It seems to me that our trade, craft, profession, or what have you, is in crisis. I know this
sounds like the sort of gloomy prognostication you might expect from an old man (which, at
seventy-five, I suppose I am, though I have the greatest difficulty accepting the role). It is
indeed, much given to the elderly to bemoan the increasing deterioration of, well, just about
everything. So here goes. The crisis has two heads. One arises from the vast growth in the
numbers of practitioners—the direct result of the success of the practice of design itself. We
have proliferated; we’re everywhere! And of course, there are even more of us on the way,
through the educational system that has encouraged the increase in the size of student
intakes. So what are we elders, the favored few, who graduated in the 1950s and 1960s, to
say to the many now emerging from colleges of art and design in ever greater numbers? The
other head of the crisis, as I see it, relates to the universal acceptance of computer-driven
design processes in the field of visual communication. Since the 1980s the introduction of
user-friendly applications has enabled graphic designers to work more speedily and to control
the processes of typesetting, and of the assembly of type and image, right up to the point of
printing. The proud occupations of the compositor/typographer and the process engraver
have long ago been subsumed into the general, all-inclusive category of prepress origination.
In the not-too-distant future, the desktop publishing cycle will be completed by the primacy
of “printing on demand,” which will supplant the traditional pattern of commissioning authors,
designers, and photographers; editing; hiring printers; storing; marketing; and distribution.
In theory, and surely in reality before long, authors will be able to act as their own publishers,
since the hitherto indispensable skill of balancing unit production costs against estimated
sales will no longer be crucial. What all this comes down to is that many of the “mysteries”
of printing, publishing, and—yes—the most recent “mystery” of graphic design are being
made accessible to the reasonably well-informed nonprinter, nonpublisher, and nondesigner.
Acceptable approximations of catalog, brochure, and periodical layout can be arrived at by
suitable design templates and computer applications. 38 Anxious about the Future? Ken
Garland Paradoxically, at a time when graphic designers are being offered ever more enticing
technological aids, these are also falling into the eager hands of nondesigners: Our hard-won
skills are already being overtaken by do-it-yourself design packages. So what are we to say
to would-be recruits to our craft? Must we acknowledge, bluntly, that at present there are too
many of them trying to get into the act? And should we, however reluctantly, agree to share
our increasingly userfriendly facilities with nondesigners? On both points the answer is yes.
Distasteful as it may be, we can no longer pretend that the market for our skills will magically expand in proportion to the unplanned increase in students that we have graduated.