Designers and Macs – you’re missing the point

I’ve followed with interest the debate about Mac training. The debate is sparked because employers are perceived to place too much emphasis on Mac skills, rather than traditional skills.

I’ve followed with interest the debate about Mac training. The debate is sparked because employers are perceived to place too much emphasis on Mac skills, rather than traditional skills.

But the debate should be about what level of Mac skills a designer should be expected to have, not the relative merits of traditional versus digital media. What it all comes down to is the division of labour in the real world, between the qualified designer and artworker.

I’m amazed that some people involved in the graphics industry don’t understand or haven’t yet come to terms with the status quo.

There are designers and there are artworkers. Designers go to university for three years to develop keen conceptual skills. Therefore they leave university with only a modicum of Mac skills. But what level of skill should this be? The Mac is just as important a tool as traditional materials and media. So, designers should leave university with the ability to produce visuals on the Mac as effectively as with other media. In order to do this they do not need to know as much about the Mac as an artworker.

The ultimate responsibility the artworker bears is making sure that final digital artwork is correctly laid out and that it is printed in colour separations by working up files or ideas fed to them by designers. Good artworkers, it is hoped, will also suggest ideas to designers, based on a deeper understanding of digital techniques, and thus also add value to design potential. Some might even argue that a good artworker is more essential than a good designer – how good is an idea if you can’t get it to print?

A design company with any sense will adopt this division of labour. However, the harsh reality of the commercial world upsets this Apple cart. Recruiters are constantly pushing the envelope in terms of the depth of skill they require of Mac designers, they want ‘camera-ready designers’. But these companies bear none of the responsibility for training designers.

Of course, designers may not want to become quasi-artworkers. Many of these recruiters are non-design organisations who want to bring design in-house and save money by recruiting a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ instead of a master of one.

Incidentally, the Mac gives a false impression of speed and employers should realise this. Admittedly, the processes are much quicker than pasting up traditionally, but it is still more than a case of just pressing a few buttons. Many design companies still find this a problem area. So much so, that I would go so far as to say they accept output problems and additional repro costs as the de facto standard for a job.

This is an industry which is trying to do everything yesterday and which is either too scared or too immature to massage its clients into a less frenetic approach. There is a strong case, therefore, for the division of labour approach and indeed for an artworker to be a highly skilled craftsman because a good design is only as good as final artwork!

Designers design, artworkers do the rest, and successful businesses encourage them to collaborate in a controlled and streamlined environment. Others do not and that is where the problem lies, not in the universities.

Steve Price

1-2-1 Mac Training

The Studio

39 Elton Road

Kingston

KT2 6DA

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