Jessica Helfand | Essays

Scrapbooking: The New Paste-Up

A few years ago, I was hitting a roadblock in my personal work when a series of drawings I was making seemed increasingly to be leading me toward etching. Sketchbook in hand, I drove to the nearest art supply store, thinking someone there might be able to advise me on materials.

"If I show you my drawings," I inquired of a young man stocking the shelves, "do you think you could direct me to the right tools?"

He narrowed his eyes at me, and examined my scrawly sketches with a certain unease. Then he cleared his throat.

"If I may be so bold," he carefully responded, "your first mistake is shopping in a store that sells fake ficus trees."

It soon turned out that fake foliage shares not only space — but also a certain fierce demand — with craft supplies, which masquerade in many parts of the American retail environment as art supplies. In the midst of this economic foment is something called scrapbooking — quite literally, the idea of making a scrapbook (not to be confused with "journaling" which, in scrapbooking parlance, is understood as the recording of captions or text for the accompanying photographs in one's scrapbook) — which has rather a lot to do with graphic design.

Naturally, any self-respecting graphic designer wants nothing whatsoever to do with any of this.

It may come as little surprise that as photography becomes more a function of the individual and less a consequence of institutionalized production, so, too, should the way an individual's photos be displayed be more idiosyncratic. Arguably, in the hands of the average civilian (read "non-designer") such photos typically dwell in scrapbooks. A hundred years ago — back in the days when taking the family snapshot was colloquially referred to, in certain places, as "going Kodaking," a person's favorite snaps could be affixed to the pages of an album using something called photo corners, little triangular pieces of acid-free paper with one side primed for gluing. You scribbled the time, place and names of the individuals underneath the pasted-down photo and you were done.

Today, scrapbooking afficionados juggle a dizzying array of paper punches and themed stickers and specialty papers as well as a host of conferences, trade shows and websites to advise them on their assorted scrapbooking needs. And this is a significant market. More critical even than its rapid spread as a reputable economic force (migrating steadily toward occupying a greater share of the greeting card and specialty papers industry) scrapbookers are out there in huge numbers sharing tips about design. ("Another neat idea is to make a background," advises one scrapbooking site, "using thin strips of colored paper put together to look like pom poms.") It's at once horrifying and fascinating to witness the degree to which design is being discussed online by people whose concept of innovation is measured by novel ways to tie bows; whose appreciation of photography is ordained by goofy framing techniques; and whose understanding of typography is rather heavily weighted toward pastel drop shadows and generously kerned lowercase script. (I could write an entire post just on the scrapbooker's predisposition toward fonts like "Whimsy Joggle" and "Pool Noodle Outline" but I will try and restrain myself.) (For now.) Pre-packaged words — known as "word fetti"— lend a refrigerator-magnet sort of haphazardness to scrapbook typography, and include the sorts of words a scrapbooker is likely to want to include. ("Forever" and "Memories" and "The Best of Everything," for starters.) The sort of free-form composition generated by word fetti borrows from the material notion of confetti — the shards of colored paper that get tossed in the air during certain types of celebrations — which has, to my knowledge, never been a recognized barometer of any kind of typographic value. Nevertheless, this does not appear to concern scrapbookers eager to incorporate language into their pages: indeed, such ready-made captions come in handy for those not quite intrepid enough to venture forth into actual journaling on their own.

In scrapbook culture, page layout itself is the province of the fearless: here, less is never more. ("Use themed die-cuts to accent your pages!") Burdened by questions about how to frame your loved ones? Just hop on over to the Cropping Corner to learn how to crop photographs in new and unusual shapes. Need more inspiration? The members area at Luv2Scrapbook share over 3,000 layout ideas, which is nothing compared to the 15,000+ available over at Lifetime Moments. Need ideas on "accenting" your pages with embellishments? ("Embellishments" represent a significant core competency in the scrapbooking world.) Interested would-be embellishers can visit Addicted to Scrapbooking to learn more about trinkets, patches, themed eyelets and page pebbles; or Making Memories to lean the best way to untwist a twistel. (I didn't know either: it's a kind of wiry raffia-type ribbon, I think.)

While any of a number of late, great editorial designers are spinning in their graves —Alexander Lieberman springs to mind — the truth is that some of what scrapbooking has to offer is intrinsically connected to design. There's the encapsulation of time through collage and montage; the representation of chronology through sequencing and framing images; there's the very notion of documenting, of visual evidence and diaristic detail. I even confess to liking some of the supplies (letterform brads!) which I buy for my children and then swipe for an occasional project of my own. But the bigger issue remains: obviously, there's nothing that says you need to be certified in graphic design to keep a family scrapbook. But if millions of people are getting their layout ideas from page pebbles and twistel ties, might there not be the slightest bit of graphic fallout in our midst? "Craft-born embellishments," observes one scrapbooking supplier, "are penetrating an unexpected market: graphic design." Accounting for nearly $2 billion in sales in 2002, such numbers may indicate more than mere hobbyists at work.

Of course, scrapbooking is not now, nor has it ever been about achieving design excellence. But where do we draw the line? We can't simply dismiss scrapbooking on the assumption that its decorative nature and personal content relegates it to non-design status. Sure, it's goofy and its homespun (if there's such a thing as outsider art, maybe this is insider art) but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take it seriously. At the end of the day, I suppose if someone gets really serious, they can always break away from the pack and start calling themselves mixed-media artists. Or even — graphic designers.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, History, Photography

Comments [118]

Speaking of those little black photo corners--I recently found a photo album from the 1800s which belonged to my grandmother. Although haphazardly put together it is so much more authentic and interesting to look at than the modern day scrapbooks covered with stickers of mickey mouse or other commercial embellishments. I am still using those little black photo corners in my photo albums since everything old is new again.

Aspects of graphic design seem to be seeping into more and more of the life I witness around me; elaborate party invitations (all ages) hand-crafted by the family members (not artists or designers) with a particular attention to layout, type, and color palette; school flyers and websites; the typographic production of my 6 year old and her friends(hand drawn letters with serifs, outlines, and drop shadows). I think part of what we are witnessing here is the increasing level of visual learning (sophistication, knowledge, media saturation?) of the post 1950's generations.

The urge to create/be creative is powerful and seems to be bubbling up among some populations as scrapbooking, book altering, and collaging. Many of the materials involved are designed by graphic designers, so there is bound to be some fuzzy lines here and there. Yes, homespun, personal, decorative, BUT I find myself absolutely mesmerized by the sheer volume and spectacle of the scrapbook aisles at my local craft store.

I think about how incredibly gratifying it must be for these scrappers to make their books and pages. That's what it boils down to for me - if people are experiencing creative pleasure and the pleasure of creating - it must be good. I bet that some of them are inspired to take classes and become graphic designers...

I'd be interested in knowing the gender ratio of scrapbookers. I have a hunch... which brings up all kinds of other interesting aspects to scrapbook culture and its relationship to the past...

On my last visit to a friend's home, I looked at some scrapbooks her mother had created for her. They were powerful storytelling tools, which I suspect is all that matters to the scrapbookers. If good print design is about communication, then she more than hit the mark of being a good designer.

Interestingly, the CEO and a fair number on the management team at the Utah-based company Creative Memories (where there's an actual design team) are men. There's also, from what I understand, a pretty serious Christian following, which seems to be gender neutral.

With regard to the other point you raised, I think there is indeed a great deal of gratification for those who graphically record their lives — whether it is a reaction against pace of modern life, or a hobby enabled by the abundance of suppliers, it's hard to tell. As for me, I'm still struggling over the type diecutter that offers four faces: "Classic"; "Script"; "Playground" and "Girls Are Weird."
Jessica Helfand

The abundant and relatively inexpensive availablity of cameras, special papers, exotic cutting tools, photographs and design tools provides an avenue for people of all skills and abilities to express themselves visually.

Today, almost anyone can photo-document every second of every day if desired, and through the use of inexpensive software, create images that are relatively high in quality. (Compared to what "kodakers" could do in previous years). Even those poor photos from by-gone years can be scanned and maniplated. If you think your own images are unique in approach, perspective and content do a quick search of images on the web or go to the Flickr site.

Communication with images is no longer the select domain of a few who have expensive equipment and access to printing presses.

Images, like the written word, are now so universal and plentiful that it is becoming a challenge to choose what is good, useful, and artistic, what is for personal satisfaction and what is worthy of being shared with society.

Just like extensive, wordy legal documents that are too cumbersome to actual read, images and man-made visual stimulation have become so plentiful that we do not see many of them. As a result will the standards for what is considered real art become more stringent or less so?

It seems that our whole process of finding writings and images to respect and honor is becoming more and more democratic. There just may be an incredible amount of good work and talent in our world that up until now has been unrecognized.

As a result perhaps all artists will need to drop elitist attitudes and be willing to look at all available communication with a more open and less judgmental eye and mindset. And to find the highest quality and most meaningful images before eye fatigue blinds them completely.

The management of Creative Memories are mostly men (surprise, surprise), BUT look at the designers and the designer bios. And yeah, the Christian thing is an interesting aspect - I find it hard to believe that it's gender nuetral. Do you have any reference for that?

"Girls are Weird" - uggg.

Oh.my.god. This is fantastic. Where I would once have been horrified, I am now completely entranced. I cannot stop looking at the gallery samples posted at lifetime moments. It's just utterly, utterly fascinating. NOT in an ironic way ... I'm dead serious. The combination of technology, design, kitsch, history and real meaning is absolutely blowing my mind. This beats every single piece of graphic design I've seen recently. Thanks for this.
marian bantjes

There does appear to be some research about the intersection between religion and scrapbooking (it's called faithbooking.)

And there's this: "According to industry experts, the Mormon Church's involvement in genealogy and its worshipper's practices of keeping journals created a demand. That demand was answered with Creative Memories, a home-party based business started in Utah which offered archival quality products. Creative Memories parties spread across the U.S. with larger groups of people joining in."

(The company that makes Girls Are Weird (TM) (it's a font) are also based in Utah.
Jessica Helfand

As a result perhaps all artists will need to drop elitist attitudes and be willing to look at all available communication with a more open and less judgmental eye and mindset.

I'm with Maggie on this one. When I see something not "my cup of tea," whether it is a painting, design, etc., I try to keep in mind that it is amazing for something to get made at all in this day & age. "Someone" took their time and energy AND made something! Yay for them. Who am I to judge? The world is a better place for "it" - whatever it is. Yeah, I have my preferences and peeves, but I try to limit my communication of them to others. Why try to knock someone off their path? If they want critique, they can go to art or design school, otherwise let them be happy and make stuff.

I just realized that my students would laugh at this as they think about the scorched earth I leave after one of our critique sessions... well, there you go, I am one giant contradiction...

Jessica - I still have a hard time believing that lots of Mormon men are doing this with the women, BUT maybe I'm wrong about it. Let's discuss it over coffee in New Haven sometime? I think we'd have a great f2f chat. I gotta run pick-up the kid from school.

To those of us who fall into the category of artists and designers, shopping at Michael's has the same stigma attached as an English major admitting he enjoyed a Grisham novel. (Incidentally, I was an English major, I enjoy the thrill of a Grisham novel, and am now employed as a full-time GD and work as an artist. Whew.) Let's not be so quick to dismiss the "found art" of the vernacular, and to pretend we are above all that. Design and art is about making things that are beautiful and true; non-professionals are just as capable of that, but they often are scared away by the notion that we professional creatives have locked that up -- let everyone create, and let's see what kind of culture and society we can build. My guess is that it will be a pleasure to live in such a place.
Isaac B2

Let's face it. People create stuff. And if they like it more than our little polished manifestos then so be it.

Can you relate the desire to create something and/or the quality exhibited by these scrapbookers to your last meeting with a client where the client specifically asked you to do something terrifying in it's lack of taste? I can. Does it bother me? Nope.

I'm going to start my own damn scrapbook. While you're in the genre, check out altered books as well.

Gahlord Dewald

All the female members of my extended family scrapbook like it's going out of style.

To be completely honest about it, from a design standpoint, a lot of what they are creaating is 10x as good as some of the crap that I saw while in school, as well as some of the design I see being produced by professionals today. There are thousands of artists who never went to school, like I did, who have more talent and visual gifts than I could ever possibly dream of having. What makes design any different? I understand that graphic design by definition is problem solving, but on the merrits of page layout, grid systems, typography, and visual aesthetics, a lot of scrapbooking is really well done.

What makes scrapbooking any different than a lot of the paste books I see on the countless number of designers' websites?

I hate to say all this, but I have to agree with a lot of what Jessica has to say.

Y'all seem to be arguing with no-one. So far we seem to have a general agreement that this is design, and holds a great deal of merit.
marian bantjes

As a husband of an avid scrapbooker, I admit that I have found inspiration in the pages of scrapbook magazines. There are some amazing color combinations as well as combinations of materials. And my wife has found inspiration in issues of Communication Arts and Print.

I have also noticed over the last 3 or 4 years that the scrapbook industry has, in my opinion, reached a critical mass. The magazines are starting to repeat themselves, and the "embelishments" are getting out of hand. My wife has even commented on the lack of really new ideas in her magazines and has stopped some of her subscriptions.

We also have our little disagreements about type choices and layouts. She has stopped asking for my advice because it always turns into a lecture on layout and why doesn't anything line up and why are you using those fonts. I have been able to get her to use my fonts, and she now loves Filosophia (probably the only scrapbooker in America with access to Emigre fonts).

I gues what I am trying to say is that design and scrapbooking can, and do, live quite happily together. And also, I am Mormon, and I don't know of any men who scrapbook, and the emphasis on keeping journals and our focus on geneology and family history is the main motivating factor for starting scrapbooks, but the fun of creating is what keeps people going.

