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Don’t Whine About Design: The Importance of Graphic Design in PR

Posted At: March 22, 2012 3:00 PM
by Rachel Childers

Like many public relations students, I thought that the graphic design classes I was required to take were something I could just check off my list. I thought it would be pretty cool to learn how to work Photoshop, because, let’s face it, we all want to know how to make ourselves look like models in magazines, right? Other than that I didn’t see any use at all for my graphic design courses. I thought, “I’m not going the design route, so what’s it matter?”

Boy, was I wrong.

Like many other students I have completed a variety of internships throughout my college career. During one of these internships I was a social media intern. I was told I would be responsible for updates to the website and, of course, the organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. I was also told that I would get some experience with branding. Sounds pretty safe and design-free, doesn’t it?

My first day on the job they told me they hated their current website, and they wanted it completely redone; they also needed a website put up for their partner organization. Like any good intern, I smiled and said okay while internally my jaw hit the floor. I was supposed to be there to add content and write, not design a website, much less two. Yikes! Yet I found myself responsible for just that.

I vaguely remembered something about designing a Web layout from a class, but to be honest, I had no idea what to do. I tried to remember everything the professor had said during lectures that I had previously deemed unimportant.

What was it about more than three colors? Why was I always getting scolded about proper alignment? What were those resources he gave us to make a designer’s life easier?

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to create the new website from scratch. I went to a site that offered free templates and set to work incorporating the company colors for website one: fire engine red, Big Bird yellow and navy.

Blending these colors into one layout would have been easier if the target audience had been five-year-olds, but it was too-cool-for-school teens who demand more visually stimulating material. I also had to create something that pleased my boss and a board of directors, without conjuring memories of McDonald’s golden arches.

In that moment, if I was thankful for anything learned from college, it was a working knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite. I had taken a class that taught me special functions of each program and a class that showed me how to use those programs to create my own ideas.

Design courses teach us the importance of a clean layout, proper alignment, appropriate size. They also educate students on the importance of having the correct number of images, along with how to properly structure images with content and how to create memorable logos. PR interns and practitioners use these basic design elements on a regular basis. Although it is assumed that they automatically know how to perform these design tasks, acquiring these skills is easier said than done.

Even interns in more traditional PR roles find themselves doing more design work than they ever thought they would. Along with writing press releases, interns often find themselves creating newsletters and brochures. Interns are expected to have these skills and would not succeed if they were not able to lay out these materials while also making them attractive and informative.

So, PR students, the next time you are tuning out your design teacher because you are not an advertising, art or Web design major, think again. You are in a field where you need a diverse skill set to compete. Yes, you need to be able to write, yes, you need to understand social media and yes, you need to understand design and design programs.

So, give yourself the opportunity to set yourself apart in the job market by absorbing the knowledge design courses offer. In many programs you are required to take them anyway, so learn all you can. Who knows? It might land you an internship, a promotion or simply set yourself above the rest.


  1. Post comment

    Rachel, this is a great article. I couldn’t agree more with the topic. I wish I would have paid more attention to Mike Little in our design applications class. I think focus on the design side of things for public relations majors should be stressed from the beginning of classes. For public relation students, fluent comprehension of design programs is second only to developed writing skills in my opinion.


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