Jordan’s unique geographical position results in its experts choosing self development, which includes graphic design. Experts are also involved with developments taking place in neighbouring countries and the internet was extremely useful in putting interested parties in these two fields in touch with each other and sharing possible development tools. The development of Graphic Design is also assisted by annual exhibitions and specialised conferences held both in Jordan and outside the Arab world.
The academic and professional specialists for the basis in developing graphic design through the formation of local learning institutions. In these institutions academics, programmers and graphic design teachers can meet with professional designers and discuss the way business is moving forward and requirements of the labour market.
Practical training is considered the foundation of Graphic Design, upon which the academic skill of the student and his creativity are built. Working in a design office is considered to be the most important and effective tool in measuring the level of academic learning. It also gives an indication of the effectiveness of teachers in producing a generation of students capable of dealing with the academic ethos and engaging with the requirements of the profession. This training provides the students with opportunities to polish and develop their skills by working along side established practitioners. Today’s graphic design tools rely on information technology for producing visualisations of scientific developments. This visualisation requires an understanding of the scientific theory and the visualisation tools available, which in turn relies on the expertise of graphic designers.
In this paper I will focus on the profession of graphic design and its development by discussing its early development. I will review the positive and negative aspects of that development and how they related to changes in the market and the size of the market and labour force. I will also discuss the academic concepts, and the requirement for graduate graphic designers.
In this paper I draw from my experience of working in Jordan since 1987 at the MIDAS Establishment and my roles in student training at Yarmouk University and the Applied Sciences University, which I had been attached to since 1999. This paper addresses many questions and aims to explore the mechanics of enhancing graphic design in the academic and professional sectors.
The historic and technical initial stages of graphic design in Jordan
Graphic design developed alongside the printing and information technology industries. Printing was brought to Jordan in the 1940s by people who had learnt the trade in other countries. Jordan’s printing evolution was similar to that of other countries. Printing started using wooden moulds, then zinc cliches and letterpress, as well as other printing tools, symbols and shapes. It was the printing technology that restricted the scope for producing new designs. The range of items printed was limited to newspapers, cards and stationary. Printing started mainly in black and white, and was then developed to make photo made cliches through which the printers were able to print in full colour. Typolography, or raised printing was the main method and is still used today. Offset printing enhanced the quality of production, providing improvements in colour and picture reproduction. Around the same time the role of the graphic designer was developed, involving the preparation of makettes and then film montage and plates to be ready for printing (prepress); this relied on the professionalism of the film montage technician for the preparation of backgrounds for the pictures and words. Prepress was considered the most important process in the production of the final printed article. This process was carried out at the prepress service centre which was limited to a single institution until 1987. This centre had the capability and technology to perform a range of techniques where an artistic touch was required.
In the late sixties, design pioneers were not graphic designers, but had learnt the technologies of collage and calligraphy. They were able to imitate designs from abroad and in some instances reproduced them. Their work initially ranged from greetings cards, business cards, social stationary, letterheads and envelopes, then progressed to brochures and folders. The work was mainly limited to newspaper advertising which relied predominantly on the offset printing method. We shouldn’t forget the air brush technology that provided designers with the use of graded colours, achieving three dimensional effects for some designs, although the number of people using this was limited.
From 1980-87 design was performed by specialists in Plastic Arts and Architecture, as well as the first graduates of the college of arts at Yarmuok University and similar institutions. By the end of the eighties, the computer Linotype was used as a publishing tool by newspapers to prepare text for layout and paste it on the required pages next to advertising. Some publishing houses have graphic design offices which also acquired these systems to ensure the production of books and magazines to a similar quality. Linotype was also used to prepare the design of brochures and advertising materials that cannot be hand drawn. With time Linotype was also used for the preparation of other material by this method, including greeting cards, posters and advertisements.