If you take away the "s" from "scrapbooking," you will have accurately described the trend, as well as the results of the trend.

I think the idea of scrapbooking is a truly interesting one, and is an easy and accessible method for people to express themselves. How different is that from someone trained in design? While there are very well put together scrapbooks out there, it seems the Home Depot/Lowes/DIY culture also produces a large amount of crap work. And you know what: I'm ok with that. Not everyone needs to be an ace graphic designer - especially when it is for private consumption or to keep it in the family (once it is on the street...) It is very much like blogs, podcasts, GarageBand, MashUps, etc - once tools allow for ease of adoption, the overall level of "design" I'm sure goes down. But that is the nature of the beast - Folk Art has been around since cavemen/women painted their cave.

Being both Mormon and a graduat of BYU in Provo Utah.
I think I am fairly safe in this claim—the educated design community in Utah, Mormon's included, is embarrassed about scrapbooking. Unfortunately at the same time it is our mothers and sisters and friends that do it.
I guess I'm with Gahlord, it doesn't bother me that it totally lacks taste? Only to the extent that more sophisticated work is misunderstood in the comparison.
I do have to make a claim for the design community in Utah. The AIGA organization there is excellent and constantly inspires and motivates. The education system in Utah is also excellent, underrated (maybe becuase of scrapbooking), but the porfolio's that come out of BYU for instance are excellent. So while it pollutes the minds of design-innocent people everywhere, Utah also provides the design community with valuable contributors.
It's a shame it can't merge the two.

A friend of mine says she likes to scrap-book as a creative outlet / venting. Her job is in the political world, and from what she's described it sounds boring. Unlike drawing or painting, making scrap-books is something most people can do without feeling like they need to have "talent", which probably explains its current HUGE appeal.

New Reader to Design Observer

Scrapbooking is either the new tribalism or the old quilting bee, or yet another way to bring art down to the level of tuperware. I personally find it quite sinister. In fact, to me crafts in general are sinister.
sam r

Hmmm... I read this post with interest. Although I am working on getting into design, my background is as a painter/fine artist, and I do a good deal of collage/mixed media work now. So I always cringe when some well-meaning friend-of-a-friend says 'oh! I collage' and proceeds to show me her (invariably her) scrapbooky, kitchy... things. On the other hand, trying very hard not to be art elitist, some of this stuff is wonderful in a very overwrought, Victorian sort of way. I have seen work and websites that really cross over fine art/collage and the larger scrapbooking trend. I really think it's like anything else-- there are excellent examples with lots of merit and there are really tragic examples lacking all taste. I can't just be down on this trend because it's not 'high art'-- that really is a bit arrogant. If people enjoy doing it and making these things for their personal pleasure/hobby time, who am I to criticize. None of them are pushing it as museum-worthy art or as graphic design; I think that's a bias that we as artists/designers are introducing here. Heck, it beats watercolors of kittens in baskets.

My wife has been sucked into the vortex of scrapbooking. Each book is a 3-ring binder with a 4" spine. She is currently on volume 14. It started as an overdone crapfest. I made the mistake of saying so a couple of times and that did not go over well. Now when she says "What do you think" my trained response is "looks great." (It's not so different from the instinctive "NO!" to the "Does this make me look fat" question).

I do have a theory that ties this subject very well to the value of design. If you look at the photographs in most scrapbooks, you'll see that they contain very mediocre photography. Most shots are too far from subject, bad focus, bad composition, and show an overall lack of journalistic storytelling qualities. Human nature tells the scrapbooker that her (or his) photographic creation could be much more — could be better. Then some evil genius realized this and posed the theory that bad photos could be made better by adding "stuff." People took the bait and the scrapbook culture was born.

To test this theory, I changed my response when offering my wife any critique (by the way, Jonathon, my wife uses emigré fonts as well). I started giving advice on how to make the photos better. In the 11years that she's been documenting our kids' lives the photos have improved drastically and the imbellishments have been slowly disappearing from the pages.

My self-serving conclusion? Human nature craves good design.

= = = =

I'd also like to put in a request that the visual crapfest of scrapbooking be detached from being an integral part of all that is Utah -- home of MacRay Magleby, Don Weller, and the Sundance Film Festival. I lived there, participated in their fantastic AIGA community, and graduated from the University of Utah (who is [I say with the tongue in the cheek] putting out slightly better design portfolios than BYU.

three's a trend, I guess. Mormon guy here (here being NYC, in this case). I have waves of female Utah relatives who are deeply involved in scrapbooking. It is most definitely a gendered activity, and it draws a great deal on an equally gendered handicraft/make-it-yourself tradition, like quilting, embroidery, etc. that's become part of the still-prevalent pioneer archetype.

There's an awful lot of self-conscious Remembering going on out there, and time, effort, and attention to detail all tend to get conflated with the importance or significance of the memory. I've always been a bit confused by scrapbooking's signal-to-noise ratio--the paucity of "actual" memory-related content for the amt of design/production [apparently, that's the journaling.] I didn't realize I was going up against the whole word-fetti industry, though.

With all this cutting and pasting going on, I've burned through more than one holiday visit trying to preach the gospel [sic] of digital tools and even blogging as a more modern means of scrapbooking. No go. the computer and code involved create too great a remove, or else intimidation sets in, even in otherwise computer-literate women.

As for an embarassed Utah design community, open your eyes. If you're surrounded by a booming vernacular design phenomenon, why not figure out how to engage it, use it, or improve it instead of feebly wishing it'd go away.

No put down, but This all sounds like green beer and that game: "pin on the donkey" I think the word "Tacky" came from scrap-booking glue.
I enjoy collaging and the personal story-telling archive. The enduring energy phenomenally embodied in actual artifacts incorporated in archival vessels need the tenured
treatment by an academician. Volunteers from Columbia U/NYC or?
P.s. Being a difficult architect I avoid collaging pastiches of last year's Be Home and Gardens-or AR. Admittedly I'd also need an editor and a graphic designer to be a true academician- expensive)
Cheers from Denver.

Design teachers need to be aware of scrapbooking. Just for the fact that as soon as I became aware of the trend a while ago, I understood where many curious aspects of my students' work was derived. If it repels you, chill: we'll be onto a new fad soon enough.
Kenneth FitzGerald

Scrapbook is done by our mothers, like quilting was done by our grandmothers and samplers were done by our great grandmothers. It is a communitie's way to store memories. It is done to preserve rights of passage (weddings, baby births, graduations). It features the bright and joyful spirit towards life, a radical view that foregrounds the importance of everyday domestic. There is nothing wrong with cute, because cute has more honesty then hygienic modernism, cute is lived.

Less is bore said Venturi--but he thot too much about it and every time I walk into a scrapbook store, I get a grand formal hard on. How many ways can you have blue (the sea, the sky, the lake, the feather of a mallard, the t bird of an old Chevy, uniforms, serge, denim, garbage trucks--its all there). Everything is fun, everything pops from the page--the fonts are used for maximum visual impact, an impact bomb to the back of the cornea--but after seeing everything in polite san serifs, in greys and blacks, in sly ironic winks and wincing irony--the cornea needs an impact bomb. Let the impact hit us directly--let us live with a maxium of surrivived experience.

The children do this of course, but then everyone does. The one scrapbooking class I took everyone was there--infants to grandmothers. They supported each other--they gave each other tips. There was an exchange of information, of help, of websites and of magazines. (the grand thing is how quickly these people have developed the webs--many of them share patterns over bit torrent and p2p--they are not naive and they are not overly simplistic--there is a well honed sophistication.) There is a sophistication of the design too--but a refusal for that simplicity to leech out anything. A compounding then.

I say let us keep the venacular, let us hire the relief societies for our design--lets add colour and cute. Lets fire the designers who think they are too good to note how everyone else gets things done.


Perhaps you should look at the work of some very talented scrapbookers (Cathy Zielske comes immediately to mind) before making the blanket statement that "scrapbooking afficionados juggle a dizzying array of paper punches and themed stickers." A little more research and a little less snark might have made this an interesting post.

As a form of folk art, I'll continue to view this with open eyes, even if the eyes staring back at me jiggle.
Daniel Green

To Carol's point, Zielske's book "Clean and Simple Scrapbooking" offers a more disciplined approach to this field. (One reviewer wrote, "You know that "graphic designer style" you didn't think you could pull off without going to design school? Now you can scrapbook like a graphic designer.")

My apologies for the tone — as I wrote, it is easy to dismiss scrapbooking as a lesser pursuit in the book arts, though it has been my observation that there is a great wealth of scrapbookers who just want to make layouts "pretty." (Graphic designers, by and large, engage in a more rigorous critique of their work.) THAT SAID, there are some exceptions — perhaps more exceptions than any of us would have imagined — and Zielske is certainly one to watch. Thank you for pointing our readers to her book.
Jessica Helfand

The posts on this site are becoming alarmingly elitist and self-congratulatory.

First comment - the gender gap:

It should be no surprise to anyone that men are at the financial top of the industry. I knew that as soon as I heard how profitable the industry is. Think of any profitable industry largely populated by women, and men are at the top. Cooking was driven by women until the 80s when the idea of "super-chefs" popped up. Before then, the top super-chef was a woman - Julia Child. Now, nearly all super-chefs are men. The CEOs of L'Oreal, Mary Kay, Revlon, etc. are all men. Where there's money, there are men, regardless of the gender of the consumer. I come in contact with a fair number of scrapbookers, and 19 out of 20 are women.

(I've also been a senior-level designer/creative director for over a decade, and I have no esthetic qualms with scrapbooking. My professional mantra is "appropriateness" and I think it can be successfully argued that the esthetic of scrapbooking is appropriate to the audience.)

Second - the effect of scrapbooking on graphic design:

I can't help but wonder what sort of parallels may be drawn in future design history classes between scrapbooking and desktop publishing. When DTP came around, most professional designers dismissed it as amateurish (which it was) and inconsequential (which it wasn't). The public grew more and more comfortable with the esthetic of DTP and the next generation of designers were growing up accustomed to that style. It ended up having a rather large impact, and I wonder how we will see a similar impact from scrapbooking.
Ochen K.

to Ochen:
Scrap-booking came before desk top pubs so it is retro-cyclic. Maybe this influences your analysis, maybe not.

For the rest of this BlogAbout- I think
something has been lost as paper mock-ups, (the olde drawings for us architects) have been completely replaced by desk top design.

What's next- stove top-renovations from uncle bens?

Cheers, from Denver CO.

Interesting topic and discussion.

A few years ago This American Life had an great story about scrapbooking (Episode 243). You can listen to it in real audio. Act two is the scrapbooking story (it begins about 30 minutes into the show).
Isaac Tobin

This reminds me of another phenomenon going on in Brooklyn where out of work art students become graphic designers

I am a designer, photographer, Catholic, female scrapbooker. OH where oh where is my design integrity!? Scrapbooking to me is mainly about documenting my life for someone someday to treasure. Is it award-winning design? hell no. But the thought that it might end up in an antique shop somewhere in a hundred year makes me want to make it even more amazing...

dust to dust
in Denver

scrapbooking, to me, is very similar to the concepts of process books(less so) or inspiration books (things pushed heavily by some of my design professors). I would make the comparisons in that they work beautifully as personal communications or as a visual link to family stories, but from my experience, not so well at communicationg to people outside of family close friends. I've seen a few scrapbooks from mothers of friends and I couldnt tell you a damn thing about the story they are telling. But I'm sure for people closely linked to those stories they are an emotional jump-start. I would say in that respect they are well-designed, but existing outside of the very well-defined group, they are probably not more than arts and crafts work, no matter how well aesthetically designed.

But the thought that it might end up in an antique shop somewhere in a hundred year makes me want to make it even more amazing...

that is about as silly as a graphic designer saying they want to make design that shows up in all the magazines but does nothing for the client in terms of communication. Not to mention, I find the whole of scrapbooking to be about the familiarity of the craft - the close-knit familial aspect. I some how doubt antique stores will be quick to jump on family stories. But then again, I guess kolodian(sp?) and glass plate photos from the late 1800's still sell well, so go figure.
Derrick Schultz

How did I know before I even clicked on the comments that this was going to end up being about Utah and Mormons? Why? 'Cause they're my people. And It's true. The store Pebbles in my Pocket in Orem is a HUGE scrapbook emporium that supplies my local Michaels here in LA. It is definitely a phenomenon that I have shame about participating in. Not that I really do much anymore...but I did fall captive during my time at BYU. I flatter myself in thinking that in the end product, there isn't a trace of the resources I used to create.

Beyond its Mormon connotations, I'd like to draw our attention to other forms of "Scrapbooking."

From a review in today's The New York Times by Ben Brantley:

"'Spamalot,' which is directed (improbably enough) by that venerable master of slickness Mike Nichols, is the latest entry in the expanding Broadway genre of scrapbook musical theater."

"Scrapbook" musical theater that "reconstructs elements from much-loved cultural phenomena?" Coincidental, or are larger cultural forces at play? Perhaps "scrapbooking" is truly of our times.
William Drenttel

An interesting view on the scrapbooking vernacular can be found here — although ideally, design is not the enemy, any more than I am (I am referring to the weird description of myself as "the bitch from Design Observer.") Worth reading in any case: I particularly enjoyed the argument for font usage as an impact bomb for the cornea.
jessica helfand

Could this just be termed as the more 'artistic' side of doing graphic design. Most of us work in terms of what our 'clients' needs are or what is dictated by their standards. Or we are involved in creating standards that are more or less consistent, yet different enough, to help strengthen their brand in the marketplace.

