Mac vs. PC, 2010
November 9, 2010 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Just how dominant are Macs in the professional Graphic Design arena nowadays?

Several years ago, the small private college that I work at eliminated our very under-utilized Mac Lab, pried the Mac desktops away from the few faculty that had them, and went single-platform on PC's. This was strictly an economic decision, based on the high cost of supporting a platform that was barely used and non-essential for us.

Fast-forward to today. We introduced a new Graphic Design major this year. Faculty in the program insist that they need a Mac Lab, that it is an unconscionable dis-service to our students not to have one, as Macs are surely what they'll be using in the workplace after graduation. The core software for the program is Adobe CS, which they've been teaching on PC's thus far, and they would continue to use if they do go to Macs.

Are Macs so dominant in the Graphic Design arena that we *need* them in order to offer a viable program? This is not a religious argument for me, strictly an economic one, and so far I've avoided taking a stance on it because I don't feel that I'm informed enough to do so. However, what I do know is that we're talking about a disproportionally high cost (once you factor in technical expertise, software licensing, etc.) in order to support a program for roughly 16 of our 2200 undergrad students. I'll advocate for a Mac lab if it's a legitimate need but not if it's based on the personal preference of two faculty, and at this point I don't feel that I know which is the case.

Thanks a lot for your insight. In case it matters, I'm in the mid-west region of the U.S.
posted by LowellLarson to Computers & Internet (32 answers total)
They're extremely dominant, still, but design professionals tend to be huge babies about this. I'm an IT professional that's relatively platform-agnostic (O'reilly Linux Certification, ACTC, working on my MCP-Server 2008) and it doesn't bother me going back and forth, but some of my friends/clients in advertising are hugely particular as to the exact keyboard macros, import utilities, etc that they use in their workflow.

That said, that many Macs should be a breeze to support, you can either bind them to AD directly, or use a OS X server to handle the OD/AD duties.
posted by Oktober at 1:20 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I'm going to vote for yes, macs in the graphic design world are pretty standard. If I were a student again (and I did some undergrad work in graphic design) I would not even consider a program where macs were not used. I think it's important to understand how to use the mac platform and the various programs before venturing out to the design world. Yes, you can use the same programs on a PC, but it's going to be a difficult transition to go out to the work force where you now have to translate all of the PC commands and shortcuts you just learned to a mac, which is likely what you will be expected to use on the job. I also think it's going to be more difficult for students to find jobs in this field without having mac experience.
posted by katy song at 1:22 PM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've been working with both freelance and in-house graphic designers (for publication design, exhibition design, web design, etc.) for about 15 years in Chicago and Los Angeles, and literally every single one uses a Mac, even though everyone outside the design dept. is pretty much inevitably on a PC.
posted by scody at 1:23 PM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

(Or, to break it down by numbers at my current workplace: our IT dept. supports about ten Macs for the designers, and a few hundred PCs for the rest of us.)
posted by scody at 1:27 PM on November 9, 2010

Macs are standard for graphic design and illustration work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:29 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Failure to have a lab full of Macs for this purpose will make a statement about your college's commitment to, and understanding of, today's graphic design world.

It is statement that you do not want to make.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:30 PM on November 9, 2010 [12 favorites]

Best answer: My design program gave us a choice: buy a Mac or risk being removed from your classes.

Macs are very dominant, but it does depend on what kind of place the Graphic Design is going to be happening at— in house, or a design shop.

For example, an in-house department at small or mid size company might enforce PCs only for everyone. If the company is large enough to have a sizable office of just designers, they'll probably allow them to go Mac. A design consulting agency is likely going to be mac through and through. A big enough place will allow employees to choose. Newspapers might tip slightly towards PC dominant. I don't have any advertising agency experience, but I understand that the art department will often be Mac and everyone else PC.

And FWIW, in-house jobs and newspaper jobs are often thought of as lower end, less challenging, etc. Making the argument "in-house shops will use PCs" is probably not going to win you any favors.

