An outlook on the designer's future

There is a connective path of thinking within design. Whether designing a digital app, a responsive website, a print campaign, a modern home set in the desert, constructing a painting, or leading a team meeting - all of these things are designed. In fact, most every thing we do in life is designed to some extent - from the way we dress, to how we communicate with one another, to the photos we post to our social media accounts. Design is everywhere. As a designer, I believe that designers develop a different sense of how to approach many various things in life based on the continued success and failure of being a practitioner.

Over time, a designer becomes aware of this sense in their work and it then becomes second nature to their existence. This process then bleeds into all areas of a designer’s life and the process of strategic design thinking is heightened from how one drive’s their car, to how we scan and order food from a restaurant menu. Time and thinking about things with a designer's outlook develops over time, adjusts/shifts and heightens itself to become an elevated form of strategic thinking, decision making and process evaluation in all aspects of life.

This is the result of years being a practitioner in a field(s) of work that forces the mind to think heavily about, not just the outcome of the work, but the process in which we arrive at that outcome.

But, designers are more than just practitioners. Designers are cultural thought leaders. Design moves us forward. As we continue to create more tools and accessibility for others to create, the discipline of design becomes a sacred place to advocate for the craft, the fundamentals, and the true mastery of creating things in a way that embrace virtuous aesthetics.

Designers are caught in an uncomfortable place. But like all things, discomfort causes growth.

There is an oscillation of holding on to the craft of our predecessors, and finding new meaning of design within our advancing society.

Design must focus on the holistic view of culture and society outside of the individual craft. The autonomous thinking of a multidisciplinary human where all creativity begins to connect. An approach to advancing our mindfulness as creative leaders. To break through from being viewed as a practitioner, and truly leading the minds of where society is to go from here.

The Design Practitioner vs. The Design Thinker

As design tools through digital and print mediums become more accessible across the globe, we enter an era of design that allows many to explore what it means to be a design practitioner; that is to say, the techniques and time put into exploring the actual doing of design is greatly accessible. However, with all experienced designers, there is a strategy and thought process that develops over time. Years of exploration, failure, success and repeating this process around the actual doing of design manifests itself in the form of strategy, process and iterations on an individual and/or group level of involvement. Over time, designers begin to develop a heightened sense of design, recognize the positive parts of design and transform from being a practitioner of the craft to becoming recognized as a thought leader within the industry and organization.

In this new era of digital accessibility to many various design tools, designers who have been honing their craft for years (and even decades) should recognize their role in this fast moving atmosphere. Instead of becoming bitter about the onslaught of fly by night design shops and many unqualified people taking on design roles for their own projects and organizations; I believe it's important that we begin to recognize the clear dileniation between a practitioner of design and a thought leader of design.

A practitioner is a worker.
The practitioner uses the tools nesseccary to work in the design medium required. In digital, these tools range from graphic design, prototyping, photo editing, front end development, video and motion design, among many other tools. The modern designer is multidisciplinary - not by choice, but by nesseccity of the industry, job market, and requirements of projects set forth by leadership who have recently begun to understand the value (economically) of good design.

A practitioner today has many responsibilities and is often regarded as a "unicorn" type to the organization, but, the reality is that these multidisciplinary designers are applying the foundational elements of design thinking across a wide range of tasks and mediums. These practitioners are examples of the true value of design thinking throughout multiple mediums, across organizations, and even in daily living. Design thinking is powerful and we are finally at the intersection of society where the value of this thinking will be an intrinsically important role within the advancement of commerce, culture and aesthetics both digital and physical.

Let us not confuse the value of design thinking with execution. They are different but possibly mutually beneficial. There are many design practitioners who are incredibly talented at their work but they lack the intuition or practical application of design thinking into their work. That is at no fault to them, but the oscillating balance between being a practitioner and a thinker is unbalanced. This is a dangerous space to operate. In my opinion, design will be moving towards the value of the ability to think as our tools for serving as a practitioner become more accessible and automated. Just as working in photoshop 15 years ago to edit pixel by pixel for retouching an image has become some from hours / days worth of work to a matter of seconds, being a practitioner in the execution is going to be more automated . Designers need to understand the balance and difference of a practitioner and thinker.

