There are too many graphic design graduates

We are disturbed. On the situation of designers in Germany

For a few months now, the changed role of the designer has been discussed in astonishingly seriously and many models are being discussed. Digitization has progressed so far that even in handmade amateur niches such as in letterpress work with digital templates as a matter of course and no break in their work is seen in them. The tools for vectors and pixels are as common as power drills or refrigerators. Everyone can participate and everyone participates.

I remember colleagues who talked about 15 years ago about the beginning of digitization, complained about the associated decline in typographic culture and the lack of appreciation for their work. At the time, these colleagues had just passed their fiftieth birthday and looked incredibly old and bitter to me. In the meantime I am a little closer to the 50s mark and experience a new generation of now 50-year-olds who have come to terms with the democratization of their tools very well. They earn their money by being able to use these tools professionally and by relieving their clients of work. Some also earn money with advice. But these new 50-year-olds have very different problems, which surprisingly arise at the same stage of their lives as a generation before. From all angles I can currently hear a subliminal murmur that the industry is somehow weird and lives strange values.

Now you can blame this whispering on the dwindling elasticity of middle age or on the waning enthusiasm for new things, but I suspect there is more to it. Experienced colleagues sigh that they are tired, for example, of having to explain to a 25-year-old graduate with more theoretical marketing knowledge that visual communication is a little more complex than choosing fonts in Word. Experienced colleagues find it difficult to bear the fact that their professional experiences are simply declared incomprehensible because they are not formulated in the language that a graduate has acquired among his own kind.

For me, something becomes visible here that is very symptomatic of the design industry. We designers like to claim to be part of the good and to develop solutions for the pressing problems of mankind. With this requirement in mind, it is of course unreasonable to design packs for sachet soup or landing pages for insurance companies. We designers like our work with the fact that we as a person combine the bad with the good and support a good project with the money we earn with the bad work. We actually believe we have to do this, and we just as firmly believe that it will make the world a better place.

What do designers do differently? A doctor doesn't ask who the person he is treating is. He takes care of organs, skin, bones and soul, regardless of whether the person is holding their own daughter in the basement or choosing a different party than the doctor. The doctor only cares about his mount. The lawyer does not ask about the personality of his client, but takes care of his training. The tax advisor does not evaluate what his clients do for their money. They take care of their riding. And we designers of all people claim to be above things and are ready to do a lot to meet this demand.

In order to maintain our oversized self-image, we are ready to complete ridiculously poorly paid internships or months-long trainee programs. We're even ready to burn up our work in digital design machines just to get some feedback. Of course, we only publish projects that are healthy, rich in vitamins and sustainable. Oh yes, and on the side we do car advertising, cigarette advertising, business equipment for gaming machine manufacturers or construction companies and business reports for banks and pharmaceutical companies. That wouldn't be a problem. But we see the proportions of our work distorted. We see the majority of our paid standard orders as small. In return, we see the small part of our heroic work on what is true, beautiful and good as immensely large and significant. We act like an anorexic teenager who can judge each other's physique very precisely, but fails bitterly with himself. We have a cognitive disorder.

Anorexia is a nasty disorder that an entire industry thrives on. Dress sizes are corrected downwards, yogurts get magic bacteria that supposedly even survive stomach acid and TV series prefer to show girls with light shadows under the cheekbones than the normal girl next door. Many people also live quite well from the designer’s perceptual disorder. We designers don't look too closely when we sign employment contracts. That is why we as academics work for less money than an educator and a third do not know whether they will get a company pension. We only need a tiny little vision and our disturbance helps to see that vision big and lofty. The new project is not a simple job, no, we are working on the new world! If this vision does not help, clients only have to threaten to no longer love us and we are ready to tear up our cost estimate and ask with a pleading look how much money is left. We talk about our stupidity with the fact that we have to find a way into the industry, but we secretly know that we are making life difficult for our colleagues who are already in it. And at some point we ourselves are these colleagues who moan about the jazzed-down conditions.

Back to the 50 year old. You have all gone through these cycles. They were young and hot. You have seen people come and go. You have seen people fail and you have seen people get very rich. At 40, you can talk yourself into the fact that everything is still there. But if you don't have a pension at the age of 50 and don't know how to pay the rent next month, you have a problem that is stronger than any deception. It's down to the nitty-gritty. The designers who get down to the nitty-gritty are beginning to place completely different demands on their work than a career starter. The youngster wants self-fulfillment and fame. He doesn't worry about the levels of need below. The experienced designer realizes that only as many colleagues will climb this highest step as they can fit into a telephone booth. Most designers do bread jobs that are sold to them to save the world. Sobering they look around and see that their work not only brings no fame, but does not even satisfy the material level of need. They simply don't have a living income. If this is exactly what these designers demand of their work, they quickly become a burden for employers and too expensive for some clients. Younger people have long been ready. Younger designers who give a lot for a small vision.

How do we get out of there? To be honest, I don't know either. I suspect that we can start with our self-perception and should consider ourselves soberly as designers. We are not world savers, we are simply designers. We can use color, type and proportion, timing, but we are not Doctors Without Borders, spreading cancer vaccines or eradicating polio. For our disturbed perception, simple making money must always look like saving the world.

If we are ready to suppress our perceptual disorder, then we can look soberly, renegotiate. Physical exercises and a careful revaluation of food under supervision help against anorexia. Transferred to us designers, we need a lot of exercises in self-assessment and a careful re-evaluation of work. If we don't let cheap glass pearls in the form of small visions and no longer joke our future, then we have a chance as an industry. This requires training by practitioners and a well-founded general degree. This requires commercial training and early reflection on one's own relevance. This also requires collegiality among one another and across age limits. Of course, this also requires a lobby group that receives more support than a bored retweet. Let's be realistic. We are designers. Not more but also not less. If we can correct our perceptual disorder, then we have a chance. A chance to be and stay in the most beautiful job in the world!