Life, compartmentalized.

I’m actually pretty good at compartmentalizing my life.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Everyone, by design or by happenstance, compartmentalizes their life to one extent or another. You don’t necessarily include your grandmother when you’re out with your friends on a Saturday night, and you don’t generally include your boss when you go on vacation. For some people it’s more than that- the walls are more deliberate; not part of the ordinary social dance people do unconsciously on a day to day basis.

I compartmentalize a lot. A whole lot. I’d say that if you were to look at a spectrum analysis I’d be way, way off to the side somewhere.

As I said I’m pretty good at it.

It’s when things overlap (cue the Venn diagrams… again.) that things get muddy. Like this post. Because I actually didn’t know what blog to put it in, since it overlaps a bunch of different areas of my life. But ultimately it wound up here because the reason I’m writing this post rather than working (which I’d rather be doing) or sleeping (which I’d also rather be doing) is because design skills aren’t transitive.

I should explain.

My friend Val is a graphic designer. In fact, she’s a really awesome graphic designer. She is so awesome she has won 11? (I think it’s 11) national graphic design awards. She knows what she’s doing. She is not someone flailing around in gimp. She’s the real deal.

For some reason, people keep coming to her asking her to help design their house. Or their furniture. Or the order in which pictures should be hung on a wall. The color of pillows.

This makes Val want to stab herself in the eyeball with a shrimp fork. Why? Because she’s not an architectural designer. She’s not an interior designer. And she’s damned sure not a decorator. She’s a graphic designer.

Hold that thought.

I am not a graphic designer. Honest. Really. I swear. I took one *required* course in graphics for interiors when I was in design school, taught by a guy who was in his last year before retiring, had no idea how to use a computer and tried to teach us the history of fonts for 15 weeks. This, my friends is the sum total of my graphic design experience.

On the other mitten, I can use Photoshop and InDesign just fine- they’re things I’ve needed for design work. Just not graphic design work.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me to do graphics work for them I’d be a millionaire. (I’m looking at you, Andreas.)

“But you’re a designer!”


What some people know: I am also a DJ.
What fewer people know: I used to be a musician.

Many (many, many) of my friends are musicians. Musicians, much like artists (ahem) are generally short on cash, but long on charm.

I like my friends. I will in fact, do graphics work for them (usually for the low, low price of free) if they ask me. Because they’re my friends, and being a musician is hard enough (I remember it all too well, thanks, that’s why I am not a musician anymore.)

But the reason your designer friends try to talk you out of asking them to do something out of their discipline is not because they don’t want to help you. It’s because they wind up writing blog posts at 8:20 in the morning because they’re waiting on information that if they were IN their own discipline, they probably wouldn’t need.

In my case, I’m doing the latest CD art for my good friend John Montagna and his wacky rockabilly Beatles cover band band Hay Jude. I’m happy to do it (John, if you’re reading this, seriously, I’m happy to do it. Stop being paranoid.) But I’m stuck, because I don’t know what fonts were used on the cover art I was handed. So I can’t do the *back* cover art with all the song titles, or the spine text, or the title headers for all the booklet pages.

I can’t help but think that if I were, you know, an actual graphic designer, I’d know what the hell fonts these were and wouldn’t be sitting here feeling like an idiot twiddling my thumbs waiting for the info.

Design skills aren’t transitive. Really. Just because someone is a web designer doesn’t mean they can design a coffee maker. Just because someone is a graphic designer doesn’t mean they can design a sofa.

And whoo boy, am I not a graphic designer.

…waiting on font names….


  1. I am a Civil and Environmental engineer. I can’t tell you how often people assume that means I know how an internal combustion engine works, or how to wire a house. Heck, as a CE I would still hand stuff off to a Structural Engineer, because I don’t have the narrowly detailed info on how to GUARANTEE that bridge won’t come down.

    • I actually know how an internal combustion engine works! I know how a house is wired! I even know how your air conditioner works- I had to take *exams* on how your air conditioner works.

      You know what? When your air conditioner breaks I tell you to call the HVAC people, because just because I know how it works, doesn’t mean I know how to *fix* it.

      I know a number of really, really talented graphic designers. Val, RJ, Dare, Lokii. Actual real life graphic designers.

      And yet… I can’t get through to people that that’s NOT what I have my design degrees in. Not that I don’t want to help (and I’m happy, again, to do this for John) but I can’t help thinking they’d get a better product in the end if they just ASKED A GD.