If you want to do a bit of informal research on this, take a look at 20 job postings. I'm going to bet most mention you'll be working on a Mac. If PCs are mentioned it is usually worth noting because it is unusual and a deal-breaker for some prospective employees.
posted by fontophilic at 1:33 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

They are so ubiquitous that I am interviewed about not using one. It's an oddity.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:35 PM on November 9, 2010

Macs are hugely dominant in Graphic Design, but if you are including web or similar digital media in your curriculum, you'd better have some Windows machines for testing purposes in your lab.
posted by Wossname at 1:36 PM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Following up on fontophilic: I've worked as a contractor with a lot of different companies' in-house design teams over the years; only one of them had their designers working on Windows boxes. (For what it's worth, they claimed to be perfectly happy about it, though somewhat self-conscious of how oddball it seemed to outsiders.) For that matter I'm lately seeing more and more macs on the developers' desks, too, even at largish companies.

In reality the differences between Photoshop on Windows and Photoshop on the Mac are not all that significant; perception is another story. A graphic design program based on Windows machines would send a strong signal to prospective students of either "this school is out of touch" or "this program is an afterthought."
posted by ook at 1:40 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Usually I'd come in to a thread like this and warn about how Mac-centric this community is, and to take any and all answers you get here with a truckload of salt.

That being said, you've got the answers above already, and they are correct. You're definitely going to want to get Macs for your Graphic Design major.
posted by Grither at 1:45 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I worked at Parsons not too long ago, actually as someone doing technology support stuff (not just computers, but definitely including computers).

I saw some of the folks who were more into game development using PCs here and there.

That's about it.
posted by dubitable at 1:59 PM on November 9, 2010

I am an advertising designer, and I have worked in both fairly large and fairly small advertising agencies from Florida to California. Everywhere I've worked, everyone has used a Mac, from creative to media sales to account management, and the IT department has insisted that they do. We've had PCs around for testing purposes, but no one uses them for anything else.

What freelancing I've done has been on a Mac, which has never caused an issue for anyone, and the shops I've freelanced in have all been Mac shops.

So, yes, Macs are certainly the dominant platform in my industry, and more than likely your students will be expected to be comfortable with one.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:05 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

However, what I do know is that we're talking about a disproportionally high cost (once you factor in technical expertise, software licensing, etc.) in order to support a program for roughly 16 of our 2200 undergrad students.

If this is the case, then you are running a ridiculously topheavy and inefficient organization. Macs, if anything, will be cheaper to support. In most cases, you'll be able to plug directly into your existing Active Directory infrastructure, and print/share files with windows machines effortlessly. I maintain both Macs and PCs as part of my job, and would probably be out of a job based upon how rarely I ever have to solve issues on our Macs.

Apart from your Active Directory CALs (which you're already paying for), you don't really have to worry about additional licensing. No antivirus licenses, no management applications, and no extra client licensing. Your costs for productivity applications (ie. Adobe) will be the same whether you are supporting a PC or Mac. Under Apple's Higher Ed pricing scheme, OS Upgrades are very cheap.

Odds are too, that you have a handful of IT Techs who are vaguely proficient with Macs. Because you're only supporting one or two dozen machines, you should be able to pick out the two with the most experience, and task them with keeping the lab running (which really shouldn't be at all difficult -- any Admin experienced with Windows or Unix can learn to maintain a Mac workgroup with minimal fuss -- these days, they're almost conceptually identical). Unless you're planning a huge installation, training and certifications should be unnecessary. Also, presumably you've already got tons of students with Macbooks --- I'm actually a little shocked that any acadmic IT administrator can claim with a straight face that they run an exclusively windows-based operation.

At the very worst, you can tell the Graphic Design folks that it's their own responsibility to maintain their workgroup, and just provide them with basic networking services.