The design and printing sectors found the computer to be an effective way of improving productivity. In 1988 with the arrival of the first design computer by Apple Macintosh, the numbers of workers in the field increased and performance progressed in the pre-printing stages such as film making and separation. However, the expense of computers meant that there use was still limited. The production of personal computers by competitors of Apple Macintosh as well as the ease with which film can be processed through its programs, created a huge increase in the number of professionals interested in graphic design. This became evident by the growth in the number of agencies, design offices, publishing houses and service centres.
Personal computers affected the technical and artistic aspects of production. Some production centres were able to develop their skill base and by recruiting experienced designers and developing them by organising training courses. These highly trained individuals achieved high standards of work within and outside Jordan and were able to compete with others in the Arab regions and captured a share of these markets, producing many publications. Jordanian specialists became serious competitors against other Arab countries which had previously monopolised the fields of design and printing. Jordan has developed so that it can meet the demand for design and printing within the country. Jordan has become a magnet for many publishing houses in the Arab region. Many production and publishing organisations were able to catch up to the levels of the latest technology. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that they will develop further, using modern production tools, and this will ensure there are enough local specialists who can continue to produce work of the highest quality.
The pace of technological development made it necessary for the academic institutions to provide the Jordanian market with the skilled workers who can work to the high standards required. These institutions have to continually adapt to the advancing technology as well as support the academics in their quest to enhance the artistic, scientific and technological aspects of production and publishing. Relationships must also be strengthened by co-operation between business leaders and academic institutions in order to provide the mutual benefit of improve standards, with the ultimate aim of keeping up with both local and international developments.
The easiest way to judge the standard of design and printing in a country is through the newspapers, magazines and books published. Television also provides a showcase for visual communication through locally produced advertisements. The speed of printing development has made impositions on graphic design and the designers themselves. Designers have to continuously update their training to keep abreast of new technology. This enables them to be at the forefront of improving quality and creativity in all aspects of production.
The advantages and disadvantages of sectors allied with graphic design
When discussing the organisations involved in design and production in Jordan it is easy to become overwhelmed by the variety and abundance of them. These organisations saturate the market. One of the reasons for the number of organisations is the variety of production formats, each of which has its own structure. Computerisation has lead to many operators being made unemployed.
Production sources can be divided into;
– Commercial printing
– Publishing houses
– Pre-press services centres
– Computer software training centres
These are the organisations where people often look for graphic designers, although most of them do not have academically trained staff who specialise in graphic design. Many of the people who own these organisations have chosen to specialise. Some of them specialised because the profession does not require a large capital outlay, others specialised because they had a knowledge of the tools used. Most appear to have specialised because this provides them with status in their community.
Although there are many organisations working in graphic design, the workers and owners in these establishments often lack awareness of the professional graphic design concepts as they have not studied the subject in depth. Employment opportunities for graduates only began to develop after 2000 when some organisations recognised the need for such skilled workers and academic institutions were able to produce professionals of this standard. The impression of graphic design graduates has changed so companies are no longer choosing graduates who studied abroad. Design establishments have noticed the high quality of products which trained graduates can produce with their competence and skills, and their ability to use the full range of design and printing equipment. Without this properly structured training program, experience had been gained through hap-hazard on the job training.
One of the weaknesses of those producing the designs is that they are not always confident about how to use the latest techniques. They often ask advice and prefer to work within their comfort zones, failing to produce designs that would demand a great deal of time, effort or care. Graduates are much more comfortable with change and willing to develop new skills. There are a few professionals, however, who have been invaluable in the development of graphic design by training others and developing their own technical and professional skills. These people have also monitored the pace of development in the fields of printing and graphic design.
Many of the professionals have established themselves thorough the high quality of the work they produce. This is not possible without a capable, aware and educated body of co-workers, who have scientific knowledge and are creative rather than imitating the work of others.
The increasing gap between academic designers and employers, or art directors and creative managers is often due to misunderstanding the role of graphic designers. In industry, the priority of some designers or agency owners is profitability regardless of the quality of the results.
