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Design: Before and After – Friend or Foe: The Computer – What Happened to Design?

I can’t decide what to title this post. I have many feelings about this particular subject, and I’m not sure where I want them to land.

The subject is the computer and how it has affected design. There are positive and negative effects, but I think I’ll talk about the negative ones today. I’m in that kind of mood.

I’ll start this semi-rant out with a preamble: I’m a traditionally-trained designer, and was schooled in the pre-computer aided design era. So naturally, I view the computer as a tool. Like a pencil or a ruling pen. (I’ve lost half the audience with that one). The computer is an aid to my design; it does not drive it.

This leads me to my first point. What has happened to the concept, the thought, the sketching, the good ideas? I know that sounds dramatic. I realize that it still exists out there; but it’s not as common. Complaint #1 is that the computer commonly drives many design decisions today. Filters, auto kerning, software restraints, or lack of full knowledge of software capabilities—these types of things take over the thought behind the design. The designers’ design capabilities and style are equal to their software knowledge, and that’s a problem. Good ideas should not be squashed because of limited capabilities. Come up with the idea, and then go find someone to execute it, if you can’t do it yourself.

OK next. The pace. The design industry has always been fast paced and included late nights. But c’mon, it’s getting ridiculous. The computer allows us to create tight comps quickly, but we still need time to think, to create, to concept. There is an expectation now that didn’t exist before. Since the computer allows us to generate our thoughts so quickly into sharable visuals, the general thought is that we need less time. This is true to some degree, because we are no longer waiting for photostats or cutting rubylith, but we still need that research and thinking time. The computer doesn’t magically do that part for us. So complaint #2 is the ridiculously tight timelines that clients now expect because of the “magic” behind the computer.

And finally, let’s talk about collaboration. There was something really inspiring about working with the photographer, the illustrator, the production artist, a team of designers, and the guy at the film house. Or gathering the team to review sketches, getting direction along the way, and going out in the world to research. It generated more thought and allowed different perspectives. It forced you to move around, use your hands, perfect your skills, meet, and interact with many different people. I rarely just sat in my pre-computer design days.

Today, a designer can sit at a desk all day and (seemingly) find everything they need, without leaving the room or speaking to anyone. But, what they don’t get is the input and feedback from collaboration, which always makes design better. That’s my complaint #3. The isolation the computer has brought to design.

So, I guess after all that, I can eliminate the “friend or foe” title.

And “design: before and after” doesn’t really capture the passion I’m feeling.

So I’ll leave you with “what happened to design?”  I’d love to hear your perspective.

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