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Dreams of Greatness
One person's opinion as to what it means to be a great designer

By: Julia Ptasznik

Julia Ptasznik is an honors graduate (BFA) and a faculty member of the Advertising/Graphic Design department of the New York, USA-based Fashion Institute of Technology. She has written and presently teaches a course on Professional Practices to upper-class design students. In addition to being the editor of Visual Arts Trends, Julia is a freelance consultant specializing in marketing strategy development, copywriting and graphic design. Her portfolio includes work for companies and organizations such as the United Nations, Buick, Bertolli USA, Sprint PCS, The Fragrance Foundation and Domino's Pizza. Prior to starting her own business, Julia has worked on both client and agency sides, most recently as director of communications of an international trading firm, Atwood Richards Inc., which has offices in 32 countries. Her previous experience includes working on design projects for the U.S.Open Tennis Tournament, well-known apparel industry brands such as Bonjour, and varied toy packaging accounts. Contact:

With offices in New York and London, Visual Arts Trends is an international quarterly "state of the industry" report for the creative professional Focusing on graphic design, advertising art direction, photography and illustration, each report offers a brief, business-oriented, definitive and timely overview of industry developments that affect aesthetics, pricing, salaries, working conditions and client relations. Visual Arts Trends combines unique proprietary research with material gathered by monitoring hundreds of publications, companies, membership organizations, online sources, and other relevant sources of information. The reports review and analyzes professional trends by business category and by specialization. In addition, each report profiles "hot" client industries interviews with senior executives of leading companies and organizations. An annual subscription retails for US$29.99 and includes four reports available for download as PDF files. Visual Arts Trends is a trademark of and is published by Colonial Communications Corp. Contact:

Some would argue that being a great designer is not an overly trendy topic. Or is it the trendiest of them all?

Think about it. If you are among the newer members of the visual arts community, how often do you wonder if you are any good at this gig? If you have it in you to succeed, or even to Ė ohmygosh Ė become one of the greats yourself? If you are one of the more seasoned, how often are you asked these questions by aspiring artists entering the profession? Inevitably, this comes up, time and time again. Since this is an opinion column, I am going to do just that Ė offer mine. 

Becoming a great designer is completely subjective. Winning competitions, awards, and accolades from clients, colleagues and mentors is both flattering and encouraging, yet not nearly as important as remaining honest with oneself about the quality of oneís own work. About the good and the bad, the strengths and the shortcomings. About design for the masses and the cop-out choices we occasionally make while telling ourselves that the mortgage beckons. If we are honest, the first thing we have to acknowledge is the fact that the quality of much of our commercial work leaves us wanting. Those of you who live in the real world and have to contend with deadlines, budgets and the generally under-appreciated state of our discipline know what I mean. Ever taken a look at a finished piece and wistfully thought, "If only the client had ______?" (Plug in "time," "money," or "a brain" as appropriate.) Welcome to the daily grind. 

So, in this context, how do you even begin to measure your rank on The Designer Greatness Scale? Is it by the few truly successful pieces you complete each year? By the awards you win, the satisfied clients you have, or the amount of money you make? All of the above, or some combination thereof? 

Enter those we read about on the glossy pages of Creative Review, HOW and Communication Arts. It is impossible to be a graphic designer and not bow to the greatness of Paul Rand, for example, and even some contemporary designers hailed as geniuses by the leading industry magazines. However, it is also impossible not to recognize that most of us simply arenít Paul Rand.

Thatís not to say that we are less talented, dedicated or appreciative of design as a discipline. The simple truth is that most people, designers included, do not aspire to greatness on such an astronomical scale. For the overwhelming majority of the population, myself included, success in life means a harmony between oneís personal and professional lives; although the importance placed on each varies greatly from one person to the next. However, for visual artists, it gets infinitely more complex, as we choose the profession not for its financial rewards, growth potential or other practical reasons, but for those that are much more personal. We attempt what others would consider impossible or, at the very least, impractical: To take our love, appreciation, talent and understanding of art and turn them into something that makes a living. Because our jobs are so deeply rooted in, and even contingent upon who we are as people, we are often not able to separate personal and professional issues as easily as those to whom "itís just a job." So we keep plugging along, balancing love with need, personal with professional, the great with the not-so-great.

I have a problem with the very concept of being a "great designer," just as with any other label. Further, admitting oneís own greatness at any point in life seems like the first step into oblivion. What else is there to do but retire, once you concede that there is nothing more to learn? All things considered, this is just not that important to me. What is important is that I truly enjoy what I do, value the relationships I've built over the years, and am comfortable with the amount of money I make. But donít mistake this for the all-too-common "the meek shall inherit the Earth" pitch. You who harbors secret dreams of greatness Ė donít let anyone discourage you, or we may never see another Paul Rand.

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