The Sympathetic Graphic Designer
Although I’m not a technical communicator who uses primarily writing and language to transmit messages, I think of myself as a technical communicator of the visual variety (with a penchant for writing). As a graphic designer, my work and industry are closely related to that of the technical communicator, and we likely share many of the same challenges and experiences in our careers. In The Effects of Digital Literacy by R. Stanley Dicks I was especially struck by the similarities in the current state of both of these related industries.
What inspired me to return to school was my own experience losing a job to overseas outsourcing. I worked as a copy editor, and later in the graphics department (advertising design) for a newspaper group based in La Crosse, Wis. I loved the work, so demanding and fast-paced, with often incredible pressure and high stakes (complete with meager compensation). My coworkers were some of the most intelligent and creative people I’ve had the pleasure to work with. The newspaper group produced three daily papers, several twice weeklies and seven or eight weekly newspapers in addition to additional special interest, seasonal and advertising publications, and I was proud to work for the press, which I had always revered. The newspaper industry, however, is in a state of crisis as the cost of producing a physical paper becomes an untenable business model when many adults find news from free online sources or from television or radio. In early 2012, the company outsourced all advertising and graphic design services to a contractor in India and later that year moved nearly all copy editing positions to a central location in Madison, Wis. These types of changes are, to me, an effect of digital literacy. As the culture shifts to assimilate new technology, industries (and individuals) who can’t or won’t change are left behind, becoming obsolete.
I definitely identify my work as being of “symbolic-analytic” nature, described by Robert Reich (in Dicks’ words) as those who, in the post industrial world, “analyze, synthesize, combine, rearrange, develop, design and deliver information to specific audiences for specific purposes.” (pg. 54) These high-level, creative tasks require an ever-changing, flexible and innovative outlook not everyone possesses. As manufacturing moves overseas, and our industries begin to do the same, I truly believe that us technical verbal and visual communicators will need to work to stand out as individuals working in collaboration with other professionals in the new support economy style (pg. 58) as opposed to in-house, departmental type positions common in the industrial age.
In my graduate work, I’d like to look at how graphic designers and design students can learn to acquire a wide range of communications skills, such as writing, to make themselves more valuable and flexible communicators, and what other skills might be beneficial to the constant skills evolution required in the possible support economy. This article gave me some insight and avenues to explore further.