The first problem is that some of the art directors or creative managers are not aware of the importance of their position, and often the employer is equally ignorant of this. Job titles are often arbitrary so artistic or creative managers frequently lack experience and expertise.
There is an absence of a common language between academic designers and managers or employers. This often frustrates designers, creating insecurity and hindering creativity. Such an environment can be an attempt to reduce a designers` status and restricts him from engaging in the creative thinking he would have been taught and university.
Adequacy of the professional reality
Graphic designers are distinguished from other fields by being one of the most creative professions; they work with information technology and visual communication. It also involves dealing with the business world, in which credibility and ability are necessary to achieve the creative work. Qualifications and talent are essential for this.
A graphic designer is not only an artist but also a technician who is able to use software and techniques to tackle the project in hand. His approach should go beyond communication with the audience, to effective promotion and display. His aim is to produce clarity and he should be able to do this from the information using the techniques available to him. The aim is to connect the data and in order to do this must understand the development and design of the software that could be used. He has to understand all the innovations and methods of designing texts.
The design sector requires professionals to have the experience to be able to select and classify information, and to create links between related elements. However, this won’t be enough if they can not interpret this and transform it into definite forms. It is also important to understand the vocabularies of with language, sound and music as they are the most important tools of communication. Added to this, the designer must understand how to use the specialised design software to write texts, prepare drawings, animated cartoons and websites. The designer should know about design, timing, transformation, rhythm and visual presentation.
The potential of the design sector should be realised by knowledge of the necessary theories and techniques to improve communication with the audience, enrich the design proposals and understand the reflective aspect of the design process, studies and research.
There is much variation in the qualifications of staff within the design sector. It is important to differentiate between the craftsman and the academic designer. The graphic designer is a complete cultural and intellectual entity that is noted in the sensational theory, linguistic theory, visual eloquence and the cultural history of art, literature, science, technology, industry and humanity. They cannot isolate themselves from developments in theories of communication, information development, and from management and criticism. Moreover to improve the added value of the final product, all methods and tools used in production and publication should be understood. They must understand the stages before the design, and they must understand the printing process and its implications on the design.
The market is crowded with many people working in graphic design. Due to the wide use of graphic design in many fields of work, the widespread use of computers and availability of basic software packages there is a role for people using graphic design without any prior knowledge. The expression of graphic design is still not adequately understood by some employers in industrial and commercial firms and organisations that need graphic design services.
I do not doubt the potential of the vocational sector but this is the reality of graphic design. It must be remembered that well qualified people now occupy high status positions in the Jordanian market, showing its expertise and its ability to demonstrate the highest levels of graphic design.
The size of the market and people working in graphic design
There are now more than five hundred establishments working in graphic design. There are many who would not classify themselves as an agency, centre or office, as they have found their own market niche. Therefore these classifications can not be meaningfully applied in Jordan.
The sector is large compared to the market. The establishment of new graphic design organisations peaked in 1999. Since then, some have declined while others have expanded. Some have stagnated or changed management, while others have merged.
A quick look at the design sector will show that 85% of those working in the field can be classified as;
– Computer science graduates
– Architecture graduates
– Interior design graduates
– Graduates in ‘Computers and the Fine Arts’ from community colleges
– Fine arts graduates (both graphic design specialists and non-specialists)
– Graduates of design courses run by computer centres
– Unemployed people who are interested in computers
University educated graphic design graduates fulfil an important role because;
– Universities produce Graphic Designers with a different outlook to those mentioned above.
– Organisations run by people who understand graphic design will be better able to develop designers skills and adapt to the future
I am concerned for students who study graphic design at university but do not try to improve his rate of innovation and creativity in order to improve. This will affect whether he is employable.
Academically and scientifically talented students will have few problems because good employers need students who are able to form ideas quickly, use appropriate design programs for his ideas and able to produce those. Other organisations are not useful for the academic designer. These are the push-pull level of the graphic design sector which reflects the levels of awareness of the concepts and functions of graphic design.
