you will be able to see that by comparison all those other thumbnail designs clearly do not work as well.

When a variety of thumbnails have been completed, the designer will usually select several of the best for translation into larger presentation layouts. These layouts will have a more finished, polished look because they will be used to present the best of the ideas to the client. Even though the designer may think that one design in particular outranks the others, it is always wise to present three or four other possibilities, because psychologically, clients like to feel that they have a choice. In addition, the designer has already had the experience of seeing which of the many layouts worked the best. By selecting only one to show to a client, the client has no way of understanding the designer's thought process and why this one design was apparently the best solution. Working with clients is an ongoing process of gentle education helping them to see the complex issues that must be considered before making a final decision that will determine what their project will look like and if it will achieve the desired results.

When the client has selected a preferred layout, the designer will then prepare a comprehensive layout. This layout, often called a "comp," looks as close to the real thing as possible. Executed in actual size, either by hand or computer generated, it displays the type style that will be used, the point size of the type, how the photos or illustrations will interrelate with the type and other graphic elements, and any changes the client may have requested in the rough thumbnail sketch stage. This final layout will usually go through one more round of client approvals before being sent on to typesetting.

While the type is being ordered, the photos or illustrations can be prepared if necessary and all other details of the project, such as printing schedules, prices, production schedules, etc., can be coordinated and reviewed one last time. When all of the finished elements of the project have been completed (type, photos, illustrations), the designer will then be ready to begin the mechanical.

Most graphic designers will be involved in all phases of design production, from conception through finished mechanical. However, some graphic designers may prefer to specialize exclusively in layout art in which they are responsible for only the concept development and comprehensive stages of a graphics project. The final mechanical preparation is then left to a mechanical artist, also called a board artist or paste up artist.

Mechanical preparation

Mechanical preparation is translation of a design, such as an ad, a brochure, or a poster into a piece of flat art that can be used to make a print. This is accomplished by pasting the finished elements of the design type, position stats to indicate where photographs and/or illustrations will be placed, ruby overlays for color separations, product or company logos, and any other pertinent materials that will appear in the finished piece onto a flat surface such as smooth, white mat board or blue lined tara board. This completed board or paste up is called a mechanical. Mechanicals are often referred to as camera ready art because the printer will produce a photographic negative directly from the mechanical. The negative is then used to create a metal plate from which the final piece will be printed.

Preparing mechanicals is a job that requires more training and experience than actual artistic talent. A neophyte entering an agency with little practical experience will often start out doing very basic paste ups on mechanicals while working under the wing of a more experienced board artist. This is an excellent way to begin. No matter how much background one has had in classroom design theory, schools are not able to prepare a student with the variety of experiences necessary to develop the skills needed to be a fast and accurate mechanical artist. And being fast and accurate is the main requirement any agency will expect from a full fledged mechanical artist. From here a designer can move up into layout design and eventually art direction and creative direction.

Those people who choose to spend their entire careers in advertising as mechanical specialists have to be a certain type of individual. While specializing in mechanical prep can certainly be very rewarding work, the people who do it, and do it well, must be sticklers for minute details. They must also have a knack for knowing when something is visually correct that is, when lines of type are straight and parallel, the edges of a shape are square, or the measurement and placement of things appear proportionally accurate. They have to have a good eye forjudging the accuracy of their mechanicals, because deadlines are constantly hanging over their heads and there is not always time to measure and check everything. In addition, mechanical artists must be fastidiously neat, as mechanicals cannot have smudges, nicks, or anything out of place. They must also be able to balance the ability to review every element of the mechanical to be sure nothing has been left out, yet sure enough of their own methodical execution process that they do not over review unnecessarily.
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