Is graphic design a career in tech?
Author: Lyndsey Yates
For the last few months, I’ve been part of a speaker training programme called Northern Voices. When I applied for it, they were asking for women with a career in tech to apply. At the time, I did have doubts as to whether I would be accepted as a graphic designer, but my application was accepted and I put those doubts down.
Recently, the ladies on Northern Voices were having a conversation via our WhatsApp group, and we were all asked to say how long our career in tech had been. Up jumped my doubts – does the last 10 years of working as a graphic designer count, or just the last year (or so) of being founder of my own design & marketing business? Heck, does that even count?!
The Conversation Starts
I was asked why I had these doubts, and I started writing a reply, but I realised I had a lot more questions than answers! What constitutes as ‘a career in tech’ anyway? Is it the business sector you’re in? The product or service you sell? Is it a case of looking as to whether the work you do moves technology forward? Or is it about whether the work you do uses technology in a new, innovative way? Could the ‘tech’ sphere exist without the work you do? Gosh, you can see why I had trouble answering!
If you were to ask my dear Mum if I had a career in tech she’d probably say yes, but then again being able to hook the digital camera up to the TV is a marvel of technical wonder to her, so that’s not much of a benchmark. If I ask my partner if I have a career in tech, he says no, because he’s a web developer, and he sees what he does as tech, but not so much what I do. So what do I do? Well, this is part of the problem in getting to the bottom of this.
Graphic design – getting to the bottom of what it is
Graphic design can (and does) cover a multitude of things. One day I might be designing illustrations for fabric – not what I would consider ‘in tech’, although some of the new technologies used to print fabric are pretty amazing. Another day I might be creating the marketing materials for a new startup business – this will probably cross over print and digital. Then I might spend a couple of weeks working on a website re-design for a long established business who needs a new look – this is probably as ‘in tech’ as I get. There’s definitely a sliding scale here depending on the work I do.
Would/could technology companies exist without designers? Well, probably not. My partner is a web dev, and annoyingly he’s also quite a decent designer. This generally isn’t the case though – usually web devs are sub-par designers. It goes the other way too – designers don’t always make great developers. But the two together? That’s when beautiful things happen.
But that can’t be the deciding factor because by this logic, well, lets just say this is where my mind begins to audibly creak under the pressure of the can of worms that opens.
When we look at the history of graphic design, it certainly started off without tech – it was all handmade, hand printed. Even typesetting was done by hand. Technology has allowed us to do everything faster, and some things we would never be able to do without, but I’m a stickler for still starting out with pen and paper. Perhaps careers in tech are only those which started out because of technology, not those that existed previously?
I decided to take the question on the road and ask other people in a variety of professions. Here’s what they had to say:
“Graphic design is absolutely a career in tech. Particularly as the market changes and UX and UI become a crucial part of the graphic design landscape, as we move into a more digital world with the advent of augmented and virtual reality – graphic design will absolutely be at the heart of how we interact with this new digital landscape.” – Jem Henderson, Community Manager at Digital Catapult and content consultant at Weasel Words.
“I originally trained as a graphic designer but never really considered it a career in tech before… then again I feel it’s super different to traditional design / fine art / illustration. At my Uni we were in the “art school” and i remember visiting the “design school” where industrial design / engineering design / product design etc was based and it was so much more techy with great computers, printing, 3D software etc. I remember thinking that is where our course should have been. So maybe a hybrid between art and tech?” – Tamsin Gordon, Founder of Glitzbox.
“I work in a creative role in tech – as a writer, not a designer, but I work closely with our in-house graphic design team, and we face many similar challenges in terms of applying our skills effectively – and being a good creative does not guarantee being a good employee at a tech company. For me, the greatest challenge has always been understanding tech at a deep enough level of fidelity to communicate about it effectively. I think some of the greatest value that creatives – writers, designers, video producers, etc. – provide is in shedding light on tech and making it digestible to a lay audience….” – Dana Cass, Communications Strategist at Palantir.