Scrapbooking takes the elements of design, photography, typography, embellishment and puts it into the realm of personal expression. And like any other form of art, there are those practicioner's who show an innate ability for creating works that inspire and impress all of us. At the same time, there are those works that we wouldn't want to admit our own mothers created. (My mother, the intellectual, former Upper West Sider is not a scrapbooker in any shape or form) But is this all that different from 'graphic design' that we wouldn't want to admit our colleagues created?

And I agree with Marian, the works in the Lifetime Gallery are fascinating and inspiring. I'm not sure why John, or any other designer from anywhere, is embarrased by scrapbooking.


The scrapbooking movement that this thread has alerted me to (I hadn't known of its existence), prompts the question of whether all scrapbooks fall under this genre. I doubt it.

Ellen Gruber Garvey has been working on "Alternative Histories: Scrapbooks in the Nineteenth-Century United States." in which people saved advertising cards, newspaper articles, etc etc. I know she has been working on scrapbooks compiled by Black Americans, to document their history. Garvey writes about some of the albums available from stationers and elsewhere, in which users could essentially "file" their clippings and other material. See her 'Scissorizing and Scrapbooks: Nineteenth Century Reading, Remaking and Recirculating' in Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree, eds., New Media, 1740-1915 (MIT Press, 2003).

For me, one of the issues with scrapbooks, as a repository of information, is whether they are indexed. This may be one way that scrapbooks differ from some kinds of designed vessels for information. Are they just a storing up of raw data -- perhaps not valued by mainstream or elite tastes -- to insure its survival for future users, who themselves can sort, classify and use it?

In his Decimal Classification and Relative Index for libraries, clippings, notes, etc. (Fourth edn, revised, Boston 1891), Melvil Dewey — of Dewey Decimal fame — envisioned scrap-books as one of the uses for his system. There were also related systems for filing commonplace book entries, one of them being John Todd's
Index Rerum, that went through numerous printings. Libraries sometimes maintained scrapbooks on local luminaries: I still have xeroxes of the (unindexed) clippings assembled over the years by the Louisville Free Public Library for Hortense Flexner (1885-1973), a Louisville poet of some renown whose work -- and connection to Marguerite Yourcenar -- interested me.

I wonder if there are digital scrapbooks too, and whether entries can be assigned "tags" in something like the way images are in flickr. Must be.
john mcvey

My apologies for the tone — as I wrote, it is easy to dismiss scrapbooking as a lesser pursuit in the book arts, though it has been my observation that there is a great wealth of scrapbookers who just want to make layouts "pretty." (Graphic designers, by and large, engage in a more rigorous critique of their work.)

O the horror...average people who want their scrapbooks and photo albums to be "pretty." This is almost as troubling as the educated design community in Utah, Mormon's included, is embarrassed about scrapbooking. [sic]

It may be that the shards of our lives
can be dignified through scrap-booking.
So save those scraps!
Cheers, from Denver

I'm not sure if I should applaud or be appalled.

Most designers have to continually define their area of expertise to clients who think that the proper technology or software will render awesome page layouts. Owning a copy of Photoshop or a Mac doesn't make one a graphic designer. These are just tools to a graphic designer. Much more goes into a page layout than playing Tetris with blocks of copy and graphics. Designers can learn and even be inspired by scrapbook crafts in much the same way a composer's concerto can be inspired by folk music. But scrapbookers are not graphic designers.
Matt Mulder

Scrapbooking is an example of the kind of contemporary self-mediation Momus was talking about in his recent post - another tool, like camcorders, cell phone cameras and blogs, for amplifying and projecting the sense of self for an audience of family, friends and beyond.

Looking at "vernacular" scrapbooking as a non-American observer, the aesthetic continuities between this activity and an enduring aspect of professional American design practice, based on collage principles, seem plain. What is collage if not the assemblage of scraps? (By contrast, this kind of work is much less common in contemporary British graphic design where many designers would see it as too messy and unfinished.)

Los Angeles-based designer Martin Venezky's work is a superb example of this tendency - see his recent book It is Beautiful . . . Then Gone. His personal project "Notes on the West" is a scrapbook of images on the theme of the cowboy. A book he collaborated on, Bordertown, chronicling a trip along the US/Mexican border, is constructed using a kind of scrapbooking method from wrappers, bags, flyers, newspaper cuttings, photographs and texts. It's highly recommended for anyone who enjoys this kind of work. Just as remarkable were the walls of Venezky's apartment in San Francisco, which he covered with a vast personal "scrapbook" of 700 elements held in place by pushpins. There are fold-out photographs of it in It is Beautiful . . ." When he took it apart to move, he photographed each piece and he shows all of these images in his book in a numbered, annotated sequence, giving the disassembled work a new lease of life as another kind of documentary scrapbook, a study in private inspiration and creative process. In fact, the intricate layering of the entire book makes it a kind of scrapbook.
Rick Poynor

I sent a link to this piece to my mom, an avid scrapbooker, and she replied:

I guess I never thought of my scrapbooking as relating to graphic design, but when I see your scrapbooks, it's obvious that you not only have a good eye, artistic talent, but also some training. I read some of the comments and agree that scrapbooking is a good way to tell a story and record a family's history. That's what it's all about for me. With my lack of memory, scrapbooking helps me re-live events that would have been long forgotten if I had not captured them on the pages of a scrapbook.

Ryan Nee

I don't know that scrapbooking is an intrinsically American practice or aesthetic -- witness dada montage and assemblage -- but I'll accept that it's not found much in contemporary British graphic design.

A different instance is Bertolt Brecht who according to Martin Esslin cut out "piles of pictures and news photographs from illustrated magazines and newspapers -- material for future work. Brecht believed in documentation and collected voluminous scrapbooks filled with images of human folly. After the war he published one of these: Kriegsfibel (Primer of War); it consists of photographs from a number of papers--Life magazine occurs most frequently--each of them accompanied by a bitter, biting quatrain." (Brecht: The Man and his Work, 1961)

Those scrapbooks were a means of storage, but also an important part of Brecht's thinking process, whose parts he would ultimately compose in crystalline emblematic form. War Primer was reprinted a few years ago.

I imagine these scrapbooks perform much the same function for many scrapbookers, and even graphic designers.
john mcvey

I love it!
Just ask Mom.

I would have to say after reading most of the comments posted here in regards to scrapbooking and the art/design role it plays in todays society, that most of your don't really have an idea on what you are talking about. Page layout and design are an integral part of almost every scrapbookers album. Some are good, some are not so good, but a huge amount are great! Classes are taught on balance, harmony, color, rule of thirds etc. So most of the comments posted here seem snarky and elitist. If there is any doubt of this you should check out the gallery and creating garden sections of the website www.twopeasinabucket.com And if you are feeling brave, visit The Pub section of the message board and try telling those designers that what they are doing is not true design and art.

Interesting discussion going on here... and I've enjoyed reading the comments very much. I am a scrapbooker and crafter, and love what I do. "Mixed Media Artist?" Sure, why not?

The OP seems a bit behind the trend, and for those interested in scrapbooking, it might be useful to check out what those on the "cutting edge" of the hobby are producing. See the designers in the Creating Garden at TwoPeasinaBucket, the number one scrapbooking Web site, for example. (Click "View the Latest" or "Latest Seeds")

John asked about digital scrapbooks, and this is one of the fastest growing areas in scrapbooking. Scrapbook-bytes is one popular site, but a google search will turn up many more.

Another talented woman who is bringing her graphic design skills to the unwashed scrapbooking masses is Ali Edwards. Her recent book is titled A Designer's Eye for Scrapbooking.

In addition to altered books, there is also something called "visual journals" or "artists journals", which might be of some interest to the readers here.

For creative types, inspiration is everywhere!

I have hestitated for months to call myself a 'scrapbooker' because of the hair-raising connotations this brings along with it--I had to laugh at Leslie's comment about Mickey Mouse stickers--this is exactly what sets my teeth on edge about naming myself as part of this movement.

But one thing that you didn't recognize in your post is that there's a huge spectrum of talent, artistry, typography, color, communication, and texture within the realm of 'scrapbooking' that goes far beyond die cut letters, photo shape cutters, and Mickey Mouse stickers. Why do you see the John Grisham novel, and not the one by Dickens in the airport? Accessibility and mass appeal. Why do some graphic designers still buy tired CDs full of tired stock photography? It's cheap and easy. All those same principles apply at the 'craft store'.

In every hobby and profession out there, it's hard to make good, original, artistic work, no matter whether you're a professional or an amateur. So the VAST majority ends up as mediocre at best, and junk at worst. Scrapbooking is no different.

Jessica Sprague

Great point! Certainly, there is good collage and bad collage-- and the bad stuff does not invalidate collage as an art form. I guess one could look at scrapbooking as a form of personal collage--why not.
However, as a self-proclaimed snob I prefer the original embellishments and handwriting--i.e., a child's drawing of mickey mouse would be a huge improvement over a mass produced commercial sticker. It reminds me of when a friend told me her child drew mickey on the computer and showed it to me. Acutally he had pushed a button in a software program on the computer that "drew" a commercial looking picture of mickey for him. Give me a break.

There are several scrapbookers feeling some outrage about this thread, and the judgements going on here.

Well done, Kristen, for pointing out that the research needs to be far more wider and up to date than appears to have been done here. Yes, 2Peas is a good place to go if one were properly interested in surveying design styles used in creating a scrapbooking layout.

I also personally know of 5 graphic designers in the UK who also scrapbook as a hobby - applying their own skillsets towards achieving a family memory album for future generations. 3 do it digitally, and 2 others don't like to bring home their computer techniques and prefer to craft with their hands.

There are design and layout principles to learn for all of us, and many graphic designers actually hold such classes for newbie scrapbookers.

Scrapbookers are not a threat to "good design" - personally I've seen some extremely poor designs coming out in published media and on my television set. We all have our own design eyes - but when dealing with scrapbookers, you are making an ill-conceived judgement if you do not consider the story behind these photographs and how important it is to ensure those are told.


But if millions of people are getting their layout ideas from page pebbles and twistel ties, might there not be the slightest bit of graphic fallout in our midst? "Craft-born embellishments," observes one scrapbooking supplier, "are penetrating an unexpected market: graphic design."

This is a truly fascinating phenomenon. I don't understand the judgemental tone of parts of the initial post. Is the fear really that the dangerous activities of scrapbookers will have some kind of negative influence on graphic design? C'mon.

Looking at the galleries on TwoPeasinaBucket (thanks to Kristin for the link) some of these compositions are highly accomplished -- not that it matters if they aren't. More examples of actual work would help the discussion, I think, so here's a couple of layouts from the site that seem pretty good to me: (a) and (b).

Scrapbooking certainly provides persuasive evidence of the way an ability to think and work graphically is becoming widespread in a visually attuned digital culture, which makes these tools available to everyone. There are layouts here that are considerably more inventive than you see in many magazines. Kids using computers at school display this graphic awareness and knowhow, too. My daughter just seemed to start absorbing the nuances of typefaces and their possible applications for particular projects through computer use at the age of around eight or nine, and it's not because we discuss this kind of thing over breakfast.

It seems this thread may be drawing the attention (and the irritation) of the scrapbooking community. More power to you all, I say.
Rick Poynor

All this talk about the scrapbooking industry - something separate from the scrapbooking hobby - reminds me of high school and college yearbooks.

That's an industry, with large yearbook companies not only printing books but helping to train advisors and students, and providing canned layouts and clip art. Layouts can be stiff, dominated by templates, but they can turn creative too. Here the people creating content are intimately concerned with its eventual form. This is journalism and memory-making at the same time.

There's a connection between yearbooks and American graphic design. For instance, in the 1930s, Bradbury Thompson got an early start laying out his high-school and college yearbooks, and after college he spent several years working for a Midwestern yearbook company. There are probably many more Americans with yearbook experience than with design schooling.

I learned more about solid page layout in my high school yearbook class than I have since then. My best high school colleagues understood column grids as well as most of the GD undergrads I know. I place my high school yearbook teacher among the three people who've most inspired my love for graphic design.

Sadly, yearbook curricula do stop short of covering subjects like typography, image-making, and narrative. Layouts have to be driven by strong photography alone. Yearbooks fall short the more they instead depend on the clip art.

In his college yearbook, Bradbury Thompson turns to collage - but these are collages of photographs and material connected with Washburn College. The collage does not surround an image, trying to give it meaning; instead many equal-partner images come together to create some larger whole.

Aren't scrapbooks at their best when content rules, too? As collections of scraps, photos, theater tickets, maps, postcards, pressed leaves? The original documentation bound together? I feel sad when I pass through Michael's because the scrapbooking aisle contains not only glue and circle cutters, but so much pre-made decoration, manufactured by the scrapbooking industry.

On an aside, amateur letterpress printing goes back clear to the late 19th century, and cheap compact presses meant that even kids could get in on the fun. Much simpler than hobby letterpress today, with its aspirations toward high skill and its affinity for massive Vandercook presses.
David Ramos

They say that men go through life with an imaginary sportscaster announcing the salient and the mundane. Women tell their stories to their psychoanalist.

I gather psychoanalysis is not a big Mormon thing.

Given the gender issues, and the general neglect and dismissal of the female side of the story, it is not surprising that women take up a variety of media to tell their own stories. You find this in a variety of crafts. (If women do it, is a craft. If men do it, it is an art). In some cultures, women tell their stories in cloth, in quilts, blankets, clothing or mats. In the 19th century, more women were taught to read and write and could afford a pen and notebook, so there was an explosion of female diarists as recounted by Virginia Wolfe among others.