This balance and difference is the future of design and the design industry. Design must fully embrace the foundations of design in every aspect.

Without these foundations embraced and advocated at the highest level of designer, expectations of an end product is unrealistic is there is a lack of the foundations that have brought design to where it exists today. The execution within itself must rely on the balance between aesthetic, function, form, development, testing, feedback, experience, quantitative and qualitative data and aligning with the overall brand style and narrative. The metamodern designer takes all of this into account when working on a design. We cannot afford to have an unbalanced approach to our work with the role as designer in modern society.

As we move forward, we must not look at the design industry as having an identity crisis, but we must continue to advocate for the value of design, the importance of design fundamentals, communicating these values and providing true return on investment through every project. There is a great oscillation between being a practitioner within society and forging new paths with thinking and ideas and the future of design in society.

Metamodern empathy and design

The emotional intelligence of our existence can be understood, altered and designed to suit a better existence. The designer's thinking of this approach leads to us developing a better life and existence for all humanity.

Empathy is lacking within our society. The sincerity and concern for our fellow man exists in the notion of impractical approaches and a distance of trying to connecting human to human. The greatest design and work comes from an outward reflection of inner empathy towards an individual, group or people or humanity in general. Empathy is the driving force behind our thought patterns and how we interact with the world.

Understanding your capacity for empathy and having self awareness about this is a vital part for growth as a designer. Without empathy, we cannot truly understand each other. We cannot design for problems across the human existence. Empathy, most notably, has been considered a weakness throughout history, but as we propel forward into the oscillating space of our existence between sincerity and irony, empathy will be the driving force to uncover and discover the truest forms of what matters - and as designers - it is our curiosity that will move us forward to find solutions for these challenges.

Empathy is a powerful untapped tool. Empathy is the opposing driving force from our early design ancestors and greatest design icons. In the modern and post-modern era, designers (even the greatest) are wildly known to have been driven by their own egos. Seen by society as the alternative or contemporary artist in their own right, designers created for the commentary of society in either commenting on the large and inspiring ideas, or deconstructing these ideals and creating ironic work that created controversy, commentary on the state of culture, commerce and society.

But today, this ego-driven approach to design is broken. The designers who still hold on to this ego will be left behind. The designers who outright choose to design for their own self gratification will be seen as a problem to society. Within metamodernism, there is an oscillation between the modern and post-modern : this struggle exists within the designer and the message and/or the process and execution : but the driving force behind all of this should be empathy. The sincerity to prompt society to look in the ironic mirror, only to have the others question themselves, not to be told by someone else (a designer) what they should question. This oscillating dance is a balancing act that can only exist through empathy.

The design and art community is infiltrated with ego. The ego is a poison to productivity, great ideas and collaboration. Ego can be quickly recognized by those who always seek to get credit, or those who subtly hint at their taste being better than the rest of society. These egos need to be destroyed. This is not post-modernism.

Discovering empathy within design isn't directly related to the work, but a slow process within yourself as a designer and the awareness of how to interact with the world. The importance of empathy in the work is not just how it directly influences, but also how it is indirectly influenced. Sociological settings, human interactions, relationships with others, listening, awareness, vulnerability to explore/think/create with others are all areas in our lives that grow our empathy toward others, but also influence the work in positive ways.

The metamodernism of design

Design, as it grows into multidisplinary across print, identity and digital mediums becomes more and more closer to art and the designer referred more as an artist due to the lack of clarification on the designers role as practitioner, workman, and thinker in society - both socially and economically. Therefore, this lack of clarity causes the modern designer of today to represent the leading movement of metamodernism as their work and process is engulfed in the definition of metamodernism as a whole.

Unseen at the surface of society - a designer, in whatever discipline, (but especially in digital) engages in creating solid/concrete design based on fundamentals established over decades and centuries of the practice - only to knowingly accept that the design will change, shift and morph itself whether by the bastardization of development or from the results of an AB test and the learning from data - or an update to the design after years of additional work by the same designer or a team of other designers. A concrete approach with known fundamentals to a fluid process and end result created an oscillation within itself from designing work with passion, sincerity, and empathy to understanding the unlying fact of irony that this work will inevidebly change no matter what.

