Who needs skills? We have software!

Who needs skills? We have software!

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Push The Button - Photo Courtesy of Jason Gulledge

In this guest article Kirk Nelson (a regular contributor to the magazines ‘Advanced Photoshop’ & ‘Photoshop Creative’) gives a real good low down on what it is like to be working in the design industry, and then some… Call it a rant if you will, but I know that you will enjoy this article.

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Where’s The Magic Button?

“Where’s the magic button?!” read the subject line of the latest thread in the character animation forum. Within was the rantings of another poor soul who had believed the lie. He had purchased the right tool, now why couldn’t he do the work he’d seen others do?

This poster, Mac, we’ll call him, had just purchased a professional level 3D animation package with high hopes of creating his own fantasy film full of dragons, castles, and mystical battles between demons and sorcerers. The demo reel for the software showed several of these things along with many other amazing scenes all slickly rendered and animated. His disappointment was palpable when he looked in the software’s Create menu only to find a list of geometric shapes. No dragons, no castles, no wizards, not even a lowly suit or armor. But cubes and spheres and cones instead. In a confused rage, Mac had turned to the message board where he’d seen so many inspiring applications of this very program to seek enlightenment. “Where’s the magic button? Where do you get the dragon and fireball? All I see are a bunch of curves, polygons, and shaders. You don’t mean that I have to DRAW a dragon with these lines do you!? I can’t do that!”

In typical internet fashion, the forum responded by mocking Mac. They offered to sell him “Fantasy Dragon Scene” plug-ins or to say he needed the latest software patch that opened the new “Create Awesome Animation” feature. Others responded with their idea of irony by posting the definition of the word “Fantasy.” Nobody would tell poor Mac the truth he really needed to hear; that software is not a replacement for artistic skill.

Dragon Courtesy of Wili_hyprid

No Skills or Talent Required

Every professional in a creative field has seen this phenomenon. From the guy who tries to design logos in Powerpoint to the person who watched a Photoshop tutorial online and now wants to apply for the graphics position. Or the talented photographer who bites her tongue when somebody praises her work by saying “Wow, your camera sure takes great pictures!” So many people think they can be a creative professional if they simply purchase and learn the right tools. No skills or talent required. One wonders if these folks consider why such establishments as art schools even exist. Surely there can’t be more to it than just learning how to run through a few menus, the software does it all for you right?

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It’s interesting to consider that nobody thinks they can become a carpenter by reading the user’s manual for their circular saw. Or that purchasing a pneumatic wrench qualifies them to be an auto mechanic. So why would somebody assume that purchasing Illustrator would transform them into a designer?

Who Benefits? Who Doesn’t?

Perhaps a better approach to the question would be, “Who benefits from this false assumption?” The most obvious answer is the software companies themselves. They would clearly enjoy the credit being attributed solely to their product and not to the artist. What better way to expand their consumer base and sell more products than by propagating the belief that their tools don’t cater to professionals, but create them. “You don’t need to be a top graphics artist to purchase Photoshop, but you sure can’t be one without it, so if you want to get there, we’ll provide the path.” It’s a seductive promise to be sure. One that appeals to our basic desires of immediate gratification. There’s no need to spend years in a design program at an expensive art school when you can simply purchase a piece of software instead. Why subject yourself to merciless critiques in a cold, damp, traditional art studio when you can easily watch a few tutorials from the anonymous comfort of your desk?

Courtesy of fdecomite

Where to click? vs Why to click?

Let us not forget that the tools themselves are quite spectacular too. To the uninitiated, creating stunning artwork is as simple as a series of mouse clicks, who can’t do that? There are thousands of video tutorials showing just how a piece of software can be “driven” to arrive at an artistic design. People can then reenact this predetermined series of dance steps, achieve the same expected results, and claim they produced the piece. But the art is really no more theirs than it is the machine’s that played back the tutorial. Many Photoshop tutorials can be entirely recorded through the Actions panel and played back at the press of a button. This doesn’t mean Photoshop itself is now producing the design, does it? In this sense, design has been reduced to a simple list of “where to clicks” with no thought being given as to the “why” of each click or menu command. It’s like the proverbial retired engineer of the soup can factory who was called in to troubleshoot the plant when it ceased working. The man evaluated the machinery and spray painted a single ‘x’ on a piece of equipment with instructions to replace that piece. He then promptly charged an exorbitant fee for his services. When the plant manager complained of such a large sum just for spray painting an ‘x’ and the engineer replied that it’s not how to paint the ‘x’ that mattered, but where. Similarly, with design software it’s not where to click that matters, but why.

