“The Need is Constant. The Gratification is Instant.” That’s from the American Red Cross and it was the copy I plugged into a blood drive for a comic convention blood drive poster, Those words sitting aside the image of the sexy and bountiful Vampirella, seemed to take on a different meaning. Oops! But I was struck by those words as a perfect summation of our society. We want it all, instantly and as cheaply as possible. We are a Walmart culture. Fast and cheap has entered every pore of us and it has changed our society, lives and livelihoods. Among our daily worries and pressures, we now fight ourselves to keep our industry professional and profitable. People want our blood for free and the “hacks” are designing us out of existence. Businesses have the need for cheap designs and there are people who are there to give the gratification. But is it fulfilling? 

All you need is a computer, software and beard and you are an ARTIST!.. Right?

Most people blame the laptop and easy programs. Many blame art schools for preferring quantity to quality. Can either be blamed for doing business? If someone with no idea of what they are doing wants to purchase a computer and a strew of graphic software and call themselves a designer, then they are in business. It’s like trying to find good Chinese food in middle America; there are too many places with “hot, wok, express, sizzling, jade, emperor’s, garden, tree, dragon” in the title and no idea of what Chinese food actually is. People keep them busy at all-you-can-eat buffet time, but a true gourmet of fine Asian dining will taste the difference and curse the aftereffects the next morning. To some, diarrhea is just the norm. 

Is it competition in the marketplace or just giving it away along with respect for what we do? 
Every freelancer who dared to quote an estimate of actual money has heard, “I can get it cheaper.” They can. The job worth thousands, to be done properly, will be delivered for a hundred and its horridness will not be noticed by the client. They will not see the lack of return on investment or the unseen factors like people not using their service or making sport of their new logo on the internet. If they do, usually when they go out of business for making all the wrong, cheap decisions, they will blame graphic designers. All of us. 

When a staff designer makes a blunder, even if only perceived, usually when those who are far behind schedule themselves get nervous…not for the project but their own jobs, the designers all need “a watchful eye.” We are the weird kids who drew pictures during math class while the kids, who grew to be marketing directors and account managers, were busy telling the teacher on us. Yes – WE need watching. 
“Mommy, I hate designer’s guts!” “Shut up and eat!”

If one has ever wondered why the practice of presenting “several ideas” gained such a strong foothold in our business, just imagine some incompetents in a floogelbinder guild, in the seventh century really screwing up and having the practice made law…before their heads were chopped off and their limbs burned in front of their dead eyes, transfixed from their heads now atop long pikes. Ah, the good ol’ days really knew how to keep professionalism at its very tip top! 

What exactly is a “hack?” 

Hack n. 

1. A horse used for riding or driving; a hackney.

2. A worn-out horse for hire; a jade.

3. One who undertakes unpleasant or distasteful tasks for money or reward; a hireling.

4. A writer hired to produce routine or commercial writing.

5. A carriage or hackney for hire.

6. A taxicab. 

Those who responded to the question of what IS a “hack” had great insights and varied opinions of what makes a person a “hack.” 

“It is not as regulative as other professions such interior architecture/design or accounting for that matter. To call oneself a designer, there is no apprenticeship required, no test to pass, no certification to obtain. If you have access to the software, it's open game,” wrote one designer. 

A creative director wrote some very kind words saying, “I view ‘hacks’ as part of the overall ecology of what drives business when it comes to the business of design and branding. 

On one had there are the implications that hacks have as it relates to businesses who are starting up, struggling to survive, or simply don't take design seriously -- the kind of business folk who are just looking for the lowest bidder. 

Then there are the sincerely talented designers who simply lack ambition, business savvy, or both, and do not get passed 5 years in their careers. 

Either situation actually helps cultivate a wonderful ecology of design business, in my opinion.” 

