An inaugural conference responds to new realities—and explores how graphic design teaching has to change
Then came the Internet and, with it, the need for the designer to build that magazine’s online counterpart in web-safe colors—maybe with a little Flash animation thrown in.
Next arrived the latest touch-screen mobile devices, including the iPad tablet and Amazon’s Kindle, and things got really interesting. Instead of just worrying about another format and set of specifications, interactivity came into play. Suddenly, the designer had to anticipate and design for what the user was going to do next. And next. And next.
The end of this story? There seems to be none. More and more bullet points are falling under the graphic designer’s job description these days, and it’s only getting more complex. Globalism and “interdisciplinarity” are requiring designers to work in larger teams—some scattered in virtual offices around the planet—and alongside specialists in fields as diverse as anthropology, economics and engineering.
Responding successfully to these trends and others requires graphic design students to be lighter on their feet—and may require fundamental changes in how graphic design is taught. Just what types of changes are called for is the subject of “New Contexts / New Practices,” a design educators conference to be held at the College of Design on Oct. 8-10, 2010. The conference will bring some of the best-known design educators from around the nation and globe to wrestle with these new realities in the profession.
Santiago Piedrafita, head of the College’s Department of Graphic Design and Industrial Design, is especially excited about what’s afoot in the field. Recently installed as a board member of the AIGA, the world’s largest professional organization of graphic designers, Piedrafita led the committee that fashioned the conference and believes that now is an important time for such a gathering to discuss graphic design education, find consensus, and develop plans of action.
“There’s a huge paradigm shift in the profession,” says Piedrafita. “It has to do with the scale of problems and opportunities.”
The operable word here is “systems.” For example, no longer is it enough for a designer to design a logo and counterpart letterhead to represent a corporation or institution. Designers now create entire branding systems that can be applied across various communication platforms, from traditional print to new media touchpoints to supporting digital interfaces—just as quickly as new products and services appear on the scene.
Graphic designers still place high importance on traditional means of communications and messaging, but “experience design”—how humans come to understand and interact with complex design systems—has begun to carve out its own important territory as well, meaning that designers now have to reach far outside their training in order to better understand users and contexts of use.
Furthermore, interactivity has turned on its head the longtime goal of graphic designers to produce highly-refined end products. With interactivity, the user is creating a goodly portion of the content, taking the designer out of the driver seat—or at least carving out a co-pilot’s space beside her.
Connecting the Dots
Conferees at “New Contexts / New Practices” will respond to a number of additional trends, including how the shift from manufacturing to a service-based economy impacts the role of the graphic designer; whether or not American institutions are producing enough research that impacts graphic design practice; and how the graphic design discipline can respond to users’ increased demand for rich experiences.
A common motif that runs through the conference program is “connection.”
“ ‘How can it inform the larger context?’ That is an important question for the designer, always,” insists Piedrafita. “There’s just no way that a designer can only practice in a limited single solution, object-oriented approach. Even if they are doing something very specific, there will be possibilities and implications that do speak of a larger system, or another platform.”
Just as graphic designers need to see a bigger picture in the projects they work on, Piedrafita hopes that the conference will address in practical ways the issues that impact the field. At stake, he says, is no less than the very relevance of graphic design in the 21st Century.
Visit the “New Contexts / New Practices” website: http://www.ncsu.edu/graphicdesign/newcontexts.
Denise Gonzales Crisp • Meredith Davis • Amber Howard
KT Meaney • Matthew Peterson • Santiago Piedrafita
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