The problem is further perpetuated by the plethora of academic programs that are too light on solid fundamental design and too heavy on the mechanics of using the tools. Many holders of design certificates are quite fluent in the use of Photoshop filters, but can’t adequately describe the basics of color theory. It becomes obvious just how acutely detrimental this trend is when one considers that color theory has long preceded even Photoshop itself and will likely last for generations after the current software companies have faded away.

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Balls by fdecomite


One of the most curious causes of the “No talent required” movement can be traced to a group that has nothing to gain from it, and everything to lose; the accomplished creative professionals themselves. Or rather, their rabid “fanboyism” of the tools. These are the talented individuals who are thrilled to display their work as an accomplishment of the tool they chose to use. While it’s true that the software does enable them to accomplish their visions, these artists are blind to the fact that the tools are just that, tools. They defend their choice of platform or software more than their own family name. They take the credit they have so richly earned and freely give it to an assortment of ones and zeros. And their work is then used to further press the deception onto the masses. These artists, who should be the ardent resistors of the movement, have unwittingly become its champion supporters instead.

So? … Where is the Magic Button?

It’s clear that the very idea of being replaced by a piece of software raises shackles within the creative community. It demeans their talents and discounts their hard work. So what should be done about it? Essentially, nothing. The movement is on a course of self destruction. Creativity cannot be automated. It can be copied, recorded, analyzed, reproduced and inspected, but it cannot be mechanically generated. Trust in this fundamental truth. Creative professionals should be aware of the movement, see that they don’t become unwitting supporters, bust up the false assumptions when possible, but more than anything, just continue doing what they do best. Continue creating. Continue designing. Continue producing works that prove the point. Talent is not replaceable. The best weapon in this battle is quality design work that makes others cry out in frustration, “Where’s the magic button!?”

So, what are your opinions? Where do you stand? Have you found the magic button?

98 thoughts on “Who needs skills? We have software!”

  1. Nice thoughts and well written article, thanks ^__^

    In addition in the “tools vs talent” discussion, I would also point all the so called design blogs, inspirational websites that continuously promote the same “hype styled meaningless pictures”.

    How often do you see an article like “look at this guy, his work is amazing, and he’s just 18”. But the work in question is for the hundreds times the same uninteresting 3d typo/flourish/fluo/sparkles…

    Yeah, sure, the first one or two were really good, the hundreds who copied the style are just boring.

  2. Just this morning, a client of mine (I handle their printed publications)called me up to show me the site a “designer” did for them at a “super duper” low price – aaarghh!! http://www.grpublications.co.za – and the “designers” home page http://www.dreamlink.co.za

    This is a perfect example of the “software does not make the designer”.

    …anyway… a while back I posted “Why does everyone think they are a graphic designer?” written by Steve @ Eightyone Design. http://tinyurl.com/bft7su A great article based on pretty much the same subject matter.

    It makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be beneficial for our industry to have a “bar exam” to be able to call yourself a Graphic Designer.

  3. I so agree. And it really gets my goat when, as an in-house graphic designer, I am undervalued and underpaid because management cannot see concrete numbers reflecting the value I provide, well above knowing a “few design programs.” Especially when I am routinely asked to help staff figure out where they stored a file on their own pc or how to place an image into MS word or powerpoint. And these are the well-paid, valued staff who have “real degrees” in science who apparantly work harder and are smarter than I am. Not only can he not see the value of my knowing numerous design programs, but there’s no way he can conceive the value of all those years at art school and learning from past jobs, attaining all the “intangible” talent needed to make things look clean, professional and appealing. I’d love to see him open Illustrator and try to make a box, much less add type, images, design, color and layouts within a concept that looks great!

  4. There’s quite a few videos on Youtube of people painting all sorts of stuff with MS Paint, the most memorable one being the Mona Lisa, demonstrating that the tools only enhance the original skill, rather than supplement it.

