Just because you can make a LJ icon, doesn't make you a graphic designer. It makes you someone who can open up photoshop, or paint, and mash some buttons.
That may seem a little harsh. And I suppose it is.
But let's look at what goes into making someone a graphic designer, as opposed to a production artist, or your Aunt Mildred who loves to photoshop birthday hats onto photos of her cats. Contributors to Fark, I'm looking at you.
- A graphic designer has a decent, firm grounding in the elements and principles of design. They understand line, texture, color, shape, form, value, and size, and how to put them together to achieve contrast, unity, balance, rhythm, movement, and emphasis. And, if you ask them to churn out 10 thumbnails in 5 minutes to illustrate each principle, they can. These are the folks who can do comps by hand, on the spot, for a client.
- They don't scroll down a list of fonts in order to find the right one for the job. The training in typography is a key separator of the pros from the wannabes. I like to ask designer candidates all kinds of evil questions, like 'Write an interrobang for me,' and 'What are the three characteristics of type?' I ask them not to be an intimidating interviewer (though that doesn't hurt); I ask them because I want to weed out the people who are only cut out to be production artists. Give me the college kid who's currently in love with Helvetica Neue any day -- that kid, I can work with. But someone who thinks Comic Sans is cute? Sigh. If someone's got a solid background in typography, it's a good sign that they've also had grounding in the other hands-on aspects of the craft.
- Design is not just making something look pretty -- it's coming up with a visual solution to a conceptual problem. It's organizing ideas. It's communicating with an audience -- and what's more, communicating effectively. There's a push to rename 'graphic designer' to 'communication designer,' because the job's become so much more encompassing in scope. Often, the designer's now directing an entire campaign, doing marketing, writing copy, hacking up HTML, or a software interface, or branding -- all on top of the actual graphic design work. Look for the person who's going upstream to solve their client's real problem, not just giving the client what they've asked for.
Those three things all set apart a designer from someone who hacks together print designs in Photoshop at 72 dpi. For improving that, there's always these priceless tutorials.