March 15, 2023

It’s a been-there, done-that scenario: your boss walks up to you and says “I need 10 new designs for this new product, pronto!” then walks away with no additional information. Apparently this new product has been in the works for a while, but you’re hearing about it at the last minute – and you have to start doing a lot of digging on your own to understand the product. Time and time again, graphic designers are brought in at the end of the strategy cycle and are just told what to do – being perceived as ‘worker bees’ rather than strategic brand ambassadors.

The fact of the matter is, we graphic designers do a lot more than just draw pretty pictures on the computer. Unlike artists, whose job is to focus on aesthetics, graphic design dives deeper and creates visual messaging to support a brand – which in and of itself is a strategy.

So why aren’t leaders and clients seeing us graphic designers as strategic? It’s true – graphic design isn’t marketing, and we don’t analyze data to create contingency plans. However, we can all agree that it would make our jobs as graphic designers a lot easier if we were brought in at the beginning of the product lifecycle so we can give creative ideas along the way and discussing what is and is not possible – leading to an overall better strategy.

The largest reason why leaders don’t see graphic designers as strategic is from lack of understanding – and since it’s hard to give importance to things we don’t understand, graphic design is often an afterthought. And while the online graphic design software offering free logo- or brochure-making service certainly doesn’t help the paradigm of graphic design being an ‘easy’ or ‘non-strategic’ job, the graphic design industry has a lot more work to do to show our true value to leaders and C-Suite executives.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do on an individual level to change the status quo for Graphic Designers as a whole. However, there is a lot you can do on a personal level to rebrand yourself to become more than “just” a graphic designer. Check out our tips below:

  1. Ask your leader to be brought in at the beginning of project meetings – or at the same time they bring in their marketing team. Not only does this help you understand the entire scope of the project, but you can start sharing your ideas at the same time as everyone else, changing other’s perspective of you as “just the graphic designer”
  2. Title yourself as a “Brand Strategist” instead of a Graphic Designer. The more you showcase your talents in strategy, the more others will believe it – and it starts with how you define yourself.
  3. Demonstrate your strategy skills: execute an innovative project that’s outside your current job function, or show how your designs helped a campaign become successful. The more you’re showcasing your skills, the more likely you’re to be top-of-mind.
  4. Become Certified: there are plenty of free strategic planning certifications online to help add fuel to your fire. Check out HubSpot Academy, which offers content strategy courses, or Coursera>, which also offers free strategy-related courses to build out your resume.