  5. Word.
    I’ve dealt with this lately. I’m working my way through school and while my job isn’t design based (retail, woo hoo!), I end up doing some design here and there under “other duties as assigned.” Multiple times my manager who has no creative bones in his body tells me, “Man, I wish I could find the time to learn Photoshop so I could do what you do.” *sigh*

  6. The reason people think they can buy software and produce a design but not by a wrench and become a mechanic is that when the car doesn’t run there is no disputing that the car is broke and it is your fault. However a few bevels and filters may in the eye of the designer look great. It may very well look like crap but design is somewhat subjective. But that is the good thing. Anyone can say the car is broke but few can recognize the difference between good design and bad.

  7. Very interesting! I remember when I got my first copy of photoshop. I was overwhelmed with all of the tools, menus, and modes. But it did spark a desire to learn the program.
    When I was younger, I always wanted to be a screenplay writer. I didn’t actually write a screenplay until I purchased my first video camera. Not sure why it worked this way, but getting the video camera sparked my desire to write movies I could film. Some people just need this little kick of inspiration. I know I did.
    You are right though, you need to learn the fundamentals of whatever field you are in. We may have the creativity and desire inside of us, but we need to learn the skills required to create what we envisioned.
    In college I would read the description of the courses, and I would think to myself, ” I don’t need to learn that, this other class looks like more fun.” Well that class was Design Fundamentals. And when it came down to one of the last classes I needed to take, I had no other choice but to participate. Truth be told, that was one of the most informative and interesting classes I have taken so far!
    For anyone who is reading this, don’t be afraid to buy that piece of software you want, but like Jacob said, don’t expect a magic button to come with it.
    Always work towards your goal, read as much as you can, and hone your skills. Point is, you can never learn enough!

  8. There’s the same kind of mentality among some wannabe writers. They think they can buy software that simplifies plotting or character development or screenwriting. All these software programs do is offer the tools to get the job done with skills you already have.

    But you said it all when you said:

    Creativity cannot be automated. It can be copied, recorded, analyzed, reproduced and inspected, but it cannot be mechanically generated.

    Absolutely great article. I only wish the people who NEED to read and understand it, would.

  9. nice article!

    Gotta say though, as an employer who hires graduates from the art schools of the UK, not one and I have to repeat that, not one of them has arrived with a decent grasp of how to use the tools of everyday graphic design. eg. The adobe suite of products or quark in its heyday.

    At least the first year of all their employment has been a hand holding exercise mostly teaching them the absolute basics of software programs. When I ask what they are actually taught in graphic design school or wherever I get told that most of it is art based and seldom do they use computers in their learning.

    So, while I agree with your article about there being no magic button and designers should be artists first, it would help if those artists would learn how to use the tools of their trade first before pretending to be designers.

  10. Hmm, magic button, hey?

    I think it was the magic button that initially got me interested in design. I remember aquiring my first copy of photoshop and endlessly producing cookie cutter images based on tutorials while learning the program. I was proud and wore them as a badge of honor.

    I quickly grew bored of re-creating others artwork though these means and started treating the creative suite more as a tool. I’m now in a design school and am really enjoying creating art.

    My point is, The magic button was what first got me interested in design as a lifestyle. Long live that button.

  11. Well Dave, i guess that it doesnt happen in every school… I mean, i’ve studied graphic design in Portugal and Turkey and i always spent a lot of time on the computer, learning the basics of design-related software. I think the ideal is a balance between theory and practice… and after all, a design student should learn a lot outside of school, reading books and magazines, taking pics, and trying to look to everyday things with other eyes
    school is just a part of the process 🙂

    Great text, by the way 🙂

  12. I think that may have been you best post yet.

    I personally wanted to get the exact same message out a while back but never got the time to write an article.

    If you gave a talented designer MS Paint, he would be able to make a better website than a newbie who uses Photoshop.

  13. Awesome!! I just bought Photoshop, I can design you anything! I’m now a professional designer. By the way, does any know how to do those awesome drop shadow and emboss techniques on text. I love that stuff man.


  14. This article hit it right on the head. I’m so tired of everybody who gets Photoshop thinking that their magically a designer. Talent and practice and a desire to be the best designer possible are what make a good designer. Theirs a teacher and my university who says to his class every semester “only 2 of you in my class will become graphic designers.” I think the myth of the magic button is to blame personally.

  15. I use to watch tutorials to inspire myself. Video copilot’s for example. But then I tweak what I’ve learned to do my own ideas.

  16. So true.

    I hate the way this makes some clients perception that it only takes a few moments to design something. The fact they think they can do the same in Word, means it should only take me 2 clicks…

    Bevel and emboss, please

  17. This article is on point. I am tired of non artist under estimating what we do. Photoshop is a tool not instant art. You can’t give some one a hammer and call him a carpenter.


