InDesign: Embracing the identity of a designer

Tuesday, March 26, 2019 - 3:22pm

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Illustration by Liz Bigham

My first experience with graphic design was in seventh grade, recklessly using Adobe Photoshop to cut out blurry photos of volleyball players for my middle school newspaper. In my ninth grade journalism class, my first Adobe Illustrator assignment consisted of inserting a picture of Nick Jonas and splattering paint and blades of grass around him. Now here I am today, building on the skills I first started developing in seventh grade, as a designer for The Michigan Daily.

I truly thought my journalism career was going to end after high school. After years of being an editor for my high school’s weekly newspaper, I was worn out from dealing with the controlling high school administration and late Monday nights at school. However, when I got to college, I felt myself yearning for the chaos of the newsroom. My retirement from journalism lasted a mere four months because, by the end of September, I applied and was accepted as a layout designer for The Daily.

I chose to continue with the design aspect of journalism because it is what I know and like best. During high school, I can shamelessly admit I devoted most of my efforts towards improving my paper’s design as opposed to the writing. A newspaper with strong design differentiates itself from others and leads people to read the stories inside.

When I say I am on The Michigan Daily staff, people assume I must be a writer. After clarifying I am on The Daily’s design section and getting an excited reaction, I feel like people look at me differently. They assume I am artistic. Although I am a graphic designer, I can say without hesitation that I have never considered myself an artist. I think that is why I didn’t give up on journalism when coming to college — I wanted to continue to call myself a designer, a label I would never hold if I never practiced graphic design. It brings me such confidence to be associated with an identity that consists of such creative, unique and inspiring individuals.

Most of the graphic design I do is layout. When I come in to design on Tuesdays, I first get a sense of the stories, photos and graphics I will be working with for the issue. Most of my time is spent brainstorming how I plan to arrange the elements in an organized and interesting way. After that, it is all about execution. I don’t think of myself as creating, but rather presenting other people’s art. This is why I don’t consider myself an artist. Artists start from scratch and use their creativity to create something expressive. For me, I am given other people’s work — usually articles — and display their writing in an appealing way. I feel an obligation to do everything in my power to make sure their writing is read and appreciated by those who pick up the newspaper.

A layout designer’s work can easily go unnoticed because we don’t get an explicit credit next to the work we do, unlike writers and illustrators. There is a lot of effort behinds the scenes. So much skill and diligence comes with knowing how to utilize Adobe’s software as well as coming up with a variance of design styles to complement each story. The work never gets boring. I have been doing this for more than five years and still learn more about graphic design every time I open up an Adobe product.

Sometimes when the design section is in urgent need of an illustration, my editors will ask, “I know you are on layout, but do you make illustrations?” and I quickly say no. Contrary to what I tell them, I do create my own graphics — very rarely. I don’t lie because I don’t want to make one, but because my graphics are not good enough to be published in The Daily. Like I said earlier, I am not an artist and am not good at starting from scratch. Portraits are the one exception of art I can do because it is remaking what is already there, which usually consists of me tracing over a picture of a celebrity I get from the internet. I simply transform a photo into a graphic without anything new being created.

The illustration above was the first graphic I ever made that wasn’t meant for a publication. I remember seeing a photo of the model and actress Cara Delevingne on Instagram and immediately thinking I wanted to attempt to recreate the photo on Illustrator. After using yet another fake email to get a free trial of Adobe and watching hours of Youtube tutorials on how to properly contour skin tones, draw eyelashes and mimic bushy eyebrows, I had my design complete. I never did anything with it besides showing a couple of friends. I didn’t even save it on my computer. A screenshot on my phone is the only evidence of the graphic I spent weeks on.

As the slight blurriness of the graphic shows, I did not really care about keeping the graphic because I did not plan on doing anything with it. I didn’t think it was particularly good. However, it is a great representation of my progression as a designer and is now being printed on a newspaper distributed all around Ann Arbor. I am self-conscious just thinking about it. I still don’t think it’s good.

Regardless of how hard I can be on myself, I am extremely grateful to my younger self for sticking with graphic design. Having an eye for what is visually appealing is such a gift that can be utilized in all aspects of life. Most importantly, being a graphic designer has introduced me to a group of like-minded individuals with the same interests as me. There is nothing I love more than bouncing ideas off other designers and talking about our favorite fonts. I could talk about fonts all day.