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Concrete brand talk in an ephemeral world

Tomorrow Is A Great Time For Design

Tomorrow is a great time for design

Ferris Bueller said it well:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

It seems like every other day introduces a new platform, initiative, standard or way of working that forces us to question (if not completely rethink) what we do as designers and how we work.

The changes in our design landscape are ubiquitous and cut across disciplines and borders: gestural computing, social media, ePubs, mobile devices, outsourcing, cloud computing, 3D printing, design thinking – but it’s not going to help us to be afraid of these changes. In some small ways, our own moment seems to parallel the seismic shift in technology that began with the introduction of affordable desktop publishing in the mid-80s.

1985 ushered in software and hardware changes that rippled through that industry, eventually unseating a generation of typesetters, paste up technicians, and the companies tied to the previous ways of working (like those whose business models revolved around adhesive registration marks or rub on letters!).

The designers, page strippers, printers and others affected by these changes were probably unsure of what would happen to their careers and where they fit into the future. A precarious situation, to be sure, but as history has shown us, it was a time pregnant with new opportunity and growth. Professional design has evolved considerably, but those changes in technology and thinking have democratized and opened the field up for millions of talented professionals across the globe. We believe that similar changes are in store with our current predicament, and if we can manage the changes, it is a very exciting time to be a designer – a very exciting time for design.

Depending on your personality and propensity for change, these significant shifts might not be so welcome. At times, the onslaught of new ideas and inventions can feel like trying to wave off a succession of 95MPH fastballs with a soup spoon. But even though changes are often scary, the positive angle is that new technology, new ways of working, fresh ideas – all serve to enlarge our world of possibilities.

And to be blunt, we need to adapt in order to survive, much less thrive. Much like a book designer circa 1986, we need to start riding these new waves with a willingness to let them take us to new places. Not all of of the avenues and changes in our profession will pan out (that whole profit-ignoring business model of 1999 seems to have evaporated, right,, and some will fail spectacularly. But failure to at least dip our toes into the pool of experimentation will guarantee our individual irrelevance, and that’s not an option.

Looking around, after more than a decade in design, our perspective is this: We seem to be a transitional generation of designers, and it’s not clear yet what the future will look like. It’s not fully-baked; the future is unclear on where design will evolve to in the next 20-30 years. But we’ll need to find out, if we hope to remain relevant to our clients, our peers, and the culture at large. But how do you prepare for such an uncertain and unpredictable future? Without a crystal ball, we can only speculate, but there do seem to be some overarching principles and skills that the 21st century designer will need to have to grasp in order to own the future:

Become adaptable by embracing change
Those who don’t change will fade into irrelevancy. We must work ourselves into a malleable mindset, being able to flex with changes in professional practice, workflow, technologies, and trends. It’s not enough to keep up with Internet styles and the latest versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite. What are the new ways of thinking? Who are the “boat rockers” who we should take notice of? Are you ready to throw out old assumptions or ingrained ideas about how a project or type of execution should work? Can you change by increments, integrating bits and pieces into your ever-changing repoitire as time goes on?

Don’t lose sight of the past
There are ephemeral styles and trends, and then there are bedrock principles. It can be tempting to embrace every new “revolutionary” way of thinking or working as The Answer but the honest truth is that truly innovative ideas are still pretty rare. How do you separate the flashes in the pan from the actual game-changers? Can you balance new trends alongside the well-worn principles of good design? The best designers will keep both firmly in the field of vision.

Remember that today’s future is tomorrow’s present
With the hectic pace many of us maintain, it can be very easy to hang out on the other end of the spectrum as well. It’s tempting (and often easier) to just put your head down and work, focusing on the details of whatever project is in front of you. But if you don’t take a step back and consider tomorrow’s needs – anticipating the future needs of your clients, considering where your target markets are heading, or ascertaining what kinds of work will be most profitable in five years, you’re missing the boat. All of these thoughts take planning, and stepping back from the daily grind to consider from the big picture view at 50,000 feet. This goes for more than business planning – careers can be ended or developed along this spectrum. It pays to anticipate, because if you wait for trends, client needs and markets to present themselves to you, you’ll always be behind the curve. The best thinking designers will be constantly looking to the horizon, trying to anticipate tomorrow’s needs while juggling the work of the present moment.

Look beyond your career to the profession as a whole
Like it or not, we are part of a collective, an industry that is moving forward together, whether we are interactive designers, print specialists, brand strategists, industrial designers, or programming gurus. Changes in the increasingly global world, shifts in markets, industries and economies – all of these things affect individual designers, but they also have a huge impact on Design as a whole profession. New ways of thinking and practicing design (whether they are ethical [no spec], technical, or educational) all have a cascading effect on the types of careers we will have, and how the next generation will be received. It’s our duty and responsibility to consider how our actions (or lack thereof) will alter the course of design history. What kind of legacies are we leaving, both professionally and personally? Are we improving conditions in the world of design? Do you seek to mentor others, generously sharing what you know? Do you consider how your business practices will influence others and their view of design?

Whether it’s today or tomorrow, designers have a chance to make a huge impact on our world. So, let’s get to it.

Image taken from Art Radebaugh’s futurist column for the Chicago Tribune, “Closer Than We Think,” 1958.

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