  18. Very true article. I did some product design, although had to remain “minimalist” since my art skills were not up to par with the programs…back to basic composition classes!

  19. Creativity cannot be automated. It can be copied, recorded, analyzed, reproduced and inspected, but it cannot be mechanically generated. Trust in this fundamental truth.

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, even in so far as going to formal art classes to learn more about it. I love the feel of traditional medium like paint, pencils (I hate charcoal though). However, as I grew older I seemed to lose the creative side of things, something that I was completely aware of and really sad about. I learned to use technology to make art, but I’m still not happy. That’s why I plan to go back to basics: art school again this coming semester.

    I’ve also been seeing a trend where a lot of people are toting DSLRs, but only a handful can come up with a decent shot that doesn’t look like it’s taken with a P&S.

  20. I agree that creativity and artistic skill require more than knowing how to use photoshop or illustrator. However, I get the sense that there’s a lot of sensitivity and defensiveness going on here too. Just because someone isn’t a designer, or some other creative professional, doesnt mean they aren’t creative (i am a designer). It reminds me a little of when i was studying psychology some years ago – because it’s considered a ‘soft’ science, which isn’t taken that seriously by alot of people there was a defensiveness and a desire to cast other people as less enlightened. Also i think we should remember that going to art school doesn’t mean you’re all that creative either, like all degrees, it just means you have a degree – it doesnt specify whether you were the top of the class or the dodgy guy who only turned up when movies were scheduled. By the way, i think you have a great blog here Jacob.

  21. I sense some fear. If you’re a good designer, you shouldn’t be worried about “these folks”. Just do your work to the best of your ability and if you’re really more talented you shouldn’t be threatened by another person’s lack of skills. As the great Carl Jung put it “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.”

  22. Nice article. And so true… I’m in software development myself, an area that also knows this phenomenon. Some seem to think that I just push a few buttons et voila: we got an app! Well, it does not work that way… Sometimes hard to make clear though.

  23. I find it strange that you have such a forthright view on this Jacob when you have an advert below this post advertising the building of a website in minutes.

  24. Wow best article I have read in a while, great post Jacob.

    I am that 16 year old, just got her hands on Photoshop, SLR lugging girl that seems to be the topic of this article. And I AGREE with every word said here. When I bought Phototshop, I was sold on the “buy our software, and all your wildest design dreams will come true” campaign. And for the first 6 months of owning the program, I barely touched it. It was so intimidating, with all the menus and buttons. Thankfully, I wasn’t that bevel and emboss kid but maybe I was something worse: afraid of failure. Every attempt I made to create art looked like crap and I knew it.
    So then I spend the NEXT six months following tutorials and reading articles, and begun to learn “WHERE to click.” And slowly, through that, I learned “WHY to click.”
    Now my work is far better than when I started, and I am excited to become even better in the future. I have embraced Photoshop as a wonderful tool to create art with, and now that I know how to use it, my imagination is my only limit.

    My magic button was the day I tamed the tool, and got the creative freedom I bought it for.

  25. Very nice article, I appreciate it. Every so often I have to remind myself that design is not about the tools, but about the creative mind itself. That being said, I still don’t think I deserve to be called a creative person or a designer, I know the tools on the computer fairly well, but give me a pencil and a sheet of paper and I cannot make anything worthwhile, but I’ve been trying. On the flip side I had a fellow student in class last year that just couldn’t do anything with the software, but he made drawings by hand that were absolutely stunning.
    I have been thinking lately that what stunted me creatively was art class in elementary and secondary. Art class is supposed to be about helping the student’s minds to blossom, but most of my teachers treated it as something structured and rigid instead of fluid and full of possibilities. Create this, and it’s got to look just like this or it’s wrong, as opposed to create something like this but it cannot be this.
    Something else I think a lot of people get caught up in when trying to create something it taking it too far, complicating things. Thinking that they’re not an artist or a designer unless they can use at least 5 filters at the same time. Undervaluing simplicity and the time that should be spent just thinking and considering whether or not something should be there or not. I think David Airey’s latest logo design post for Giacom is an excellent example, one can look at it and think, “It’s only four shapes and two lines of text:” sure, but that’s undervaluing the time and thought that was put into where each shape is and why it’s there, not to mention the font choice, face, size, spacing and everything.

