There is a widespread and persistent problem of computer illiteracy in the world of upper organizational management in the offices and boardrooms where decisions are made about the operations of the organizations that run our society. Even now, twenty years after the internet became a daily part of our lives, there are still thousands of organizations that are run by executives with very little computer literacy. Older executives tend to be suspicious of computer technology and regard it as at best a necessary evil, or at worst seem to think it's a passing trend that they need to endure a while.
This problem manifests itself in the professional world as willful ignorance and refusal to learn anything beyond the most basic computer skills. Many executives want to pay someone to do it for them, so they don't have to learn as technology changes and the only organizations they trust for anything "computer-related" are IT infrastructure and security firms. That's not a problem when it comes to purchasing a suite of enterprise workstations for the office, but it makes little to no sense when selecting who to have your website designed by or design your logo.
There is a general attitude in the professional world that all "computers" jobs are the same. Programming is the same as web design, which is the same as IT, which is the same as photo editing, which is the same as graphic design, it's all "computers." In fact, while there are some general computer literacy skills that all those fields require and some overlapping skills here and there, each of those fields has its own set of specialities and indeed the best at each is a very distinct breed of professional. What makes the best programmer the best is having an engineer's mind for perfection and efficiency, but this type of mind is the not the best mind for an innovative, creative design job. Even more confusing for the computer illiterate is the difference between different types of design, graphic design is not web design, web design is not user interface design.
The following are some brief definitions of some computer based fields. Every professional should know and understand these distinctions:
• Graphic Designer - Graphic design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving using one or more of typography, photography, and illustration.
• Web Designer - Web design encompasses many different skills and disciplines in the production and content management of websites. Web designers often have a working knowledge of computer languages, but are not as skilled as web developers or qualified to write custom programs.
• Web Developer - A web developer is a programmer who specializes in, or is specifically engaged in, the development of World Wide Web applications, or applications that are run over HTTP from a web server to a web browser.
• IT Specialist - IT specialists assume responsibility for selecting hardware and software products appropriate for an organization, integrating those products with organizational needs and infrastructure, and installing, customizing, and maintaining those applications for the organization’s computer users.
• Cyber Security Specialist - Cyber security, computer security or IT security is the protection of computer systems from the theft and damage to their hardware, software or information, as well as from disruption or misdirection of the services they provide.
• Photo Editor - Encompasses the processes of altering, retouching, or enhancing photographic images.
• Layout Designer - Layout may refers to page layout, the arrangement of visual elements on a page for a print document or digital alternative like a PDF edition of a periodical.
• Interface Designer - User interface design (UI) or user interface engineering is the design of user interfaces for machines and software, such as computers, home appliances, mobile devices, and other electronic devices, with the focus on maximizing usability and the user experience.
• Software Developer - A software developer is a person concerned with facets of the software development process, including the research, design, programming, and testing of computer software.
• Social Media Manager - Creates and/or curates content on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Reddit, monitors those platforms, and responds to users.
Since they tend to be the firms professionals trust and turn to when facing a "computer" problem, IT companies and advertising agencies have become warehouses for anything computer related, often making the local IT firm or ad agency the de facto monopoly on everything from enterprise servers to logo design. As a designer, I can tell you that IT professionals often have a degree of contempt for creatively oriented professionals. So, over the past 15 years as IT companies absorbed this role wages for graphic designers were depressed significantly. The going rate for graphic design work in my geographic market dropped from around $75/hr to $10/hr. Which means it's often more profitable to wait tables or work in retail than it is to work as a graphic designer. Often, if an organization knows what to look for they can find a competent specialist for less cost than hiring a large IT firm or agency, and by working directly with a freelancer the person doing then actual work can make a much better living than if they got the work through an intermediary. Many IT oriented engineer or programmer types, who by their very nature may not have a sense of the aesthetics of good design.
While many graphic designers do not have the systematic, mathematical mind that make great programmers. An engineer may de-emphasize creative design in favor one-size-fits-all alternatives. Understanding what type of specialist is best for what type of job is an essential requirement for anyone given the responsibility of hiring or contracting to get a job done.
The lack of understanding by executives and HR professionals about the differences between fields, means rather than favoring the specialist in a particular field, the generalist who claims to be able to do anything gets the job. Someone trying to get a web design job who is upfront about their skills in that area and explains why their talents in graphics do not apply to software design sounds to the someone who is not well versed like they lack confidence in their "computer" skills.
Over the last ten or fifteen years, this problem rather than disappearing has bred a whole species of computer generalist. The jack of all trades, who can do anything he sets his mind to and in reality does nothing well. As the differences between these areas of expertise have blurred, more and more computer professionals even understand these differences and most will gladly claim to be able to do anything so as to make sure they get the job. I call this the "MacBook delusion." As the MacBook became the status symbol of the computer professional, the attitude that just because you have a tool that can do anything means you can do anything. As the mediocrity of generalists doing specialist work lowered the bar across the board, increasingly the only requirement to be able to qualify for a web design or marketing job was owning a MacBook. The object, rather than the skill required to use it in a particular field well, has become the definition of what it means to be a web designer or a programmer. While it's likely that a bright worker might have several areas where they are competent, executives and HR staff cannot afford to not know when to hire a specialist. There is a time when what you need is a web developer, not a web designer, and a time when you need a graphic designer, not a web designer. Computer literacy has become so essential for even the most menial administrative position. It is ludicrous that executives, and those tasked with making hiring choices for technically sophisticated positions, lack the commensurate understanding of the fields they supervise. For any professional at any level, being computer literate at a level of understanding the differences between these fields and complete day-to-day office tasks without tech support is just as important as being able to read and write.