What Is a Graphic Designer?

This is probably not something you’ve lain awake pondering (unless you’re a graphic designer yourself: hi!), but what, exactly, is a graphic designer? Is a graphic designer a fancy word for an artist? Are we just typography geeks and colour nerds? Do we have training?

“What does a graphic designer do?”

Graphic designers take strategies, concepts, words, sounds, and experiences and translate them into visual messages.


It’s about understanding the customer you’re trying to attract and the business you’re selling and making sure the two fit together.


Even though we’re called “graphic” designers, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll forsake the word to use only images. I’ll use whichever one I feel will communicate the message most effectively and immediately.

Designer Mark Busse says,

“Our professional practice revolves around a message-driven design discipline that involves research, learning, concept development, structuring and presentation of messages designed to facilitate better understanding within an audience.”

Which is an accurate list of what goes into crafting any design piece.

What do we do? We make your message attractive to your customers.

“So you’re an artist?”

Do we do art? Yes. Are we artists? No. Artists create to make people feel or to share pieces of themselves. Designers create to communicate a message. Graphic designers use art as part of their arsenal, but not to the same purposes.

“So what ARE you then?”

We’re creative geniuses and problem-solving monsters. We’re typography geeks and colour nerds and line lovers. We adore negative space as much as positive spaces and look for subliminal (or clever) messages from other designers. We’re the weirdos who fast-forward through television shows for the commercials, and get excited when we some big company reveals their new logo.

Most of us have training of some form or another (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and a Diploma of Design, as well as various courses in art, not quite adding up to any kind of designation).

There’s a movement within the design community to forego “graphic” in our titles for a more accurate “communication”, defining it like so:

“Communication design is a message-driven design discipline that involves the structuring and presentation of verbal and visual content to enable better understanding among people.” (Errol Saldanha)

Whatever we call ourselves, we’re interested in communicating your message to your customers.

Let me help you reach your customers.

Objections to Design #4 (Budget Design)

“Getting a logo online is so much cheaper!.” (AKA: I’m going with Fiverr/Elance/99designs, etc.”)

Cost is always a hot button for people, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to save money. Some companies end up with fantastic results from whichever online service they’ve used. That’s not always the case: most often, you get what you pay for.

One detriment to branding with an online service is that they generally don’t take the business as a whole into consideration. They’re not going to ask the questions to figure out who your business is, what separates it from your competitors, and who your clients are (among other questions!). These questions are key to getting a design that attracts your key market instead of just a logo that looks good.

Another problem is the lack of communication. I’m available to chat if you have problems, questions, or concerns with drafts and concepts. Most logo services are harder to communicate with.

This particular objection is very closely tied in with:

“My brother’s sister-in-law can do it for free.” (AKA: Keeping it in the family.”)

While free is good for your business’s pocketbook right now, do you have time to work with your relative’s (or friend’s) schedule? Do you feel comfortable telling your family or friends that you’re not happy with their work? (It’s a double-whammy of “hard to reject” going on: family and free!)

Sometimes, if someone is doing your design as a favour, you have to work within their schedule. It might take longer, since you’re not their priority and they don’t necessarily have a reason to do their best work (besides facing you at the next family reunion, of course!). Getting a design right takes time and many iterations.

If you’re not able to tell your designer that you don’t like the ideas they’ve come up with, then you won’t get the best outcome. Design is really a 2-way process.

If you want to impress your customers from the beginning, hire someone who will take the time to represent your best face to your customers: get in touch with me!

#InkTober Wrapup

Phew! What a month. Making a (relatively) complete drawing (almost) every day is a lot of work! But it was fun, and I only missed one day. My next challenge is the #PiBoIdMo (if you’ve ever heard of NaNoWriMo, the month where writers try to finish a first draft of a book in a month, this is similar, but for picture book writers: so I’m going to be coming up with an idea for a picture book every day…) We’ll see how it goes!