  26. Nice article, a nice alternative to the “get a real designer” articles around.

    Oh yes, and photoshop filters make your an expert. That’s a classic. 🙂

  27. Thanks for this great article Jacob. Me and a friend have had this conversation many times. In a small town, like the one we live in, there are plenty of people trying to pass themselves off as designers when really they don’t know anymore than how to use the software.

  28. I almost totally agree with the article. But I see a lot of a problem on the other side of the spectrum too. I always wanted to know my tools in and out, to not be limited by my knowledge in realising my ideas, concepts and visuals.

    Lots of people at an early moment in time stop learning their software any further. They do buy or get buyed updates, but proceed using their tools like they have done for years.
    Then you knowledge is smaller then your potential, we don’t want that.

    I realised this when a freelance dtp operator came to work with us this week. He never used a blend mode in his life (okay, maybe multiply), thus was not able to go beyond images that are handed to him.

    I am glad I can go wherever my mind leads me and hardly ever have to worry about the How to do stuff. Adding 3D to my arsenal was one of the best things ever, and it did cost me a lot of evenings and nights to grasp the bascis, but now I get consulted for everything remotely related (same goes for internet and mobile…).

    The thing that sometimes bothers me, is that other people that do the same work as I do, seem not interested in learning more or new tools.

    Oh, the other thing that bothers me in this field (and what I imagined would play a role in this article): CLIENTS! They actually do think they pay good money for me to have expensive software stuffed with big ‘make website that I have never seen with photography you can’t believe is real and communication power you have never seen before’-buttons. In two days. For 250 bucks.

  29. Well written. I’ve been witnessed to an colleague who went to art school with me and dropped out after a few quarters, later trying to pass off as a designer because they had the tools, yet didn’t know how to utilize those tools. Needless to say that just because you hand someone a program or fancy camera, doesn’t necessarily mean they are instantly a designer or a photographer. As one of my friends put it ‘Give an average Joe an SLR and he’ll take a snapshot, give a photographer a dollar camera and he’ll take a photograph’- it’s not the tools you use to create works, it’s more so the knowledge of which you know how to create your vision.

  30. How true. They are all just tools. In the first two semesters in college we didn’t use computers at all. It was all about learning the fundamentals of graphics design. A decade later I now work in a small graphics department (2 designers, 1 art director) and have to deal with this problem quite often. Especially the marketing writer (!) doesn’t get it. She declared herself a designer, went to a couple seminars and now “designs” brochures … horrible contraptions which would be perfect examples on how NOT to do it. Unfortunately she’s the favorite of the VP so there’s not much we can do about it. Don’t get me started with our multimedia department … anyways … the end result usually shows if it was done by a designer or a software user.

  31. Great article. I think some people get their hands on PS and start using all the filters and effects and start calling themselves designers. In reality there is much more to it than just knowing what to click. There are things like composition and balance that, while software is making it much easier, can never be automated properly. It takes talent to know when to add something and to know when to stop.

  32. Robots ownz us, sounds crazy but it is so. There are many usefull tools, but i like some old school methods. Software is the first step, the second is in your head 🙂

  33. Nothing is ever ‘easy,’ so to speak. Graphic designers are very undervalued yet highly desired. Our industry is developing so quickly it would be absurd to higher a graphic designer who has been designing for the past 10 years, yet they are Quarks #1 fan. This is why education is important. A great graphic designer is a 2-in-1 package. Meaning they can effectively use all the tools required to make digital graphics and at the same time be artistic and use the tools creatively. You can’t have one without the other if you plan on being successful as a designer.

    It is almost sad that it is ‘cool and trendy’ to be a graphic designer. Everyone wants to do it, but only a small population can do it well. Just recently I had someone contact me asking me for the font I used in my own personal logo so they could use it. It felt good to be able to tell them that I drew it, and if they wanted the font in my logo, they would have to hop in illustrator and recreate it.

  34. You said:

    “The problem is further perpetuated by the plethora of academic programs that are too light on solid fundamental design and too heavy on the mechanics of using the tools.”

    I think that goes both ways.

    What gets me about many web and graphic design programs in schools is that many of the don’t update their programs with the times.

    They tend to focus on the tools of the trade and basic fundamentals, but why don’t they help you learn current trends, versus you learning them on your own? Or better yet, how to predict trends?

    To me, the end result of that is a mess of everyone copying everyone else.