Surprisingly, an editor-in-chief of a well-known news service responded with an outrageous amount of typos and grammatical errors (corrected here), “every industry has 'hacks,' but most artists I have met (most not all) really do strive to be original and to use their imaginations to come up with new ideas. Very few jaded ones will rehash old stuff or try to peddle work that is derivative. It is always ‘buyer beware’ in this case. If the guy seems like a slick used car salesman, find someone else for whom you can work. On the other hand, what artists look out for is people who don't want to sign contracts, people who can’t tell good art from bad, people who can't make up their minds after they are offered twenty different sketches, and people who will not pay an advance or a set up fee.” 

A well-known writer checked in under the “misery-loves-company” banner, adding, “there are hacks in every discipline. Try working as a professional writer. Anybody with a keyboard and the ability to type can claim this for a calling.” 

A gentleman with the title of “Business Development” added another view creatives might not see. “I would think about the definition of 'hack.' It is conceivable that a person with no formal training, or a person who did not do well in design school, could rise to the top of their profession. They would have to be driven to succeed and committed to quality, I am sure." 
"But there is no guaranteed correlation between the elite-ness of their education and the quality of their current work.” 

Does art school make you a professional? 

Being an art school dropout myself (going back over a decade later to get my degree, a small 12 credits away) and having much success without a degree, I naturally see the point about art school. That was a subject where many echoed the same sentiments – creativity has nothing to do with the degree. 

It is a popular subject, however, as one designer wrote. “I asked the nearly the same question to the owner of the art college I eventually graduated from: ‘Do you think similar two-year programs are flooding the market with graphic designers?’ His answer was a resounding ‘no’ and he followed that with ‘talented artists will always find work when untalented artists won’t.’ With the designers I’ve met or worked with, and the ones I’ve read about, I’d have to I agree.” 

Naturally there were sticks and stones thrown. “From what I understand from meeting other students it is the quality of the education that is lacking. Apparently many educators simply like to take home a paycheck for doing the least amount of work. A lot of the students suffer from not having any mentorship from a qualified teacher. However the top students always find their way through the educational maze to get the cheese.” 

Is there a solution to tie together all players? 

Would a guild or union solve the problems of distinguishing an apprentice from a journeyperson, from a master craftsperson? There have been those who have tried. 

Years ago I was a member of the board of the Graphic Artists Guild, along with several legal rights groups for artists. The subject of unionizing was a constant buzz. Every meeting had time set aside for the discussion. There were discussions of tying in with established unions if no plan could be found to successfully create a hierarchy of a union and the ability to stop those who do not belong dead in their tracks. Neither plan would ever work. 

Unions, as a whole, no longer have the clout or power they once commanded. Emptying organized crime out of unions really hurt them. The mob knew how to get things done. Now politicians do the same things but without any efficiency. No union would take on the cause of an entire industry with so many holes. No organization could ever stop the intrusion of the single-person home studio and $99 logos…or the same on the internet. 

“Billy tried unionizing his art class in school. The other kids were executed. I hope they learned a lesson, too!”

In an effort to create standards and provide professional pay levels for staff positions and freelance projects, the Graphic Artists Guild publishes a yearly book entitled, The Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. I highly recommend it to those just starting out. It’s loaded with contracts, pricing, rights and considerations we must all make on every job so both parties come out of the project eager to work together on the next one. 

Why design contests eat away at the industry. 

The Graphic Artists Guild, along with every other professional creative organization also is against “contests” where the creative submits designs, illustrations or photos (which become the property of the contest holder) for some measly prize not worth the fee the work would have brought on the open market. But the contests get a flood of entries. Who are the people who enter? AIGA has a form letter on its web site it encourages people to post where they can when contests come up. A noble effort! 

The contests are not advertised on cereal boxes. They appear in the mail and inboxes of creatives. They are advertised on design blogs and web sites. They are run by the same corporations we buy burgers and sodas from every day, earning millions, so winning an iPod seems like a fair trade…in Bizzaro World! Getting our money and putting their toxins in our bodies just isn’t enough. 

Your “prize” is equal to what this costs…a stroke and your eternal soul!

If business is this cutthroat, then are we being lax by not making the number one concern removing the hacks from the industry, or have they been doing it successfully to us and we just didn’t see it until it was too late?

©Speider Schneider

Published 8.3.2010 - Smashing