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Wednesday 12|19|01
Info Arch vs. Graphic Design

Gerry McGovern's most recent column decides to pit Information Architecture versus Graphic Design. He obviously does not understand Graphic Design and design training. His arguments assume that the Graphic Designer is purely a purveyor of style and is a graphic artist rather than a problem solver who creates COMMUNICATION solutions appropriate to the medium in which it will be delivered.

Graphic Designers are getting a bad rap across the web and within a lot of communities. The influx of "designers" who spread across the web during the heyday and swathed sites with heavy graphics and inappropriate flash sites have given the field - which concerns itself with creating solutions that most appropriately communicate meaning - a bad name.

The latest Communication Arts issue has an essay by Nancy Nowacek that comes at this Us vs. Them from the point of view of a well trained thoughtful designer. She defines Design to be:

"Design is also understanding cultural signs and human behavior to create resonant, clear, and intuitively usable objects."

This is what Design is about. She also points out that many designers who worked in print, also did signage sytems and environmental spaces, they worked on Annual Reports and a variety of other problems that required careful thought about the problem, the intended communication, the best solution and an understanding of the final presentation medium.

She notes that many of us, in order to continue to grow and work on the interesting projects and to make a difference, have evolved, have changed our titles and pretty much never mention that we are graphic designers. The name, the profession, used be something that she and many of us were proud to tell people. Now we are "Information Designers" or Information Architects" or "UI Designers" but we have dropped the dreaded Graphic because of the negative connotations associated with it by many in the online world.

Many senior designers that I know, have taken their skills in organizing for meaning, in grouping and developing systems and displays, and become Information Architects. The skills are translateable. I am not saying that there aren't a lot of misguided and poorly trained people out there calling themselves "Graphic Designers", but I am asking that we shouldn't all be judged by what a few are doing. I am an Information Architect. I am a Graphic Designer. I use my skills and experience across multiple mediums and have great concern for choosing the appropriate solutions for the medium. There shouldn't be an Us vs. Them. We are Us. We are Them. There are a lot of people I know who feel the same way.

Posted by erin at 12:18 PM | in Criticism


Gerry's article is pretty poor ("people were upset that I said it is a library. But it is library") in terms of articulating his arguments.

I think he's taking one basic aspect of the graphic design profession (eye-catching visuals for print ads and packaging) and just cutting it off right there. Obviously, there is more that graphic designers have always done - structure information, tell a story, make information usable and useful. The web is no different - the graphic design approach equires taking into account the medium where the artifact will be experienced, be it web, software, subway, CD package, or grocer's freezer.

Posted by Steve Portigal at January 3, 2002 11:56 AM

Regarding all the articles by people like Gerry McGovern that have been circulating the past 2 years... Why should those of us who "get it" spend any more time refuting his/their claims and opinions. I say we stop defending and make our point of attack be through our actions of solving problems and creating appropriate solutions in any medium/media we are working in. I believe we will make more progress preaching our cause, educating clients, and defining who we are and what we do by not spending time responding to people like Gerry.

Posted by Jeff Johnson at January 4, 2002 06:19 AM

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