Consider the dropping cost of photographs and photocopiers and all the woman created annual Christmas letters? How different are these from those overproduced annual reports and corporate newsletters, save that they are probably more revealing?

Scrapbooking is clearly going through a technology transition. Twenty years ago, bookkeeping bottlenecks limited the number of items a store could sell. If you wanted to stock 100,000 different items, you had to deal with an entire new level of overhead. You had to be a big store in a big city, or a huge outfit running by mail order. Nowadays, you need a six digit SKU POS system. The scrapbooking explosion, and the big box art supply store, are one outgrowth of this.

Whenever a new graphical technology is made available to a new group of users, the results are generally considered wretched by the graphically literate of the day.

In the early 70s, when the first laser printers hit the nerd centers at MIT, Stanford and the like, every damned piece of paper was produced in 15 or 31 fonts in varying sizes and orientations, depending on the sophistication of the layout [sic] software. Even some computer science geeks started remarking that one shouldn't use more fonts than your document has paragraphs.

I was a computer geek working in the Architecture Department, so I got to see both sides of this. The graphically gifted were horrified. In an age of Letraset and plastic lettering guides, they felt that this gratuitous use of fontage was abominable. If this was the future, we were all lost.

They were right, but they were only half right.

>>"But if millions of people are getting their layout ideas from page pebbles and twistel ties, might there not be the slightest bit of graphic fallout in our midst?"

>"Is the fear really that the dangerous activities of scrapbookers will have some kind of negative influence on graphic design?"

Are we still talking about collage here? Because I can point you to a few artists and designers that have done some pretty good work with that. Having a problem with the scrapbooking industry as it relates to graphic design is like having a problem with paint-by-numbers as it relates to art.
Ahrum Hong

That's Virginia Woolf, not Wolfe. The brain damage is mine.

Wow. I am not a graphic designer, or a scrapbooker, and I would have said I have little interest in this subject. But I read the entire thread, and went to the links -- and I find the whole phenomenon, and this discussion, fascinating.

The grandmaster of this "scrapbooking" style, Author of the popular "Griffin & Sabine" series, where two fictional characters each dwelling in different parallell imaginary universes write letters to each other. The books have little envelopes glued onto each page with a letter written inside.

The narrative builds as you read the letters. There is an intreguing feeling to the work. I heard the artist speak onece. He is apparently a millionaire from the sucess of this series. His last name is Nick Bantock. The work is very layered and was really inspiring to me as a student. It is remeniscent of Robert Rauschenberg's work.
Ben Weeks

Bantock's books are skilled and compelling (as narratives and objects), but 'grandmaster'? Rauschenberg was a grandmaster; Bantock is a decent practitioner (who was able to find a huge audience based on the accessibility of his stories).
Ahrum Hong

I "found" this post searching google for a scrapbooking site.

Ok, I have been a SBer for over 6 years. I teach it, I sell it, I breathe it, I sleep it. Yes my family calls it crapbooking. Yes My husband and I have had massive fights over (but that was before it started paying for itself and paying the dentist bills too!)my scrapbooking.

But balance, color, "pop" and other DESIGN elements go into what I create. I keep a sketch book with me most of the time. I go tie shopping with my husband, and see new ideas for paper design. I also wake up in the middle of the night with something in my head that I have to go straight to my crapbooking room and "create" before I explode.
Do any of these symtoms sound familiar (exchanging verbage for some that pertains to YOUR craft of course)?
I may not be highly edumacated in the field of design, but I know what I like, and I know what looks good-and it aint Mickey Mouse stickers!
The fact that I as a woman who stays home to care for her family can create something for her family to treasure and at the same time release a pent up creative need, well I think that's worth every negative word from every pompous snob who posted regarding this subject. If you want to see MY work, please go to www.scrapbookorner.com. I sent my work in fo rthe first time ever to be published, and I got published. Now I am on a design team!
I am a happy scrapper, who knows how to balance a Lay out and use a color wheel (yes we use those too!).
Thanks for the posts, even the snobby ones. Glad to see we tacky scrappers have held the attention of so many important people in the design world for so many days.
How invigorating! Ithink I'll go cut and paste some more.

Vennita Wilson
Scrappin 4 U 2
Chief Designer / Instructor

I'm a former fine artist (portraits) turned commercial (to keep the hounds away) and now often digital. I'm not a scrapbooker and would have agreed with many of you (and probably DID agree with many of you) until a few years ago when a neighbor showed me her scrapbooks. She is great. Her designs are Art. That doesn't take away from what her less-talented scrapbooking sisters do just as Rembrandt doesn't take away from your mother's high school art projects.

Just as there are varying degrees of talent in fine, commercial and graphic arts ranging from absolute garbage to amazing gifts, there are ranges of talents and methods of expression in scrapbooking. Most art (of any kind from singing to drawing to painting to, yes, even scrapbooking) is done for a personal release. It isn't sold or shown or shared except at a very personal level. I'm sure the vast majority of people who shop at Dick Blick's (which is where the original writer of this thread should have shopped for advice and materials in engraving) are producing talent-less expressions of their own. Most people who turn on a sewing machine or put their hands on clay are not doing it to be great; they are expressing their heart and soul. Who are we, any of us, to judge them unless they asked to be judged.

Everything that we humans express adds to the vast experience of Art. Even when you don't understand it. The novice engraver with her sketchy sketches, who wandered unknowingly into a scrapbooking store clearly doesn't understand.

Art just is.

Let it be.

I really don't think Renee Fleming is threatened by my singing in the shower. So why are some in the graphic arts industry so threatened by amateur designers who create layouts for their own personal satisfaction? Afraid that someone will look at the man behind the curtain?

There are scrapbook snobs, as well. I am one of them. I don't know where the OP found her links, but they sound to be 3 or 4 years out of date to me. Pompoms and die cuts are the not the thing, anymore. Granted, many, many mainstream scrapbookers still use lots of stickers and icky things and have no sense of color. But their books are not for you, or for me. They are their own.

I really cannot understand the way you are criticizing people because their snapshots are crappy... good lord, who do you think you are? What difference does it make to you?

If you use contemptuous language and punctuate with the occasional sneer, you can make just about anything sound stupid.


Susan Easley

My earlier comment on this thread has been removed. In response to Jessica's quoting someone as calling her "that bitch from Design Observer" I said "You mean you didn't know that we all call you that?" I had assumed that everyone (and Jessica in particular) would understand my comment as a silly joke. Apparently everyone did not have that understanding. Although I have been known to say somewhat abrasive things, I would not use that phrase to describe Jessica even if I thought it were apt (which I do not.)

Just to clarify, I also responded to a post that said "The posts on this site are becoming alarmingly elitist and self-congratulatory" by writing "Becoming? Wow. Is this your first visit?" Although that was also meant to be light-hearted, I do not withdraw it or apologize. I do think that it represents an accurate characterization of many threads on this site and this one in particular.

It is, perhaps, too easy to assume that when you know someone casually they will think the best of you; I had hoped that Bill and Jessica would understand that I would not offer a gratuitous general insult let alone one that would be seen as sexist at heart. Although I have had my differences with both the tone and content of threads on this site, I have great admiration for the authors in general and for Bill and Jessica. I would argue with them (as I have) and I would chide them when I feel that they are not just wrong but wrong-headed but I would never intentionally insult them, particularly on the site they have labored so hard to produce. I am very sorry for having unintentionally done so.
Gunnar Swanson

I have rarely been as intrigued, and humbled, and curious as I have become in the past two weeks over the course of this thread. I apologize for those who thought my initial post was at turns elitist and uninformed: regarding the former criticism, I was looking through the lens of methodology, wherein the artist must impose ruthlessly objective criteria lest the product be meaningless and/or mediocre; regarding the latter, if my research was incomplete, it is because I believed (still do) that a good deal of that research is, by necessity, gestated by the opinions, contributions and comments of many of those who have posted here.

Simply put, I am in awe of what I'm finding. I remain uncertain about where the intersection of design and scrapbooking are or aren't, but in the meantime, I am as captivated by the intersections between scrapbooking and art, history, faith, geneology, gender, narrative, photography, language and life.

As a critic I will, by definition, sometimes appear negative, discriminating and indeed — critical — but to all of you scrapbookers, please know this: I am and shall remain your biggest fan.
Jessica Helfand

So, Jessica, you're saying that we all misunderstood your original post, and that it's really *complimentary* toward scrappers? And that if we were only bright enough to realize what criteria you used ("the lens of methodology"??) then we too would understand that you actually have a great deal of respect for scrappers, even though you remain "uncertain" about the intersection of design and scrapbooking?

Because Lord knows, no true graphic designer (or
artist) has ever produced a meaningless and/or
mediocre product, eh?

Susan Easley

Susan, I really don't think any of this can be generalized, and I would imagine you agree. Designers have something to learn from scrapbooking just as they do from collage, montage, cinematography and other art forms that involve multiple pieces. (Do you suppose acrapbookers have something to learn from designers also? Probably.) Similarly, the discussion here on Design Observer benefits from multiple viewpoints -- some of them critical. But I was not advocating then, nor am I now, an "us versus them" stalemate: that will get us nowhere.

I could easily relegate the scrapbook phenomenon to mere nostalgia and craft. But I think it's more than this -- much more. And I never, ever, suggested brightness was a factor in any of this. Nor would I. Method is simply the most objective way I can think of to evaluate the work.
Jessica Helfand

Damn, I forgot to impose ruthlessly objective criteria to my last layout. I guess it's meaningless.


Please take a look at these layouts:


I have been watching this for awhile and just wish I had posted this example of AWESOME SCRAPBOOKING earlier.

Well, at least you acknowledge that graphic design and scrapbooking can go hand in hand (re: comments on Cathy Zielske's book.) Perhaps if you expanded the scope of your supposedly "objective" methodology, as you call it, you would realize that this statement,"Of course, scrapbooking is not now, nor has it ever been about achieving design excellence," is not correct. But I digress, since it's hard for you to distinguish "critic" from "cynic", isn't it?

Our biggest fan, you say? Is that like Kathy Bates saying; "I'm your biggest fan" and then she kidnaps James Caan, whacks his legs with a large mallet and continues to torture him????

Paula's article got me and my DH into a quite a discussion.... if you haven't read it check her's out then tell me you thoughts on this one....

"Art for Art's Sake rejects the idea that the success of an art object can be measured by its accuracy as a representation or the effectiveness with which it tells a story or suggests a moral. Instead, it implies that an art object is best understood as an autonomous creation to be valued only for the success with which it organizes color and line into a formally satisfying and therefore beautiful whole."

What does this posit have to do with modern "design" and the increasingly hackneyed school of "scrapbooking"? I suppose it depends on one's perspective. While those educated in the formal tenets of artistic and graphic design may tend to disparage the "ugly red-headed stepchild" of their school, one cannot help but be somewhat amused at the incredible similarities between the current elitist attitude and the one held by 19th and 20th Century formalists, who, like the design "purists", considered the novel form (in the case of the formalists it was modernist art) to be not only a graphical departure from the traditional, but a dilution of stylistic form as well as a loss of the integrity of composition and content. What happened, though to modernist art? It, of course, flourished, and quite ironically, had tremendous influence in design philosophy and execution. While I admit that my analogy breaks down in terms of impetus and origin of the two movements (and I do not shy away from using the term "movement" to describe scrapbooking as an art form), it serves well enough to illustrate the cyclical tendency of the more "established" arts to denigrate the novel, popular, uncultured, and uneducated.

At the core of this phenomenon is not the question of whether scrapbooking is a true art form, or whether or not graphic design is "Art for Art's Sake", but rather, whether or not one school has the right to determine the value of another. Is formalist art more or less valuable than modernist art? Is a traditional history more or less important than the same story told through the pen of a new historicist? Is one religion more valuable than another, just because its adepts adhere to one school of thought over another? And just to carry the analogy of religion one step further, (it truly does illustrate the binary relationship at hand) did not the great Reformers hear similar arguments and suffer similar diatribes at the hands of the religious establishment (i.e., Protestantism was deemed by Catholics to be a corrupt facsimile of the authoritative Church)? But this analogy does not go far enough, as Protestants and Catholics seem to share in a certain degree of harmony today. To better illustrate, one might look to the way so-called "pseudo-Christian" (Jehova's Witnesses, Mormons, etc.) groups are treated by the mainstream: that is, though they share many moral and stylistic similarities, mainstream Christians have found it necessary to distance themselves from these by unilaterally determining their value by "re-defining" fundamental Christian beliefs so as to altogether exclude them from that category. Is this not what some "designers" wish to do to "scrapbookers"? Just as one religion is threatened by another because of the blurring of lines between them, design "purists" seek to categorize and define the "other" so as to mark themselves as being apart, separate, and distinct. The reality, is, however, that the lines are being blurred, and scrapbooking, because it is an informal school not hemmed in by manifestos, paradigms, and artistic creeds, accepts for its execution, all forms of art which aid it in doing what it does best: provide an artistic avenue for the expression of emotion, family, and memories. Indeed, scrapbooking may even be compared with the literary school of the "archive" as it serves to preserve and enhance the values and sensibilities of civilized human beings, and connect them inexorably and simultaneously with both the past and the future.

JD Wallace

This thread has been very entertaining. I am pleased to read the many positive and supportive comments from graphic designers. I thank you for your allowances of uneducated amateurs doing something we enjoy as a HOBBY.

