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How To Spot and Work with Graphic Engineers

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Graphic Engineer

In this truly EXCELLENT guest article Prescott Perez-Fox* goes through the inner workings of the obsessive creative designer and shows how to effectively spot and get the most out of one. A extraordinary and must read article – trust me.

It is an unfortunate truth that in our society, engineers are underrated. Compared to the scientists, architects, and politicians they work with, the engineers remain relatively unknown and are just those behind-the-scenes ‘elves’ who hold the ship together.

Are engineers disrespected, under-appreciated, overworked? Is their role in society valued and rewarded? This debate is ancient, and it comes back into the light whenever something big goes terribly wrong. NASA scientists landed men on the moon, NASA engineers mixed up feet and meters resulting in the loss of an expensive satellite. You see my point.

What is A Graphic Engineer?

The design profession has it’s engineers too, and they are just as underrated as their sciencey counterparts. Their arena isn’t space tech or tall buildings, but rather packaging die lines and website code. I’m not talking solely about the production people, proofreaders, mechanical artists, programmers, etc., but rather those individuals who dedicate themselves to becoming Graphic Engineers. The Graphic Engineer (GE) is not identified by his job title or his skill with software, but rathey by his mindset, his personality, and his work habits. He is someone who views the world differently and approaches every problem from a slightly steeper angle of incident.

The GE is a valuable member of any successful design team, and a good engineer can make everyone’s job easier, but they’re not always easy to manage or to work with. Here’s how you might identify, and then accomodate your GE, to get the most out of him, and your team overall.

How to spot a Graphic Engineer

The Graphic Engineer:

Is obsessed with Details.

Not just the obligatory ‘detail-oriented’ that every job description in the world includes, these people go above and beyond what most folks would consider ‘a closer look’. Spotting a misused Em Dash from 30 meters is just the beginning. Editor: One of the 15 signs you’re a bad graphic designer.

Values the methodology, sometimes over the results or the time frame.

Embodying the philosophy that “anything worth doing is worth doing right,” the GE will go out of his way to ensure that any process is done to the letter, including documentation and feedback, which often go overlooked. He’s the one most likely to create immaculate CSS style sheets, even if it’s just for an internal login page. Table styles in InDesign, layer comps in Photoshop? Most likely put together by a GE. Best practices, after all.

Never accepts good enough.

Along with his obsessive nature, the GE has an overdeveloped sense of duty, and never leaves a job unfinished. For that matter, he re-defines the word ‘finished’, and will take those extra precautions to ensure quality. After all, it’s his butt on the line when something goes wrong. Just like NASA.

Lives in a world that always needs fixing.

Rather than simply striving to make the world more enjoyable or more beautiful, the GE strives to solve problems, correct errors, and iron out all manner of wrinkles in the day-to-day of our profession. It’s a very blue collar approach to graphics but show me where the leak is.

How to get the most from your Graphic Engineer

Spot

Now that you’ve identified your groups GE (raise your hand if it’s you! – Editor: You got me spot on!) , you have to understand a few things about how he works. Because GEs are unlike regular employees, a bit of tact is required to get the most out of your engineer.

Give him space.

This is both physical and metaphorical. Clearly, all GEs work better with a larger desk, larger monitor, more sunlight and square footage, and an ergonomic chair, but at the same time, I’ve never met a GE who worked better with bosses hovering and peering over his shoulder. In fact, that’s probably the easiest way to get shoddy work when you need it most. (Editor: Amen)

Ask his opinion.

Personalities aside, GEs always have opinions. And those opinions are often based on independent research, industry knowledge, trial-and-error, prior experience, and good old fashioned gut instincts. In other words, those opinions are valuable and ignoring them simply isn’t smart. GEs want to improve their general situation (they live to fix leaks, remember?), so their advice is usually constructive. Also, ignoring those opinions can lead to bitterness, depleted productivity, and the wording of those same precious opinions and ideas.

Let him rant.

Since engineers are often under tremendous pressure, they may need to let off some steam. (pardon the metaphors) So let them. Do whatever you can to get the most out of your GEs, even if that means shaking things up in your studio. Ranting often brings to light feelings and thoughts shared by many members of the team but why not let your hardest thinker explain why the current situation has gone pear-shaped.

Learn from him.

The engineer is naturally a teacher. By providing knowledge, he helps elevate everyone around him and thus feels less aliented. Also, this makes his job easier because the rest of the crew is meeting him half way (or at least part way). Considering GEs are often well versed on the latest trends, languages, software techniques, and professional happenings, you might actually learn something when he pulls out the “well, actually” during a meeting.

If you’ve never spared a thought for the Graphic Engineer, now’s the time. Next you need him to tidy up a messy style sheet, extend a poorly cropped photo, or a revive hand-me-down Mac, show a bit of appreciation and understanding. Graphic Engineers are the glue that hold together the gears of the creative industry. Imagine your life without them.

*Prescott Perez-Fox is a brand developer and designer in New York City. He blogs about design and branding at his site, Perez-Fox . He also happens to have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics with a concentration in Aerospace, but that’s hardly relevant.


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19 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Alex Charchar Reply

    I find it interesting that you suggest that these kind of traits aren’t part of every professionals working habbits?

    I thought most of your points are what separates an amateur from a professional, more than drawing a line around one group and calling them ‘graphic engineers’.