    I guess it all boils down to the fact that either you have that artistic eye or you dont.

  35. I can’t agree more, but I think this is only half of the problem. The other half comes from the fact that people these days can take any piece of garbage and say it’s art. Cropping 5 photos together and using 10 filters on it does not make it art. The worse part is that people accept it. That’s why everyone thinks that desiging only take 2 clicks. You might say that I sound like a bitter designer. The fact is, I test electronics for a living, and I only read design blogs for fun. (If you need your electronic product certified, find me)

  36. Hello,

    Great article and I agree to it but only to a certain extent…

    True that people think that if they learn the technology and master the software, they can work their way out…but to last long in the industry and give oneself a unique identity..not ending up just producing, reworking on others’ ideas one needs to have creaative juices flowing & be artistic! This is something that is lacking in most of the JunTa…

  37. Great article and I definitely agree that software is merely a tool, a channel for getting your creative ideas out there. Too many people think that just because you have the software, you can be a designer. I do think that the same, repetitive styles and works that people mimic are important at first to learn the tools (i.e. tutorials). However, some never stray from this method and still call themselves designers.

    I’d argue that creativity and true design can’t be taught. Sure, you can learn the basics of color, spatial arrangement and composition in a class or online, but this will hardly make you a designer. I know many people who know how to use Photoshop and other graphics software but are unable to create art or anything aesthetically pleasing on their own with it.

    It is important as a designer to constantly learn more about your tools at hand or even new tools that could offer another outlet for your creative thoughts. Unfortunately, we are limited to those tools and our knowledge of those tools which is why it’s critical to constantly be experimenting beyond our comfort zones of familiarity.

    Creativity resides in the mind, not in the software/tools.

  38. Hey Jacob,

    Long time reader, first time commenting.

    It’s really a great article and it’s something that I also stress to a lot of people that creativity, is something that your born with.. something thats inside of you and has to spew out.

    I did learn everything I know now from tutorials from sites like vectortuts and psdtuts.. but agree that if I didn’t have the creative know how, my designs would be terrible and not creative.

  39. I really like the story about the old engineer. You also have to ask the question “Should I click at all?” why not draw, paint, or set type.

  40. Very well written article that adequately describes the frustrations of both sides it appears. The person hiring the artist and the artist themselves. The availability of templates, software and the promise of a ten minute website have definitely not served the design community well. I regret I don’t have a quick fix or solution for these prejudices other than to say do your best to keep the part of the craft you love and devote your attentions and focuses to that. The manner other people think you have no control over.

  41. great post here!

    can deal with those people who desvalue your work and think you spent 4 or 5 years of your life studying for nothing…

    beware imitations and plagiarism.

    “Creativity cannot be automated. It can be copied, recorded, analyzed, reproduced and inspected, but it cannot be mechanically generated.”

    well said.

  42. Epic post my friend.. I am yet to find the magic button..

    Oh the irony, often days, weeks and sometimes even months of work go into producing the work I do, and I’m not even that great, I know of conceptual, environment and character digital painters that take months to go from idea, through basic sketches into the finished product.. it is not even the remotely the program that allows this.

    I see the program as a platform, as a palette in my workflow, not as my entire workflow.. never rely on software or digital mediums, there is no exception for traditional.

  43. Maybe slightly off topic but it’s not just a frustration in the design industry. My husband spent 3 years doing an apprenticeship to become a qualified bricklayer and it really gets his goat when people watch a show on TV and think they can do it just as well if they go out and get the right tools. Just because you just bought the newfangled expensive brick saw doesn’t mean you can lay bricks!

    There are skills involved in everything and it astounds me that people think they can do something without the skill and training that many of us spent years to get.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to rant too!

  44. Wow, this article sure did get some attention. I am currently in Thailand at the moment so I haven’t had the chance to read through your comments however I will once I return in a few weeks. Thanks for your comments!

  45. I am just starting out in the design business but I have been an artist all of my life. This was a great article. Almost all of my design work is first done AWAY from my computer and then later brought into the software programs.

    Personally I’m still learning my chosen software programs. I can’t yet recreate everything that I design on paper in the programs, but at least it’s not the opposite for me!

  46. Been following your blog for a few months now, and I have to say, what a well written article. I remember my college days where we actually had render some projects by hand, though had access to older versions of Creative Suite and Quark. Let me tell you, those who could actually draw did much better in school than those who didn’t. It’s the handful of us who possess talent with a pencil, that have a job in the industry today. Software CANNOT replace a true artist.

