05.18.17
John Caserta | Essays

Dear Class of 2017

Just because you're getting a degree in Graphic Design doesn't mean you're required to get a job as a graphic designer—or that you have to do it for the rest of your life. There may be a time when you stop payment on your Creative Cloud subscription and put away your laptop altogether. What I think is valuable about a graphic design education is that it prepares you to do more than enter the profession. Graphic Design, at its core, is a collection of methods that play out uniquely based on the particulars of the project and the personalities involved. This process transfers well to other professions.

Michael Rock argued in the essay "Designer as Author" that design is part of the message. How the message looks, how it's seen, where it’s seen, how it's made, all contribute to its meaning. Form does not just follow content, form is part of the content. This definition of authorship is often misunderstood (as Rock himself pointed out in a subsequent essay) to mean that designers are most valuable when they generate their own content. The misreading and riffing on the original phrase led to another two decades of other "designer as…" idioms, many by luminaries in the field.

Inspired myself by what designers are capable of, and by the activities I’ve seen designers enter into over the years, I’ve put together an extensive list of “designer as” aphorisms for you to consider as you begin your journey in and around the field. Maybe you will find yourself using design more than you describe yourself as “a designer”. A good design process, like a good education, provides no fixed pathway to success. The best part of designing are the unexpected turns. Be open to them, and to where those can take you—maybe even to one of the professions below.

Designer as producer
Designer as editor
Designer as printer
Designer as curator
Designer as conductor
Designer as interviewer
Designer as social activist
Designer as revolutionary
Designer as leader
Designer as mayor
Designer as ambassador
Designer as mediator
Designer as librarian
Designer as stylist
Designer as data visualizer
Designer as organizational consultant
Designer as dilettante
Designer as algorithm generator
Designer as forger (falsifies documents)
Designer as forger (melds metals)
Designer as linguist
Designer as talk show personality
Designer as educator
Designer as restaurateur
Designer as butcher
Designer as baker
Designer as artisanal candlestick maker
Designer as tie maker
Designer as recipe collector
Designer as entrepreneur
Designer as CEO
Designer as COO
Designer as C3PO
Designer as futurist
Designer as bullshitter
Designer as importer
Designer as mob boss
Designer as brick layer
Designer as naturalist
Designer as journalist
Designer as clown
Designer as con artist
Designer as graffiti artist
Designer as degenerate
Designer as religious leader
Designer as pun writer
Designer as namer
Designer as fundraiser
Designer as decliner
Designer as thinker
Designer as dramatist
Designer as therapist
Designer as life coach
Designer as parent
Designer as armchair quarterback
Designer as backseat driver
Designer as wanderer
Designer as investor
Designer as listmaker


An earlier version of this appeared in the 2016 RISD yearbook, as a letter to the graduating class of students in Graphic Design.



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