With so many advancements in technology, the role of a graphic designer is very different today compared to a few years ago.
Technology has had such a massive influence on the world we know today. There are now multiple generations that have grown up not knowing what it was like to exist in a world without the internet.
In the world of work, technological advancements are not only creating brand new jobs, they’re completely changing traditional roles.
Graphic design is just one of the many careers that have changed due to the advancements in technology. The craft a budding graphic designer learns today is very different to what one might have learned 10 years ago.
But what is it like to live and work through those changes as a graphic designer? Jonathan Leahy Maharaj is the creative director for Fuzion Communications, and he offered some insight.
He started studying graphic design in 1992, but dropped out to have a family, which led to a nine-year career diversion into working as a chef in Cork. “It was a great experience that I learned a lot from, but I always knew I wanted to get back into design.”
Once he returned to his studies in Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and Limerick School of Art and Design, he never looked back. His career has included working with clients such as Musgrave, Waterford Crystal and the National Children’s Hospital, as well as designing and teaching modules in design for print and digital imaging at CIT.
Now, as creative director of Fuzion, he leads the company’s design team. “In one week, you could be working on anything from creating brand identities or developing advertising concepts, to designing websites and large corporate documents such as annual reports, which keeps things interesting and keeps my mind sharp.”
So, in a career as a graphic designer that spans across many years, we asked Leahy Maharaj about how it has changed with the ever-advancing world of technology.
What first stirred your interest in graphic design?
I remember when I was four or five years of age in London, my dad’s best friend bought me a small portfolio case full of pens and pencils, which started the obsession.
10 years later, I had a wonderful art teacher, Mr Nott, who (thankfully) recognised that I would never carve out a career in fine art, but instead showed me this practice called ‘graphic design’.
He showed me why the italicised part of The Guardian’s then masthead was important, why the delivery was the most important part of any communication, and that creative lettering was not confined to chunky markers and walls. By doing so, he opened a very important door for me.
How have technological advances affected your career as a graphic designer?
Some things have changed, some things have not. Technological advances have made our jobs much faster and certain things far easier. For example, moving from Cow Gum, pica scales (remember them?) and mechanical layouts – taking days to compile – to creating something in InDesign, having it approved and sent to print in an hour.
When I began on this career path, the internet as we know it hadn’t been invented, so things like websites and apps were not a concern, as they simply didn’t exist.
‘The one thing that has stayed absolutely still is the need to be able to think creatively’
– JONATHAN LEAHY MAHARAJ
The past few years have seen dramatic changes in this area due to broadband, different screen sizes and the availability of new devices (tablets and smartphones), and now we are faced with the challenge of how we adapt our clients’ work to ensure it is optimised across all devices, providing maximum reach to their audience.
Hardware and software advances have changed our world dramatically. Back in the early ’90s, we were starting to use Photoshop but it was slow and extremely limited. Now, I use Snapseed a lot on my phone and it is one of the biggest technical jumps that I’ve seen in recent years. Image editing that would have taken hours using Photoshop can now be done on my phone with my thumb. It’s not the answer to all image editing, but it’s a phenomenal tool to have in our pockets, whenever and wherever we need it.
Having the ability to upload images from camera to phone and then send them to others is also great. Recently, we were on a site visit with a client in Cavan and I was able to send files to my colleague to edit and send back to show the client in that same meeting, which would have been unthinkable not too long ago.
But the one thing that has stayed absolutely still is the need to be able to think creatively. It’s an obvious thing to say, but a computer is only a tool in the same way that a pencil is – just a bit more advanced, but neither can create without human input.
That part of our job is still entirely up to us as designers. Creativity is something that we value above all else at Fuzion, ensuring we give all our clients a bespoke and unique creative solution.
What were the biggest surprises you encountered on your career path?
There have been a few. The first surprise was how long it took me to get a job after I graduated. In reality, it was less than three months, but I had a mortgage and a family to support, and those three months lasted an eternity. I can’t remember how I dealt with it, but I’m pretty sure that my wife is a patient woman and that I possibly tested her patience to its limit at that time.
There are challenges involved in every project we undertake. We are in a creative environment where people are free to agree or disagree with our suggestions.
We like to think that we hit the nail on the head every time, but sometimes (and rightly so), clients have other ideas. The challenge is to always get the design to a point where the client is happy, but also where we feel that we are making a valuable contribution to the process and are not just ‘Mac monkeys’.
As much as this can be challenging, it’s a valuable learning process that ensures we succeed through listening, dialogue and putting in the work to ensure our client gets the best possible result.
What do you enjoy about your job?
The creativity and the freedom to challenge, innovate and deliver work to our clients that excites them, that goes above and beyond their expectations, and that realises their end goals, are the corporate wins.
But there’s also something about passing your work on the streets – seeing it ‘in the wild’ so to speak – that will never cease to put a smile on my face.
What do budding graphic designers looking to enter the industry need to know?
That it is a hard job! It’s a challenge to be creative every day, but a really rewarding and satisfying one.
My advice to people who are thinking about being a designer is to observe as much as possible. Go to conferences such as Offset and The Future, buy books, share with your peers, read blogs, listen to podcasts and learn from others; see what they have done and try to figure out what they have designed, unravel it and try to recreate it to really get under its skin.
Don’t think that technology is the answer to all of your problems. It’s a tool, but it needs a creative brain to utilise it, otherwise it’s useless. And, to paraphrase Milton Glaser, never stop being amazed.
Do you have any productivity tips that get you through your day?
Coffee, coffee and more coffee. I drink a lot of coffee during my day, but it’s more about the act of getting up and away from my desk, even just for a few minutes, which helps me focus.
I also try to keep my unread messages to an absolute minimum in my inbox, which is always a balancing act so that you’re not distracting yourself by constantly monitoring them.
I am also a huge fan of lists to keep on top of things. I use the Notes and Evernote apps and, of course, a good old pen and paper. And music – you have to have music on.