To me, this experience, strategy, process and set of emotions defines metamodernism as it exists today. The oscillation between two poles (modernism and post-modernism) and having enough self-awareness to understand and accept the diffferences regardless of personal preference.

There is a constant struggle between the designer and society where the view of the designer is seen as a workman, a hammer swinger, the last stop on the creative subway. Whereas, designers see themselves as providing deeper meaning, powerful thinking and strategy behind every choice of a design. The emotive dance between the perception of the designer and the reality of the work has created an struggling paradigm between the designer as a worker and the designer as a thinker.

The value of design has always been exemplified through history as the immediate visual communication to the modern culture. Designers have been at the forefront of culture, thinking, and progression. As this progression has led society to be inundated with technology, tools and social platforms for every person on earth with access to the internet to be part of this cultural immediacy, it begins to drown out the value of the designer. But, I believe, for the designer to survive, we acknowledge not only the oscillation of our work between being the workman vs being a thinker, but also the oscillation of the perceived value within our society.

The pendulum aesthetic

Design movements seem to swing like a pendulum. Back and forth. Minimalism, modern, sleek design is poised throughout our cultures and societies from the hands of designers across the globe. This ripple effect takes place every few years and we see a shift, well, more like a tidal wave of a certain aesthetic across various types of mediums, marketing campaign, product designs, etc. In a certain era of time, a designer could walk down the street and more than likely decipher the type of product, message, or campaign something was designed for purely based on the architecture of the aesthetic. The color, font style, texture, photography treatment and energy of a design can quickly render itself to being grouped into a thought-shared aesthetic within various industries at certain points in time.

This pendulum seems to swing back and forth faster and faster from the Swiss influenced modern approach of the Bauhaus era of design, to the reckless and abandon-all-rules of the ever chaotic approach of the 90’s. Somewhere between the two, we find the aesthetic of various designers who have garnered their own sense of style by focusing strictly on either side of the pendulum, or creatively balancing the two within their personal work.

The 90’s saw a group of designers who threw out all conventional design thinking influenced by the Swiss or Bauhaus modern movement and set out to disrupt every piece of visual they could get their hands on. Magazines, posters and prints during this time looked chaotic and completely destroyed. The visual language was oscillating and finding some sort of balance from all of the clean and minimalist designs that saturated the markets. Helvetica was an outcast during this time. Primary colors were disregarded. It was a playground of grunge and texture is and disturbance. It was reminiscent of the culture - it resonated with the music of the time (grunge and alternative came into the mainstream). And this pattern continued until the late nineties when Steve Jobs launched the visuals for Apple and the introduction to the iPod. The clean and minimal approach was back, with a notion of evangelical tones and zen approach to the visual brand. The pendulum was swinging back and soon every digital and tech company was copying the aesthetic because it was dominating the market. And on and on, this happens constantly throughout culture.

Furthermore, commerce, business and revenue sales tend to drive the swinging aesthetic pendulum back and forth. Designers either follow an aesthetic that is working at the time to provide value to increase sales and revenue; or they have bought enough time to explore, experiment and begin swinging a the aesthetic pendulum back the other way; if the sales follow, then so does the industry aesthetic.

Instead of bouncing back and forth, ever so often between these two dichotomies of design; clean vs. chaos. I believe visually, the true effectiveness of design lies somewhere in the moment where we can oscillate both at the same time. Presenting a clean product or brand in a very rough and distorted way. Or… a very dismal and chaotic product or work designed in a clean, minimal and modern way. To me, what I am trying to describe here, is that designer’s need to pay attention to the messaging and tone of the thing itself and use the visual approach to create the tension within the product, campaign or message. This approach creates an oscillation of a metamodernist approach to the work, and in turn, is more effective than the constant swinging of the aesthetic pendulum. It’s a difficult approach to take on and execute, but if done correctly, I believe has the biggest impact to resonate with our audience.

Working on smaller projects with a shorter timeline

Part of this business is the ability to turn out work at a timely rate for clients who need it now, because if you can’t do it, they will find someone who can, and willing.

Yes, things take time to custom tailor a clients needs for various projects, but when its a pretty cut and dry  project where the client, content and brand has already been established, you have to recognize the time to not try and reinvent the wheel and instead, put out good work with a quick turnaround.