I was surprised at the tone of the OP. I am sure she was equally surprised to find so many "crapbookers" weighing in on her professional observations. I'm curious to know if she would have recanted so quickly and condescendingly had there been only disputing opinions from her peers and none from those whom she was so appalled at for treading on her territory.

Knowing that she is of the opinion that only trained professionals should venture into her area of expertise, I might offer a few suggestions to her.

First, please do not prepare meals in your own home, and certainly not for sharing with others, unless you have had professional culinary training. Perhaps you should consider purchasing pre-made meals from a culinary master. And if you have ever shared a recipe with someone, please refrain from doing so in the future. Do you know what kind of garbage you are thrusting upon the tables of our society when you have no idea whether the proportions of spices are palatably acceptable?

Second, unless you have been trained in interior design, please DO NOT hang any pictures in your home. You are also out of your realm if you place any type of decorative element on any tabletops when other people might have visual access to the interior of your home. It would also be unacceptable for you to think you have the knowledge to choose fabric for your furniture so perhaps you should consider using metal chairs and card tables. This suggestion would be comparable to your recommendation that we not venture beyond using black photo corners and providing a time and place for the event in our "functional" photographs.

Third suggestion, I suspect a journalism degree is not in your resume so please consider consulting someone with editing experience to review your writings before you post them on a public domain. If you do have a degree in this field, perhaps you should review your textbooks regarding the overuse of parenthesis and run-on sentences. Assuming that you do NOT have a journalism degree, why do you feel it is acceptable to post your writing on a public domain where thousands of people might be influenced by your writing style. Simply possessing a prolific vocabulary and knowledge of proper use of punctuation does not make your writing a literary masterpiece. But I'm going to assume, again, that your intentions are not to compare with someone who is a master of the pen just as we are not trying to compare to your caliber of artistic creation.

I'm sure I need go no further with my cynicism. I'm not suggesting that I am educated in any of these fields myself. If you were to view the layouts in my scrapbooks, even those which have been published, you would find much to critique as I have not been trained in graphic design. If you were to eat a meal in my home, you would find it to be inferior to that of a 5 star restaurant. Upon reviewing this response, you could easily find many errors in my writing (including run-on sentences.) What I'm pointing out here is that you have missed, in all of your self-righteous analysis, that most of us who scrapbook (or cook or write or whatever) do so as a hobby. Who has the time to become an esteemed professional in every single area of interest in their life?

Most scrapbookers don't know what kerning or leading are and how to adjust them accordingly. Serif and sans-serif have no meaning to them, let alone when its best to use one over the other. Most have never heard of white space. Notice that I'm not saying scrapbookers REFUSE to use good design principles. They simply are not aware of them. We buy innumerable "idea books" (targeted directly at us) every year in attempt to improve our layouts. There is a proliferation of classes available in scrapbook stores and at conventions around the country and these classes are generally filled to capacity. This shows a willingness of scrapbookers to learn how to become better at their HOBBY. Perhaps more graphic designers could capitalize on the rapidly growing industry and provide us with the ability to create with elements beyond "pom-poms" and "goofy framing techniques." Additionally, I'd be curious to see something the OP designed before SHE had received any education in design principals.

Physical aspects impose great limitations on us as well. Very few scrapbookers possess computer programs such as QuarkXPress or Photoshop (although this program is rapidly increasing in popularity with scrapbookers) to create professional quality layouts. We don't have the benefit of previewing and adjusting our layouts before considering them acceptable for finalization. We are creating with physical materials, not virtual, and, because this is a hobby, most of us cannot justify the expense of "correcting" a layout once we finish. Because they are pre-made, there's usually no way of enlarging or reducing an element to obtain better balance. Unless we're working with digital images and a photo quality printer or can afford the expense of enlargements from a photo lab, we are forced to work with the photographs sitting in front of us. Faced with these limitations, our layouts are generally not going to compare to those that a professional would create. Again, this is a HOBBY for us.

I am grateful for professional graphic designer Cathy Zielske who, instead of sneering down at us from the pedestal we scrapbookers have placed her upon (we LOVE the advice of graphic designers), steps down to show us how to create more visually appealing layouts. Perhaps, since you are so concerned by what you see, you should follow in her footsteps. It would do far more to remedy what you see as a grave concern than simply poking fun of us to your peers.

In closing, if you are going to offer an apology, be sure it is genuine and points out that YOU believe you were rude and crass. You'd show more integrity if you'd stand firmly behind your original opinions rather than offer a superficial appeasement to save face.


Unless we're working with digital images and a photo quality printer or can afford the expense of enlargements from a photo lab, we are forced to work with the photographs sitting in front of us. Faced with these limitations, our layouts are generally not going to compare to those that a professional would create.

Kendra, the best advice i can give you is don't make excuses for your work. I'm quite sure you won't get any sympathy from the designers I know. Graphic designers are constantly faced with "limitations": client budgets, challenging photography, i could go on and on...but they are not excuses for poor design.

Wrong facts.

Creative Memories was created and is still based in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Not a mormon in sight.


Mickey, obviously you missed the glaring point of Kendra's post. Scrapbookers do not do what we do for the graphic design of it all. While it would be nice if all of my layouts were perfectly designed, and I wish they were, I do this to provide a legacy to my family. Early this morning, I read a post on a MB of a woman who had a renewed sense of why she created her books. The reason? She went to her great aunt's visitation and, scattered around the room, were the dozens of scrapbooks that she created in her lifetime. As her family looked at them and cherished them, they did not critique the design, layout, amount of pompoms, etc. Instead, they were blessed with the lasting thoughts of the woman they all loved. What you do as a graphic designer is very important to those for whom you create. And I'm sure that, with the training you must undergo, you are quite good. But do not undermine the fact that what we do, as scrapbookers, is also quite important. I ask you this, if the most important person in your life was taken from you, and they happened to be a scrapbooker, albeit a 'graphically challenged' one, would you burn those books because you didn't like the way they looked, or would you cherish every last photo corner in them because of who made them and why he/she did it? Just a little something to think about.
Mama Odie

Yes but Mickey, you are a professional who is trained, provided with excellent tools even if the project has other limitations, and paid to do what you do. You are expected to be able to make more out of less than an amateur with little-to-no training - that's why you get PAID to do it!

Mama Odie, I had mentioned in an earlier post that I too enjoy scrapbooking - and I relate completely with creating something my loved ones will treasure. (and it's also a lot of fun.) That wasnt my point. If cooking was an interest to me, I wouldn't simply want to cook, I would want to become a GOOD cook (or atleast a better cook.) I'd never blame bad food on the fact that I couldnt afford an expensive pan. While I realize the majority of scrappers don't do it for graphic design-related reasons, I wonder why those reasons were brought up at all in Kendra's post.

A graphic designer who uses stock photography, clip art, and crappy (to get with the mood of this thread) fonts is a different designer than a graphic designer who is an excellent typographer, and creator of images. They may share goals (communication) but not the methods they use to achieve their goals, and that will affect the outcome of their efforts. A cook who who uses cake mix straight from a box is a different cook than a cook who bakes a cake from scratch from their own recipe. They may share goals (dessert) but not the methods they use to achieve their goals, and that will affect the outcome of their efforts. The scrapbooker who festoons their scrapbook with predesigned messages and tricky preprinted borders is a different scrapbooker than the scrapbooker who compiles their images and texts without the asstance of the premanufactured novelties. They may share goals (preservation of memories) but not the methods they use to achieve their goals, and that will affect the outcome of their efforts.

Speaking as one of those "cake-mix-doctor" type home cooks (and you gals will know what I mean!) I have no illusions about the difference between intentions and outcomes as they relate to skill, inspiration, talent and tools. The cake is yummy, and it will be eaten, but damn! For some reason the cakes baked by my neighbor (who is a professional cook) always taste better. But according to the logic of the arguements on this post, to admit that there is a qualitative difference of outcomes between my Duncan Hines-oid cakes and hers is is to be an elitist...or a bitch.
Lorraine Wild

I realize that to many graphic designers most of the "mass" of scrapbooking would not be impressive. However, there is a sector of AMAZING design in scrapbooking, many former graphic designers, I might add. Many who have in depth knowledge of programs like PS and Indesign. Those who are at the top of the industry are amazingly talented designers and there are a growing number of digital scrapbookers that are doing amazing things with the same software. To simply dismiss scrapbooking as a whole as crap design is a mistake, you need to dig deeper before making a judgement. Now is all of it great?? NO, but why should it be, not everyone needs to be a great designer to make a scrapbook, and I don't think they should be made to feel badly if they are not as good as me. There is an amazing pool of talent in the industry. In the end, are these "crapbookers" as previously posted making those photos stashed in piles in the closet really worse? At least they will be documented for future generations. Also, much of the photography is improving and there are also talented photographers in the industry and many scrapbookers try to learn more about photography and take classes. I think it is just a generalization to say it's all crap and has no worth, that is simply not true.
Katie Kaapcke

Supercilious, pompous, contemptuous... and perhaps deliberately ambiguous. That is my respectful opinion of the author's opinion. How wonderful to live in an era where we are not afraid to speak! However, I sometimes wonder if this evolution of outspoken opinion is more often characterized by a lack of consideration for others than "objective methodology". It is entirely too easy to bludgeon the silent subjects of perspective when opinion is offered only from the view of a single unmoderated source. Genuine, thoughtful and provocative debate did not occur here until other perspectives were introduced.

Expressing opinions in public forums certainly has evolved into an artform: I failed to find real evidence of playful intent behind the original statements made. Perhaps I missed this? By way of backhanded apology after several scrapbookers had obviously taken offense, I'd like to paraphrase the response: "-sorry...but it is easy to dismiss scrapbooking as a lesser pursuit-"
*sigh* Was that an apology?

Indeed, the author's discriminatory essay could easily be mistaken for factual observations representing an entire community of artists as if they all attended the same school of thought. One introductory example of opinion stated as fact: "Naturally, any self-respecting graphic designer wants nothing whatsoever to do with any of this."
That's called generalizing. If I'd finished University and attained my degree, I like to imagine that I wouldn't be quite so snotty about waving it around. If MY education gave me a superiority complex so that I actually enjoyed looking down my nose long enough to demean others, I think I would have learned immediately how to form a respectful and genuine apology.

References made interchangeably with "Creative Memories" and "Making Memories" (which incidentally are two completely separate organizations) precede an observation that scrapbooking seems to be a gender-neutral pastime. This information is incorrect. I shall endeavor to avoid making this mistake myself, but the overall sense which I and several others appear to share after reading this dialogue is that Scrapbookers are viewed as artistically challenged pond scum compared to the much more noble pursuant of Graphic Design! I must admit that the flavor of the text would probably have set my teeth on edge even if I weren't a scrapbooker. And I am.

It is my opinion that the concept of "Graphic Design" is intrinsically related to the definition of art itself. The vast majority has accepted the definition of Art throughout history as something invoked by creative process which appeals to another individual for any number of intellectual, visual or aesthetic reasons.
The factors that evoke "Art" in its many forms have been determined by various elements including political environments, personal experiences relative to each artist, creative concepts and even marketable trends. Critics and supporters alike might challenge these representative but fundamental values, but the essential foundation of Art in any form is still creativity.

I do not understand why the author appears to feel that scrapbooking represents a contamination of the "grand" process of graphic design. What appeals to one individual may not inspire another, but this does not negate the credentials of design. Furthermore, Scrapbooking is not about mere visual appeal. It is a pursuit meant to share a lasting record of specific detail and addresses personal subjects--in most cases without regard for financial compensation.

The premise made here is that the pursuit of scrapbooking is an affectless, banal expression of cult-like proportions, dependent on a market saturated with products designed for people who lack genuine talent for design. (Okay, I'll concede the cult-like part!) If REAL artistic endeavor exists only in the purest realm, unaffected by blatant commercial excess, then graphic design should not be dependent on things like clipart, filters, digital brushes, and stock photography! And if a "true" graphic designer sneers at "pretty", eschews third-party products, and the very thought of incorporating pre-packaged mass-produced elements is anathema ...how exactly is Graphic Design so much more "superior" than "crapbooking?" The only difference I see is in personal perception, technical training and a paycheck. While I'm on the subject of banality and excess...Does anyone recall Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup cans? His credentials as a commercial illustrator and "legitimate Artist" are still well-known in the field of Graphic Design, yet his work incorporated almost ALL of the lip-curling elements noted above.

Before the evolution of contemporary Graphic Design and computer science, Marcel Duchamp's sculpture of a urinal was also called ART when it was placed on public display back in the early 1900's. As a matter of perspective, perhaps it was Art to *someone*. Cubists, Surrealists, Pointillists and the late great Impressionists all challenged their "contemporary peers" with concepts that were new. Were Monet's repetitive motifs a commercial abuse of art for the sake of art, or was he an example of a perfectionist, specializing in minute detail and light? Expressions of creativity using different forms of media are nothing new to the world of design, but perception of a "superior" artistic process seems to have something to do with the concept of paying for the education in order to pursue it as a career. It seems to me that it also has something to do with taking one's self too seriously. Doesn't the door to imagination and creativity have something to do with maintaining an open mind? I genuinely pity John's family after reading his earlier statement declaring his belief that the educated design community in Utah, Mormons included, is embarrassed about scrapbooking. HAHAHAHaa!! My goodness. I felt that using the word "tasteless" in the following sentence was almost as ironic as the implication that education had anything at all to do with the formation of his opinion. But of course...this is merely my opinion.

Strangely enough, to dispel the elitist attitude, scrapbooking has been around longer than graphic design. Museums have been preserving memories and "crapbooking" for many more years than computers have been around. And many more industries have been infected: war journals and historical accounts of events have been finding their way into film and media for years. Thank goodness the Egyptians made an effort to document details of their lives; isn't it a terrible shame that more of them didn't share the responsibility? Perhaps we'd know how they built the pyramids.

