Design is a meaningless word

i can do web design

In a recent audio post on, William Drenttel said that the term ‘design’ has become “ubiquitous to a degree that it’s almost meaningless.” And he’s bloody well right. When I recently informed someone that I did web design, their response was “surely anyone can do that.”

I blame the internet. It used to be the preserve of a sort of cultural elite, the high powered creative, but now any pleb with a copy of Photoshop can “do design”. I like to think of myself as a sort of liberal minded person. I should be pleased at this leveling of the playing field, the idea that design is available to everyone to create, at the twitch of a mouse pad, the sort of effects that twenty years ago would have taken skilled professionals weeks to produce. You no longer have to spend years at university earnestly copying the styles of past masters, and then, inevitably, spurning their rules and striking out along you own creative path. A couple of YouTube tutorials and you’ve got yourself a career.

Architects don’t have this problem. No-one would ring up their best mate’s cousin and ask them to knock up some designs for an extension, just because they’ve got an iMac. I do feel that graphics is an under valued profession, too often it is dismissed as a last consideration, little better than a fancy embellishment, which inevitably means that people under-estimate how much time, energy (ie. money) it costs.

I feel this applies much more to web design than print, where the printed word still retains some level of mystique and reverence. I expect people from all other professions feel the same way about their jobs, but I bet they don’t have clients constantly questioning their decision making, as if simply looking at a computer screen somehow makes them better qualified to choose fonts than someone who works with type every single day, including weekends (geeek that I am). But I can’t imagine someone turning to their solicitor in a court room and saying, “actually I think I can take it from here”.

I’m all for would-be graphic designers taking the self-taught path up the creative mountain, I even applaud them. It’s not something I could have done; I needed university to give me some basic grounding in design principles and theory. Turns out I could have read it all on Wikipedia in one afternoon.

But unless people start to take web design more seriously we’ll never see the back of shite like this.

Also if you haven’t clicked on the picture of the kid at the top of this post, go and check out that link too.


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