Design versus Graphic Design or the case of the Missing Link

In response to Veerle’s “What is Graphic Design” I’ve done a bit more thinking and a germ of an idea has formed in my head. And it involves the title of this post, so to jump right in:

Graphic Design
The use of visual artistry to convey a message.
Design
The application of knowledge to a problem to create a solution.

I think this is accurate. Because I understand a few different forms of design, I’m willing to put this out there for others to discuss. I edit film, taking raw footage and designing a story from it. I studied architecture, which is taking raw space and designing a new space within it. I’ve built web sites. I’d say I designed them, but I won’t denigrate design like that. The web is all new, even now a decade into it, and we’re still using old terms to describe it.

That’s the problem that designers have right now. We toss around terms that have meanings already, and we try, through the subtle use of modifiers, to somehow make a connection to what we do now. Take “Web Design” as a term, and think about what it means to you. Chances are, if you’re not a professional dealing with it, you have a vague idea that revolves around drawing pictures of a page, maybe the look of a button, and perhaps picking the palette of complementary colors.

So what do you think about “Web Designer”, “Web Master”, “Information Architect”, or any of the other names that people have tried to use to help explain what they do?

Consider this: How often have you been on some company’s site and gotten to a point where you can’t find what should be painfully obvious to find, and everything you click seems wrong and backwards. If you can’t imagine it, go to the Quickbooks site. Try to find how to print check details on the check by finding support. I use the web daily, constantly, and I’m pretty damn good at finding stuff. I was baffled by their site, for a long enough period to be displeased and yelled at asked my boss to buy new accounting software from another company. I’m not the accountant, I just figure they really don’t want his business if they can’t help with basic stuff.

But look again at the site. It’s pretty. In fact, some of it is rather stunning. So they have a “Graphic Designer” who does some good work. And it seems they have competent programmers who took the design and cut it up correctly, building templates and stylesheets from it. All to the good, I say. But the usability of the site sucks so badly you know they didn’t have one person to sit down and go “Um, but how do I find support?” which is crucial for this business. There is a Missing Link between programmers and graphic designers.

Now, this isn’t a dig at Graphic Designers at all. I know several very talented, amazingly wonderful people who call themselves Graphic Designers. And that’s what they are. I know several others who call themselves Graphic Designers because they can’t stand calling themselves “Information Architects” or some such. Can’t really blame them, sounds horribly pompous and rather dull, and it doesn’t communicate what they do. I think I have a solution, though.

Personally, I think a “Graphic Designer” is to web site, like an “Interior Designer” is to an building. Both are necessary, but they do they build the entire site or building? Usually, no. Programmers build sites, while construction workers build buildings. Heck, most buildings will also have plans done by an Engineer that take the Architect’s work and show how the mechanicals of the building fit into it. Is there some overlap between an Interior Designer and an Architect? Of course! Is there some overlap between an Architect and an Engineer? Once again, yes. Same for Architects and construction workers. All in all, they generally work well together, not compete against each other. Same goes for Graphic Designers, Programmers and the Missing Links.

We need a new name. The web is different. Graphic Designers are already well defined, we shouldn’t confuse the masses by conflating these roles. So I’m making a proposal that we resurrect a word long out of everyday use and give it a definition that will help everyone.

What the Missing Link does is create a map – and does so by understanding the business the site is for, the clients of that business, and the ways that people think. The Missing Link works with the Graphic Designer to say how the shopping cart will work, and what interstitial pages can happen. The Missing Link works with the programmers to reduce the steps in the various processes to speed the use and ease of use of the site. The Missing Link understands Marketing drives sales, but also knows that Marketing doesn’t know everything. The Missing Link listens to programmers when they say it can’t be done, but still presents them with another idea on how it just might be done. The Missing Link draws maps for everyone, and can speak artist and geek fluently. But most importantly, the Missing Link draws maps. Also known as cartograms, because they don’t represent area but are still a map.

Which makes the Missing Links “Cartogrammers”. I actually think this word applies quite nicely to several people I’ve met. Your thoughts?

[UPDATE] I know I’ve hit something good with my mom agrees with me, but she suggested that I adjust the spelling to “Cartogramer” which I’m not sure about; and, put up a guide to pronunciation: It’s car-TAW-gram-er.