The Sympathetic Graphic Designer

A great, comprehensive summary of the wide variety of skills needed to be a good designer. No doubt you'll find many of these same skills on a list for technical communicators.

A well designed, comprehensive summary of the wide variety of skills needed to be a good designer. No doubt you’ll find many of these same skills on a list for technical communicators or find you use them often in your own work.

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.

About Michelle Mailey Noben

I'm a graphic designer and graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Stout in Menomonie, Wis. I'm in my second year of the School of Art + Design's Master of Fine Arts in Design program. So far, it's been a great experience, although challenging at times to come back to academia after working in the industry for several years. When I'm done with my studies, I'd like to teach at the adult level. I work for the University as Graduate Assistant in the University Library, where I work with the Public Relations committee on promoting library events. This year, I recently started in an office assistant position in the School of Art + Design's program office. I'm looking forward to becoming more comfortable with emerging media to make the most of this amazing technology. Thanks for reading!

Posted on September 28, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Michelle,

    I enjoyed reading your post this week. When you mentioned the need for technical communicators developing the ability to integrate and join various aspects of professional departments within their work, it reminded me of the book “Lynchpin” by Seth Godin. In it, the author talks about the evolution of jobs going from individuals simply filling a role to the need for dynamic employees who position themselves as assets throughout their company. It seems like your response to this week’s reading touches on many of the underlying elements Godin writes about in his book.

    I am curious about your connection between outsourcing and the rise in digital literacy, specifically when it comes to graphic design. Design elements tend to reflect cultural/societal frameworks rather than universal rules. If graphic elements are outsourced to another country, do you a) see the final products reflecting such a cultural shift and b) tie those changes to digital literacy?

  2. Have you heard of curated content? The Times has an app (called NYT Now) in which subscribers receive tidbits of headline news, personalized just for them.

  1. Pingback: Graphic Design Keywords List – Interior Design Inspiration

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