If you want to know the future, ask a futurist
31st May, 2011 by Andrew Maher
If you want to know the past, ask a historian
If you want to know how to grow your business - ask a graphic designer
If you want to know what's next, wait.
It was at our monthly beer o'clock that I received the same magazine that many of you probably received but didn't read. On the cover sits the names of about 5 designers/groups who try to answer that burning question 'What's Next?'. In his response, Garry Emery brought up subverting business, Fabio Ongorato asked his collaborators for visual and short worded responses and Alt Group said something I couldn't read. These responses were good and a little insightful but all of them failed to answer the question, what's next for graphic design. Seeing as I'm an undergrad with no industry experience I thought I'd be the perfect candidate to answer.
Looking for an answer to the question 'What's next for Graphic Design' should always start by looking at the nature of our industry. It is the essence of Design to assist business or engineers in developing communications and growth, we are an industry that is after all only 90 years old (the birth of our industry lies in the birth of the Deutscher Werkbund, if you don't like me saying this let's debate it below!). Telling ourselves we are futurists, engineers or artists is little more than misleading, we are in the business of communicating business. It was under the modern credo of 'less is more' that we found the best way to communicate, our words were sharp, poignant and understandable, business became bigger when they made messages easier to digest and products easier to use, this remains true today; user interface is becoming more commonly user friendly and communications are being unified to send consistent messages to the consumer. Graphic Designers make messages easier to digest and business messages unified, of course this was up until the 1980's when post-modernism through that out the window.
Maybe that's where the confusion about what is design has come from. Before the 1980's design meant adhering to an aesthetic that made things easier to read, understand or use. Innovation meant that a business would integrate design in a new way, not design something differently (I feel the urge to cite the great Paul Rand "Don't try to be original, just try to be good."). When Postmodernism came around it was more important to give the consumer choice, superfluous as it was choice meant the demand for a designer to become more like an artist, often creating things that were useless to the function of something but meant that the user could customise it how they wished. Venturi's 'less is a bore' became the mantra of the day and we got sweapt up in creating goods that resembled art as opposed to design. This is my problem with the responses in 'What's Next', they don't seem to adhere to what is good design, they seem to try to answer the question without a grounding in function. Garry Emery essentially says what's next isn't anything we've seen before; what's next in his response is dictated by the inventions of the future, which is a good as saying 'I don't know what's next'.
We should be answering this question rather simply - what's next is more work. In the spirit of Paul Arden we should be sharing the ideas that we have of new ways to ingrate design and business. What's next will after all be what's builds business better in terms of design. This sharing is going on, it's on Landor Associates and Interbrands websites, they discuss businesses moving into social media and brands becoming more personalised. What's next for them is what builds brands better. This however is answering what's next in terms of design and business, not just the realm of Graphic Design, however many of the responses overlap. So then what is actually next for Graphic Design.
I'm relieved to be optomistic about this, as we seem to be taking a turn back towards modern sensitivities. Today the most successful computing company is driving this, Apple are heavily rooted within restricting the consumer to preserve functionality and their modern design aesthetics seem to preach to the consumer that this is better. Research entrenched design philosiphies seem to be getting greater recognition also, when we live in a society that demands the consumer know so much it is becoming more important to say your message clearly, or it might as well be not said at all. Of course the future of our graphic design aesthetics are heavily influenced by the technological innovations of the printer, we have already discovered the swiss grid, a mathematical model for layout and our own intuitive design sensibilities for creating layouts, what's next depends on what happens within the realm of the paper merchant, printers and digital media. The shift towards digital media means that greater demand for user interface design will be created, it is natural for the Graphic and Industrial Designers to shift into this field, as our knowledge in user centered aesthetics are a natural fit. MIT and Natan Linder are creating user interfaces that fit into lightbulbs and augmented reality is becoming todays consumers reality. This is where the jobs will be and probably where we'll end up. Essentially user centered aesthetic principles will guide what's next, if we find anything that's easier to use, that's probably what's going to change things aswel.
Of course much of this is mere speculation. I feel however a sense that as Graphic Designers we are forgetting what it is that we do, we don't engineer new creations, that's what an engineer does, we don't build sculptures or paint paintings, we may do this whilst calling ourselves Graphic Designers, but while we are doing those activities we are playing the roles of those fields. When an actor sits down to write a book, we don't call what they're doing acting, we call it writing. Graphic Designers today need to bear this in mind and remember that our role is to co-operate with business and unify their creations, on top of this we can adopt new technologies to design within, but what is essential to designing is the unification of business and mass-production.
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