Photo by Tim Bones
It is an unfortunate truth that in our society, engineers are underrated. Compared to the scientists, architects, and politicians they work with, the engineers remain relatively unknown and are just those behind-the-scenes ‘elves’ who hold the ship together.
Are engineers disrespected, underappreciated, overworked? Is their role in society valued and rewarded? This debate is ancient, and it comes back into the light whenever something big goes terribly wrong. NASA scientists landed men on the moon, NASA engineers mixed up feet and meters resulting in the loss of an expensive satellite. You see my point.
What is A Graphic Engineer?
The design profession has it’s engineers too, and they are just as underrated as their sciencey counterparts. Their arena isn’t space tech or tall buildings, but rather packaging die lines and website code. I’m not talking solely about the production people, proofreaders, mechanical artists, programmers, etc., but rather those individuals who dedicate themselves to becoming Graphic Engineers. The Graphic Engineer (GE) is not identified by his job title or his skill with software, but rather by his mindset, his personality, and his work habits. He is someone who views the world differently and approaches every problem from a slightly steeper angle of incident.
The GE is a valuable member of any successful design team, and a good engineer can make everyone’s job easier, but they’re not always easy to manage or to work with. Here’s how you might identify, and then accommodate your GE, to get the most out of him, and your team overall.
How to spot a Graphic Engineer
The Graphic Engineer:
Is obsessed with Details.
Not just the obligatory ‘detail-oriented’ that every job description in the world includes, these people go above and beyond what most folks would consider ‘a closer look’. Spotting a misused Em Dash from 30 meters is just the beginning.
Values the methodology, sometimes over the results or the time frame.
Embodying the philosophy that “anything worth doing is worth doing right,” the GE will go out of his way to ensure that any process is done to the letter, including documentation and feedback, which often go overlooked. He’s the one most likely to create immaculate CSS style sheets, even if it’s just for an internal login page. Table styles in InDesign, layer comps in Photoshop? Most likely put together by a GE. Best practices, after all.
Never accepts “good enough.”
Along with his obsessive nature, the GE has an overdeveloped sense of duty, and never leaves a job unfinished. For that matter, he re-defines the word ‘finished’, and will take those extra precautions to ensure quality. After all, it’s his butt on the line when something goes wrong. Just like NASA.
Lives in a world that always needs fixing.
Rather than simply striving to make the world more enjoyable or more beautiful, the GE strives to solve problems, correct errors, and iron out all manner of wrinkles in the day-to-day of our profession. It’s a very blue collar approach to graphics but show me where the leak is.
How to get the most from your Graphic Engineer
Now that you’ve identified your groups GE (raise your hand if it’s you!), you have to understand a few things about how he works. Because GEs are unlike regular employees, a bit of tact is required to get the most out of your engineer.
Give him space.
This is both physical and metaphorical. Clearly, all GEs work better with a larger desk, larger monitor, more sunlight and square footage, and an ergonomic chair, but at the same time, I’ve never met a GE who worked better with bosses hovering and peering over his shoulder. In fact, that’s probably the easiest way to get shoddy work when you need it least.
Ask his opinion.
Personalities aside, GEs always have opinions. And those opinions are often based on independent research, industry knowledge, trial-and-error, prior experience, and good old fashioned gut instincts. In other words, those opinions are valuable and ignoring them simply isn’t smart. GEs want to improve their general situation (they live to fix leaks, remember?), so their advice is usually constructive. Also, ignoring those opinions can lead to bitterness, depleted productivity, and the whording of those same precious opinions and ideas.
Let him rant.
Since engineers are often under tremendous pressure, they may need to let off some steam. (pardon the metaphors) So let them. Do whatever you can to get the most out of your GEs, even if that means shaking things up in your studio. Ranting often brings to light feelings and thoughts shared by many members of the team but why not let your hardest thinker explain why the current situation has gone pear-shaped.
Learn from him.
The engineer is naturally a teacher. By providing knowledge, he helps elevate everyone around him and thus feels less alienated. Also, this makes his job easier because the rest of the crew is meeting him half way (or at least part way). Considering GEs are often well versed on the latest trends, languages, software techniques, and professional happenings, you might actually learn something when he pulls out the “well, actually” during a meeting.
If you’ve never spared a thought for the Graphic Engineer, now’s the time. Next you need him to tidy up a messy style sheet, extend a poorly cropped photo, or a revive hand-me-down Mac, show a bit of appreciation and understanding. Graphic Engineers are the glue that hold together the gears of the creative industry. Imagine your life without them.