(And yes, macs do dominate the graphic design world, although this really doesn't matter. You are not in a position to tell the faculty what is best for them. This is their area of expertise, and it is not your duty to call the shots.)
posted by schmod at 2:16 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

You CAN teach Adobe Creative Suite using PCs. (Kinda)
You CAN'T prepare students for a career in Graphic Design without Macs; it's what will be in their workplace for the forseeable future so it should be part of their education.

It would be the other way if you were training students for the corporate business world; you could teach them MS Office on a Mac, but since they're 90% likely to be sitting in front of a PC once they get a job, you'd be doing them a disservice.

Macs generally are pretty easy to support on their own; it's switching back and forth between platforms and mindsets that's burdensome for support resources. So don't let random faculty replace their PCs with Macs; put them all in the Graphic Design lab and keep all your OSX's in one basket. Support folks who are interested can get involved, but you'll find a few PC IT folks who will shun that one room like goths shun a tanning salon.
posted by bartleby at 2:25 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: Oddly enough, I've had a very different experience from others here; the two different web development/design firms I've worked for both had the designers working on PCs running Windows. What's more, all of the designers at both places primarily used PCs at home too, partly on the basis of cost, but mainly because they were gamers. Only one of the half-dozen or so designers I know has ever expressed a preference for Macs, and even he said he doesn't care much as long as it'll run the usual Adobe products; he just likes the look of it on his desk.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:32 PM on November 9, 2010

A few years ago I was a support tech at a Big Ad Agency. One day the IT director from corporate headquarters came by to demo the planned replacement for the Creative department's aging G4 towers and iMacs: a quad processor Dell workstation, an absolute beast, more powerful and significantly cheaper than anything Apple had in the lineup.

He was naturally run out of town on a rail, the demo workstation became my boss' desktop PC, and next year the Creative department had their nice shiny PowerMacs.

Anyway: just give them the Mac lab.
posted by a young man in spats at 2:48 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

A design program that doesn't have macs is not one I'd take seriously.
posted by nomadicink at 2:53 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I work in the Adobe CS extensively on both platforms, and moving from one to the other is pretty seamless. (The only thing I forget once in a while is to switch between Ctrl and Command). I don't really understand why someone would have a difficult time learning on a PC, or switching from PC to Mac when they enter the workplace.

Macs are the industry standard, so you're probably better off using them if you can. But for the record, I love my Mac, but I don't think it runs Adobe any differently or better than a PC with the same specs would.
posted by ella wren at 3:05 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another data point: I've worked in the design departments of both advertising agencies (print and web) and animation studios, in New York and Boston. Macs were the standard at every one of these jobs. When there was a PC, it was to run an ancient large-format scanner with no Mac drivers.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:25 PM on November 9, 2010

The question has been answered pretty thoroughly, but as a Mac-using designer I find it hilarious/insane that PS CS5 running 64-bit on OS X is less functional than the equivalent on Windows or running 32-bit on OS X.

If you set up the lab for Macs this little bit of trivia will be useful. Students learning PS CS5 on OS X will need to run it as a 32-bit app.
posted by Gandhi Knoxville at 3:35 PM on November 9, 2010

+1 to schmod.

As an architect, I straddle the OSX/PC divide; I like using macs, but (until very recently) the industry-standard AutoCAD was only available on the PC, so I've used both extensively.

To me, the user environment on each platform is functionally equivalent; hotkeys are different, but the software is the same, and the OS is basically transparent. There are differences, but a designer COULD learn to use a PC with minimal fuss. However, why force them to? Macs are dead simple to administer and there's no reason you shouldn't be able to support a small mac lab for the same cost as an equivalent PC lab. You may spend more on the hardware, but you're getting quality gear, and it will interface readily with your existing infrastructure.
posted by Chris4d at 3:59 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You know what? Get some of both. I worked in graphic design for about five years in a few different places in different parts of America. Some designers got PCs and some got Macs. Maybe it was just the industry I was in (web and some screen printing), but most of us preferred the PCs. Truth be told, it might be best to prepare your students for anything. If they rotate around the lab, they'll get experience with both systems. I think that's important. Learning how to navigate to files, printing and simple things like that can be different on both, even if Adobe CS is virtually the same.