“Women in tech should include all people who work in the industry from HR to software engineers. I do think there are unique challenges when your profession does not exist outside the industry though, which is the case for web design and software engineering.” – Melissa McEwan, Senior Software Engineer at RGA
“Design is such an umbrella term – it is print, packaging, branding design, AND UI design, UX design, or other types of digital design. As others have stated, I don’t think a print, packaging, or branding designer would consider themselves in the tech field; but a UI, UX, or otherwise digital designer likely would. And many designers, like myself, do all of these types of design.
I call myself a graphic designer – some days I work on a brochure or a logo, other days I design websites or code emails. I definitely consider myself to be in tech – I know how to code, I work closely with professional developers, and manage clients and projects that need sophisticated tech solutions. But many of my designer friends and peers no very little about tech or web stuff. I think it just depends on the individual person and what kind of “graphic design” they practice.” – Angela Noble, Owner and Designer at Noble Intent Studio.
“If you are important to making a tech product, then you are part of the team” – Tayopa Mogilner, User Researcher, NXVR.
“Is graphic design a career in tech? Could be, but not necessarily. Like others have said it depends on the industry and position of the designer. Folks who are unfamiliar with the nuances of design positions tend to lump it in with tech. I personally do not consider graphic design to be a tech job, as graphic design typically refers to a print or marketing based designer.
Could you be a graphic designer and work for a tech company like Drop Box? Yes, but usually tech companies call you a visual designer, unless you’re doing print. There are many types of design to consider: Graphic design (works with marketing, usually print), Visual Design (works on visual design of web, may overlap with some UI), UI (works on the interface of a digital product), UX design (typically not visual, designs the experience of a digital product), Product Design (combines both UX, and UI in one position).” – Jenée Jernigan, Product Designer at Hulu.
The discussion continues
A lot of great comments there, I think! And they all echoed many of the thoughts I was having myself. It does depend on the industry, the company, and the individual. It was a great discussion that took place on the back of this blog… in fact it still continues! Another brilliant point was raised too, one I thought fed into this post perfectly. The issue of ‘gatekeeping’. Something I had never heard of, until a lady called Lisa Grimm linked me to this blog post of hers. Have a read.
What’s with this insistence on putting us all in boxes anyway?
The very question of “do I work in tech?” was beginning to grind my gears. It started bringing up long forgotten issues I have with societies insistence on putting people into neat little boxes. All those times when I was a teenager and other kids would ask me “Are you a goth or a mosher?”. What? I have to be one? Can’t I just be me? Nobody should ever feel excluded from the tech world. There is no ‘gatekeeper’ with a list at a door to the (non existent) club who gets a say on whether you get to enter or not. If you think you work in tech, you do. If you think you don’t, maybe you don’t – or maybe you do but others have told you otherwise.
Nobody should be making invisible (but potentially damaging) exclusions based on whether someone actually codes or not. There are plenty of important people in a tech project or business that do not code. And be careful of that dangerous little word – “just”.
As for me? I split my work between what I would consider tech, and not tech, in a fairly even way. I take an interest in tech, I have a partner who 100% works in tech – so conversations on the topic are unavoidable at home. Hearing about new developments in tech is exciting to me, and it does affect my design world. My ability to understand the tech world is important for me to run my business. I need to be able to communicate the technical side of things to people who don’t understand it, in order to make sales for the collective. And I need to be able to communicate with developers to make sure client projects are not just done, but done well.
But to be able to give an answer to how long my ‘tech career’ has been is still a difficulty; I’m a part-timer, I dip in and out, nobody puts Lyndsey in a box ?. Best answer to that question? “On and off for 10 years”.
After all this, the best answer I have to whether graphic design is a career in tech is: “sometimes”, or “If you want it to be”… so I do apologise if you were looking for a more conclusive answer!
Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, keep the conversation going!