Photoshop Alone Doesn’t Make You a Graphic Designer

The other day, I was talking to some friends and colleagues and overheard someone in the background talking about Photoshop. They claimed that they were an incredible graphic designer, because they are incredible with Photoshop. After overhearing this, I asked for a link to their portfolio site, and was shocked to find out that they didn’t have a site showcasing at least some of their work. With this being said, I still gave them the benefit of the doubt ad thought that maybe they were really good in Photoshop, which is great, but I disagree with the statement that you are an excellent designer, because you are good in Photoshop.

Photoshop ALone Doesn't Make You A Graphic DesignerBeing a Graphic Designer

Graphic design takes so much more than simply creating a pretty image in Photoshop. You have to have text that flows well with your image, so that your message is properly communicated. You have to have a good structural hierarchy so that people that are scanning for information can easily find it. You have to have a good eye for color and be able to decide of a solid palette of colors that work well together. People have to be able to read your message and be able to understand it completely.

Another thing that bothered me is that I have noticed a trend in immaculate 3D typography lately, which is fantastic. The tutorials teach you how to create fantastic imagery and melt images and textures into the 3D letterforms. The problem is, that half of them are illegible when it is all said and done. I don’t care how beautiful you make a bunch of letters look, but if you can’t read what it even says then why in the world would you even make it in the first place? I have seen where they have made glossy, candy style 3D type, and it looks great. It looks like candy and is full of color and is easily read, without any sort of strain to figure out what the message is. I have seen some that I still don’t know what it says, and more importantly, I don’t care. The important part to understand is that neither does the viewer. You lost them- it’s over. The message was lost in texture and form and became so abstract that no one knows what it even is anymore.

The point that I am trying to make with this is that it is great if you are trying to learn the different ways to create effects and styles inside of Photoshop, Illustrator, or any other 3D program. The thing that needs to be understood is that there are underlying principles that govern a great design. It is like knowing how to paint an old car and make it look beautiful, but not knowing how to get it running properly. You will never get anywhere with it.

It is great to make things look beautiful-that is our job, but not all of it. The rest of our job is to communicate a message and to effectively solve a problem for our clients.

  • newbloom

    I’m still learning, but maybe everyone is. I’ve created crappy pages and ones that look fairly decent and get their message across.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s easy to get an idea and get caught up in it. Then it’s easy to fall into the trap of working so much at something that you can’t see it’s not helping the site.

    It’s easy to spend a lot of time doing this, and then you might deny to yourself that it’s not working, since you have already spent so much time on something.

    I had a recent experience where this happened. I actually showed this to some people who weren’t impressed, and then I almost cried. I took a second look and wondered what was I thinking.

    It’s hard sometimes, but the best thing is just to move on, take a deep breathe, tell yourself it’s going to be ok and then start over and try to start by keeping it simple.

    • chrisSkar74

      I am avid user of Photoshop and enjoy working in it. I agree with this article, for the simple fact a lot of people look at my work and say it is amazing, but say it lacks text. I do stuff in Illustrator and InDesign to express and show my typographic skills. So please if you take a look at my website please make sure you look at my other pieces of work.

      • martinrdoug

        Hi Chris, I really like your work. Though as talented as you are I think your realm lies as a digital artist and not a graphic designer. Graphic designer communicate information or a message through the use of text, imagery and even white space.


  • Jermaine Young

    Great article. Even though I feel like I am a novice myself I too look at some other’s work and wonder what their main purpose in their design was. Graphic design is supposed to contain a message and if its just pretty then you totally missed the point.

  • simon harding

    I’m affair its the way of the world,the question you may like to ask is why they are in photo shop at all ?
    Probably just another graphic designer trying to do a photographers job !
    Do i sound bitter,not really just realistic,but as long as we live in a world where quality ,experience and professionalism doesn’t count for much ,you will find even more of this going on around you.

  • macgeek70

    Just as anyone with a pen thinks they can write, anyone with Photoshop (or worse yet, Word!) thinks they can design. I’ve seen many people get caught up in all the cool Photoshop filters and go overboard. Just because some things look cool with shadows or as a 3-D bubble with a shine, doesn’t mean everything design should have one. They need to learn the principles & layout of design.

  • Thomas Menninger

    I noticed my gifted co-workers have great chops in Photoshop but make a lot of design mistakes. Pale or yellow text on white backgrounds… gray drop shadows around black text making text appear blurry. Now that I’m older, I really appreciate being able to read a document without glasses.

  • Diane

    Great article. The insights a graphic artist bring to the table when developing a new product are often minimized by those who think graphic artists “make something pretty.” In my work as an e-learning developer/instructional designer/graphic designer, all of my graphic design knowledge comes into enormous play. Is it readable? What does the color palette convey? Is the space too crowded? Where is the white space? Does it flow? Is the sequence logical? Is a picture worth a thousand words? Can i convince my SMEs that sometimes less is more?? And most frustrating of all, with a well-degreed graphic artist on staff why are they not included when a website redesign is being discussed? What, are we chopped liver?! My answer has been to educate as much as possible, to respond to questions with concrete answers and not vague esoteric responses about good design. You nailed it with your comments on readability, color selection, layout flow. Thank you!

  • rosanne

    I love it! Especially:

    “our job is to communicate a message and to effectively solve a problem for our clients”

    That really says it all. Substance first and then style.

    Thank you!

  • Daina Reed

    You are so right about those silly 3d text tutorials!

    All the important points you brought up about graphic design– were you referring to graphic design for websites only?

    I think print work (well maybe only artistic work just for something pretty to look at) is more forgiving to that kind of stuff. If the point is just artistic/something nice to look at– well then that’s the point. Maybe your friend was referring to himself as a graphic designer in that sense?

    I feel “graphic designer” is too vague. Or hasn’t been assigned a strict definition. for example I don’t like to be called a “graphic designer”. I prefer “web designer”. Because I don’t do intricate, illustrated, artistic work. I make websites look great that communicate a message well with simple graphics I can do in Photoshop together with purchased stock art and photos. I don’t feel I’m even worthy of being tagged “graphic designer” even tho the rest of the world thinks that’s what I am.

    Any web designers here ever felt that way too?