When I started in graphic design I really had no clue what I was doing. I know there are funny horror stories on Clients From Hell about people using MS Paint or something like it. I don’t think I ever used Paint for design, but I’m pretty sure I started off with something just about as bad.
If I remember correctly, it was called Picture It! (And yes, it had the exclamation point.) Like Paint it was some pre-installed software that came with Windows XP, and like Paint it is something no one should have ever used for design. But I did randomly, and it actually got me started, for better or worse.
What made it ‘usable’ was that it had all these effects you could apply to photos, and I thought I had discovered the holy grail of design. I had briefly tried out Photoshop on a computer at school (one of those colorful Macs with the stupid hockey puck mouse…) and was befuddled by it, but here was something simple, easy to use, and free. And I was designing the crap out of things. (I’ll leave it to the reader to locate the operative word in that final sentence…)
I became more and more familiar with it, and the effects and ‘features’ of Picture It! sort of came to define the extent of my design capabilities and experience. Needless to say, I quickly ran into the severe limitations of trying to create graphic design in a program designed to create the types of Christmas photos you get at Walmart. Eventually I had to leave my familiarity with it behind, learn new things, and branch out to discover new styles and such that I could never have fathomed had I remained with Picture It!
In the world of graphic design we all tend to have our own crutches. Sometimes they are necessary—those fall-back styles or techniques that we use when deadlines are bearing down and we have to get something out the door. Other times what might be a crutch for someone else is actually an integral element of a particular design aesthetic.
And since we all have them and use them from time to time, let’s have some fun mixed with a little bit of self-deprecation and look at 10 Things Graphic Designers Love:
1. Trendy Typefaces
Let’s be honest, you visit LostType.com quite regularly and have probably built a design around one of the latest offerings. You’ve also overused Wisdom Script but aren’t quite ready to admit it yet. If you are an elite font snob, you only obtain fonts from foundries that have a hyphen in the name. You know who you are, and most likely everyone else does too…
2. 3D Extruded Text
When Illustrator first introduced 3D text into its toolset you didn’t create anything else for about six months. You may not have had a concept for the piece you were creating, but you did know that 3D text was going to carry it. Because, 3D, clearly.
3. Background Textures
You may or may not have over 20GB of textured backgrounds meticulously organized by type and color…
4. Flat Design
When flat design started its ascendency you thought it was kind of lame because it looked so effortless. I mean, it uses about two colors (if you’re really trendy!) and detail-less illustrations. How hard could that be? Eventually you realized that, whether or not flat design is hard or not, you can kind of go really basic with an idea and sell it to someone as ‘flat design’ and they’ll think it’s cool because it looks like things they see on the internet.
5. Textures for Flat Design
After about a week of killing it with flat design you started to realize it needed a little love. Now every flat design or illustration you create has some sort of subtle texture, and you simply cannot go back. Seriously, it’s not possible.
You remember how you used to find a somewhat interesting monotone photo, add some italicized copy in Helvetica, a few colored gradients (maybe, depending on your mood) and call it good? Well, those glory days aren’t quite gone, because now you can just use Helvetica Neue (thin or ultra thin, obviously…).
You don’t necessarily use Instagram for your designing, but you love it because it has acclimated people to crappy photos with even crappier exposure/color balance/etc. The good news for you is that the pressure is off to find quality images; just add an Instagram-y action in Photoshop, slap on some trendy typeface (see #1) and people instantly (!) think you’re intentionally trying to be trendy. Or if you’re lucky, think you’re attempting an ironic commentary on popularized photography tools or design trends.
8. Script Typefaces
Even though hand lettered type is all the rage right now, it takes a lot of time and effort. When that is able to happen, great. But let’s be honest, if it was legal to give a kidney for a really good (and I mean REALLY good) script typeface, you would. Granted, there are only about two really good ones, but you should probably keep at least one kidney. Sigh.
9. The Wacom Cintiq (and yes, the big one.)
This is most likely something you only love from a distance, since the light from the star of what it costs would take 3.976 (approx.) billion years to reach what you can afford. But you can always hold it out there as a ‘if only I had it, I could really make something cool’ kind of thing.
10. Dribbble Adddiction
For a while this was for the uber-elites, since you could sign up as a prospect or whatever. But that really only meant that everyone knew you weren’t actually in. Then that glorious day came and someone sent you an invite. Now you can post your flat design work in progress shots, followed up by the shots where you subtly texture them. Does it matter that the invite was probably offered out of pity? Heck no. You’re in, and, oh, sorry, I need to go see if anyone liked my latest shot…
Crap, obviously no one likes this! I posted it five minutes ago and still no likes! 🙁 Sorry, where were we?