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Why does everyone think they are a graphic designer?

I am probably right in saying that not many people would tell a mechanic how to fix your car, or lecture an electrician how to re-wire your house, so why does everyone think they can tell a graphic designer how to design? Friends and family all constantly give me creative advice and critique my work, which I don’t mind at all, but sometimes I do have to grind my teeth and say the classic “That’s a great idea, but perhaps not quite right for this project” line.

Don’t get me wrong I have no problem taking criticism, especially from my clients as I will never understand their markets as well as they do, so creative collaboration and co-operation is fine in that respect. I also fully appreciate that as humans we are all creative beings in our own right and each have an individual sense of style. However I can’t help but think that graphic design as an industry is one that everyone thinks they could dip their toe into if they wished, therefore devaluing the whole industry. So, why do a lot of people think they could be a graphic designer and have the right to hand over golden nuggets of creative advice? Possibly for the following reasons…

Mummy’s little designer…

Everyone is told by their parents as a child (and sometimes as an adult) that their glitter / poster paint /chalk drawings / models / creations are fantastic and that they are ‘ever so clever’. So if you are constantly told this by the people who mean the most to you, you are going to think you have a heightened sense of design which may be hard to shrug off.

24/7 Advertising

Everyone is constantly bombarded by a range of advertising, promotion and branding which unless you head to the hills you cannot escape. We are all media trained from an early age and are subconsciously absorbing design left, right and centre.  

“Design” Software

It is very easy for everyone now a days to open up Microsoft office and play around with clip art, word art and various templates to create some sort of design. This in my eyes doesn’t necessarily make that person a ‘designer’, but giving people instant access to this kind of software makes people believe that could hold a graphic design title if they want. Mark Busse from Industrial Brand gives us a great insight in to his experience with this in his article ‘No, I’m Not A Graphic Designer’ in which he states he deserves a better title than ‘Graphic Designer’ to separate him from the wannabe’s.

eightyone design - wordart

So if it is true that everyone in the human race is creative what actually defines a graphic designer?


Whether it’s self taught or through University or college, a true graphic designer should be able to navigate through their tools (whatever they maybe) with ease and grace and not rely on cheap and overused filters and effects to create their work.

Constant Creativity

A graphic designer has trouble turning their creativity off! Marnie B has a great list of comical anecdotes about hard core designers, a lot of which ring true. As truly creative beings graphic designers eat sleep and drink design and relish wallowing in this creative lifestyle.


Anyone can create a logo or design but will that concept be right for the intended market? Graphic designers are able to choose the right concept and convey those messages in a clear and concise way.

There are probably 100 more points to define graphic designers that I’ve missed! But what are your thoughts on this, what makes a real graphic designer? Do you feel that the creative industry is devalued by the volume of wannabe’s? What do you say to people when they give you creative solutions or suggestions?

Posted by Steve

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Posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2008 at 11:00 am
Posted In Featured Articles, Freelancing, Graphic Design | Tags: ,

59 Responses to “Why does everyone think they are a graphic designer?”

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  • ugh says:

    Help please! This is so true. My clients try to design for me…and it ends up looking bad, and they just waste time by going back and forth!How can I make them realize they are NOT DESIGNERS? They’re always like do this, do that. and when I do it for them they’re just like oh that looks bad change that. It’s horrible! How can I make them stop? Why does everyone think they are masters of design?

  • yup says:

    I’m having the same issue with my client! She hired me to do design work, but now she is using Microsoft Publisher to create the design to save money. She’s not utilize my skills and I am to only copy her layout. It looks like JUNK. It’s so annoying. If she wants me to duplicate her awful skills, so be it. I can afford to loose her as a client after this job is over. I don’t want my name attached to the piece either!

  • Joe says:

    Too many part time dabblers. They devalue what we do. For some reason, many people want to treat the designer like a waiter instead of a chef. We don’t bring you a ready-made meal you simply order. We wake make it from scratch an do the hard work of cooking, preping, seasoning, etc. If clients want the design they came up with to “look professional” then they shouldn’t design anything and simply call a professional first instead.

  • rainbowsandsprinkles says:

    Everyone thinks they’re a graphic designer nowadays because design has become insanely accessible. Plop some modern font on a nicely graded tumblr image and voila, you have teens to 20 something year olds designing logos on the weekend for extra income. Don’t get me started on those photoshop filters and all those “tips” people give out for free on youtube so no one ever has to learn how to actually use a camera. The majority of these weekend logo designers take something they “pinterested” and set it in a different color scheme and lo and behold, a creative is born! I do believe that the creative fields should be a mix of self-taught and professionally trained individuals but with design being so accessible, the standard in design is now being “controlled” by the masses. There’s a lot of technical know how and hours spent learning the tools of the craft that keeps design fresh. Good design, doesn’t matter what field (architecture, graphic arts, illustration, industrial design, etc) is a mix of being able to draw, match the visuals with the communication, and then the execution through a computer. An innovative, knowledgeable designer can charge a premium and that’s why the field is now run amuck with self proclaimed designers that decide it’s OK to rip off “styles” or copy previous works and peddle it off as their own so that their clients can get a piece of what is considered “high end designer” branding. You can tell when you go to these people’s portfolios and it fails to have the “WOW” factor. The Wow factor comes from years of study and being passionate about design which I highly doubt any of these so called designers are willing to sacrifice in time and energy to open a book and study or to stay in on the weekends to learn new technical skills.

