The capacity to make design move in multiple dimensions is no longer a novelty; it’s a necessity. That’s because technology has forced graphic design to be time-and-space–based. Understanding the storytelling arc is essential to making analog and digital design alike. Knowing how to move the viewer’s overtaxed eye from point A to B to Z is a skill that was once relatively minor. Increased data flow has turned narration into the primary function of design. Graphic designers have always thought about their audience, but now “user experience” is their mantra.
New technologies have also altered how designers do business, often turning them from service providers into entrepreneurs. Since there are so many variations in this flux, I asked some veteran graphic designers—those who have lived in both the B.C. and A.C. worlds—to reflect on how the last decade has altered their practices and, sometimes, their lives.
Jessica Helfand, Winterhouse, New Haven, Connecticut
“I tend to notice the changes in the profession less in terms of my own work and more in terms of the shifts in my students’. There was a time in the early 1990s when the then-new media skewed not only the perspectives of young designers but the economic environment within which they flourished. (As new opportunities proliferated, so, too, did the fat wallets that supported them.) Budgets ballooned, and so did egos—and none of it made for work that was that transformative or memorable or great. Leaner times make for better designers, more meaningful work, and greater challenges.”
Cheryl Towler Weese, Studio Blue, Chicago
“One shift I’ve noticed is that in many projects, we’ve moved from creating narrative to developing an informational toolbox or dashboard. Working in interactive media has given us greater control over how information is organized— formerly, a role that fell within a writer or editor’s purview. I think the development of new media has shaken up roles and allowed cross- fertilization. Clients are also recognizing the value of social entrepreneurship and the role that strategy and change management can play in the front end of design.”
Nicholas Blechman , The New York Times Book Review, New York City
Jonathan Hoefler, Hoefler Frere-Jones, New York City
“Both the practice of typeface design and the obligations of the designers have become considerably more complex in the past few decades. Twenty years ago, digital type was in its infancy and type design was a charming cottage industry. Independent designers, often working in isolation, could invent ideas for typefaces, produce them on the desktop, and supply them to nearby art directors. Today, the burdens of the entire world weigh down on the profession. Both our clients and their readers are distributed throughout the world, making the linguistic demands placed upon a typeface ever greater; and the requirement that typefaces function on a diverse and explosively growing number of platforms makes them evermore complicated to engineer and manufacture. A profession of one-man bands has developed into an industry of organized specialists, not unlike the way the profession evolved between the era of independent typefounder Claude Garamond, and the advent of the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. But that evolution took 350 years, and what we’ve experienced has taken scarcely two decades.”
Gael Towey, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, New York City
“In November 2010, we introduced our first iPad issue of Martha Stewart Living, called ‘Boundless Beauty.’ It wasn’t available in print, and it contained all-new stories. This was our beta test for creating simultaneous digital versions of our regular monthly issues, which we launched the following January for Martha Stewart Living and Everyday Food. For ‘Boundless Beauty,’ we took advantage of the new functionality available with the iPad with videos, slide shows, scrolls, panoramas, and animations. We created stories that would showcase these new functionalities (e.g., a peony story where you can glide you finger across a panorama of Martha’s garden). Being able to show before-and-after, step-by-step slide shows makes it even easier to entice readers and teach them. All of this does require new training and mostly a curiosity and willingness to solve problems differently.”
Ken Carbone, Carbone Smolan Agency, New York City
The advent of the computer ushered in the Great Design Democracy, and the ranks of graphic designers exploded. Now, great designers can be found in every 300-square-foot office around the globe, offering an expanded range of digital and interactive design services requiring new tools and new thinking. The barriers of entry to the profession no longer exist. Design is now a commodity business forcing ‘seasoned’ design firms to quickly adapt to the heightened competition. Clients benefit from this and have more choice. Having a ‘contemporary’ suite of design services keeps you in the game. However, the key to winning has not changed. Fresh talent, great design, solid client service, and the color red still breed success.”
Stefan Sagmeister, Sagmeister Inc., New York City