Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interacting with the system

Recently, I was at the AIGA design educators conference as part of the panel on Changing Conditions: Emerging Practices. The beginnings of a paper on design process and the inter-relationship between computer science and business was the basis for the abstract that I submitted. This may have been premature in the context of many design schools still in the throws of changing curriculum and evolving programs that do not include fine arts - the dejected brother. Some educators like Jon Kolko who suggested they throw out 2D I and II, and 3D I and II to start new foundations courses. We had just finished doing that 2 years ago, which leads me to believe we were ahead of the game for a change.  Some students (and professors) have difficulty understanding this sentiment because they see the logical connection to the fine arts and all that it brings to the discussion of the visual aspect of design. The difficulty they are having suggests that we have not done a very good job in communicating our perspective and why it is necessary to change and more appropriately evolve.

Visual Communication Design like other design disciplines have matured to the point where we have established the frameworks for the pedagogical, theoretical and practices of the field to the point that it looks to be a distinctive discipline. A continued evolution of research mainly coming from, but not limited to business sectors on marketing and persuasion have informed design. Theories that have been evaluated in practice by engaging the designer in these areas of research have codified our relationship with disciplines outside the fine arts. Design has also wisely embraced technology in an effort to keep up with the demand of business expectations. This too brings us closer to the marketing and business community. We have seen in recent years the elevation of design to be the center of some business models who have used the design process and ways of thinking to leverage their competitive advantage. These are not new ideas but they have not been described to the general public in terms of our motivation to move design to a position of intermediary. Designers who have implemented user centered design philosophy do not see this as a departure from a progression initiated in the 1990's. We have stepped up in ways that may disgust our fine arts brethren but design has been very savvy in its negotiations with business practices. Market strategy has as much of an impact on design as visual considerations.

More importantly we see that design has expanded into taking a leading role in communications and building a visual language that has purpose and functions to the benefit of humanity. Our responsibility to encourage the easing of readability, legibility and functionality do not stop at marketing and the advertising world. We have increasingly shown that design expertise is of value in directing traffic, promoting healthy activity, and warning the public of dangerous materials. We are also very good at creating interactive experiences that teach, guide, inform and most recently negotiate systems. It was also at the AIGA conference that the discussion of system designer (see Shelley Evenson from Microsoft what she calls service design) is beginning to emerge as another branch of the Visual Communication Designers domain. The systems that we are familiar with include campaigns that have numerous add-ons, communications vehicles, and opportunities for viewer impressions. This requires an understanding of a variety of context in which the communication is going to be seen, interacted with, or consumed in some fashion. Because designers currently deal with these different context it is natural that we deal with context to control a specific experience. The moment you walk into a public space you will soon see that your experience is tailored to you. The design of the visual world around you will encourage the things you enjoy and diminish the things you do not. Your child will be drawn in by gender, subject and development stage they are in so that they can be stimulated but not over looked. Designers will be called upon to create flexible environments that are customized on the fly for visitors.

All of this suggests that we have out grown our fine art roots and yet we still need to understand those principles that make systems interesting and engaging that catch the eye of the viewer to start the conversation. It is understanding all of these perspectives that makes design one of the most difficult professions but also clouds the definition of designer that makes it difficult for other professions to see that we are experts in any particular domain. We connect disciplines, we control experiences, and we design systems, and still, I find we need to communicate that design is more than just making things look good. It is a positive indication that educators are starting to see that we are strong enough to stand on our own and redefine what the next evolution for design could be.