John Caserta
Letter to RISD graduating class of 2016, published in the RISD yearbook, updated a year later and published on Design Observer. This page contains 512 words and is filed under essays

Dear Class of 2017,

Just because you’re getting a degree in Graphic Design doesn’t mean you’re required to get a job as a graphic designer—or that you have to do it for the rest of your life. There may be a time when you stop payment on your Creative Cloud subscription and put away your laptop altogether. What I think is valuable about a graphic design education is that it prepares you to do more than enter the profession. Graphic Design, at its core, is a collection of methods that play out uniquely based on the particulars of the project and the personalities involved. This process transfers well to other professions.

Michael Rock argued in the essay “Designer as Author” that design is part of the message. How the message looks, how it’s seen, where it’s seen, how it’s made, all contribute to its meaning. Form does not just follow content, form is part of the content. This definition of authorship is often misunderstood (as Rock himself pointed out in a subsequent essay) to mean that designers are most valuable when they generate their own content. The misreading and riffing on the original phrase led to another two decades of other “designer as…” idioms, many by luminaries in the field.

Inspired myself by what designers are capable of, and by the activities I’ve seen designers enter into over the years, I’ve put together an extensive list of “designer as” aphorisms for you to consider as you begin your journey in and around the field. Maybe you will find yourself using design more than you describe yourself as “a designer”. A good design process, like a good education, provides no fixed pathway to success. The best part of designing are the unexpected turns. Be open to them, and to where those can take you—maybe even to one of the professions below.

  • Designer as producer
  • Designer as editor
  • Designer as printer
  • Designer as curator
  • Designer as conductor
  • Designer as interviewer
  • Designer as social activist
  • Designer as revolutionary
  • Designer as leader
  • Designer as mayor
  • Designer as ambassador
  • Designer as mediator
  • Designer as librarian
  • Designer as stylist
  • Designer as data visualizer
  • Designer as organizational consultant
  • Designer as dilettante
  • Designer as algorithm generator
  • Designer as forger (falsifies documents)
  • Designer as forger (melds metals)
  • Designer as linguist
  • Designer as talk show personality
  • Designer as educator
  • Designer as restaurateur
  • Designer as butcher
  • Designer as baker
  • Designer as artisanal candlestick maker
  • Designer as tie maker
  • Designer as recipe collector
  • Designer as entrepreneur
  • Designer as CEO
  • Designer as COO
  • Designer as C3PO
  • Designer as futurist
  • Designer as bullshitter
  • Designer as importer
  • Designer as mob boss
  • Designer as brick layer
  • Designer as naturalist
  • Designer as journalist
  • Designer as clown
  • Designer as con artist
  • Designer as graffiti artist
  • Designer as degenerate
  • Designer as religious leader
  • Designer as pun writer
  • Designer as namer
  • Designer as fundraiser
  • Designer as decliner
  • Designer as thinker
  • Designer as dramatist
  • Designer as therapist
  • Designer as life coach
  • Designer as parent
  • Designer as armchair quarterback
  • Designer as backseat driver
  • Designer as wanderer
  • Designer as investor
  • Designer as listmaker

See the article on Design Observer

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Interim Dean of Architecture + Design and formerly Department Head of the Graphic Design Department at Rhode Island School of Design. Founded The Design Office, a workspace for designers, in 2007, and ran it until its closing in 2021. Hear an interview that covers my teaching and design career. Read an overview of my work from The Noun Project. This site is updated regularly and outputs to a book with Bindery. Get in touch via email.