Why Angela quit the printing industry and why you shouldn’t

05/02/2013 — 8 Comments

Quit print?Former graphic designer Angela Johnson wrote Why I Quit the Printing Industry and Why You Should Too on the Yahoo contributor network last week January. She says,

“I miss my old occupation, but only as it once was – not as it is today. If you are currently employed in the printing industry, here are the top reasons why you need to change careers…”

Angela has a new career in healthcare. I genuinely wish her all the success in the world, but she’s wrong about both design and print.

She says, “Everyone now owns a personal computer – thus obsoleting the need for a designer”. That’s just silly. I own a bike, can I ride it like Lance Armstrong (with or without drugs)? I own a stove, can cook like Jamie Oliver? I have two legs, can I run like Usain Bolt? Angela uses the example of small businesses cutting corners on promotional design. Small businesses cut corners everywhere they can, but as they grow, they start to look for better quality to differentiate themselves. Designers can exploit this opportunity, educate their clients to the power of quality design. They shouldn’t be afraid of sitting down with clients and explaining just how they can help their businesses stand out from the crowd.

Angela’s next point is that, “You are earning less now than ever before and working harder”. Nothing special about design or printing there; almost everyone I know is working harder to earn less. We’re in the middle of the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression and one person doing the jobs previously done by two or even three people is the defining factor of the modern workplace. At least if you stick with something you love you can take some joy from your hard work. I used to work with a designer who would tell me regularly that he could make more money working as a cashier in a supermarket. He’s still a designer and I never saw a cashier that didn’t look like they would rather be doing something creative.

Angela makes a couple of points about competition driving profits down and companies’ willingness to ditch quality in the pursuit of whatever profit is out there. No question that the printing industry is under huge pressure, holding prices and shaving margins to compete. But again, this is true of many industries right now – from printing to healthcare, from technology manufacturing to window cleaning. Unfortunately, the sacrifice of quality is also common, but it is a symptom of short-sighted management, not of a dying industry.

And that’s Angela’s final reason for getting out – the print industry is dying.

No it’s not. It’s changing. It’s not even getting smaller (take a look at the numbers on Print is Big if you don’t believe me). The paperless office is a myth. Take a look at your desk. Any paper on it?

There is no question that we are using less paper in certain areas of our life than we used to, but there’s still plenty out there. And even if there were less paper about that doesn’t mean the need for design has gone away. The print industry is repositioning. Where it does a job that can’t be done better digitally – and there are plenty – it will survive.

My advice, if you’re in printing or a designer and you love it – Don’t quit. Try to work for a shop that sells on quality. Build your digital skills and offer complimentary print and digital services, but never lose sight of the advantages of print:

  • Boundless design possibilities
  • Immediate accessibility
  • Ubiquity independent of device
  • Longevity that the best batteries can’t get close to

As I said at the start of this post, I sincerely wish Angela happiness in her new career. But it seems to me that she quit a company or companies that couldn’t figure out how to adapt to the changes in the market not an industry with no future.

8 responses to Why Angela quit the printing industry and why you shouldn’t

  1. At nearly 50 years old, I’ve gone back to school and I am working to get out of the print industry. After over 28 years in the industry, I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs. As well as a lot of change, both good and bad.

    But the commoditization of the industry has gone beyond anything that a rational human being would willingly endure. There’s no longer any appreciation for creativity, skill, or finesse. It’s an industry full of people with hammers pounding each other into submission. Pay is in the toilet, loyalty is something in nostalgic daydreams, and the industry is under constant attack by so-called environmentalists.

    We’re on the Titanic and all that matters to anybody is how much they can squeeze out of us before we drown.

  2. Our Digital opportunities have led to print opportunities. So much so we need to bring on morre sales people who are willing to embace the opportunity. Were still looking if you know any good ones please contact me!

  3. I think you are dead on. Angela’s article read more like “Why I quit my design job.” Her problems don’t carry through the entire industry, just a few short-sighted printers. And I agree with you, I think they are problems she will have no matter what industry or profession. It’s the economy that we now live in. Was it Darwin that said, “It’s not the strongest designer who survives. But the one who is most adaptable to change.” :)

  4. As a student about to finish a degree in Graphic Design, I really have to say I disagree with people like Angela. I’m a print and web designer and there will always be work for me. I think those who are struggling being creative or getting work at all are just coming at the situation from the wrong perspective. To make it in the print/design world I really think you need to push for a synthesis of print and digital technologies and in that, there is a wildly rich, rewarding field to work in!

  5. Excellent article Peter, I like the Print Is Big Infogrpahic, here is another one, http://www.inprint.net.au/PrintingInfographic.aspx

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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    [...] Peter Houston countered with his own argument on his blog “Flipping Pages.” While Houston stated he wished Johnson the best of luck, he vehemently disagreed with her [...]

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    [...] of a career change – made the most sense. Others, like blogger Peter Houston, have remained steadfastly ready to defend the print industry, preferring to use terms like “changing” and “repositioning” instead of [...]

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