And I think we're experiencing a bit of chicken and egg syndrome with designers these days. The designers in the company I work for insist on having their Macs even though the IT guy won't touch them and there are constant problems with the network. When they do get on a Windows machine, there is a lot of hand waving and shoulder shrugging. They haven't gotten the Windows experience that the rest of us have and their school trained them to believe that no other computer than Macs can possibly produce any kind of design.
posted by bristolcat at 4:39 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, it's probably also worth mentioning that you can totally get away with outfitting the lab with iMacs instead of Mac Pros. They make *fantastic* lab machines -- I got hired temporarily by a school in late August a few years ago after they suddenly got a pile of grant money to spend on 5 mac computer labs (plus another 4 portable mac-based laptop carts) in their district, which was, at the time, primarily Windows-centric.

I built images for each of the labs, cloned the machines, joined them to Active Directory, and physically deployed them to their final locations in about a week. That's about 200 computers, and I was the only one working on the project.

Mac Pros are very nice, but also very expensive, and arguably not worth the cost if you're strictly doing graphic design work. Buy iMacs, order a ton of RAM from another supplier, and have your IT guys install it themselves.
posted by schmod at 4:41 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Students learning PS CS5 on OS X will need to run it as a 32-bit app.

Photoshop CS5 on OS X 10.6 runs as a 64-bit app on hardware that supports it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:52 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone has covered it quite well, but I'll add my bit. I worked in different graphic design groups from 1998 to 2003. Since 2003, I have been involved in art and design education. I am currently an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at UNC-Charlotte. All the places I have worked and taught have used Macs. I think the biggest issue is that when students apply for jobs, graphic design agencies and other creative groups may balk at their Windows-only experience.

Really, a fair number of the students will already have Apple laptops and iPhones and iPods, etc. Apple stuff is becoming more and more mainstream. In the past few years, both my parents and my in-laws have moved to all-Apple environments (with a G4, a PowerBook, multiple iPods, an iMac and an iPads between them all).
posted by Slothrop at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, also, schmod is totally correct : in both of the schools I have taught for (Morehead State University and UNC-Charlotte) the design labs have used iMacs. UNC-Charlotte has about 100 graphic design majors spread across 2 20-seat iMac labs and one larger hands-on traditional studio. iMacs work just fine for design, short of video-intensive or 3-D intensive work. I have a Mac Mini in my home studio and an iMac in my work studio and they both do the job just fine.
posted by Slothrop at 5:01 PM on November 9, 2010

Best answer: I don't know that there's a good reason for this, but they're 99.9% ubiquitous at nearly every placed I ever worked that had a designer. If you want to reflect real world trends (Although, maybe not common sense), Mac-up.
posted by GilloD at 8:26 PM on November 9, 2010

This question has been thoroughly answered by people who know far more about it than me, so I'll just chuck in this bit of anecdata.

I've spent quite a lot of time in a European research institute in Syria, where Macs are to the best of my knowledge not sold. With lax copyright law enforcement, you could buy any Windows software for a couple of dollars, including versions in the local language--but no Mac stuff, because the market was too small for it to be worth pirating.

The institute had a small publications department producing mostly books and journals. Its four staff all had Macs, even though the institute had probably had to import them via the diplomatic bag and the Syrian staff probably had to be sent to the EU--or have someone sent out to Syria--for training.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 10:32 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

They should be exposed to both Macs and Windows. I am a typesetter at a small company and we exclusively use Windows (quirk of the company, I guess).
posted by cass at 9:06 AM on November 10, 2010

I work for an advertising agency in the UK and anyone who does pretty much anything to do with graphics does it on a Mac.

Also worth noting that all modern Macs can also run Windows in another partition, so you can have your Mac lab as overflow Windows stations if/when you need them.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:11 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another designer chiming in: our production department of 6 all use Macs even though the other 500+ employees in our company use PC.
posted by Windigo at 2:15 PM on November 10, 2010

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