Why is graphic design work so simple?

Answer by Andrew Williams:

Because you don’t understand what design work is.

The field of graphic design includes slightly more than placement of text and images. The following is a list of topics dealing just with the technical concerns of graphic design:

Operating systems and applications

Mac vs. PC
Digital displays
Bitmaps vs. vectors
Adobe Creative Suite
Other applications


Anatomy of type
Typeface selection
Font formats
Manipulating type
Creating body text
Type and color
Custom typefaces
Using fonts for print vs. web


Achieving accurate color
Screen angle, dot shape, and dot gain
Trapping and choking
Manipulating color
Creating a smooth gradient
Color-matching systems
Spot colors and special finishes
Color proofing on-screen
Inkjet color proofs
Professional color proofing
Choosing color for screen use


Sourcing images
Commissioning an illustrator
Working with photographers
Scaling images
Brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation
Image retouching
Layers, paths, and channels
Blending modes
Creating cutouts
Pixels to vectors
Vectors to pixels
Black-and-white conversion
Preparing an image for print
Setting up a CMYK profile
Understanding color profiles
Converting an RGB image to CMYK
Image-proofing marks
Image file formats for print
Preparing images for the web
Image file formats for the web


Working with page objects
Placing images
Placing text
Setting up a grid
Setting up master pages
Proportion and consistency
Designing tables
Web layouts
Developing a website
Publishing a website


Setting up a studio printer
Preflight procedures
Exporting PDFs
Preparing for output
File transfer
Choosing paper
Paper sizes
Folds and bindings
Print finishing
Solving print problems
Dealing with printers

There are also philosophical, aesthetic, and political questions about design. These are subjects that don't simply have a tutorial or instruction manual. To be a good designer, you have to understand not only how techniques in design work, but also why. Here are some seminal writings in design theory:

Who We Are: Manifesto of the Constructivist Group. Aleksandr Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Aleksei Gan c. 1922

Our Book. El Lissitzky 1926

Typophoto. László Maholy-Nagy 1925

The New Typography. Jan Tschichold 1928

The Crystal Goblet or Why Printing Should Be Invisible. Beatrice Warde 1930

On Typography. Herbert Bayer 1967

Designing Programmes. Karl Gerstner 1964

Grid and Design Philosophy. Josef Müller-Brockmann 1981

Good Design Is Goodwill. Paul Rand 1987

Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour 1972

My Way to Typography. Wolfgang Weingart 2000

Typography as Discourse. Katherine McCoy with David Frej 1988

The Macramé of Resistance. Lorraine Wild 1998

The Dark in the Middle of the Stairs. Paula Scher 1989

The Underground Mainstream. Steven Heller 2008

Design and Reflexivity. Jan van Toorn 1994

Design Anarchy. Kalle Lasn 2006

The Designer as Author. Michael Rock 1996

Designing Our Own Graves. Dmitri Siegel 2006

Dematerialization of Screen Space. Jessica Helfand 2001

Designing Design. Kenya Hara 2007

Import/Export, or Design Workflow and Contemporary Aesthetics. Lev Manovich 2008

Univers Strikes Back. Ellen and Julia Lupton 2007

…If you've mastered the basic techniques of graphic design, read the history, and understand the philosophy, aesthetics, and politics, and you still think that design is just about placing text and images, then perhaps we just need to talk semantics. Maybe 'simple' just doesn't mean to you what it means to everyone else. 😉

Why is graphic design work so simple?


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