Quite frankly, questionable examples of artistic conduct exist in ALL forms of art, as do great examples. Generalizing is a form of condescension. And condescension, among other things, is one example of a closed mind. So...here we are, full circle to a theory on what contributes to things like "creative roadblock". OH...wait a minute. Isn't that what the author started writing about?
I think I'll go sniff a glue stick.


I can't believe this site has been invaded by a bunch of, as you refer to yourselves, "crapbookers". How appalling. I've always come to this site to learn about design, not crapbooking. It's not like the OP went running her mouth in the crapbooking community. That would be a whole different ballgame. If got here through google then realized this was not a "crapbooking" community the normal thing to do would have been to run along. You're embarrassing yourselves.
Janet Lyn

I've always come to this site to learn about design, not crapbooking.

You just did.

as you refer to yourselves, "crapbookers"

Incorrect definition.

the normal thing to do would have been to run along

Absolutely correct. But I did not, and as someone above pointed out, scrapbookers are one of those cultural phenomenons that like to learn to improve their craft. Note the use of the word CRAFT. Interesting point: I've been an admirer of Jessica Helfand's fluffless and witty essays for several years. This link was forwarded by a friend.

To apply one of the clearest quotes from the author herself, JH wrote:
"Graphic design is complex combinations of words and pictures, numbers and charts, photographs and illustrations that, in order to succeed, demands the clear thinking of a particularly thoughtful individual who can orchestrate these elements so they all add up to something distinctive, or useful, or playful, or surprising, or subversive or somehow memorable.

"Graphic design is a popular art and a practical art, an applied art and an ancient art. Simply put, it is the art of visualizing ideas."

This is exactly what scrapbookers strive to accomplish. How disappointed I was to read that a woman of such great accomplishment and intellectual capacity, a mentor and an educator, would demean something creative which continuously aspires to improve, learn and create. I have come to expect "critical" inflection of the author's written work. The lack of constructive balance in this case, combined with misinformation and obvious lack of research left a residue of mean-spiritedness on the text.

The point here? JH herself has written in the past: this medium is a massive free-for-all. The REAL point is that you've just learned that it DOES have the potential to affect and influence opinion and decision, sometimes with far-reaching consequences. How do you KNOW that what you've written isn't circulating on every scrapbooking forum all across the internet?

*sigh* You're not an insular part of the galaxy. Unless you're living in a vaccuum. Jeez...I've just noticed it's dark in here. I must be in the wrong place.
Good day.


I want to step into this post as a Design Observer editor.

Designers attacking scrapbookers and scrapbookers attacking designers is not creating a meaningful dialogue. Please, let's cease the personal and discipline-based attacks. There is something larger here, and much more interesting.

As Jessica Helfand wrote days ago, "I am in awe of what I'm finding (through this discussion). I remain uncertain about where the intersection of design and scrapbooking are or aren't, but in the meantime, I am captivated by the intersections between scrapbooking and art, history, faith, geneology, gender, narrative, photography, language and life."

As Rick Poynor has also noted here, "Scrapbooking certainly provides persuasive evidence of the way an ability to think and work graphically is becoming widespread in a visually attuned digital culture."

There are interesting conversations to be had here. May we proceed on a more positive and constructive note?
William Drenttel

Just so you know, this thread is circulating on every scrapbooking forum out there.

One of the biggest current trends in scrapbooking is to lift (copy) design elements from graphic art.

Just me

Oh how "sad" is this? Graphic artist versus scrapbooking, just when you think its "safe" to do something creative. "People" have to come along and make being creative a "PHD" event, like unless we have the "degree" we can not be. It's a good thing all the authors out there are not attacked from not having the proper title to engage in writing. With the shape the world is in today can't we just have some fun without someone coming along and spoiling it by saying we are not "graphic designers" therfore we are not creative enough. The beauty of ART is to allow oneself to be creative, to express oneself and not be judged. For all the "self righteous" above.GET OVER YOURSELVES!

I maintain that there are different kinds of scrapbooks, done for different purposes, and that the current scrapbooking movement -- or at least that part of it that has been the focus of this exchange -- does not exhaust the genre. I feel this to be the case even more now that I've seen the online scrapbook resources of Susan Tucker, Archivist and Librarian, Newcomb College Center for Research on Women at Tulane University, including a bibliography and a scrapbook timeline. I am sure there are more such utilities out there, I found this while wondering about the term "scrap."

I wonder if one of the key differences between design and scrapbooking resides in different protocols of "lifting" styles, motifs, content. We lift for different purposes. Designers themselves lift for different purposes, depending on the work at hand. A lot of ink, so to speak, has been expended in Design Observer on just this topic, come to think of it.

Scrapbooks have many historical tributaries -- friendship albums, carte de visite, commonplace books, index rerum, and their eponymous use as a repository for "scraps," being ends and cuttings. Some of these are more "ordered" than others, in the sense of classification and even indexing of their content. There is a certain built-in ambivalence to scrapbooking, and to archiving anything, really -- it has to do with cropping things from their original context, with selecting what to save (by recycling) and what to leave out. So one is grateful for the saving, but always wants to see more -- the advertisement that wasn't deemed important, the article on the other side of the scrap!

The availability now of the London Times, New York Times, even the Scotsman as fully searchable online archives will surely impact (I do not say end) the archival purpose of storing up clippings in scrapbooks. With these, one can choose to view a desired article either alone or in the company of everything else that appeared on the same page.

It's not obvious to me that the more sophisticated or even "creative" design will necessarily make the more successful scrapbook, or even the more successful "design." Success will naturally depend on purpose -- both the maker's purpose and the user's purpose -- and these need not be the same.
john mcvey

Funny, Janet. I don't feel embarrased. I rather like my work.

I'd like to THANK this thread for inspiring me. My craft has been severely put down by some and praised by others on this thread. What that has done has given me the realization of WHY I do this, why I spend long nights in my office, why I create storyboards for my uncle's funeral, why I search the internet for wonderful graphic design images for inspiration. Because I can. Because I enjoy it. Because I'm PROUD of it. Because my son likes to look at his scrapbook and see himself as a baby. Because my husband is without words when I am able to write how I feel about him on a scrapbook page because my mouth can never seem to express it. Had I not read this thread, both the positive and negative aspects, I may not have been 'jumpstarted' to have a renewed inspiration in my craft.

You cannot expect to write such offensive things about millions of people (yes, millions) who take their craft very seriously and not inspect to be 'invaded', as Janet has put it. You cannot expect us to not be offended by being called 'crapbookers.' While my bathroom is right next to my office, and do usually manage to make it there when I need to go, rather than sit on the top of my books. What many here have failed to appreciate is that scrapbooking is THE fastest growing craft in America. Like it or not. And if you wish to put us down, then you also negate the past works of people like Queen Victoria, Thomas Jefferson, and even Mark Twain - whose published scrapbook was, in fact, one of his most profitable pieces of work. I'm sure you would feel quite offended if a massive thread negating the accomplishments of most graphic designers as feeble works of 'fart', but I simply cannot start a thread like that. Mainly because I wouldn't believe it - I take way too much inspiration from graphic design to negate it. And, I bet if you looked closely enough, you'd probably find inspiration on a scrapbooking site (though, I dare say most would admit it!)

In the words of the founding writers of this site, and written just above where some people have written very demeaning comments, "Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion." ALL voices. COURTEOUS. You should probably find most not falling in that realm, including some of the original poster, who, strangely enough, is one of the founding writers. Kind of an oxymoron.

I do wish to say thank you to those designers who have at least recognized the efforts that we scrappers do. I appreciate it, as do alot of the people who have seen the thread.

And for those who can't seem to grasp this 'phenomenon', I implore you to go watch "Mona Lisa Smile." Perhaps it will remind us all that art is defined by each individual, not by an entire community.

I find this thread very interesting. If you ignore some of the more small minded posts, it has become a very interesting conversation.

I have been reading some of the other topics and must say many are above my head or beyond my interest. However the discussion on paper and technology (Paper spends more time with its family) is wonderful.

But I have a very basic question, how do graphic designers define graphic design? I do not want to repeat the mistake of the OP and assume that I know or can find out with a Google search.
Just me

Just Me, in 1960 an art director defined the activity of graphic design like this:

"To design is to create images which communicate specific ideas in purely visual terms and to utter statements whose form graphically embodies and enhances the essential nature of the notions to be communicated."

This is a pretty good one-sentence summary. The essence of graphic design is the bringing together of type and imagery for purposes of communication. The assumption is that, by uniting these media, the message will gain in expressive power -- that it will be more than the sum of its parts. The resulting design is then reproduced in some way: printed, or transmitted by film, video or digital means such as the Internet.

Graphic design has become a subject you can study and a professionalised (I use the term loosely) form of activity, but that doesn't mean non-professionals can't engage in it, too. Still, you can understand why designers sometimes get sensitive and defensive about this. They have invested in an expensive education, they are highly accomplished practitioners, and since the arrival of desktop publishing, they have seen others -- amateurs -- encroach on territory that was once theirs alone.

Clearly, scrapbookers also unite type and image for expressive effect, though the resulting work, the scrapbook, will usually be a one-off piece rather than a printed multiple.

For years, designers complained because few people outside design understood what they did or took an interest. My own view is that a wider public awareness of design methods and meanings, as displayed by scrapbookers in the discussion on this thread, can only be a positive thing for the development of design and its understanding. Graphic design is a modern communication tool that is at the heart of our culture. We should all understand it and feel free to use it as necessary.
Rick Poynor

I suspect many posters on this board are delberately misunderstanding the general drift of the main article. I've seen these so-called "art materials" in the scrapbooking section at places like Michaels and agree with the author. How is this cheesiness art? Gluing little baby rattles and doodads to a piece of paper full of drooling babies. And a snapshot of Jr. in the middle. 90% of the work is done for the scrapbooker. It's nothing like what goes into a design project. It's like comparing hand woven tapestries from Morocco to a rug-hooking kit.
Janet Lyn

For years, designers complained because few people outside design understood what they did or took an interest.

Then we started complaining that everyone had too much interest and were somehow invading our turf. When a secretary used PageMaker to create an intra-office memo we whined that the company should have hired us instead. That, of course, ignored the fact that in pre-PMker days a secretary would have just typed the memo and the work would not have been "ours" then, either.

I think Lorraine's comparison between cooking and design is apt in many ways but it presupposes a legitimate conversation comparing her Duncan-Hines cakes and those of a professional baker. "Admit[ting] a qualitative difference" makes it sound like scrapbookers everywhere petitioned the grand world of graphic design to declare their efforts to be worthy of our consideration and praise.

I find it hard to imagine the conversation where said cakes are compared as classes. The baker saying "that was an interesting flavor in Lorraine's doctored mix cake. What could I do based on that idea?" seems plausible. The Mix Master saying "That cake is moister than mine and I like that. Maybe I should try adding more pudding or oil to my cake mix" seems plausible. A group of professional bakers alternately dismissing their neighbors' cooking, kvetching about comb-bound regional cookbooks, and vaguely praising culinary populism would, however, strike me as odd and probablyt elitist and [okay—what is the not-gendered/non-sexist word for "bitchy"?]

The idea that there might be a professional baker who had until recently managed to not notice that there is a world of people who think the CIA is a spy agency rather than a school on the Hudson and that he would report to his readers on the Pastry Observer site that he just learned of magazines and websites offering recipes based on cake mixes and Jello products is also plausible. That he would not understand that his comments would be read by many as amazingly insular and as class bigotry might also not be surprising.

It would represent something sad about professional food workers if much of a conversation ensued about the pathetic culinary efforts of people so stupid they might think that donuts or Oreos were a proper treat. (And if several participants in the conversation made comments that would lead a reasonable third party to assume that they had never been to a store that deigned to sell Little Debbie products and that they thought everyone who didn't dine properly lived in West Virginia or Alabama, it would go beyond a sad comment on the professional food world.)

The strange fact is, of course, that smart people in the food biz know that everything from Julia Child to H&G TV has greatly increased their business and that comb-bound cookbooks and pot-luck picnics are no threat to them. Either the Great Duncan-Hines Unwashed is irrelevant to their world, can offer inspiration, or their enthusiasm may become more sophisticated thus making them potential fine diners. Even if they decide to open coffee shops, that won't be competition to Zagat-rated bistros. (The Food Channel may be a threat to bad restaurants.)

When are graphic designers going to decide that what we do is worthwhile and others' interest in what we do (and in things similar to what we do) doesn't represent a threat but is an opportunity (and not just a opportunity to feel superior)?
Gunnar Swanson


It's nothing like what goes into a design project.
I respectfully disagree. There are significant similarities in what I do, and many similarities in what others do. I've posted examples of my own pages for the sake of argument, but I am perfectly willing to receive CONSTRUCTIVE criticism from a professional design perspective on how I might improve my craft. Bear in mind that each one of these examples were made for a personal scrapbook. While pictures have been scanned in only a few of them, a personal relationship has been formed with most of these examples because they're an expression of events in our personal lives. A select few have actually been created specifically for others by request. In those cases, compensation was received. In every case, the characters and in some cases the text came completely from imagination and NOT third-party sources. Yes, I draw my own pictures.
And yes, I've used some of the fonts that caused designers here to shudder.