  47. I couldn’t agree more. It’s amazing how so many beginning design students also believe that everything comes from the computer. I think it’s very important that students learn about the conceptual process before even being introduced to the programs.

    This was very well written. It’s hard to communicate to others how there is no “magic button” in design. You can learn the programs and go through tutorials as much as you’d like, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be able to solve a problem.

  48. As well as being a designer, I teach a design course which includes photoshop and illustrator and you should hear the groans from the class when I ask them to switch off the computer and work out their designs on paper. It’s hilarious.I think a lot of people hide behind the technology without knowing fundamentals of design.
    Having said that, I think it’s fair to say that people may have joined the profession after playing with image editing programs and develop a genuine interest and go on to study design. Everyone deserves a chance to try something so it’s important not to dissuade people who are just starting out.
    The people who are looking for the magic button will move on to something else next week so I don’t think we need to feel threatened.

  49. Dead-on right. I’m a 30+ year print designer, and saw this begin in the late 1980’s when DTP software hit the market.

    I have a client who has done a 1st-class annual report for years. Last week her secretary emailed me a PDF of their “new” annual report (which she had proudly created in MicroSoft Publisher) for me to “polish”. It was hideous. I politely tried to retrieve the work, but soon got an email from the boss telling me that “they had it handled, thanks anyway”. So, they’ll wind up with a document that’s Pig-Butt-Ugly, and I lost about $5,000 revenue.

    They’ll get what they paid for, but it ultimately came out of my pocket.


  50. yeap , that’s the main problem , the clients!
    They don’t care about your knowlidge or skills , your diploma or your artwork ; if you don’t know how to sell your design ,even if it’s very creative, you get nothing ! So go to marketing school and then find your button!

  51. This is a good article for people to read, and react mentally to see if the profession, is really a profession or more like a hobby. THanks for the great read.

  52. Hi! You’ve hit the nail on the head with this article! I’ll admit that about 6 years or so ago when I discovered cg I ran out, bought some software and quickly discovered I was suddenly transported to another planet that spoke in tongues!! LOL! I’ve also seen people that buy, learn 2 or 3 tuts and set up shop. sigh…

  53. In many cases when something is designed well the design disappears. Non-designers don’t see it. It just is. I think that may be another piece of this complex perception that anyone can design. Good designers make it look easy.

  54. I’m frustrated by what is happening these days, any one who learned some basic tools in photoshop call him self a designer !

  55. WOW I have a client right now with this mindset. Why should I pay you to create a website for me when I can make one in front page for free? Let’s just say two months later he paid full price for my work. 😉

  56. I see articles like this all the time. Seems to be a sore spot with some “artists” on both sides of the table. It’s pretty simple to get over really… [insert pseudo self-gratifying insight on the meaning of life and art]. …and that’s all I have to say about that.

    It shouldn’t really bother you unless you feel threatened by up and coming talent regardless of their experience or education.

    Honestly, if a niche or special style defines you as an artist and its the only thing your clinging onto to stay afloat, then your already dead weight. Your boat has already passed if it can be that easily duplicated with the click of a mouse. Your fighting against a current of innovation that would only enable you to become more creative.

  57. Ive been working as a designer for 3 years now and ive seen this happening all over, from pre-press to graphic and type work. Its becoming ridiculous if you ask me and making it really difficult for people to find gold when their busy cutting through the crap. Ive said it before and ill say it again, Just because i own a scalpel i don’t call myself a brain surgeon or go round performing operations, tools are nothing but a way to help form ideas.

  58. Wow… this is so very true. I am a graphic designer and I have often had people say something to the effect of: “Oh, you had to actually draw that or create that”. About a 2 years ago at work I was working with my art director on a catalog and we had just finished working with a photographer at his studiothe photos were then implemented to the layout and the owner of our company asked me to make the food look more “delicious” and add more food in PhotoshopI jokingly said to my art director:

    “No problem, let me download that “create delicious food” filter plugin and maybe get that “add more food” droplet.”

    One more thing I always hear is: “You are a graphic designer, what software do you use?” When I say Photoshop they respond with: “Yeah I have that at home on my computer” and when I ask what version it is they never know that there are different versionswhich proves that it is the basic Photoshop “elements” versionI find it to be very humorous. It is as if they get the impression that no creativity goes into creating work that is classified as “graphic design” and that everyone plus their grandma has “photoshop” sitting on their computer at home just waiting for you to hit that “magic button”!!!

