Design Gone Soft?

Hello GDF again! I have a question, is it just my perception or has for the most part design gone soft?

To add some context I have been seeing logos and designs on Instagram here lately where there’s a lot of technical issues wrong with them. While nothing wrong with trial and error the entire comment section is in a sense “praising” the design congratulating about how good it is when in my eyes I see a lot that needs fixed. Is this where design is going? Where you can just put up half efforts and get participation trophies just like everything else?

I wouldn’t pass judgement upon “design” at-large by what’s found in Instagram comments. At best, your post presents an anecdote that to me, is more about Instagram than design.


My involvement with graphic design goes back to the 1970s, which gives me some perspective on what’s changed over time. When I started out, there were significant entry barriers that no longer exist.

Back then, people involved in the printing industry learned their trades on the job — they possessed technical skills and had access to the right equipment, but they were skilled tradesmen, not designers.

Graphic designers were relatively scarce compared to today. Succeeding as a graphic designer required both talent and training in design — either through formal education or working alongside designers who could teach them. It also required learning enough about the arcane technical side of preparing artwork for printing that an average person couldn’t do it.

There was just no way, for example, that an untrained person knew how to spec and order type from a type house, paste it up into mechanicals with cut overlays for stripping in color-separated photos and manually specified screentints. Average people had neither the know-how nor the access to the tools to do it — stat cameras, technical pens, drafting tables, waxers, rubylith, airbrushes, etc.

Today, it’s entirely different. Those technical barriers have been removed and replaced with relatively cheap and easy-to-learn software that runs on any computer. Anyone with an interest can learn the tools of the trade by watching YouTube and a little practice.

What hasn’t changed is the talent, design education and experience needed to use those tools to produce competent work.

Some people with talent can emerge from all this through self-education or working with other professionals. Most of the amateurs, however, stay amateurs with underdeveloped design abilities. They sign up on the crowdsourcing contest sites competing for pocket change from naive customers who don’t know enough to tell the difference. They congregate in Facebook groups, on Instagram and on Dribbble, where they post erratic work and give each other questionable advice.

Like I mentioned, there used to be nearly insurmountable practical entry barriers, but that’s changed. In most professions with low entry barriers, but requiring high skill levels (like today’s competent graphic design), licensing requirements and professional accreditation serve as the entry barriers to ensure that only the competent can practice.

For example, a psychologist talks to people for an hour, which most people can do. Watching YouTube videos can teach most anyone how to do a little electrical wiring. Some practice with a comb and a pair of scissors on a few willing victims can give someone enough confidence to cut people’s hair. Helping people through difficult situations seems easy enough, which is what social workers do.

Like graphic design, doing any of these things competently requires a huge amount of education, aptitude and experience. Unlike graphic design, though, licensing requirements exist to prevent the incompetent from taking on work and claiming to be professionals. Minimum standards must be met. Accreditation from professional organizations is also typically needed to be successful.

In graphic design, none of these safeguards exist. Most anyone who’s learned some Photoshop basics can bill themselves as a professional graphic designer — incompetence isn’t an insurmountable barrier. There are no licensing or accreditation requirements. Badly run for-profit trade schools have taken advantage of this by cranking out poorly prepared graduates who often aren’t that much more competent than the self-trained amateurs.

It’s a bad situation that doesn’t give me much hope for the long-term health of our profession. There will always be great clients and great designers at the upper end of the spectrum, but for everyone working two or three notches below that level, wages have plummeted, professionalism has decreased and naive clients are treating designers like the poorly paid hobbyists that many of them are.


If you want to see where design is going,
View this piece of Garbage:

That thing right there more than justifies my setup fees.

wow, I looked at that and I think my eyes bled.

There’s a lot of terrible design out there. Graphic design seems to have an easy point of entry and so there are people designing that have no basic understanding of design.

We used to encourage a heavy sweater in the crit pit but you have to pad out crit with some encouragement otherwise people will never come back.

Instagram probably isn’t the best place for crit. Very rarely do I see a negative comment on there. I guess that’s why I post on there. Ha!


A lot of the praise on instagram, and other similar platforms, is more along the line of “Oh that’s cool, I wish I was able to do that,” kind of praise from the clueless and the even-more-wannabees.


This is something which blows my mind, the critiques (assuming the feedback is constructive) is one of the only ways people grow. The people that run away from it or dismiss it are doing themselves a disservice.

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This is something new students in art and design school often have difficulty getting used to. Up until then, most people are highly complimentary of an aspiring artist’s work — glowing praise from parents and siblings, friends who like the work and general approval from most everyone.

Then along comes the first university-level art course and nobody holds back expressing their opinions. Design majors are typically those who were top performers in their secondary school art classes, then, suddenly, and they’re no longer special — they find themselves surrounded by others who are just as good, just as talented and just as motivated. I think it likely is a real ego bruiser to lots of student not used to that kind of feedback or competition.

