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What is the definition of a Graphic Designer in the Freelance world? An Artworker or an Art Director?

What can truly be defined as a Graphic Designer? Are they merely simple folk who can create pretty pictures before your eyes or can you actually define what they are in a single sentence? I have decided upon two definitions of a Graphic Designer, an Artworker and an Art Director. 

Lets take a look at the first – the Artworker. The definition of an Artworker could be interpreted as someone who has either been given the art direction or intensely briefed by the client to the point that there is no room for thought or creativity, therefore the job in hand simply requires artworking – or just completing, and anyone who knows the usual design software tools can complete the project. However, these tools that are merely used to “finish the job” are often looked upon too lightly. It is sometimes very easy to point indignantly at a project and bellow “that this needs to be lighter and that needs to moved and re-jiggled”, but these skills are key, and to find an Artworker who can complete them swiftly and professionally is rare. Also in this day and age an Artworker can’t simply have one key piece of software, they need to be knowledgeable in a whole sweep; from Photoshop to Dreamweaver, from Illustrator to Flash, if these skills aren’t listed in an Artworkers portfolio it is definitely a black mark against them.

This view of an Artworker can be seen as a little narrow minded, and looks at the word a little too literally. Another interpretation is that an Artworker is someone who churns out the same type of work and never really contributes anything new and exciting to the design community; they can creatively design and art direct themselves, however it is never anything that grabs you or is particularly thought provoking. 

Now, lets take a glimpse at the interpretation of an Art Director. I mentioned earlier about someone bellowing “that this needs to be lighter and that needs to be moved and re-jiggled”. I believe that this could be the Art Director. In my eyes an art director has more of an artistic touch and understands the importance of the space, colour, feel and overall look of the design. They also have a higher knowledge of what needs to be projected from the piece and what the objectives and goals are. In the end of the day this is what design is all about. Let me put it crudely, there is no point in having a beautiful delicate design aimed at a group of burley rugby players. Design needs to be aimed at its intended audience and if you get that very basic concept wrong then it doesn’t matter how off the wall or beautiful your design is, it won’t fulfil it’s objectives. It is very easy to go off on a tangent and design what you think looks good. Because of this it is also the Art Directors job to keep the project grounded and guide the team through to fulfil these objectives. Many Artworkers may in fact have these skills, but this is primarily how I believe an Art Director thinks. 

Now, it would be too narrow minded to think that an Art Director doesn’t have the same software skills as an art worker, they may well have, but for me this isn’t the Art Directors core skill. Sure, they must have an appreciation of what can be achieved in the timescales set with the software used, but carrying out these tasks isn’t their speciality.

In a big design agency it can be argued that there are both Artworkers and Art Directors, depending on the size of the agency there also might be some freedom for the Artworker and depending upon their talent, they may be able to evolve the art directors initial concepts. Equally Art Directors will liaise with the marketing team to define these objectives and goals. 

Now for my big conclusions (and as you will see there are no surprises here), a Freelance Graphic Designer cannot merely be defined as an Artworker or Art Director, there must be a cross over, and skills from both must be moulded to create a perfect balance. If we take a look at the design process (albeit very crudely), first of all a Freelancer must listen to the needs of the client (whether that be that of an agency, individual or company), therefore could be seen as an Artworker, however it is then up to the Freelancer to take this brief and bearing in mind the objectives, do what they do best, be creative. This part of the job lingers in the realm of an Art Director. In a perfect world that would be it, and the designer would produce a creative masterpiece and the client would applaud gratefully. However, this is rarely the case, and the designer then becomes an Artworker once again as the design is amended in line with the clients requirements. At the end of the day, Artworker and Art Director are merely titles and in the real world it is about the creativity that takes place and whether that creative process takes part as a team or as an individual. Everyone in it must pull their weight to make the magic happen. 

At Eightyone Design we realise the importance of both Art Directors and Art Workers, we understand that it is vital to have both whilst working on a project allowing one to look objectively and the other to carry out the task in hand. As I mentioned earlier it is all too easy for one to get carried away and it is vital for someone to keep a firm hand on the project. 

So, in my introduction I asked whether it was possible to define a Graphic Designer in a single sentence, so let me see, a Graphic Designer is someone who can take art direction as well as give it, someone who can define and understand the objectives for the project, someone who can produce a creative master piece, someone who to can create this masterpiece using a whole sweep of software (if need be), someone who can guide and ground the project and finally, a good graphic designer is someone who can do all of these and do it to a timescale. As you can see it’s not really a sentence, but for now, it will do. 

This is one definition of a Graphic Designer, and doesn’t take into account the attributes of Freelance Graphic Designers, nor does it try to define Graphic Designers comparatively to Illustrators and Web Designers. We could delve a lot deeper into the murky and mystical world of the Graphic Designer, but as I mentioned earlier, that will do for now.

Posted by Lu

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Posted on Thursday, August 16th, 2007 at 7:11 am
Posted In Freelancing, Graphic Design | Tags: ,

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