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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The graphic design profession : from margins to mainstream Damon, Marge


Graphic design is the largest and fastest growing occupational group of all the design disciplines in North America. Its boundaries and identity have shifted significantly over the past century. However, despite its size and age, it is often referred to as an adolescent among the design disciplines because of its lack of respect for rules and traditions. But, beneath the teenage fa?ade is an industry that has worked hard to establish its professional status, keep pace with change, and reinvent itself to suit social, technological, and economic conditions. The goal of this study was to identify how graphic design changed its status from a trade to a profession, and particularly: 1) to analyse graphic design's professionalization processes in the United States and Canada over the course of the 20th century, 2) to provide a comparative analysis of issues pertaining to accreditation, registration, certification, post-secondary education, and employment in the United States and Canada, and 3) to identify areas for action by the Canadian graphic design community. This study examined historical, social and cultural foundations of the graphic design profession in the United States and Canada. It analyzed how the industry talked about itself in relation to professionalization and its position in the arts' community, public sphere, and marketplace. Professionalization was problematized and a comparative analysis of graphic design in the United States and Canada was constructed using perspectives from inside and outside the industry. Data sources included journal and magazine articles, books, conference proceedings, newspaper articles, online sites (including articles, surveys, opinion polls, and job searches), among others. The study employed two theoretical frameworks: interpretive and post-structural. The graphic design industry was scrutinized using an interpretive framework and the concept of professionalization. Four processes of professionalization were isolated as the major categories for data analysis because they are common to most modern occupations seeking professional status: (1) developing professional organizations and associations; (2) gaining recognition as a distinctive occupation; (3) securing rights to specialized knowledge and education; and 4) controlling access to the marketplace and employment. Professionalization processes were further categorized into three major areas using a post-structural theory of capital, specifically social, cultural, and economic capital. Thus, this study connected graphic design's professionalization processes to capital exchange values in social arenas. The graphic design industry in the United States has been engaged in a professionalization project since 1914, with the establishment of the American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA). It has been acknowledged as a distinct profession with specialized knowledge and skills, as well as products and services. The Canadian graphic design industry is younger and approximately one third the size of the industry in the United States. Yet, despite being the fastest-growing design discipline in Canada, misperceptions about the role and responsibility of graphic designers have precluded its recognition as a profession by government, business, and the general public. This study identified three problem areas for graphic design's professionalization project in Canada: 1) graphic design is still regarded as a trade or vocation; 2) Canadian graphic designers are not as well educated or as highly paid as their American counterparts; and 3) access to Canadian undergraduate and graduate degree programs in graphic design is inadequate. Professionalization in graphic design is not just about making money. It is also concerned with increasing the social and cultural status of the industry and its members — particularly recognition of practitioners as members of a distinct profession with a specialized knowledge base and skills. In terms of social, cultural, and economic capital, graphic design in the United States is more highly valued than in Canada. Designers in the U.S. are recognized as professionals rather than tradespeople (social capital); on average they spend four years in school pursuing a degree, but also reap increased economic benefits for their credentials (cultural and economic capital); and a wealth of opportunities exist in the U.S. for post-secondary graphic design education, from undergraduate degrees to PhDs (cultural capital). In Canada, students of design as well as practitioners do not enjoy the same 'capital benefits' as Americans. Recommendations to increase capital benefits for graphic design in Canada include: 1) a coalition be formed by the GDC and RGD Ontario; 2) the coalition pursue Canada-wide recognition of the profession, as well as 3) certification and accreditation of educational programs and practitioners, and 4) increased access to post-secondary graphic design education. In the final analysis, in order for the graphic design industry to move forward with its professionalization project in Canada, increase its capital value in social arenas, and compete in the global marketplace, territorial fences must be torn down and a collective pathway charted by stakeholders.

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