You’re right, though, it’s through the critiques where much — maybe most — of the learning takes place and the incentive arises to do better. Nobody wants flaws pointed out in their work or to be one of the also-rans in the class, so those critiques serve as a real motivator to do whatever is necessary to take in other points of view and adjust their work accordingly.

Here, we get a mix: professionals and students who have long gotten used to criticism because it never really stops, and newbies hoping to get a little praise for something they’re proud of.

It really helps soften the blow when positive things are also pointed out — especially since there are almost always positive things about what’s been done. Shocking a new person with statements that are too critical can hurt and make that person give up what they love doing and just might have learned do well if they had received encouragement mixed in with the criticism.

Then again, there are some (lots) who really are just wasting their time pursuing something that they just don’t have what it takes to do. Maybe scaring them away from pursuing it is a blessing in disguise. When I was in grad school, I taught a couple of first year design courses. There were always a few students in the classes who I wished I could have had an honest conversation with about how their work just wasn’t of the kind that would lead to success in this field. Luckily, most dropped out after the first year — largely due, I think, to the beating their work took in the critiques.


I think I subscribe to the ‘tough love’ school of critiques. If something is good, I am happy to say so – and positively think you should. However, I am definitely not one for sugar-coating, because no matter how hard we are, the big, scary world out there is going to be even harder on them. Of course, positive affirmation helps in some cases, but the ones who are worth anything, tend to show their mettle by the way they take constructive criticism.

The ones who react badly, as long at that criticism is not malicious and hurtful, are usually those you can tell aren’t going to make the grade anyway (invariably backed up by the quality of their work).

This is probably why I’d make a terrible teacher!

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I listen to lots of podcasts — many of them design-related. Coincidentally, just yesterday, I was listening to the Logo Geek Podcast where the host, Ian Paget, was interviewing Arjun Ahluwalia, a very talented designer who co-founded Uting, a branding agency.

They were discussing their mutual insecurities and how they had struggled to overcome them. Ahluwalia recounted an experience he had at his university where a well-meaning professor had critiqued his work in no-nonsense matter-of-factness that resulted in some decidedly negative consequences. I’m half-temped to quote from the transcript, but if anyone is interested, the link above will take you there. The entire interview is good, but the part I’m referencing starts at about 07:10 into the interview

Thanks, I’ll listen to that later.

It is a tough line to balance on – being honest enough to be useful, but without assassinating and destroying someone’s self-esteem and risk discouraging them – apart from the ones who really should be discouraged, of course.

Just listened to it. Well worth it. Thanks.

I reckon, almost every single one of us will recognise at least some of those things. Everyone at some point has had imposter syndrome. Goes with the territory. Most good designers I know have at least a little bit of OCD, etc. The older you get, the more you do and have achieved, the less these things are an issue.

That said, like the two people in the podcast, I still hate other people being in the room when I am on the phone. I’d much rather be one my own.

Well that is a pretty bad logo - really should be just called - how to use the tools.

As far using the tools to create multiple elements and blend them together it’s pretty much what I learned over 25 years ago in a 6 month full-time introductory to DTP.

We used to use the same technique, just different subject, for us we scanned in pictures of Captain America and redrew him - the shield was a good exercise in Illustrator.

But that video is not logo design - what the heck Adobe!

Imposter syndrome hasn’t typically been too much of a problem for me, but I still feel anxiety when showing work to clients.

Even though I feel confident that what I propose is what they need, I often have no way of knowing whether or not they’ll like it. Unfortunately, like is the right word here since so many clients seem to base their decisions on their personal likes and dislikes rather than the more strategy-based criteria I use in coming up with my proposed solutions.

I’ll typically steer the conversations to design strategies and tactics that relate directly to their business and how personal preferences should take a back seat to achieving the goals the design project was meant to address. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Even so, I’m always feeling that they’re only half-heartedly listening to me like I’m a sales person trying to talk them into something they don’t want.

I never know quite how far to argue my points before compromising or simply giving in to their bad judgment.

Maybe this is a form of imposter syndrome now that I think about it. Maybe not so much insecurity about my work as it is insecurity about my ability to effectively communicate to others that I know what I’m doing or the anxiety that arises over me wanting them to like the work.

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Oh boy, I’m dreading the day I throw myself in the Crit Pit! If there are no lions in the arena, I might starve to death!!! :pleading_face:

No seriously, if I ever show you any of my humble designs, please shred them into smithereens and nail every flawed piece of them onto my forehead with all your might, so it may sink into my brain. I may cry a little, but it will be tears of joy when I learn something in the process. :sweat_smile:

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How about faint praise? I’m rather good with faint praise.

If that’s all I can get, I’ll still show my sincere gratitude for your surely well intentioned points. :wink:

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I only felt it a couple of times in my mid twenties. Back then, a lot of my work was in the music industry – when CDs were still a thing! I remember working on one particular 2-year long project with some people whose reputations preceded them and thinking, ‘How did I get here?’. I had this sense that I’ll get found out as a lightweight. Thankfully it didn’t happen and I learned loads from that particular project.

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