Design Is Not Photoshop

by | Jul 6, 2015 | Creative, Uncategorized

We’re in the midst of a fundamental shift in the perceptions about graphic design. It’s a shift that steadily grows more pronounced as technology becomes more efficient, affordable and easier to use.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ll never fault Adobe for striving to improve their products by adding features as liberally and frequently as they do. Nor will you find me cursing the idea that someone somewhere is copy-pasting cats on a pattern-speckled background and preparing it for upload to some social media page. Once in a while, you just need to slap a banner on your Twitter account and be done with it.

What I do protest is the notion that by using creative software like Photoshop, we somehow become graphic designers. I personally feel it depreciates the profession and belittles the education, talent and experience required to carve out a career in the industry when people make claims to have replaced the need for designers with click and point generators, FAQs and step-by-steps. So, brace yourself. I’m going to sound like an alarmist, but I really have to say it.

Using Photoshop doesn’t make you a designer any more than owning a protractor makes you an architect.

Yes, I’m serious. You can use software like Photoshop and even use it well. You could create the most beautiful, breathtaking composite images with a full spectrum of layer styles, smart objects, masking and effects. It still doesn’t make you a designer.

Surely, there has to be a reason the career path persists despite the ever-expanding do-it-yourself design movement, right?

I know, I sound completely crazy, but let’s think about it this way. A graphic designer is classed as a valid professional occupation for a TN work visa in the USA under NAFTA. It’s right in there alongside veterinarians and lawyers. As a Canadian who has gone through this process, I guarantee that if you show up at the border with an expertly rendered composite image collection, the border guard is not going to stamp “TN1” on your passport on that merit alone.

Do-it-yourself design gives you “pretty.”

Professional design gives you results.

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“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
– Steve Jobs

Design isn’t simply about aesthetics. It’s about identifying and solving problems. This, my friends, is exactly what a graphic designer does. It’s why Fortune 500 companies entrust their design agencies with everything from office email headers to billboards. The innate creativity, passionate mindset and college education required to conceptualize, plan and deliver a finished product is more than you’re ever going to get from reading a manual or out of a walk-through.

Jane Doe didn't hire a professional design agency! Example of PhotoShop in the hands of a novice.
Okay, I’ll admit that aesthetics are not totally irrelevant.
Please back away slowly from the MacBook, ma’am.

Merriam-Webster defines design as:“To create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan; to devise for a specific function or end.”

The fact is that a design agency doesn’t simply provide you with a nice-looking poster. It provides you with a communications vehicle in the form of a nice-looking poster – one which accomplishes such goals as establishing your identity, differentiating you from competitors, engaging your target audience and driving consumer traffic wherever you want it to end up.

Layers of education and talent quietly converge in the background, influencing your perception in subtle ways while guiding you toward targeted objectives. A short list of considerations might include color psychology, consumer behavior, subconscious biases in human perception, societal cues, current trends and emotional triggers.

If it looks easy, that’s because it’s supposed to. Like Olympic athletes executing precise maneuvers with effortless grace that would leave untrained human beings flat on their faces, professional designers know what they’re doing. It shows when you see them perform and it shows when you see your media platforms perform.


The value of professionalism: You get what you pay for.

“I prefer design by experts – by people who know what they are doing.”
– Donald Norman

While the benefits of using a professional design agency are clear, the driving force of the do-it-yourself movement is usually traceable to everyone’s favorite office topic: the budget.

Ah yes, the budget, the great reducer of the light bulb wattages and tyrannical trimmer of our complimentary coffee machines. We need you; it doesn’t mean we like you. You force us to pick and choose where we allocate our operational expenses and something somewhere always has to give. The prevalence of do-it-yourself design can make it appear logical to cut back some red by choking down on design agency costs.

I know what you’re thinking. You have Microsoft Office on your laptop. You’ll just whip out this presentation template for the sales department by Monday. You’ll flip through some tutorials and fancy it up a bit. Done and done. There’s absolutely no need to get your design agency in on this project.

PhotoShop is a powerful tool - but casual users often find themselves frustrated learning to perform complex editing tasks.
It’s 4 a.m. on Sunday and I’m still stuck on this SmartArt thing.

“It can’t be that hard.” These are the famous last words of weekend warriors, with their faces held scrunched against the screens of home computers into the wee hours of Sunday night. They’ve spent the last three hours fiddling with an object state, which just won’t do the thing they want it to do, while furiously Googling, “Why isn’t ‘X’ working?”

In the time spent watching a few dozen hours of tutorials on Lynda, a professional graphic design agency would be handing off a gorgeous PowerPoint template to your sales supervisor – proofed, fully functional and ready to use. Design agencies and their creative teams aim to produce the best materials for your requirements, and they do it well because they’ve invested just as many hours as you have invested in your line of work.

The moral here is pretty straightforward. Save yourself the blood pressure spike, the lost sleep, the awkward throat-clearing and the disgruntled rumbling of the sales team on Monday morning. Instead, hire a professional and feel good about the decision.

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Gillian Kunis
Integrating high-energy creativity with a concrete foundation of technical skills, Gillian is an avid artist and illustrator with more than 10 years of experience in graphic design and print production. She graduated at the top of her college program in Canada and has honed her multifaceted skills through a diverse project background, including everything from identity development for locally owned startup companies to overseeing the production of provincial government collateral materials and global clients in medical and other industries.

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