So...how is what some of us are doing very different from what a professional designer does?
I believe that the real difference exists in the audience, not the craft. A professional expects their work to be critically evaluated on many levels. A scrapbooker is appealing to a closed circle of family, and it's usually a more emotional association. Family is not likely to analytically assess the combination of color or count the number of rattles and pom poms pasted to a page.
I'm not comparing my creative efforts to brilliant works of art, moroccan tapestries or historical texts. But I do not dismiss it as pedestrian or inconsequential either.

There is a growing trend among scrapbookers to incorporate more "minimalist" concepts that evoke a stronger relationship to graphic design. Instead of chopping at the root, why not plant a seed? In a billion dollar industry, if there's a perception that it's filled with "weeds"...why not cultivate something with a less "offensive" bouquet?

Gunnar! Oreos, donuts, Little Debbies! (is there a problem with Twinkies?)

Re-reading my snit of yesterday, it was not very accurate. What was bothering me about the thread was the simplistic devolution of the arguement to one of graphic design versus scrapbooking, which somehow seemed rather reductive given Jessica's original post. I read her post as a question about basically the marketing of an activity that was by its nature "home-spun"—though in our post-Martha world very little retains that character—and that led me to think about how hard it is these days to describe, or even admit, that there are differing levels of quality in most human activities. Professional sports seems to be the only area where no one is hurt by the term "amateur:" the rest of us are locked in a gigantic pre-school of culture where no one's self-esteem is ever threatened by the notion that some ideas, methods, and outcomes are just better than others. And though it is undoubtedly true that we live in a time where the cross-fertilization of ideas, methods and outcomes works both horizontally and vertically (and sideways, too) does that damn us to always having to say that all things are exactly equal? I have NO problem with the existence of scrapbooking; I have no doubt that scrapbooking is a social and cultural phenomena worthy of study; I take a certain amount of delight in the stickers and other gee gaws that have been created by the market to aid the efforts of graphically-challenged scrapbookers; and I bet that somewhere out there is an "Ed Fella" of scrapbooking making some mind-blowing communication out of those very same kitchy things; but really, when I stand in the scrapbooking department in the art supply store, I don' t really feel like I am sitting in the crucible of twenty-first visual creativity. (and the shelves of clip art books at Borders, or the shelves of cake mix at Ralphs, aren't quite it either).
Lorraine Wild

Again, I feel a need to address a few things.

Janet, I think you are failing to realize that there are many different levels of scrapbooking. I assure you, there are no plastic baby bottles in my books. Most of the supplies available in the Michael's scrapbooking aisles are for the novice scrapbooker, or are geared to the scrapper that prefers to take the 'quick and easy' road to scrapping. I would not fail to recognize their accomplishments - they are still putting books together for their loved ones and enjoying their hobby in the way that they would prefer. I, on the other hand, prefer to see the art of scrapbooking. Thinking outside of the box on my pages, making the focus finely tuned pictures that follow the rule of thirds, use varying f-stops, etc. Not all scrapbooks are filled with cutesy ideas. Some of us like to consider it art. I'd be more than happy to show you my examples if you still don't understand it. Otherwise, the above links to various accomplished scrappers' albums should suffice.

Thank you to Rick for your definition. That was very informative and I did rather enjoy it.

Also, thank you to Gunnar for realizing that the graphic design community should not realize us as a threat, but rather an opportunity. That was also very well said.

Perhaps I take more offense and am more hurt than most. As a nurse in the cardiothoracic surgery ICU, I daily face some doctors who look down upon us as nurses. Yes, they have more education than me. Yes, they are first when it comes to decision-making for a patient. But, perhaps some of the best doctors in the field, and the ones most loved by their patients, I might add, are the ones that recognize that the nurse is at the bedside every moment. That we do develop a different kind of knowledge-base - one of experience, familiarity, and know-how. We see things happen every day. We are the eyes and ears. And I most enjoy relationships with doctors who can understand that a doctor-nurse relationship is that of a peer, not a superiority. I could've been a doctor. I have 2 degrees. I graduated near the top of my class from Johns Hopkins University. But I CHOSE to be a nurse. I wanted to know that I could come home to my family at night. I actually considered a career in art - I was very accomplished and rewarded as a child in that field. But I chose nursing instead. Scrapbooking has been a way that I can still find a creative outlet for what I have enjoyed for so long.

Sometimes chosing the 'less-educated' road doesn't mean that it is less experienced or inferior. It's just a choice.

Beyond the fact that millions of people are scrapbooking, another reason for designers to appreciate this craft has been noted above by Rick Poynor and John McVey and others — that it is part of the historical and cultural landscape from which designers derive ideas and designs. This post has reminded me of how many "scrapbooks" I have among my "design" books.

Poynor smartly cited the example of Martin Venezky whose design work occasionally adapts the form of the scrapbook to create a modern commentary.

John McVey mentioned Commonplace Books, a literary form of the scrapbook — collections of quotations, anecdotes, proverbs, and various other types of textual extracts. There is a wonderful and richly-illustrated catalogue of these books from an exhibition at the Beinecke Library at Yale in 2001: Commonplace Books: A History of Manuscripts and Printed Books from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century by Earle Havens. From the introduction: "Placed in new homes, these [intellectual spoils] are divorced from their former contexts, and so take on new meaning and significance. Words, phrases, quotations, even whole works, are, in this manner, arranged, sometimes very carefully, sometimes haphazardly, according to the fancy of the gatherer."

Another wonderful example is by Marcel Duchamp, where he created a notebook — a manual for instructions — for creating his artwork Étant Donnés. This three-ring binder was crammed full of photographs, scraps and handwritten notes. Here, the scrapbook is a means of conveying information to others, but is also a living notebook, the place where the gist of the art was captured. (There is a faithful reproduction of this work published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1987.)

My favorite recent example is by Henrik Drescher, who I think is among of our greatest contemporary illustrators. (His work is seen every week in The New York Times Book Review, commissioned by its designer, Steven Heller.) His book, Turbulence: A Log Book by Henrik Drescher is a tour de force of commercial bookmaking: a magical collage of illustrations, scraps, die-cut fillagree and translucent pages.

The question that I'm pondering is whether there are essential differences between the motivations of designers and scrapbookers. These bookish examples all fall between the seams of art and design. In general, though, most graphic design serves a public function of some sort: i.e., it seeks to be communicative to some audience, often a large one. Scrapbooking seems to be, as noted by many of the participants of this thread, a more fundamentally private or personal affair, where the audience is often the family. Such a discrepancy in audience might suggest these are very different endeavors. I'm not so sure they are ultimately that different, and that both camps cannot learn something from the other. As Lorraine Wild notes, "there are differing levels of quality in most human activities."
William Drenttel

I've seen these so-called "art materials" in the scrapbooking section at places like Michaels and agree with the author. How is this cheesiness art?

From an very old Thorndike&Barnhart dictionary on my desk:
Art: 1. A form of human activity appealing to the imagination, especially drawing, painting, sculpture, but also architecture, poetry, music.
2.a branch of learning that depends more on special practice than on general principles.
3. a)skill b)ingenuity c)some kind of skill
or practical application of skill

Scrapbooking, in all it's "cheesiness," meets the above criteria. Is it an art you enjoy? Obviously not. I don't enjoy pottery. Or painting. Or sculpture. They are art forms, nonetheless, and ones that I respect if for no other reason than that I cannot understand all that went into the finished product. And more importantly, I respect the artist.

Gluing little baby rattles and doodads to a piece of paper full of drooling babies. And a snapshot of Jr. in the middle.

Please. Really. With all due respect, you should at the very least research the art before assuming you understand it based on a perusal of the "scrapbook aisle" (pathetic though it may be) at a Michael's store. Honestly. This is like saying the clothing industry in America is atrocious and there is nothing worth wearing based on a quick run through the Kmart ladies department. More people in the U.S. scrapbook than play golf. Read that again and think about it. Do you really think that this multiple-billion dollar industry is hoisted upon the shoulders of a chain like Michael's, that is behind the times in every other art venue? For the record, in my several years of scrapbook artistry, I have never owned a piece of paper with drooling babies on it. I have also never glued a baby rattle to a piece of paper. Is that stuff out there? Absolutely. You can also buy paper with dog bisquits printed on it so you can do a special layout about Fido's trip to the vet. You can even buy little paper dog bones to stick all over your page, in a fashion I call "sticker sneeze." There is all kinds of stuff available, and if it suits the user, what is the harm? But the truth of the matter is, many (most?) scrapbookers are much more discerning than that. They demand high-quality, visually pleasing products in a wide variety of mediums. They demand that they be archivally safe, so that time and elements will have less chance of damaging the art they have created. They demand that the products be sophisticated in their approach as well as aesthetically. They demand that there be a wide variety of ready-to-use products, as well as those that are adaptable for other more creative uses. And, frankly, they are more than willing to pay big money for the things that meet these criteria.
Assuming (which I can only believe is what you brought you to the above conclusion) that a scrapbookers "art" consists of paper and stickers with "pictures of Jr" slapped in the middle is about as intelligent as my assuming that a graphic artist's work is limited to scribbling on a napkin all day. Come on. Please inform yourself before weighing in on a subject you don't understand.

It's nothing like what goes into a design project. It's like comparing hand woven tapestries from Morocco to a rug-hooking kit.

This, to me, boils down to two things: 1)ignorance, and 2)insult. One look at just a few things that I have accomplished in my art would prove to you that a lot of work goes into it. I'm sure you would not be interested, but if you were, you would find a very detail-oriented craft that takes a serious amount of time to accomplish. One does not need a "degree" in art to be creative, and to be very good at creating. I have always been a very visual, very creative person. Had I been given the opportunity, I would have pursued an education in art, but it was "impractical" according to everyone who was anyone in my life at the time. Consequently, much creative, pent-up energy is now released into the art of scrapbooking. For some, this art is a hobby. It is a passtime, similar to anything else one might do to "unwind" or busy their otherwise idle hands. They keep a few supplies on hand, replenish when the stash dwindles, and are happy that their photos and other memorabilia are in an album with a bit more detail than they would be in a shoebox, or even in a sleeved photo album. For others, it is a passion. It is an art that calls to us. Getting up to our elbows in textures, fabrics, metals, is just as exciting to us as a palette of colors and blank canvas was to Picasso. Will the end results be the same? Will our art be found in the halls of museums centuries from now, with throngs of people pressing forward to see it? My guess would be no, at least not on the same scale. But is art really about how much money you make creating it, or how many people think it is worthy? No. It is a chance at self-expression, an opportunity to move beyond the facts and figures of science and technology and use the creative energy that lies within, with the happy added benefit of telling a story that only I can tell.

I do not expect the person who I have quoted here to come around to my way of thinking, though of course that would be well and good. But I do hope that others who read this will give careful consideration to what is being said here. To those who before had not considered scrapbooking (the name does not befit the art, in my opinion)as an art, I hope that you will reconsider it in the light of what "art" really is, even though it may deviate from your own version of art. For those of you who are scrapbook artists, I hope you are renewed in your desire to create, despite the insults that have been tossed haphazardly here. Keep in mind that the primary reason we do what we do is for ourselves and our families, and those who do not understand are of two camps: those who have not yet had the opportunity to learn, and those who don't matter.
To the OP: I hope you will continue to explore this venue. I doubt you are interested in becoming an avid scrapbook artist, but at the very least, I hope you can gain a certain respect for those that are. I certainly consider your profession with the same.

Very cutesy and color coordinated in an HGTV kind of way, typical attention to complements and rhythm etc., although I find the dentist/patient scenario on this page somewhat alarming:
You say these are pages from a family scrapbook album? Hmmm..I think there's more here than meets the eye.

I'm well aware of the multudinous levels of scrapbooking, but am referring to the one specified by Ms. Helfand. The Michaels scrapbooking aisle. I fail to see where the author is incorrect regarding her observations of this mass marketed wholesale promotion of storebought memories.

Southern Belle:
"Do you really think that this multiple-billion dollar industry is hoisted upon the shoulders of a chain like Michael's, that is behind the times in every other art venue?"


"For the record, in my several years of scrapbook artistry, I have never owned a piece of paper with drooling babies on it. I have also never glued a baby rattle to a piece of paper. Is that stuff out there? Absolutely. You can also buy paper with dog bisquits printed on it so you can do a special layout about Fido's trip to the vet."

Exactly right. This is the stuff the author was referring to by the way. So if these things have nothing to do with your particular form of "scrapbook art" then there is no reason to take offense, is there.
Janet Lyn

Who cares anyway - you are all so funny! I love scrapbooking for me and I dont really give a you know what what others think about my work. Relax folks everyone is entitled to their opinion. I dont do graphic design, I do ART! No methodologies just know what I like. And there are so many artists I cant stand but would never be rude enough to tell them. Move on.

Janet Lyn:
I am perfectly willing to receive CONSTRUCTIVE criticism from a professional design perspective on how I might improve my craft.

Constructive: (adj) tending to form basis for ideas, positive, helpful

My apologies for not making this more clear. I shall put this in simple terms so that you can understand: Constructive criticism is something which offers a positive and helpful response. A self-proclaimed professional such as yourself probably wouldn't do anything to deliberately distort or misrepresent a situation simply for the purpose of swinging a figurative sledgehammer to create an impact. And since the merest whisper of your apparent wit and integrity cannot be questioned-- (as the professional with a trained eye by which you have already noted that there is indeed "more than meets the eye")--you are undoubtedly above using such pretentious devices as selective observation in order to imply perversion or impropriety where none exists. I believe that this demonstration of your superior humor flew right over the top of my little head, as I am equally certain that you would have looked or read closely enough to observe that the page in question is actually about a child who had his adenoids removed. (Adenoids, by the way, are located somewhere at the back of the throat near the tonsils. The child referred to them as Asteroids; hence the story included with the layout.)