  • Mike says:

    I gave up designing websites because almost EVERYONE thinks they can do it, when hardly anyone can do it well.

    I had a friend who went on a 10 week course and learned some basic HTML, and learnt how to use a website design editor. He has zero design skills. Yet he thinks he is now an expert. Another friend is starting up and he is quite clever, however he already underestimates how to design great websites.

    A fantastic website these days is unlikely to be designed by a single person. I can’t imagine who would be good at graphic design, SEO, user-interface design, database programming.

    A graphic designer might know nothing about how to make a website easy to use. A website could look great but not convey the information that is should. So a graphic designer shouldn’t assume they know that! This goes for ANY profession. We should all learn to STFU when it comes to thinking we know another person’s profession, even if it is a ‘lower’ job (I put that in quotes because I don’t think like that).

    To me I imagine being a fantastic waiter / waitress isn’t easy. You have to appear friendly when you’re highly irritated by rude members of the public (I can’t imagine pulling that off day after day, or even for one hour). The best waiter I ever saw could scan a room of 100 people and instantly know who needed something. He delivered my food and started doing the rounds. I cut in to my steak and it was fibrous and inedible. Normally you would have to catch the waiters attention, which is irritating, and then you’d have to wait ages, and they’d have a bad attitude. Well no, this waiter was scanning the room, and he saw my body language and struggle at cutting the stake, within seconds he popped over (but in a relaxed way) and asked me if my steak was OK. He said it looks a bit fibrous and would I like another one. I said yes. He gave me two options, “I can take away the whole meal and give you a completely new meal which will take slightly longer (10 minutes) or I can just take the steak away and give you a completely new steak which will take 5 minutes”. I opted for the latter. I didn’t even need to catch his attention, as his attention was on EVERYONE in the whole room. Now that is not easy! This man was a complete and utter master of waitering, I have never seen a waiter that good anywhere. This wasn’t even a very posh restaurant.

    I also knew a mechanic who had a great mix of intuitive skill with a car, plus amazing diagnostic skills. He had a great friendly manner with people too. Again he was a master at being a mechanic (as well as people facing skills with his customers).

    There do seem to be some jobs that everyone thinks they know how to do. I would say that graphic design, web design and being a waiter are up there in the charts! Most people underestimate the skills of others. I haven’t ever been a waiter, so I must be one of the very few people who can empathise with others without having experienced something. Not being arrogant, but my experience with most other people is a very poor ability at empathy. Not moaning, it’s just a fact. Empathy is a skill that needs to be practised. I’m not great all the time, I’m just saying the skill is there if needed. Lack of empathy is what makes people think they know other people’s jobs better.

  • Lu says:

    Hi All,

    I am so pleased that after all this time (we wrote the post in 2008) other graphic designers are compelled to comment on this topic. I am sad though to say that this problem seems to have gotten worse and I agree wholeheartedly with Mike (comment above) that a lot of people lack empathy and think they can do a job just as good – if not better than a professional.

    It may be time to update this post and highlight the issue again.

    Massive thanks to everyone for stopping by and commenting.


  • Mikael says:

    I recognize this way to well. I just think that since it’s visual that people think they know it – it’s so easy to have an opinion about it and thus it feels like you know it. “I can act circles around that guy.” says one that didn’t like the acting of a guy in a movie. Same with design.

  • D says:

    I do have this problem with clients a lot, but that’s to be expected. What I REALLY hate is that I work with a guy that calls himself a “web designer” but all he does is make crappy WordPress templates in Artisteer. He doesn’t even make custom graphics for them, just uses the premade backgrounds. Our company’s websites are soooo bad and no one else says anything! He is technically my superior, and when I’ve tried to say something before (like “hey, try moving the navigation down so it’s not overlapping the logo” or “maybe you shouldn’t use black text on top of a dark blue background”) I get yelled at. I am so frustrated, how do I let people know that this is hurting our business? Or, how do I let it go and just bite my tongue?

  • Surinder Kaushal says:

    I’m a 21 year old self-taught Graphic Designer who’s been designing for about 2 years now (but I am taking it all to University this year) and I’ve been a sketch artist\painter since I was a child and I’m also self-taught in that. Al though I do consider myself to be pretty good and passionate about what I do (I create everything from manga to logos to abstract to general illustration), I have to agree with you by the amount of ignorance I get from other people who just don’t want to learn or get advice\constructive criticism from more experienced and established designers who would take the time to review their work and give them advice or just someone who’s got something to say about their work. And the worse thing is, their creations are horrible and they that it’ll help them get far only to set themselves up for failure. I’m not saying this like I’m some top designer or anything cos I accept that I have a long way to go just like anyone else and I’m definitely not encouraging brown-licking an obnoxious designer, but all I’m saying is you should question your work, accept constructive advice\criticism, accept there’s a lot to learn and just look to get better by that if it’s something you want to do and be the best at it cos that’s a part of being one. Art is a science and not a sport like that when you have to want to be proven wrong. In other words, don’t care when someone is criticizing your boat but do care when you have someone criticising how you ride it cos chances are, it’ll be only you who’s crashing.

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