Unfortunately, I missed a few blog posts last month. I’m restarting my Wednesday posting schedule from now! Things you can expect to see this month:

  • Best links of October roundup
  • My final Objection posts
  • Design Tips
  • Cool Art

Follow along to get the latest posts as they’re published!

For your perusal, I’m reposting all my #inkTober drawings here. You can see my original postings and comments on Twitter (see posts from October 2015).

Link Wednesday – October 2015

What the Color of Your Logo Says About Your Company? and What Does the Color of Your Logo Say About Your Business? – Entrepreneur.com
Takeaway: Two great articles about brand colouring and colour theory as well as a bit about brand recognition. Just as painting a bedroom red is often a bad idea for restful sleep, using a multicoloured logo for a business trying to be serious and reliable isn’t always the best idea either. Looking through these two infographics will give you a basic idea of colour associations. Look at your own logo and pretend you’re seeing it for the first time: what does it make you feel?

5 Things to Do Before Hiring a Graphic Designer – Ciera Design
Takeaway: From a fellow print designer in New Orleans, this blog post offers up a few of the items a prepared client checks off their list before sitting down with a professional designer (of anything, really… you should check these off your list if you’re asking for a chair to be designed too!). “Know the mission of your business and understand the target audience” is one of the most important questions in business and I need to know that answer before I can properly make a logo for your business. A more complete answer to that question is actually to have your Business Plan ready to share with your designer. (If you don’t have a business plan, consider having one made!)

Holiday Marketing Plan for Home Business – Leslie Truex (About.com)
Winter is coming (probably not that Winter, but you never know, really!). We all know it, even if we pretend summer isn’t draining away, and that the temperature in Edmonton (my home town) did in fact reach below 0°C on Monday. Fall is beautiful, but we all know what comes next! And if you’re a small business owner, you really need to figure out how to capitalize on the Christmas/Holiday season, even if you’re not a retail business.

Takeaway: “Determine how your product or service can help people during the holidays.” If your product or service isn’t obviously “gift” related, don’t be afraid to make it so! Do you run a yoga studio? Relate the relaxing benefits of yoga to the rush everyone feels before the holidays.

Will you be running a sale for Christmas? Sending out holiday cards or gifts? Are you comfortable doing the design yourself? Give me a call if you want help with sale graphics or custom holiday cards!

The Known World of Visual Storytelling – Jake Parker
Jake Parker is one of my favourite illustrators/artists/online personalities out there today. He initiated the “#Inktober” challenge, where loads of people (including me this year!) draw an ink drawing every day to improve their skills and then post their results… Which are just inspiring for me the artist. He also makes beautiful art.

Takeaway: It’s not apparent at first glance that this is an article relevant to business people. But trust me and give it a read. Talking about how the huge advancement in technology have helped genius crop up: “Had they been born in any previous century the world would’ve been denied their visions.” In the end, he says, “I see Kickstarter as being a massive ship carrying story-travelers across the sea of opportunity. Whereas, before the advent of crowdfunding travelers had to craft their own ships.” It’s a great analogy for all the opportunity the internet has opened up for all us business people (not just storytellers). Crowdfunding! Social media! Search! Online ads! All of these new (ish) technologies and services, if used to their fullest (and especially if representing a great product/service/story) can bring your product/service to people who never would have had the opportunity to experience it before. So if you have an idea for a product or service: launch it!


What have you been reading lately? Share interesting insights in the comments!

Objections to Design #3 (Priorities)

“Design is expensive.” (AKA: “Design isn’t my priority right now.”)

Design is the first impression your clients receive. It’s something that represents the core of your business. If you feel that is something that doesn’t warrant consideration, and you’re happy with what you’ve got, then good on you. If you’re looking to impress your leads with professional and consistent visuals, then you may want to consider hiring a professional.

Compare your brand to your competitors and pretend you’re a first-time client: would you hire yourself? Without a good first impression, you have to work that much harder to grow the same client-base. Having a design to match the quality of your product is an investment.

