The digital design imperative

Designers who can remain focused on the finer details are uniquely positioned to grasp the opportunities presented by our brave new digital world, argues Dean Johnson

Opinions matter. And mine has always been that if bad typography and Photoshop work don’t make your blood boil then you shouldn’t be a designer. If you can sit on the train opposite an ad featuring poorly kerned letters or view a Frankenstein’s monster comp of a ‘lead character when young’ movie prop photo and not twitch, you are creatively dead inside.

Slink away now if you’re unmoved by either example, or hang around and get motivated. The role of designer has changed beyond all recognition since I left college (it’s moved fast; I’m not that old). So what is graphic design? Well, before ‘digital’ it used to be relatively easy to define: branding, brochures, editorial layouts, posters, flyers and packaging, for starters.

That list still exists, but many brochures are now interactive, from PDFs to eBooks with websites that either replicate or deliver the same content. Great editorial layouts are still essential for tablet-based magazines and eBooks because the eye is arrested by the skilful juxtaposition of stunning images and intelligent typography. Posters, meanwhile, work on various levels, from the 48-sheet variety now on many digital Jumbotrons to our ever-increasing desktop screen sizes offering the scale previously reserved for printed posters. And flyers, unless they come from a local pizza delivery business, are now emails, Facebook posts or Tweets. We haven’t lost packaging from our high streets yet, but the online marketplace offers increasing numbers of virtually packaged downloads.

So, who gives a crap? Things change. Technology advances and forces us to move with it. It’s a take that can lead to the kind of sloppy Photoshop, branding and layouts that make me want to punch inanimate objects (or designers). It’s an attitude cultivated by creatives who don’t live and breathe design, as well as clients who believe our computers do all the work.

So snap out of it. And appreciate the incredible opportunities to not only design great visual experiences, but also to bring them to life as incredible user experiences. The graphic design label has been well and truly scrapped – welcome to the wonderful new world of design, where the brief to create postage stamps becomes the task to build instantly recognisable icons or miniaturised album covers and book jackets, where the fight to be seen and remembered provides the ultimate pixel-pushing challenge. Wearable technology and smart TVs will provide your next playgrounds, so start thinking about future opportunities to make a design difference.

Knock down the mental barriers and apply great design thinking to everything you do. Don’t assign different standards to different work or clients – we live in a world in which a local butcher can have as much global visibility as Wal-Mart. The world’s eyes are on your kerning, your cut-outs and your colour palette.

Discover 10 amazing examples of experimental design at our sister site, Creative Bloq.