The field of graphic design has experienced a great deal of change and flux over the last century or so — from a technology perspective, as well as from cultural and economic perspectives.

So, it’s only reasonable to assume that some of our family members might not understand what it is we do, and that others have some preconceptions or even misconceptions.

Here are a few “call and response” approaches to handling these career-defining conversations around the dinner table.

Statement: You’re a designer, so that means you work with Photoshop. And computers. Right?
Response: Yes, I do work with Photoshop, and many other applications. And, yes, they all work on a Computer. But while they’re critical to what I do, they’re just tools. If you gave me your measuring cups and a rolling pin, I’d have some of the tools of a baker, but that doesn’t mean I’d have been able to make all the desserts you made today. It takes skill and timing, practice and even some intuition to be a great baker or chef. Same is true for anybody practing graphic design: you’ve got to be facile with the tools of the trade, but that’s just the beginning. It can take some practice with that measuring cup and rolling pin to make a good pie from even a frozen pie crust. To create unique desserts from scratch — that takes skill and imagination… and that measuring cup!

Statement: Graphic design. You mean advertising?
Response: No, I don’t mean advertising, but there is a strong, co-dependent relationship between graphic design and advertising. As with so many things in life, it’s best not to look at this as a question that can be answered with a yes or no, black or white. Here are a few points to help draw a fat gray line between the two fields. Graphic designers are often concerned with defining the aesthetic of a “brand” for the long term, rather than promoting sales through the shorter term “campaign.” Graphic design firms are usually paid for the designs they create for their clients (and for orchestrating the design and production process), as opposed to ad agencies, which often make their living through large media buys. Would it be pushing the envelope to say that designers’ prime motivation is to communicate through the manipulation of words and images, while an advertiser’s prime motivation is to sell through the manipulation of those same tools?

That last bit might start a good conversation, so I’ll leave you with those thoughts for now!

Happy holidays!