If you want to impress your customers from the beginning, hire someone who will take the time to represent your best face to your customers: get in touch with me!

Tip: Function over Form

One of the most difficult parts of my job as a designer is balancing my tendency to make pretty, useless things with the need to actually communicate my client’s message.

I love decorating my spaces with attractive things. My electronics all have beautiful skins or cases (most from nuvango.com), my walls are covered with art (any more and it would become unattractively cluttered!), my ears and hands and neck often display lovely jewellery (usually unmatched pairs, because life is short!)… that’s right: my ears, hands, and neck are “spaces”. And when I make a design, sometimes I have to pull back on the pretty, so that the message comes out clear.

So if you spend money on a designer, try to find one who will make their functional pieces attractive, but if you have to choose one over the other, function is more important.

Choose function over beauty, folks. This applies to all kinds of things! Life partners, books, houses, kitchens, cars… I mean, if your car runs smoothly, but looks like a piece of junk, you’re better off than all those people out there whose cars look fine, but are actual pieces of junk inside!

Have you run into any design piece that didn’t get its message across because it was too busy being pretty? Have you had the misfortune of beautiful design that hasn’t got any results? Give me a call!

Objections to Design #2 (You Yourself)

“No one can understand my business like me, so a graphic designer could never properly represent my business.”

You’re not looking for someone to run your business, but to communicate it to your market. I can do that. Professional designers are trained to dig into your business to find out what you’re all about, and then look at you from your client’s perspective.

I spend quite a bit of time learning about your business before I ever set pen to paper (or mouse pointer to screen), and then I try to provide an outside perspective that will most closely represent your customer’s experience.

I am trained to listen to your desires and ask the right questions to determine your NEEDS. Even though you know your business inside out (and I probably never will), your customers don’t. Sometimes an outside perspective will help you see the business from your customers’ perspective, enhancing the customer experience.

If you want to spend more time working on growing your business and to hire someone who will take the time to learn about what you want to represent to your customers, get in touch.

Objections to Design #1 (Me Myself)

“I’m creative! I can do it myself.”

While it’s my firm belief that everyone is creative, there are several reasons why hiring someone else could be better.

1. It’s good to have an outside perspective, a second opinion, or a consumer’s viewpoint.
2. You are busy doing what you’re best at: running and growing your business. Proper design requires many iterations and a fair amount of thought time.
3. Creativity is one aspect of what goes into design, but do you also have the technical skills and know-how to implement and disseminate your idea? Can you take your sketch and make it into a logo? Can you explain why you want to use certain colours? How to prepare the files for your printers or web designers? The benefits of vector over raster (or vice-versa)? RGB vs CMYK?

If you have the know-how, skills, time, and second opinions, then by all means, what are you doing here? Go design! If not, give me a call.

Link Wednesday – September 2015

Evolving the Google Identity
Takeaway: If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the new Google logo. I didn’t like the it at first, because the old one is so recognizable and classy, but their process is well reasoned (as is most of their business) and the last part of the article is fascinating: the file-size of their new logo is able to be smaller than the file size of their old logo (meaning it uses less bandwidth). Cool!

Why Following Up Will Lead to More Opportunities In Your Life – Red Lemon Club
Takeaway: A great article on followup timing. Don’t follow the “dating” rules (making them wait so you don’t seem too eager). Followup is a lot of work, but if you do it right, you can turn everyone into a lead or opportunity. “If you have a product or service that is well-suited to someone and can potentially improve their lives, it is your duty to get it in front of them.”

I Am Not a Graphic Designer – Mark Busse
Takeaway: Graphic Design isn’t all about graphics anymore, but the purpose behind those graphics. Should we change out titles or the world’s understanding of graphic design? I choose the latter.

How Much Does Brand Identity Cost – Ian Vadas
Takeaway: Here’s a wonderful look at someone else’s pricing in the industry and a good idea of what goes into a design. Very similar to mine (I mostly work with Solopreneurs and Small Businesses).


What have you been reading lately? Share interesting insights in the comments!