Ahh, well. I will remain content in the knowledge that I shall never aspire to the same level which you have achieved on the "collective measuring stick." You must be terribly proud!

I believe that Ruth (above) expressed it best, and I'll move on. Good day.


The question that I'm pondering is whether there are essential differences between the motivations of designers and scrapbookers. ... Such a discrepancy in audience might suggest these are very different endeavors. I'm not so sure they are ultimately that different, and that both camps cannot learn something from the other.


I certainly agree with you that designers and scrapbookers can learn things from one another.

I also agree that they are different endeavors in that they operate in entirely different arenas with completely different expectations and parameters.

I believe that it's similar to comparing the output of a home-based quilter with the output of a fashion designer. It has nothing to do with notions of low vs. high, or elitist vs. common (although that terminology can certainly get entangled into the discussion and make things messy). Though they may use common materials, they create for different audiences, with different parameters, different expectations, and different production methods. Happily, in both cases, the final outputs can sometimes rise above the parameters that they operate in to reveal a common universal expressiveness.

There is common ground to be respected and shared, yet also differences to be acknowledged and respected.

Daniel Green

Interesting. I have some design (graphic arts, photography, layout work) background, and for years that actually kept me AWAY from this HOBBY.

Not in a snobbish way, as if I looked down at it, rather, because it was and remains an emotional outlet as well.

Lots of valid viewpoints and yes, I was steered to this BLOG from Two Peas in a Bucket message board web site.

BTW Jessica, you are welcomed to "hang your Graphic Designer hat" anytime at "The Pub" the publications message board, we have several "real" designers that hang out there too.

Anyone else? Link

Jessica- You've got to be kidding! Thanks for such a laugh! I love when people of little education show themselves and their insecurities!
Ha ha ha

Not two weeks ago my own mother sent my wife and I, out of the blue, a large, heavy, fabric-fronted, hot-glue laced scrapbook of my life trajectory in photos and frills, with occasional penned-in commentary. (As is a mother's perogative, plenty of space was left for "future photos of grandchildren"). A few priceless old black-and-white photos were butchered with border-pattern scissors, and I found the aesthetic effects occasionally bizarre. (I can say this without guilt only because she doesn't know what a 'blog' is).

But she obviously spent DOZENS of hours working on the thing, with intense effort and concentration (and probably a few glue-gun burns in the bargain as well). And now the thing is a loving part of the record of 'who we are' as a family. My wife (who is a graphic design professor) responded to it like a warm hug, and judged its aesthetic shortcomings not at all.

It seems to me it's almost beside the point to examine scrapbooking, an intensely private activity with the tiniest of potential (or intended) audiences, through the distanced lens of aesthetic critique. (That's not to say designers can't or won't at some point perhaps purloin the formal, aesthetic aspects or qualities of scrapbookism).

Is the essence of scrapbooking - the display of a family's photographic record -- somehow vaguely related to how the brain reacts to empty nests and existential voids -- by marking a place, saying "this is who we are and this is where we come from," creating something to leave behind for future generations, to not be forgotten, to shore up a sense of family that has radically lessened over the past few generations?

Perhaps that's all stretching it a bit. I'm sure it's more than family matriarches coming down with a case of the mid-life "whys," and staving them off through geneaological charts. But similar to grafitti, say, it does seem to delineate a clear territory.

But I DO think the power and purpose of scrapbooking has far less to do with all the things we worry about in making good design, than with the idea of "art-as-therapy" in which individual satisfaction and meaning (and, hell, ancestral and familial narrative) are what drives the activity and what is derived from it -- they are, at least for my own mother, at the root of its purpose and its pleasure.
Dan Warner

After several readings of this article, I'm no dummy, but frequently find myself having to read and re-read nearly every article on this website until they soak in, I finally realized the niggling burr that I somehow managed to skim over every time. The author's nearly unelaborated, almost background observation that when shopping in the craft superstore, art seems to have lost a certain status. That sinking feeling when you find out you can buy Winsor & Newton oils at Michaels, and at a cheaper price than you got them from your local art supply store all those years.
I sense a certain shame in the original article that "art supplies" and scrapbooking supplies share the same retail space. An unspoken "it isn't fair!". And the irony that Michaels (or Hobby Lobby or whatever) places the "artist" materials as far away from the "craft/scrapbooking" materials as is humanly possibly. Diametrically opposed in fact. Somewhere smack dab in the middle is the flower department. It's like a geographical delineation of where each "art" stands in the world. What would Van Gogh think?
Janet Lyn

LMAO! Van Gogh was mentally ill.
Maybe walking through Michael's, he'd decide that a pair of Fiskars scissors would be great to cut off the other one.
Nice of you to think of him lending an ear!

I thought the whole idea here was to be open and to try to see and understand. Liking or disliking is largely beside the point, I think. Isn't communication at the core of design? Whether the design itself is good or bad, one cannot fault the intent behind these pieces. Judging from posts, they DO convey the intended meaning. They are honest. I have seen work that was technically excellent, but communicated little to nothing. In that regard, these works are entirely valid, and should be viewed with an eye towards figuring out why they are effective on an emotive level.

Wow, I just read the article and the following comments. I never realized that this innocent hobby could turn into something so inflammatory!

I for one find myself appreciating all kinds of scrapbook art forms. In looking over my pages, I see that I tend to veer more toward collage style and I probably put too many pictures on a page than what would be "graphically designed" acceptable, but I'm happy with the results and that is what matters to me. Yes, I'll even admit that I like and use deco scissor and shape templates on a lot of my layouts. I also like stickers and die-cuts!

I am not a "lumpy" scrapbooker, but I sure enjoy seeing layouts made with dimensional embellishments and appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that the artists put into their designs.

I recently purchased "Clean and Simple", by Cathy Zielske and it is a beautiful book. I know I will be inspired by her designs, but I also know that I am not a single picture-per-page scrap artist. I glean inspiration from all sorts of sources and incorporate ideas into my own style (which admittidly can change depending on my mood).

I find it extremely ironic that the craft of scrapbooks is looked down upon by graphic artists; a field which has long been considered the redheaded stepchild of the art world. Back in design school, we fought for recogntion as real artists. . .to be accepted by the art community. For every scrapbook page that is a mismash of fonts, shrill patterned papers and overload of "embellishments, there is a page that employs sharp design, white space, movement, color theory in new and interesting ways. I think those of this forum should not jump so quickly to stereotypes.

You are posing the question as to whether or not scrapbooking has anything at all to do with design. Well, my answer to that is, it depends on whose work you examine. Unfortunately, I am not quite sure your (the author) research was very accurate. For example, when you are asked to write a research paper in college, professors ask you to limit your use of internet sources because they are simply unreliable. The same can be applied to this subject. I honestly believe what you need to do is better resarch to reach an answer to her question. How would one go about this research?

First of all, I think it's very silly to begin your research in Michael's. Why? Well for many of the reasons the store employee decried your visit to Michael's in search of high-end supplies. Michael's is not where long-time, and professional, scrapbookers shop for the most part. Yes it's a good place to pick up some refills for your paper trimmers (if you have not yet made the investment into the fancier trimmers like the Genesis that is) and refills in your adhesive department, but that's about it for Michael's really. If I was going to do an article on photography, I would not begin my research at Walmart even though they would happily (and crappily?) develop my pictures for me. I would instead go to a photography store and start there.

Second of all, just like when writing a research paper you need to consult books, the same needs to be done when you're going to write an article on an artform you know nothing about. Had you gone to a local scrapbook store (even a strong online one like rockymountainhobbies.com), or perphas asked members of scrapbooking design teams (which many online stores have accessible in their forums), they would have pointed you towards some magazines like Creating Keepsakes and Scrapbooks, etc. They also may have pointed you to books like the "Designing With" series by Autumn Leaves (Designing With Simplicity is incredibly impressive and inspirational). In consulting these texts, I think you would have come much closer to your answer.

It turns out, like any art form whatsoever, in scrapbooking you have to start somewhere. Much like the ridiculous projects I did in high school for my computer class on PageMaker, most beginning scrapbookers' work is unimpressive and very good examples of bad design. But you can't argue bad design unless there is a possibility for good design. I have to say, I'm surprised to not see much defense from those in the printing business. Ages ago, before our fancy shmancy computers, magazines and newspapers were designed much like scrapbooks are today. They were pieces of paper cut and pasted on a board!! Had you read these books and magazines you would have found discussions on using positive and negative space, how to use a color wheel to achieve your desired color combination, how to improve your photography (did you know many hardcore scrappers dream of the day they will own a Digital Rebel?), and how to find inspiration in what is around us. Recently, one of the articles in the magazines described the author finding inspiration in a restaurant menu. I'm willing to bet a Graphic Designer was responsible for that restaurant menu. And we're not talking a sheet of paper here with food descriptions, prices, and clip art- we're talking something very intricate and complex. Many high end scrapbookers use Adobe Photoshop quite well and those magazines I mentioned often teach you how to use many of Photoshop's tools to improve your photography and even create your own elements.

Also, I would like to point out a supply used in scrapbooking that REQUIRES a graphic designer- patterned paper. Now, if you limited your search to the patterned paper at Michael's, this is not a positive thing. But if you looked at the patterned paper offered in scrapbook stores that is more high-end [brands include Chatterbox, Basic Grey, 7 Gypsies, Gin-X (the designer of which is a regular commentator at the forums in rockymountainhobbies.com and is also a member of the store's design team), etc.] I think you would find very good examples of good graphic design.

I don't necessarily think you are arguing against scrapbooking. I just think you are looking in the wrong place for the answers to your question. If you are interested in other sources for personal research, I have no problem with you emailing me. Good luck on your quest!! Oh and another thing, I think it's very silly to focus on WHO scrapbooks and assume it's mostly Mormon or Christian married women. It's not true for one and secondly, it just doesn't matter and is quite limiting. It would be similar to my dismissing graphic designers as dorky college kids and I know (my brother is a professional graphic designer and I worked three years for a printing company that had a graphic designer on hand and also outsourced constantly) that is just not the case.

P.S. I also think it is worth mentioning many scrapbookers also create greeting cards. I'm pretty sure Hallmark hires Graphic Designers to put those together! And again, I am not talking about construction paper creations from your child's art class, I am talking about good and bad design which you can see a plethora of in any greeting card aisle.

Creative Memories is a Minnesota based company that sells scrapbooking supplies in a MLM fashion. Making Memories is a Utah based company. You seem to ahve confused the 2 different companies in your blog at times.

I will agree that the world of scrapbooking didn't have glamorous results in the beginning. However, you have to look at the tools that the designers had in those early days of scrapbooking. Now that technology has advanced and more companies are involved in this industry we are seeing more and more pages that are pleasing in design element.

There are many digital scrapbookers who are very skilled Photoshop users. Scrapbooking has only been around for about 10 years in it's current incarnation. Give us another 10 years and I think you'll see good design elements more and more in this craft. However, scrapbooking is a craft that has as a main focus preserving family history. I'm not sure why crafters would be compared to educated graphic designers. Are you going to take on the needlepointers or knitters next?

Some statistics ('The National Survey of Scrapbooking in America' compiled in 2004 for Craftrends and Creating Keepsakes Magazines; sample size 26,086 households) about scrapbooking / scrapbookers:

1 in 4 US households participated in scrapbooking in the previous 12 months.

Participation is pretty evenly distributed geographically across the US with a high of 31% of households in the Mountain region and a low of 21% in New England and Mid-Atlantic.

The VAST majority are women, aged between 30 and 50, and 87% are currently married. 56% have children living at home. 49% have an annual household income between $50,000 - 100,000 and 32% exceed $100,000. There are no statistics (in this study, at least) concerning religious affiliation.

52% have attended at least one scrapbook-related class or workshop in the preceding 6 months.

97% use scrapbook magazines as design and idea resources - as opposed to websites such as those cited in the OP.

83% shop for supplies in specialty stores (not the large craft chains).

They own an average of $1853 in supplies and spend about $25 per month on the same.

86% cite 'preseving memories' as a motivation; 62% cite 'creative outlet'.

What they plan to buy in the next 12 months (a selection):

- 76% each for patterned paper and adhesives
- 31% punches
- 29% die cuts
- 23% pre-printed frames and enhancements
- 14% lettering templates

As an industry, scrapbooking took in $2.55 billion in 2003, the latest year for which figures are available. The industry grew 27% in the 3 years preceding the survey.

I think many designers probably have trouble embracing the craft of scrapbooking because often, what we see are OVER-designed layouts. Thank you to those who have pointed out some good scrapbooking examples in this thread --those which offer minimalist techniques and let the photos themselves tell more of the story rather than being hidden by a mess of decorative regurgitation.

After over one hundred comments to my original post, this conversation seems to have wound down. In the interests of the site and other conversations, I am shutting-down comments on this post.

Clearly, the topic at hand, is not a black-and-white issue — which is perhaps why the debate here has grown so heated. Designers may cite purpose and discipline, and scrapbookers may cling to their passion for family history, but even here the boundaries are porous. There is good and bad design, good and bad technique, good and bad results no matter what you do.

But when what you do involves pictures and words, it's going to draw the interest of graphic designers.

For the record, my research did not begin at an art supply store, nor is it going to end there. There is a great deal more to see — and to say — on this subject: as I wrote a few days ago, I remain captivated by the intersections between scrapbooking and art, history, faith, geneology, gender, narrative, photography, language and life.

To some degree, design factors into all of these things: discussing how they do so is precisely why Design Observer exists.

Thank you.
Jessica Helfand

Jobs | July 12