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  • Writer's pictureNathanael Lim

From Ballots to Beaches: A Reflection on Why Thoughtful Graphic Design Matters

Updated: May 28

Within my circles, there is a persistent devaluation of creative work, with graphic design often bearing the brunt of this disregard. This tendency reflects a broader societal trend where industries like finance and technology are over-valorised, celebrated for their perceived tangible impact and economic contributions. Perhaps, the trending audio of "I'm looking for a man in finance" resonates with such a wide audience due to this perceived prestige of individuals working in finance and its related fields.

a man in finance tiktok

Meanwhile, arts and culture are undervalued despite their profound influence on human experience and societal growth. This disparity not only undermines the importance of creativity in shaping our environments and identities but also stifles the potential for innovative thinking that can arise from the intersection of these fields.

Before dwelling on about my thoughts on graphic design and my impression from watching Netflix’s “Abstract: The Art of Design”, it's important to define graphic design. Specifically, I'll be referring to the episode featuring Paula Scher.

netflix abstract the art of design

Graphic design is the practice of creating visual content to communicate messages. Through the strategic use of typography, imagery, colour, and layout, graphic designers craft compelling visuals that convey information, evoke emotions, and capture attention. This discipline encompasses a wide range of applications, like branding, web design and print media. Graphic design blends creativity with technical skill to produce materials that are both visually pleasing and functionally effective, playing a crucial role in shaping how we perceive and interact with the world around us.

Compensation and Value in Graphic Design

Now that we understand what graphic design entails, we realise it includes various creative outputs. It's closely tied to how we perceive our everyday environments, from navigating crowded shopping centers to deciding what to have for lunch.

Despite our obvious reliance on graphic design, the prioritisation of finance and technology in our society translates directly to higher salaries and better compensation packages for individuals working in these fields. When comparing the average pay in different industries in Singapore, as provided by Glassdoor, a job recruiting site, a 33% discrepancy is observed. 

An employee in finance earns more than a graphic designer, with the former earning 33% more on average each month. This discrepancy arises because the economic value of creative work is less visible and harder to quantify than the tangible outputs of finance and tech industries, leading to a persistent devaluation of creative professionals' contributions.

Takeaways from Netflix's Abstract: The Art of Design

paula scher pentagram

Just as Paula Scher broadened my perspective on graphic design, I hope the rest of this article can help you reevaluate the importance of graphic design in your daily life.

2000 Florida Presidential Election Ballot

2000 florida presidential election ballot

Poor graphic design can lead to disastrous outcomes, as seen in the 2000 US Presidential Election in Florida.

Due to the large number of presidential candidates, the design opted for a butterfly ballot layout to ensure that the relatively elderly residents in Florida were able to see. However, this resulted in mass confusion because of an unintuitive voting method where the second candidate from the left was on the third checkbox instead of the checkbox right below the first.

This confusion led to a liberal, Jewish district inadvertently casting a disproportionate share of votes for ultraconservative candidate Pat Buchanan, who was widely viewed as an anti-Semite. The poorly designed ballot significantly impacted the election results and highlighted the critical importance of clear and intuitive graphic design in crucial civic processes.

NYC Beaches

nyc beaches wayfinding pentagram

The signage and visual identity of New York City Beaches serve as a compelling case for the significance of graphic design in place making and fostering emotional attachment to a location.

When Hurricane Sandy devastated New York's 14 miles of beaches, it was essential to restore them not only for recreation but also to symbolise the region's resilience.

The redesigned beach identification signs, featuring photographs taken at the exact spots where they are located, helped create a sense of place and capture the charm and romance of the beaches.

In shorefront neighbourhoods like the Rockaways, these beaches are central to community pride. The resonance of this thoughtful design was so profound that the signs were even incorporated into postcards for the respective communities, reinforcing the lasting emotional connection between residents and their beloved beaches.


While driving home the importance of finance and technology in Singapore, it's crucial to acknowledge that they should not overshadow culturally significant work like graphic design. There is a societal trend of undervaluing creative work, particularly graphic design, in favour of industries with clear economic contributions. Reflecting on Paula Scher's work, along with significant examples like the butterfly ballot design flaw in the 2000 US Presidential Election and the transformative redesign of New York City Beaches signage, reinforces the crucial role of graphic design.


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