From the Easel to the Internet

Graphic Design

Far from in danger of being phased out, graphic design is an industry that has moved with the times and technology like no other.

There was a time not very long ago when a graphic artist had as much use for a computer as an accountant had for a paintbrush and drafting board. In a way, graphic design was a lot more specialised than it is now. A designer had not only to be creative and visual but had to use a set square and drawing board, know brushes, paints and colours, and tell the difference between those little codes you see on pencils. They also needed a steady and neat drawing hand, not unlike an architect. More than anything, graphic designers were artists.

Today, a graphic designer must be an artist all the same, but not so much in the classical sense, and the main tool of the trade is a computer with the right software.

But what’s important to remember is that having a great computer with powerful applications won’t make you a graphic designer any more than the right paints and a steady hand would have fifteen years ago. You have to be creative, imaginative, restrained (where necessary) and responsive. Your first tool as a graphic designer is your mind.

And as every graphic designer knows, there is one golden rule — know when to break the rules. Like every other discipline, it has its market response testing and statute of regulations, but very often the most successful design is produced by turning them all on their head. Graphic design’s like that — changing, fun, vibrant, and unquantifiable.

The Future

Nothing has changed the business world like the computer. Like a lot of professions, the skills required to do the job before the widespread use of computers are completely different now (and will be different again tomorrow). Many graphic designers felt threatened by the advent of the computer, but now a computer is a graphic designer’s best friend, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Apple Macintosh, a machine created with customisation in mind that really can become almost human. Also, with the onset of the computer age, graphic design ideally overlaps with desktop publishing, creating a transition for designers if need be.

Within the industry itself, change has been radical. Certain effects were only available using top-of-the-line design software just three years ago that can now be performed with most Macintosh and Windows-based word processors.

And at the top level, still more incredible software capability is always being developed. In Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean video clip from just over ten years ago, morphing software worth US$1 million was developed to morph Michael into a tiger. Today, the same effect can be done with Gryphon Morph 4.0 (soon to be released) for about $400, or KPT Goo, which you can get for $99.

With the coming of easier-to-use software, many industry watchdogs proclaimed the end of graphic design — layout and illustration applications became so widespread and user-friendly that your secretary (or even your boss!) could do the same work instead of a very expensive creative agency.

However, the 90’s have assured the future of the graphic designer for three main reasons. Firstly, in this employment-by-contract age, many ‘fringe’ expenses (from graphic design to company tax returns) are cheaper and better structured by seeking outside help.

Secondly, the corporate sectors like finance and consulting aren’t exactly hotbeds of creativity, and nobody is more aware of this than those industries themselves. The graphic designer works in a creative culture than other business simply can’t replicate, and there is a strong mindset that the best work must come from that culture.

And thirdly, as software advances, so to does hardware — and with it, production quality. As quality rises, so does demand for bigger and better craftsmanship (to capture that creative edge that nobody else has), and an upward spiral results, with graphic designers and other creatives at the top.

Even if the industry swings away from the external agency or studio to the in-house designer, there will always be work somewhere for professionals who know their craft.

The Internet

The biggest thing to happen to Graphic Design since the computer is the Internet. There are already millions of Web sites, and they range from the purely artistic to the most basic.

And there is a wealth of advertising opportunities already. The Internet isn’t just the information superhighway of today, it’s the advertising superhighway of tomorrow, and just as Web sites will be battling for our attention, so will the companies that pay to advertise on those web sites. The difference, as with a magazine ad, will be the design of your web page.

For the first time ever, creative flair and imagination will join forces with cold, hard technical computing, as graphic designers and IT specialists work closely together to develop Web pages that are functional and effective. For the first time, the designer has to keep the aspect of interactivity in mind, and is no longer in control of the audience. So functionality of the site becomes as much the designer’s responsibility.


The two main areas of employment for graphic designers are in advertising agencies and design studios. Advertising agencies have a wide range of duties on offer for a good designer, (all with the purpose of promotion and marketing), while a studio is more flexible, and are called on to produce anything from a company logo to an entire magazine layout. However, freelancing is becoming more viable nowadays as businesses try to reduce costs, and as well as working their way into either of these industries, freelancers can offer their services direct to users and cut out the creative agency altogether.

The Graphic Designer in its Natural Habitat

Dress regulations — see rules for Graphic Design (i.e. none — as long as you look hip!)

‘ Pants: Extremely baggy pants (in retro colours), ridiculously tight pants a la 1920’s art student in Paris (in retro colours).

‘ Shirt: Extremely loud shirt/T shirt (in retro colours), extremely black shirt/T shirt.

‘ Adornments: Slogan or motif (ideological or radically political) ideal. Body pierced at least somewhere.

‘ Shoes: Doc Marten’s (in retro colours), but any other hip brogues will do.

‘ Tie: Never!

‘ Hair: Overgrown or shaved — nothing in between (a hint of retro colour acceptable).

‘ Office/Studio — a Macintosh with BIG hard disk space, a screen saver (full of retro colours), and loaded with Quark Xpress, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Aldus Freehand, Adobe PageMaker & CorelDRAW.

‘ Paper and pencils (a graphic designer must still imagine and doodle)

‘ At least one alternative rock poster, plus plenty of posters (in retro colours).

‘ Stickers, badges, figurines, caricatures etc stuck to computers, desks, walls and tables.

‘ Radio/CD player

In summary; graphic designers get away with what we would all like to at work because they must be allowed to let their creative talents flow unrestricted (If you’re jealous, or just like retro colours, why not consider a career in graphic design? See the training fact file).


Graphic Design Training is a hard thing to quantify. It’s a skill of creativity, and the most any course can teach you, no matter how thorough, are the basic rules and trends of design work and how to use the tools of the design trade (i.e. computer applications and equipment.


The major TAFE Graphic Design course is an Associate Diploma, and for around $5000, it covers all aspects of design, including computer design as well as covering the older methods. A Certificate in Graphic Design, Finished Art, at about half the duration and price, concentrates more on the computer aspects of design like typography and layout. TAFE courses are extremely competitive (because of the price more so than the quality), a situation that seems to grow worse every year because of more funding cuts. Several non-subsidised short courses in desktop publishing and design are available through TAFE Plus.


A Graduate Diploma in Design is subject to the usual University fees and conditions — in this case, $2,500 per year for two years part time, and covers design, its history and use in marketing and society. Elective subjects are more specific, covering computer design and desktop publishing.

KVB College of Visual Communication

A very university/college environment. Privately run, and one of the priciest around (the literature lists a full Associate Diploma in Graphic Design as costing $22,543 over two years) but KVB boasts some of the best facilities, accreditations and staff of anywhere in the training industry. Study allowances like AUSTUDY and ABSTUDY are available.

The Computer Graphics College

Although more geared towards desktop publishing than graphic design, the College offers one of Sydney’s best selection of courses in the use of computer applications and equipment. All courses are less than $1000 and run from anywhere between 2 and 8 training sessions.

Indigo College

Similar format to Computer Graphics College. Training is available in the appropriate design programs as well as the higher-end technology like digital camera use and Web page design. Classes are small and tuition very personal and attentive. Prices range from $400 to $600 and courses are between 2 and four sessions each. Highly recommended!