I wanted to give due respect and time to this key element of the digital sign enterprise, the “third leg of the stool” – the graphic designer who creates the compelling, readable, and often, larger than life brand statements for the clients of the digital sign shop.
Surveyed Group: 74% of the sign designers in this sampling are male, 26% are female.
The topic couldn’t have been timelier, especially in the face of our information overload society. From radio, TV and roadside billboards, to beneath bottle tops, diner place mats, and practically every site on the Internet—the average person is hit with a gazillion messages each day. Actually, the number is 3,000. Yes, 3,000! Yet, very few messages are remembered.
In an ideal world, clients would see the sign designer as a valuable contributor to bringing their brands (their most valuable assets) to market. Granted, there are aspects of graphic design that have become commodities such as web design and your standard business card print design, but at the other end of the spectrum there are disciplines (such as visual communications afforded by the sign industry) that require years of experience, and a lot of creative talent to get it right (visual branding, vehicle wrap design, conspicuity, large-format graphic work).
Two designers sum this up:
“I love being able to design and even help build something. The drawback is you don’t get paid as well as designers working for a firm or corporate institutions. Plus, other web/print based designers have no respect for what you do.”And the other:
“A lot of sign projects are really interesting, and just about every job is different. That is the good stuff. I would be very satisfied except that I've found that sometimes GA's in the sign business aren't taken as seriously as those at a design firm.”
One unifying comment that appeared over and over again was the very real benefit of the variety built into this industry job. But the “glass half full” resonated throughout the following responses:
One respondent summed up a number of points:
“My role in the sign industry is more than just a designer, I interact with clients, sell products, design layouts, project manage & sometimes install and fabricate. However design is only a fraction of what I do daily and very small fraction. I wish there was more design, however I enjoy the variety in my work.”
At its highest end, a designer has to be part psychologist, part market analyst, part branding strategist, part sales person, a good visualizer, a copywriter, an art director, a creative, and be able to bring this all together on time and within the parameters for any number of substrates and media.
All through history, artists and creative people have been undervalued. There are no unions, very little organization within the profession and no one educating our audiences about what we bring to the table. As we know so well "perception is reality".
Perhaps that is the key that unlocks the meaning of this next set of responses.
32% are NOT likely to recommend the sign design field as a career path for their friends or family. That is equal to the 32% that are likely or very likely to recommend the sign industry to another graphic designer.
Why a full spectrum of opinions? Some of that is answered in the comments made by the respondents to the questions regarding the sign designer's career path.
Opportunity to expand my abilities/ knowledge: 21% = Dissatisfied
Opportunities to receive recognition/ awards: 11% Very Dissatisfied, & 37% Dissatisfied
Opportunity to ping other designers: 5%=Very Dissatisfied, 16% Dissatisfied
Of course, a big chunk-- an average of 40%-- were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with the above opportunities. So this leaves the minority satisfied or very satisfied. Yes, this is disconcerting, to say the least.
“I thought we graphic artists should be treated like rock stars from employees and clients. Most of the time; however, we're treated like drive through window clerks. It's our vision that drives the entire graphics industry and we're taken for granted."
“It has been my experience that GA's in the sign industry don't always have the opportunity to use other designers as a resource for feedback on their work. It can be frustrating when the only feedback regarding designs comes from a client's wife/ husband / child/ cousin, etc...”
And finally, what about the shop itself? 21% are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with shop systems, lighting, cleanliness and financial security. On the bright side, 32% are satisfied, and a further 24% are very satisfied for a total of 56% that are pleased with what happens internally. See chart:
Lynda.com, a website devoted to Adobe tutorials and videos, is only $25 a month. www.signbizelective.com/ features numerous workshops on DVD just for graphic designers, ranging from ada and lamination, to color calibration and vehicle wrap design – most for less than $25); and by not establishing a well-structured work environment and workflow system.
It’s time to change perceptions. Just look at the winners of this year’s International Sign Association Sign Design Competition. Another place to be honored: Signs of the Times' magazine's International Sign Design and Vehicle Graphics contests. As one designer in our survey put it,
“The sign industry has great potential for graphic artists to exercise their creativity, while providing an essential service. They in turn get to see their work on public display all the time.”
Personally, I think every sign should be signed by the designer. This can be as easy as a stamp on the back of each project, and "pencil signed" by the artist. If we value our product, this is a sign we do so. We are in the custom sign business, and should be signing our work. Do that, and you help change perceptions.
Every business owner can tap a valuable resource for improving operations. Just sit down with your GA and have a right-brain to right-brain discussion about the survey results. Good things will come of it, for everyone.
In conclusion, when sizing up the designers in the digital sign arena, we need a whole new yardstick.