Digital Reckoning


Being a designer in the digital renaissance is a boon … but with a growing burden.

On the side of being a boon, those of us who took the risk to migrate to the digital platform from traditional design industries, have been able to experience a bliss that is rarely hit on a creative level within the confines of corporate walls.

However, in 2019, we are crossing a threshold in that technology, apps, and software are putting tremendous publishing power in the hands of many, and simplifying design tools into abbreviated software for DIY enthusiasts obsessed with Insta-results over designed content.

The Reckoning

This post is focusing on the design discipline in our digital era. There are gigantic social, political, and ethical onions to peel regarding the interwebs, but I am focused on aesthetic arts, specifically the discipline of design being burdened in these virtual times.

And in focusing on design on the internet, it is important to tackle head-on the phenomenon resulting from the monopolization of social and content channels…

Good design is rarely valued for being good design.

Admiration usually stems from its ability to go viral, the amount of likes, or followers an account can draw.

As a result, there is candidly some pretty terrible design getting a whole bunch of eyes on it.

In considering the fact that online culture generally moves like a swarm of kids playing soccer, copycats and homogeneity rule feeds and exasperates the proliferation of not-awesome-design.

Polluting the digital design abyss, are certain tools and apps. Software that was the domain of the educated and experienced, is being translated into simplified DIY social content apps. These apps come loaded with faux “typesetting,” pre-made “graphics” galleries, color “pickers,” and stock photography.

As a result of this limited access to professional software, there has been a devaluation of design. An indifference to skill, education, talent, and experience.

Don’t Be Fooled

Being a designer who has been fortunate to experience online success, I have found it generally empowering and exhilarating.

As part of my personal growth and sustenance as a designer, I spend the first hour of every day reading and researching around the interwebs. It’s what keeps me informed, growing, and inspired. And just this morning while doing my usual “brain food” scavenging, I came across a genesis for shifting my perspective.

What broadened my concept of thinking about the current state of the interwebs, and the burden in its boon, was a clip Chance the Rapper retweeted. This clip rang true and down into the marrow of my bones. It certainly helped that it featured one of the most brilliant creative and artistic minds of the past century…

In the clip, Prince wisely states:

Don’t be fooled by the internet.

It’s cool.

It’s cool to get on the computer, but don’t let the computer get on you.

It’s cool to use the computer.

Don’t let the computer use you.

Prince’s statement goes on to expand to a wider ethos on the war for our minds, and our soul being the prize … which I 100% believe and align with. It is one of the reasons I am baffled that folks use networks for personal use like Facebook still (all privacy exploitation aside), and knowingly allow themselves to be conditioned and fed information by algorithms.

However, it is the first part of this clip that hits something I have been struggling with, and taps right into the inspiration, and introduction, of this post.


App -ropriating

Prince’s statement rang through me because “the computer” is certainly using design, design is not using the computer these days.

I have often used the analogy that there is a ton of music software out there, but just because you have the software, it doses’t make you a musician.

Software is not talent.

The same goes for all the design software and apps out there.

I have been going on for a decade about how “color pickers” are horrible, and no one should ever use them to create palettes. Do not even get me started on “palette generators” and the monstrosity of color noise they generate.

These apps came into popularity when Design Seeds went viral. And Design Seeds was like, viral viral … with consistently being within the top 30 source sites for Pinterest for a sustained time.

This boon was before Pinterest changed to the “similar pin” algorithm, and still rewarded original content by showing “other pins."

In Design Seeds popularity, certain folks did not see the value in my colorwork, they only saw color swatches next to an inspiring photo, and decided that “generators” could create palettes through algorithms by “picking” color from photos, and apps would be a big hit so folks could “easily” do what I had fifteen years experience creating and honing as a designer.

There have come to be thousands upon thousands of incredibly inharmonious palettes streaming through Pinterest and Instagram. Endless color combos created not by design, but by apps, algorithms, or folks simply hungry to get follows and likes.

This is a very real example of the computer taking over and using design, after a designer used the computer.

Algorithms Kill Good Art

To further exasperate the issue, algorithms such as Pinterest’s “similar pins” have rewarded copycat work at the detriment of those whose concepts and intellectual property are being violated.

These algorithms operate without any sense of good design or discernment… just likeness.

For example…

Will Ferrel looks incredibly like Chad Smith. But Anchorman would have ended up a heck of a lot less funny movie if an algorithm cast it, and Blood Sugar Sex Magik would have been an entirely different album.

We logically understand this and the limitations of algorithms, but we still allow them to kill good art on a daily basis.

Algorithms and the thirst for “likes” have millions of folks not thinking about the merits of work, or that the work is created by a designer, artist, musician, maker, writer, and so on.

Folks also got it so twisted, they have started crediting “the computer” for design, and have begun thinking it creates design and websites for them via “ready made” builders.

Not people.

Not talent.

Not experience.

Many have lost sight that folks are using “the computer” to produce successful work, “the computer” is not doing it for them.


Return to Class

So in this philosophical quandary about the State of Design, I have found myself personally drifting back to my college education, and the principles amazing design mentors had taught me in my most formative years.

We all know education is the key to everything.

We should never, ever, stop learning.

And in hitting your with more Prince wisdom, my favorite of his lyrics:

There will be a new city with streets of gold
The young so educated they never grow old, and
There will be no death for with every breath
A voice of many colors sings a song that’s so … bold
Sing it while we watch them fall

I’ve found this verse from Seven insanely insightful and inspiring over the decades.

And in thinking on how my little voice can be a hue in the voice of the many…

Beyond the design and inspiration I create, I’m starting a new series to include work highlighting positive information and adds to the education of design.

By shoring up the foundation of design, versus accolades (the results) most folks see across the interwebs, hopefully one of these quotes or insights will be a spark for someone to learn more about the designer, principle, or foundation.

My hope for today’s post, is that in reflecting on the digital reckoning, you too are inspired to think on how to support, educate, or contribute to shoring up design’s foundation.


StrategyJess2 Comments