London Design Guide, September 2012
In September 2012, I was honoured to be asked to contribute an essay to the 2012 – 2013 edition of Max Fraser’s London Design Guide alongside the likes of Benjamin Hubert, Naomi Cleaver and Hugh Pearman. I went on to write the London Design Guide blog for a year.
The Internet. The World Wide Web. The Net. Whatever you call it, it’s about connections, networks, interaction. The days of design in isolation are gone, and for every downside of that, there’s an upside, often two sides of the same coin.
The designer now has the entire universe at his fingertips. He can research new production methods, search for inspiration and stay connected to a global community without ever setting foot outside the studio. Digitisation has removed the boundaries between designers and users. Ideas no longer stay hidden behind studio walls until they emerge as finished products – the consumer can now offer feedback at every stage.
Open design platforms like OpenIDEO and Local Motors take that idea further, opening up the entire process – not just for feedback but for contribution.
‘To become a place where good ideas gain momentum, OpenIDEO depends on participation – your inspirations, his comments, her concepts, our design process,’ says a passage on www.openideo.com. ‘It’s these efforts, these big and small moments of sharing and collaboration, that make this platform a dynamic resource. It’s a place where people design better together.’
But then public involvement in design has meant more than just feedback for some three decades now. The advent of desktop publishing and then the widespread availability of the Internet turned everybody into a designer.
The Internet has blurred the boundaries within the value chain. New designers no longer need big retailers; they can take products to market themselves. With access to a global audience for online sales, and marketing made easier through social media, who needs a middleman?
Design discourse is no longer limited to a few trade titles, either. Social media doesn’t just connect designers to audiences, it has democratised design criticism resulting in an explosion of dynamic and varied content.
But these connections take as well as give.
The would-be imitator has the universe at his fingertips, too. Big brands with low-cost labour can scout independent designers’ websites for ideas to steal and undercut.
Globalisation provides not only a wider audience for British products, but also a wider range of products for British consumers. The proliferation of Inspired By furniture creates consumers who cannot discriminate between originals and copies or simply don’t care. There’s a lot of talk about investing in quality in a recession, but the challenges facing the High Street suggest otherwise – it’s used all too often as a testing ground before we seek cheaper prices online.
But while marketing and e-commerce connect designers and audiences, they also create distance. Products need to be touched and seen to be appreciated. It’s difficult to differentiate genuine quality from churned-out junk on a computer screen. And with all that eye candy online, sometimes it’s easier to buy nothing at all.
The conversations that arise over a face-to-face transaction add value, too. They give provenance to a product and user insight to the designer.
The Internet might allow designers to market their products themselves, but those skills don’t always come naturally. A designer’s time is better spent designing. In fact, when asked during his Design Museum Twitter takeover ‘How would you improve Twitter for designers?’ Wim Crouwel said: ‘Don’t tweet anymore. It saves time for designing.’
Democratisation of design and design discourse is a mixed blessing. While it widens the talent net, it lowers the common denominator. Everyone is now a designer or critic. The market is flooded with poor-quality copycats, and too many blogs are limited to photos appropriated from other websites, presented without credit or analysis.
Like it or not, the Internet, Web 2.0 and whatever comes next are here to stay. The question is not: Do we like it? But: What will we do about it? The designers who flourish will be those who embrace the side of the coin that works for them and find ways to use the other side as a driving force for change – to push them harder, to make them better.
All copy is reproduced here as it was supplied by Katie Treggiden to the client or publication.