During my recent job hunting, I've been looking at two fields: retail management and graphic design. The first is more out of experience (I used to be a retail manager for close to eight years) and availability, but it's the second one that truly has my interest and attention. Graduated and trained as a graphic technician back in 2007, I started a 1-year online graphic design course back in June to update my skills with the latest versions of Adobe as well as pick up a few extra tricks to make myself all the more awesome. (Hey, this is job hunting. Confidence is right up there with wearing nice pants.)
Run back over that sentence again. I'm already a graphic technician and am now taking a course in graphic design. So what's the difference? I'm glad you asked because it's come up quite a bit over the past couple of years and I wanted to take the time to address it.
Graphic design is generally regarded as the creative aspect of the graphics industry; it's the artistic first half in a daily Super Bowl of creativity. Graphic designers meet with clients to discuss their plans and needs for a job, working with them to draft up some concepts and ideas before returning back to the office and bringing it to life. To equate them to other professions, a graphic designer is akin to writers, comic book illustrators, and cinematographers.
Graphic technicians are the ones who turn it into a reality and convert the job from concept to finished product. While graphic designers only exist as one title, graphic technicians run the gamut of possible positions from press operators to pre-press to binders. Trained in the science of production, they have the training and knowledge to understand how the final format operates and how it can screw with the designer's work, making the required adjustments and tweaks needed to bring the designer's work to the level intended. Using the graphic designer's alternate professions above, a graphic technician is much like a book editor, inker, and a film editor.
Unfortunately, training as a graphic designer does not automatically provide understanding of final output. During my days working at the Publishing Centre for Algonquin College, where I became a graphic technician, I saw a lot of upcoming graphic design graduates submitting files for business cards that were not properly ganged up (an industry term for proper grouping), used low-res images, and submitted RGB files (a colour scheme for screens and online work) for print jobs. On the flip side, I've seen many graphic technicians try their hand at design and submit material loaded with widows (those last words of a paragraph that sit there all by themselves), tight spacing, and other no-noes. Training in one does not equal an understanding of the other.
On their own, either side of this graphics coin creates a unified whole to provide the client with everything they need to create the best results possible. By combining my technical knowledge with artistic skill, my goal is to become a well-rounded graphics professional capable of designing complete jobs that are ready for final output within the first draft. A designer who understands not only how to guarantee a job's colours will turn out on the press, but can also jump on the press and start mixing the colours himself, if necessary.
It's like the old saying goes: Hire me and you get two for the price of one.
UPDATE: Later in the evening of this post's premiere, me and the missus were discussing this very topic and she brought up an interesting difference between a graphic designer and technician: PDF class. Technicians take a class solely on PDFs, specifically how to make the most of them for different outputs and purposes. Graphic designers do not. And seeing as Mrs. The Warden is a graduate of Canada's second-best graphic design school, St. Lawrence College, which did not provide a PDF class, it may be a safe assumption that no graphic design course teaches it.