    Or perhaps I’m skewing a little bit here — perhaps it’s more a case of the uber-professionals, the passionate, having all of the aspects you mentioned as part of who they are; which is what leads them to being especially good what at what they do? *shrugs*

    Also, let’s not assume they’re all males! great post, cheers Prescott, I enjoyed it!

    Alex Charchars last blog post..The Beauty of Minimalism

  • LK Reply

    Hmmmm, Him? Can’t women be one too?

  • Dan Cole Reply

    Alex,
    Most languages refer to groups of people in the masculine tense. In other words, 99 females and 1 guy, is a group of guys… not gals. As far the majority, only about 4% of engineers are female (I’m unsure of the source, but remember hearing it.) Although the number has been growing in recent years.

    Dan Coles last blog post..New TLDs — What it Means

  • Jonathan Mayer Reply

    Great article; you nailed me. (Except for the “difficult to work with” part!)

    Back when I took my first design course, my professor described graphic design as “visual engineering,” and this has stuck with me ever since.

    In fact, when people ask for the long version of what a graphic designer does, that is exactly where I begin. My angle is that the client starts out more or less knowing what needs to be communicated, and the designer understands the details of how to do that most effectively.

  • Steve O Reply

    Interesting article Prescott. I can see what Alex Charchar means, but then many of the big name designers out there don’t adhere to point four imo. Product designers yes, graphic designers not so much. I know a fair few designers who don’t adhere to many of the other points either! I guess we all strive for (or should) adhering to this profile, but we’re not always able to due to various restrictions. I can see myself in ‘How to get the most out of them’ points. Some colleagues get annoyed when I question a piece of work or have a dissenting opinion, but I’m just trying to make it the best it can be.
    I referred to myself as the studio ‘Design Janitor’ last week – call me when a problem needs fixing!

  • Harry Roberts Reply

    That’s me! I’m now a front-end developer and GE. My attention to detail is almost at OCD level, and has become a talking point of the studio.

  • Prescott Perez-Fox Reply

    Thanks for all the comments! Glad to see I’m striking a chord with some of you.

    Yes, I used the pronoun “him”, but mainly because English lacks an appropriate third-person singular pronoun. “He or she” is a mouthful, “it” sound non-human, and “they” is of course not proper writing, although it is used all the time in speech.

    Also, yes, most Engineers are men. And in my experience, most Graphic Engineers are also men. That’s just something I’ve noticed.

    I’ve also noticed, much to my disappointment, that most design professionals, even the clever and talented designers, are to some degree complacent. I’m always shocked to learn that these designers don’t read magazines or blogs, don’t poke around with the latest software, don’t go to trade shows, etc. As a consequence, they don’t know what they don’t know. Just ask anyone who works in pre-press about how many designers overlook what I’ve always considered to be the basics.

    Then again, if you’re reading [and commenting] on blogs, chances are you exhibit most of the qualities of the GE. It’s a mindset more than a collection of skills.

  • Jonathan Mayer Reply

    “Just ask anyone who works in pre-press about how many designers overlook what I’ve always considered to be the basics.”

    Yeah, I’m a designer but I also work in prepress… it can be pretty disappointing sometimes to see a beautiful, fancy design with no bleeds, one single layer and umpteen versions of the same color. Or text-intense layouts in photoshop. :)

  • Emma Reply

    Hi there. I just thought I’d let you know that someone at “d t r e n t .net” is stealing your posts.

    He stole quite a few of my posts but I kept leaving comments on them to remove them and I think he got the message and he did remove them.

    Just thought I’d let you know incase you didn’t know – nobody wants their work outright copied onto another site.

    The funny thing is, on these posts it says “This article is copyright of Just Creative Design and should not be found elsewhere.”

    Tsk tsk.

    Btw, great site :)

    Emmas last blog post..Review of NVI – an SEO and Web Company

  • liam Reply

    Wow, I think I might be turning into a Graphic Engineer, I love that title! A lot of the habits mentioned I already do, got a few to go for now…

    liams last blog post..Free Icons: Function Icon Set, 128 Completely Free Icons

  • Alex Charchar Reply

    Hey Dan,

    I find that interesting as I would have thought that using ‘him’ or referring to groups of people as male as being an outdated use of language? In this day and age of equality between the sexes, it feels a little misogynistic

    Have any links or suggestions of books on all this?

    Also – 4% of engineers might be female, but aren’t we talking about a different discipline when we’re talking about graphic designers and graphic artists? ‘GE’ or not, it’s still design, and this profession of ours is cut pretty much straight down the middle, no?

    However, “most Graphic Engineers are also men. That’s just something I’ve noticed” as said by Prescott isn’t something I can argue with!

  • Ian Moss Reply

    That’s me…

    The designers I work with have not even looked at this site, even when I’ve told them how cool it is and what an invaluable resource it has proved to be.

    BTW, typo on paragraph 4 (rather)
    [The Graphic Engineer (GE) is not identified by his job title or his skill with software, but rathey by his mindset, his personality, and his work habits.]

  • Michael Persson Reply

    Thats scary, thats me described in that post =) Now I finally know what I am, a Graphic Engineer!

    Michael Perssons last blog post..Skapa logga

  • Lucinda Thompson Reply

    I have always wondered how to describe the differences between my partner and I, I always say that I am the crazy creative one (that often needs reigning in) and he is the technical one, with his face pressed up against the screen zoomed in at 6400%, but now I can see he is a Graphic Engineer! I shall amend his business card in accordance with this awesome finding!

  • T Reply

    Obsessive Compulsive Designer


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