Ah, the world of technology. It helps us to manage our increasingly hectic lives and careers and stay in touch with everyone we’re connected to both personally and professionally.
However, the biggest question floating around the minds of many in the design industry is: does all of this convenience and instantaneous communication actually improve our ability to design outstanding deliverables for our clients?
In this article we’ll look at some of the more significant side effects of computer and internet technology from a designer’s perspective, and also explore some possible fixes to the most common problems, so that we as designers can change the face of technology, rather than the other way around.
Don’t Talk To Me?
Have you looked around you lately? Chances are, wherever you happen to be, there’s a group of people with their heads down or their ears plugged into a gadget. It may even include you. Well…if you’re reading this article online, of course it includes you. But people gazing down at their phones, tablets, or other devices while out in public has become almost the universal signal for “don’t talk to me.”
It’s hilarious, in a way; a communication device that blocks genuine communication. We live in very strange times…
As designers, it’s becoming increasingly hard to communicate with our clients face-to-face, because their faces are stuck behind their gadgets. Personally, I’ve only met three of my freelance clients from the past five years face to face. I find that remarkable, and yet I find myself wondering whether that fact has affected the quality of my work or the satisfaction of my clients. I’ve never gotten any indication that a client was dissatisfied solely because they couldn’t meet with me in person. If they were, they probably wouldn’t have hired me in the fist place. Would they?
As an industry, designers are increasingly turning to the web both as a source of income and inspiration for new projects. Designers read industry blogs and absorb all of the fascinating new work being churned out by their peers at a rate no human can reasonably keep up with. Each morning, my email and RSS feeds are crammed with amazing work that inspires me and helps me to set new goals for myself as a designer.
This is all well and good, but I suspect that we as a community are slowly sliding away from being inspired by the “real world,” the way the great designers before us were.
Nowadays, we immediately look to the internet for inspiration and reference materials – a Google search here, a cool blog post there, and we’ve got everything we need to get started on our work. Again, all well and good, and you can’t beat the internet for convenience and speed when you’re on a tight deadline. But perhaps we’re missing something important.
Many designers (myself included) actually need to be told to take a break from our computers and go outside to look around. When I was in school, my teachers regularly reminded us to put down the mouse and/or tablet, and simply draw inspiration from the fresh air and beauty of the world around us. I even had one teacher who was so distraught at our zombie-like attachment to our computers that she actually offered extra credit to anyone who had a passport or proof of a visit to a park, a nature reserve, or somewhere that wasn’t our room or office.
The sad part was, only a handful of students actually took her up on her offer.
Show Your Tech Who’s Boss
Our technology is a wonderful gift. It has allowed us to connect, create, and explore the world in ways that were unimaginable just a generation ago. I’ve been using computers nearly my entire life, and even I am sometimes shocked at the power and reach of my smartphone or laptop. These things allow me to be a better communicator, a better designer, and even a better person, because I don’t allow them to completely absorb the most important parts of my professional interactions and creative inspiration.
And that’s the main lesson I want to impart here. We should all be using our gadgets to complement who we are as designers, not to define who we are. You are not your smart phone, tablet, iPod, e-reader, laptop, or any other device. You are a complete person, capable of many different forms of expression that can take your design career to new heights.
It’s always sad when I see designers who seem almost shackled to their computers, as if their entire professional, or even personal, world will unravel if they ever take a break from surfing the web or checking email. Many don’t even realize that they’ve become so insulated – they’ve just been trapped by the expectations of our digital culture and they can’t see a way out.
Don’t be that designer. Look up once in awhile and smell the roses, and maybe take a trip and rediscover the world now and again too. After all, some of our most profound breakthroughs in design and art were made by observing nature. The Golden Ratio, anyone? Vitruvian Man?
Is this new virtual designer-client world of ours a blessing, a curse, or neither in particular? Is it simply a new reality of our modern business era, similar to the invention of the telephone, or are we losing something as we all do business increasingly anonymously? Are our clients missing out on something vital that only an in-person consultation or briefing could give them?
More importantly, how would we know what our clients are missing out on if we never talk to them? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, by the way. They’re more open-ended – if you have any answers, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
Finally, remember that tech devices are expressive tools, not expression or design itself. Just like a paintbrush and paints are not in themselves art, and must be manipulated in the hands of an artist if they are going to be worth anything. You are the boss of your technology, not the other way around. Don’t become a slave to your laptops, tablets, or other gadgets. Use them wisely and don’t forget the reason they and the internet were invented in the first place: to enrich our interactions with others and remind us of the creative power of our fellow humans.