Graphic Design During the Webtop Revolution

Posted by Arne Hurty on Mar 8, 2013 11:23:00 AM

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I lived through the desktop revolution. As a graphic designer I was definitely a rebel, on the front lines. Back in 1985, I made having a MacSE, a condition of taking any job. Exciting times. Typesetting shops were turning into digital prepress houses. Rapidograph pens, mylar, and stat cameras, were all rapidly becoming things of the past. Having drunk the Kool-Aid, I spread the word in my own way. I vividly recall indoctrinating my professor from UCLA, who also ran a high-end book-publishing house. I invited him to stop by after work one evening to spend a couple hours with me, and Aldus PageMaker. A message came a week later that he'd traded out all his drafting tables for Mac II's and PostScript printers.

People were very excited about these new tools and what they could do. The thrill of seeing perfect line work, smooth gradient color shifts, and high-resolution output using PostScript produced a feeling of empowerment that made us think anything was possible. However, with this also came a shift in what seemed to matter in graphic design. Initially, it seemed that with these tools, the skills of a designer were not as necessary. Some even said, "Now that this is so easy, what will all these graphic designers do? Jeeze, glad I didn't pick that profession." That phenomenon was short-lived, however, and the irony is that the graphic design profession continued to flourish and even began expanding at a much greater pace. After all, the technology just served to put more overall attention on graphic design and the value it could bring. At the end of the day, as in so many other professions, possessing the tools alone proved to be no assurance that you could use them, and the demand for skilled designers went through the roof.

Graphic design is more important than ever

So flash forward now to what I'll call the "Webtop Revolution." In the same way desktop tools changed the way designers executed their work, today the webtop revolution is changing the way marketing is executed. The Internet is now fast enough and ubiquitous enough to really support the vision of software as a service. Search has turned marketing and the way we connect with consumers and customers on its head. People "find" what they want and are no longer "told." The new tools coming out are revolutionizing the way marketing agencies, writers, and graphic designers work. However, in the same way the profession hit a short speed bump back in the 80's, we are hitting one now as well. The fast-paced, analytics-driven, text-content emphasizing, search-behavior 

Well, I say fear not. All of these tools, by putting so much focus on design are yet again building the need for excellence in graphic design. The web is certainly becoming capable of a better visual experience with every tick on the clock. Resolution, and quality of display, is going UP not down. Bandwidth is going UP not down. The discerning visual tastes and sensibilities of customers is going UP not down. These marketing tools serve not only to put more pixels in front of peoples' eyes, but also drive up the expectation of how relevant that experience will be. The templates and canned solutions for graphic design in this new revolution, found in these various new marketing tools, are stopgaps. They are playing an important role in getting it all off the ground, no doubt. They do offer a NO, in answer to the question: "Do I need graphic designers to do all this right now?" But I believe that's a short-lived NO. The follow-on question "Do I need graphic designers to sustain all of this?" is answered with big YES.exploiting aspects of this new "getting found" based marketing tend to marginalize the apparent value of graphic design. Design gets seen as something to "grab" or "plug in" from a template. People rely on canned approaches that are quick to implement. You might find some marketers saying, "Custom graphic design is a luxury and maybe not needed. With all these great new tools (templates) that are so easy to use, what are all those graphic designers going to do? Jeeze, glad I didn't pick that profession."

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Topics: inbound marketing, quality design, graphic design


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