The Rise of the Black Collar Worker

World Graphics Day, celebrated annually on April 27, marks the anniversary of the founding of Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) in 1963 and a day to celebrate the profession of graphic design. I often reflect on the state of our industry on this day, and I must admit I'm feeling optimistic.

I'm a designosaur

Since I've been in the business over the past few decades we have seen monumental changes in our industry with the advent of the personal computer and democratization of what once seemed almost magical tools of the trade to the general populace. We've seen whole industries of trades people disappear - from typesetters to prepress and film houses and the virtual disappearance of film as a medium both in graphic trades and professional photography. Take a look at Kodak, a company founded on layers of emulsion, have abandoned film altogether - ouch!

I'm a juggler
The work traditionally done by these skilled trades has fallen squarely on the shoulders of graphic designers who find themselves keeping even more balls in the air than they used to. This revolution has given rise to the desktop publisher and innumerable snotty-nosed kids with Photoshop competing for the "graphic design" space. It has designers worried that our profession is in jeopardy. But while the computer has leveled the playing field and made everyone a designer, it has widened the gap between the professional and hobbyist.

I see a bright future
This millennium belongs to creative industries. Last year I coined a term for it - the rise of the black collar worker. With the economic crisis of 2008 we saw blue and white collar jobs fall off considerably. Manufacturing has been on the decline in Canada since the late nineties with service industries and retail on the rise. According to Census Canada, the number of graphic designers in Canada doubled from 35,000 in 1994 to 72,000 in 2006. Even with the emergence, panic and controversy surrounding spec work, crowd sourcing and $99 logos, I see a unique opportunity for this growing pool of professionals to rise above the din and really take ownership of a unique place. Those who are willing and have the fortitude to take the risk of holding out for clients who see the value in what the design process brings to the table will be rewarded in spades.

Define your role
As a young profession we have a unique opportunity to define what it is to be a professional graphic designer and to take steps toward positive change in the world. I don't have to tell you that graphic design is everywhere you look, and that design plays a huge role in defining culture, but largely and until recently, we, as an industry have done simply what our clients have asked of us. We are now in a unique position to make real change - to guide our clients in the right direction - because they are listening! Design thinking and strategy provides us with an opportunity to address global problems of sustainability, social inequities, and economic crises if even at a small scale local level. Design thinking is being taught in business schools and used at the highest levels of the corporate world to problem solve and gain competitive advantage - balancing traditional analytical processes with intuitive thought processes.

Strategize your future
We can leverage this trend by using design strategy to push our clients with measurable steps toward a better world without compromising their profitability, rather enhancing it. The British Design Council cites that in Britain the return on every dollar invested in design provides a $400 return. That may be a stretch, but I don't have to tell you it is substantial. A strategic approach to design is what creates this value and what separates a professional from a hobbyist. As a firm, we used to give it away, but now defined strategy comprises almost half of our revenue. Clients want measurable results and that's what we give them.

Let's do it!
Join me in celebrating this World Graphics Day by taking that leap, taking a risk and making a difference. Join me in defining our profession as the leaders who changed the world for the better.


This article was originally written for the Smallbox blog, but I have shamelessly added it here simply because I can. April 27, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Posted In:Design
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