    • It would have required I know the name. If I knew the name I would have just looked it up. They never told me the name.

  3. If you’re still looking, you may be able to do it by appearance:

    • No,Im not. they got back to me. About to start draft #2 of the back cover.

  4. I’ll add that a plumber is not a designer either. But they think they are. A client says, “the plumber told me that the color you chose for the bedoom is too dark. Can you change it?” Arghh. Fortunately, I prevail. Ever happen to you?

    • No, but that’s because you’re nicer than me.

      “I didn’t realize you wanted the plumber to do your design work for you.”
      “I didn’t know your plumber had a design degree.”
      “I didn’t know your plumber was sleeping in your bedroom.”
      (I can keep going…)

  5. I’ve used the site many times to identify fonts. It uses a system that let’s you type in the letters that you have in your sample, and it asks you questions about how the letters look; then if your are lucky, it gives you a list of fonts that match your responses to at least some degree. Sometimes it leads you to the correct answer very quickly. You don’t have to know the name of the font to the site in that mode.

    There’s also a site at called, which allows you to upload an image containing letters of unknown font and then gives you the results of its automated font recognition. also has a forum you can upload images to and the readers will voluntarily attempt to identify it for you. I’d say such people are crazy, but while reading your article, I wished you’d shown the album cover so I could try to identify the font.

    I’ve designed signs for twenty years. Places that have lists of job titles never have “Sign Designer & Producer” as a choice. The closest I can get is “Graphic Designer”. It is frustrating. A sign designer in a one day sign shop, like the one I worked at, doesn’t necessarily spend much time designing original logos. The work can consist almost entirely of manipulating text and or already designed logos and then printing and cutting the sign content.

    • In the end, ironically, I wound up not doing the cover(not because I said no, or my friend who asked doesn’t appreciate my work- I’ve done work for his albums before.) But mostly for me it’s about working out of discipline. My friend Val likes to say “Design skills are not transferable” and for the most part, I’ve found that to be true.

  6. The fact that you are a designer of any kind means you have good taste. You can tell when things go together or don’t. You know not to slap any old font onto that back of CD. You value good design enough to not just put something that looks ok on the back. You want and are willing to wait and suffer for finding out the correct font so you can use it.

    The fact that you don’t specialize in graphic design means the name of the font isn’t at your finger tips. Those are the skills that are non-transferable. Those are the skills you have to reach for because you don’t do them on a daily basis. You can do those things but it is hard work.

    The problem is from the outside, from the perspective of non-designers, the fact that you can do it at all is amazing. They don’t have the ability or experience to see the difference between what it takes to be a graphic designer and an interior designer. You live in the design world and for you the differences look huge, 180 degrees different. From the distance, the difference is only a degree or two. That is why others will ask you to design outside your field. Being any kind of designer means you will do a much better job than they would.

    Helping your friends is still worth it, you have the ability if not the specific skills. My take is that the best approach for others asking is to educate them how there is a big difference in design that they don’t see while understanding there is no way for them to see that difference for themselves.

    • Reading more of your posts, I can see you have got the educate the client thing and the similarities of different branches of design down pat. Maybe a more refined version of what I posted would be to focus on what your definition of skills are. Where does being a designer, someone who can see the issues and can create solutions to those issues, end and the skills of the specific version of design appears. Example: Designer=knowing how important the correct font is. Graphic Designer=Knowing the correct font.

      This might be a good way to approach educating non-designers in why they really want a graphic designer for their gig.

      (BTW I came across you because of your TARDIS corset). I am impressed with your posts and the thoughts behind them, especially the Graduate project one.)

      • Thanks very much, I appreciate your kind words.

        You’re right, that’s a good way of explaining the difference. There’s loads of others too- like how many different fonts to use, what is optimal text placement, etc. I have no freaking idea. That’s not something I was taught. But it matters if you want a professional looking product.

        Granted, the fine art of album cover design is fading since so many people buy digital only- but if you’re going to pay good money to have such a thing produced, I want to direct my friends to the best person for the job- and most of the time that just isn’t me- because I’m not a GD.

        I appreciate their confidence, and of course I want to help. But helping also means being honest about my limitations.

    • There’s also other skills that aren’t transferable. There’s rules of good graphic design. I know they exist, but I don’t know what they are. I always worry I am committing some awful error in what I’m doing.

      I’m happy to do it for friends, but I will always be nervous and ask a zillion times’ are you SURE you don’t want a graphic designer to do this? , because I think that there’s a reason that profession exists- they know things I don’t.

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