The market is capable of absorbing all graduates. This is dependent on the development of visual communication methods through graphic design. Such development requires the presence of skilled workers capable of meeting the needs of the market. This places incentives for educational organisations that deal with design to plan to suit the graphic design market.
The academic reality of graphic design
The emergence of academic institutions that specialised in the arts started at the Yarmouk University where the first arts and music department was established in 1980. This became a faculty in 2001, teaching drama, design (industrial, interior and graphic), plastic arts and music. The university awards bachelor degrees. It started in 2001 at the height of the computer revolution within the design sector in Jordan. In1991 teaching graphic design started as an independent specialisation within the Arts Department at the Applied Sciences University. This was followed by the Ahiya Amman University, the Petra University, Philadelphia University, AlZaytouneh University, the University of Jordan, and later the Israh University.
Apart from universities, during the time when graphic design became popular and a profitable profession, community colleges started teaching graphic design. These included the Al-Quds College, Granada College, Middle University College and Princess Alya College.
The work of the universities that award bachelor degrees is similar to colleges that grant two year diplomas, because both produce students with a certificate in graphic design. But in reality where creativity and technical skills are concerned we find differences. The differences are in the course curricula, and include understanding the production process, product identity, knowledge of software and design innovation.
There is confusion between graphic design and graphic art. These differences affect the student, particularly when he enters employment. He is judged by both his creativity and innovation in producing new ideas and his ability to use technology which now involves the computer, the main graphic design tool.
The reason for these differences becomes clear when we look at the number of workers in the market and where they graduated from. During the time that the largest number of graduates were being produced, the highest quality graduates were produced by well-known institutions and these were recruited by the most successful companies.
A distinction has developed between technicians and designers. This is because some academic institutions concentrate on technology and the practical aspects of design software, whilst others developing the ability to use knowledge and know how to connect ideas to the psychological and social context and include qualitative studies of theories and design curricula.
The reasons for this are;
– The absence of specialised academic experts in graphic design and the poor quality of some of the teachers.
– The absence of appropriate study plans for creating graphic designers
– The absence of a system defining the role of universities and colleges in teaching graphic design
– The absence of entry examinations to graphic design courses, unlike courses in the art specialisations
– The absence links to the outside world, other than through books.
– Some universities and colleges do not understand the concept of graphic design in an industrial context.
– The absence of official government support for finding a way to establish a core curriculum for university courses.
I have taught in the art departments of a number of universities and have assessed many graduation projects. These gave me the opportunity to find out about graphic design teaching, the standards of students, and showed the need for appropriate study plans. There is a lack of competitiveness which would improve educational standards and there is an arbitrary use of teaching methods. Objectives can be clear, but often mistake in not using the appropriate teaching methodology leads to them not being achieved.
In order to develop and improve, the graphic design sector needs skilled and competent workers. The workers will not be able to respond to the changes in technology unless they have a formal academic training. In order to achieve this advancement it is essential that graduate students are used as graphic design specialists.
There is a requirement in the Jordanian arena for the academic and professional sectors to review their experiences and identify their strengths and weaknesses. This is used by them to set a strategy capable of giving graphic design the respected position it deserves.
There is a requirement for government intervention to provide arena where specialists in graphic design may discuss many of the concepts that help them make company owners and managers aware of how to make the best use of graphic designers.
As well as teaching graphic design, universities and community colleges must support the markets needs for designers and artisans within the new specialisations which need to be introduced in order to reduce unemployment.There is a need for a professional body in graphic design to give support to designers, co-ordinate educational and technical preparation and for making contacts with the outside world. It is important to hold workshops and symposiums that enhance the competence of teaching staff, designers and students; these should be held with assistance from international institutions which are respected in this field.
It is also important to hold national and international competitions to encourage creativity and innovation. This will create a competitive atmosphere in which graphic design can flourish.
Finally, it is important to create a national identity in graphic design, which can cement its position in the international arena.