  59. now, jacob. please, do explain the relevance and a context of publishing a photo of the Dragon, a statue of a 19th century art-nouveau Dragon Bridge which was build and still stands in Ljubljana. And please, do mention a source and author of that photo. Nothing in this world is per-se! PLEASE.

    • The reference to the fantasy world in the opening paragraphs mentions dragons, also I do credit all photos with their authors (check in the Alt tags).

  60. Good article, I cringed at the idea that school is the be all and end all. I dropped out of graphic design when I realised that I was:

    a) Learning nothing new or very little new.
    b) Wasting time on assignments.
    c) Did most of my learning in my own time outside of the degree.

    Granted, it was probably due to the ineptness of the design department (full of pontificators that taught, because they couldn’t do) — but I’m happy that I took the initiative to teach myself. But then that’s the way I learn, I take a hammer and I bash away until it all makes sense. It’s how I learnt woodwork, it’s how I learnt how to fix my car, it’s how I learnt programming and it’s how I learnt graphic design.

    So in the end, I think it comes from within. For some people school can facilitate it, for others it’s just the drive to learn.

    In the end, I think there’ll always be people that are rubbish at something they think (or act like) they can do.

    Some people aren’t creative, aren’t good at design, aren’t good at fixing cars, aren’t good at carpentry, aren’t good doctors, aren’t good soldiers, aren’t good programmers. These people should find something they’re good at. But then who would our clients turn from in frustration and disappointment to pay us more than they would have liked? Eh?


  61. Thanks for this article Jacob. I believe software is only a tool to complement our creative talent/skills. However, there is an annoying Tsunami of aspirants with the opposite belief jumping into a creative profession because they think it is a cool job to be in, cool to be called a creator or artist, or simply that they find more income is in it. Little do they think of the passion and dedication required to survive in this field. Come the movie Avatar or slum-dog millionnaire and 3D animation institutes and audio institutes mushroom in every corner because of the students rushing to do crash courses. I see many drop-outs or many job-less especially during these recession-months because Sam wanted to be an animator… after a great movie experience at the animation movie theatre…ran and did a 3D course, joined a studio as an intern. And when the outsource animation jobs dried up because of stopped visual effects plans in Hollywood. Sam the new animator cannot find another job he can do. What good is it if he specialised in texture mapping and when the salary siezed to get tranfered into his account, he can’t try somewhere else either as a story-board artist, visualiser, illustrator, 2D animator or traditional gallery artist or any other job as a real designer would have to done. Sam will probably think of doing another software course? to find him a job? Sam…How about working on fine-tuning your talents first. Which would lead to so many career options as well as a fun way of life as a passionate original designer.

  62. Alex,
    I think we are always in school, maybe not officially, but we are always learning. Thanks for your feedback!

    Reminds me of this quote: “Practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect”.

  63. I completed a degree in Physics with some work towards my PhD when i realized that i had no interest in becoming an academician. So i took a job developing various pieces of numeric software to support geophysicists developing new programs to predict ground motion at nuclear power plants (timely, eh?). After five years of that, i was offered a position within the same company to develop a database (a new thing at the time). Since then I’ve been programming, something at which i have no formal training, for 30 years, developing a number of very successful applications and eventually leading a team of engineers. All of the fields in which i have succeeded are ones in which i learned on the job with no formal training. But of course you can say that isn’t the same as developing artistic skills. I work with a number of engineers who also have produced digital art, again without any formal training, that i, and others, find very intriguing. An engineer with whom i’ve worked spent two years teaching himself Photoshop CS3 and develop his own artistic voice. I appreciate that there are people who don’t understand the time required to learn how to use these tools, and, that simply understanding the tools is not sufficient. Yet there are many people who without formal training have learned these tools to produce unique pieces of art. I’m saddened that there are people who have misunderstood the effort required, but at the same time, there are those who can, and do, succeed at teaching themselves not simply the tools, but how to develop their own artistic voice. You can see my friend’s work at http://gallery.me.com/bcbarrick.

  64. I am an architectural illustrator, and let me tell you, I haven’t seen more bad work being produce during my past 25 years working professionally as I do now. I am even seeing people who should know better fall for the easy button lie. Free software, no experience, but good enough because it’s cheap!

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