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Role Reversal
By: Tom Roarty
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It is strange when we get to the point where we have the ability to start a sentence with “when I was younger,” but over time it happens to all of us. My “when-I-was-younger” moment happened to me this weekend while preparing my daughter to transfer to an art high school. To see the things that she tends to struggle with have, in fact, been the exact opposite of things I have struggled with in my early design career.
We came upon this conclusion when outlining her portfolio. We wanted to show a variety of media since we are not sure exactly what the schools will be looking for. In her portfolio she’ll have photography, digital banner ads, postcards, CD cover designs, pottery, and drawings, both realistic and cartoon. When we started gathering her work a few weeks back, we realized anything digital related was pretty much a breeze, but traditional design work was a hardship. Which started to make me wonder if many younger designers encounter the same problem.
I believe every designer in my generation and later relied on a pencil to get us through almost every aspect of a project. I do not know anyone from my generation who did not have some reluctance when computer-added design was introduced to the creative world. It is not that we were against it, but rather we were already trained from years of practice, and these new tools would bring us back to square one. A place no one wants to end up in their professional or educational career if they can avoid it. We had no choice; it was either conform to the use of computers or find a new line of work. Somehow dependency on the media has become a crutch and basic skills are an afterthought, if a thought at all.
The point that is difficult to argue with is if a computer can mimic so many styles with the ability to quickly create editable variations in a fraction of a time, how does one defend the cause of traditional design techniques? It is not easy unless you can show full potential in a working environment. I can sketch out three comps in the time it takes my daughter to create one using Photoshop, but when we are finished, hers looks complete, and I still have to translate my ideas on the computer, which makes me one step behind. Yet I still could not imagine not starting at paper phase.
Is it right that I am forcing one of tomorrow’s creatives to take a pencil in hand and work on becoming stronger at comping and illustrating? I believe so, for the simple reason that creativity is based on a foundation and a history of those who designed before us. It is each generation’s job to try and improve upon the last’s accomplishments. If you don’t know how they got to where they are, how can you expect to get there yourself? Creativity is a multilayered experience — hopefully today’s design schools start their design process at the ground floor before jumping to the penthouse.

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