Johnson Koh is a graphic and web designer in Singapore who founded 10Steps.SG with the purpose to share his experiments and interesting design. It s a web site rich of tutorial and interesting articles.
Once upon a time, graphic designers and art directors conceptualised and produced design concepts. They then briefed specialists, who went ahead and used highly expensive hot-metal machinery, chemicals and cameras to produce the type and graphics - artwork. These people came to be known as artworkers or graphic artists and typesetters. Fast forward to the present day, wheel in some computers and some of these roles still exist.
The term Mac Operator is such a relative one, that it is hard to give a specific description of the role. A Mac Operator will often do much of the less creative work in a design studio, or publishing house. This can include marked-up text corrections, spell checks and formatting documents to pre-arranged templates. However, in a pre-press or print environment, the role can be a much more technical one.
Either way, it is generally true to say that being a Mac Operator is rarely a route to becoming a graphic designer. In fact, many job advertisements even display warnings such as 'This is Not a Creative Position'. On the other hand, it can be a way in to becoming an 'Artworker' or 'Finished Artist'. It can also be a good money earner for those returning to employment, temps and part time workers. If you fit into that category and have fast QuarkXpress or InDesign skills, it may be worth a punt.
Artworkers, graphic artists (or Finished Artists as they are called in some countries) would generally have a high level of skill in the basic graphic design software products, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXpress, Indesign, Freehand and so on. Traditionally, Artworkers would not be expected to have much creative input, but would implement a concept, based on a designer's or Art Director's brief. High-end Photoshop skills, in particular, are a much sought after skill.
Art workers would also, generally, be expected to take a designer's layout and make sure that it is ready for pre-press or print. Since the advent of desktop publishing(DTP), many people have questioned the need for such a distinction between 'creative' and 'artworker'. Indeed, many design companies are beginning to despair at the number of graphic design students that continue to leave university without the ability to set up a job for print. There are, however, other design agencies that continue to function on the old system. Whether they will still be able to afford to do so in the future, is questionable.
There is, of course, the whole graphics industry based around pre-press, reproduction and printing. And many Artworkers and Mac Operators work in that sector. These highly skilled jobs require a high-end knowledge of the usual graphcis software, such as Adobe Photoshop, QuarkXpress and Adobe Illustrator. But it also requires a knowledge of print production issues such as colour reproduction theory, trapping and ink density. It is here that graphic designer's concepts are actually turned into a reality.
Legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser once said, “Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.” Now while one or two designers might want to argue that point, is it possible that we rely on the computer too much these days? Are the core skills of the designer slowly beginning to evaporate? In short, is it time to dust down the old sketchbook?
Let’s go back a few years. Not that long ago the practice of design would begin, not with the startup chord of a Macbook Pro, but with the sound of the sharpening of pencil.
Armed with a trusted 2HB, eraser and layout pad, the old school designer would explore his ideas and allow concepts to form without the security of Photoshop or photo library. He or she would simply put pencil to paper and then wait and see what happened.
It wasn’t about being a great illustrator. These designers knew that their doodles and sketches were an important part of the creative process. Drawing sparked visual thinking and allowed them to go back to basics and express thoughts without getting lost in technique and effects.
Whether you have the skills to be a full-blown illustrator or not isn’t the point. Improving your drawing skills makes you a better designer. You’ll be able to take the intangible idea in your head and flesh it out on paper, it’s that simple.
As one self proclaimed old schooler puts it, “The computer is arguably the most useful tool to designers nowadays, but in contrast, we’ve managed to design beautiful things for thousands of years without them. Unplug from time to time. Get away from the computer and draw, paint, or make something. It keeps you sharp.”
Another believes that computers have had a detrimental effect on the reputation of designers. “Early in my career (pre-computer) people would ask me what I did for a living and I’d say “I’m a graphic designer.” and the usual response was something like “You get paid to draw? I can’t draw a stick figure….”and they’d proceed to admire, recognize and clearly associate my core skill and craft with what I did for a living.
But now (post-computer) when I tell people what I do the normal response tends to be something like this“That’s cool. I have a computer too. I printed some ink jet business cards for…” and they proceed to associate what they do on a hack PC in their spare time using Microsoft Paint, prefab templates, Comic Sans font, and clip-art with what I do as a professional for a living. Gone is the appreciation or even recognition of a skill or craft I possess to do my job. For the most part they don’t view themselves as lacking any core ability because the computer in their mind has replaced the skill and craft they once associated with my ability.”
In an interview for MacWorld, Milton Glaser explained why he disapproves of the computer as a primary design tool, “The idea of drawing as a discipline that is necessary for the practice of design has just about vanished. I’ve found that students have absolutely no idea, or any ability of any kind to represent their ideas through drawing . . . the imperative to draw has vanished. The problem with the computer is that when you go on the computer, everything has to be made clear too quickly,” he says. “And so the essential part of the developmental dialectic disappears. The greatest liability to the computer is that a lot of weak ideas are very well developed. The computer clarifies things too quickly.”
This video of Milton explaining his thoughts on drawing is worth a few minutes of your time.