As clients approach me for fast work when they need things done in a quick manner, I am ready for them. I am ready to take them on, dig into the project and turn out a product that they need and I can be proud of at the same time. It’s a difficult balancing act to handle, but worthwhile if you can have your ducks in a row. This doesn’t mean that you should cut your rates or sell yourself short.

For clients who need larger projects done, a lot of customization for a proposal goes into the process based on what clients need, but a lot of times people approach me with work that needs to be and is a pretty small project to take on, considering the types of projects I regularly work on. These projects are great to take on to fill the time when the larger projects are in a time of waiting. Sometimes, depending on the client, a project moves into a “hurry up and wait phase” and taking on smaller projects, I have found, is a great way to keep working, become more efficient, and get better at your craft on smaller scales.

Normally, for larger projects, I charge an hourly rate and base that rate on what information clients have presented to me, my knowledge of my work process and how long certain projects take, but for these smaller projects I base pricing on a flat rate. Anything that falls under the scope of work that needs a lot of attention and a large creative process to have a great outcome needs a proposal, meetings, and a lot of research before beginning the actual design and end product. But sometimes a client approaches me with more production-style work, and for those projects, I have decided to take them on to fill my already intense work schedule and at the same time, provide a reasonable service to clients who need quick turnaround for production work.

Here are a few things I have realized that help me pump out this work on a very timely basis is to keep a few key things in mind….

First and foremost, when going into a project that needs a quick turnaround and done really well, it takes focus. It takes a lot of focus. Every distraction under the sun can slow you down or cause you to lose precious time that you have allotted for this client and this project. Get rid of every distraction. Find a quiet place and a good timeframe where you can work uninterrupted for long blocks of time.

Organize your resources
Having your resources of textures, fonts, patterns, code, snippets, etc well organized will help you work faster as you can pull the pieces you need together to quickly turn out a project where a brand and content has already been established.

Streamline your workflow
As you work on projects, take mental notes where you need more time, what goes quickly and where you get hung up in the process. For me, most of my time is spent in the smaller details as I have many game plans for layouts on a grid-system and typography.

Turn off your phone
I absolutely refuse to answer my phone when working. If it’s an emergency, I’ll get a text or an email. Corresponding with clients via email for changes and updates is much better than having a client call you every day or twice a day or, even 5 times a day while you are trying to pound through some serious work. Having a Google Voice number really helps because I can have the voicemail transposed to text and then emailed to my inbox where I can quickly scan over a recent call without being interrupted.

Know your priorities
Major projects require the utmost attention for great outcomes and amazing results. Working on these projects are very mentally draining. It can become exhausting at times. Having these smaller projects at a flat rate are a great way to take a mental break from larger projects, but you’re still making an income, working on your craft, and practicing efficiency. But the key thing to remember is your priorities. Your larger projects need more attention than more production-style projects, and therefore you need to focus all of your attention on those projects when the time comes. Use your smaller projects to take breaks from the larger ones, but remember your priorities to your clients and deadlines.

Charge a rush fee
For smaller jobs that can be taken on, I charge a rush fee for these projects. Plain and simple, I don’t have to take on these projects, but I will schedule them in my workflow at an additional percentage cost for that client. Since the smaller project is usually a smaller budget, it’s only fair to charge a “rush fee” to get this work done.

I have enjoyed taking on smaller projects and being able to pump out good work for clients who need production-style work at a reasonable cost. Not every project can be a $10,000+ project when you are a one man design studio, but to fill the time between larger clients, I have truly enjoyed taking on the smaller projects and have the ability to turn them around in a timely manner.

There is no fold

As we continue to have new devices, new resolutions, new viewports and the growing need for responsive design, we must admit that the fold no longer exists. We are not working on 800×600 monitors. The web is changing, fluid, and non-linear and we need to stop the notion that our websites are built to not scroll.

Design for the web is built for form and function. It’s not a pretty picture to hang on the wall. It is useful information that extends beyond any fold at any time on any device.

With the growing number of devices entering the market place, we must acknowledge that it will be impossible to constantly keep up with new devices, screen resolutions and media queries to constantly design for current folds on mobile devices and browsers along with accurately predicting the future of screens and how to address those folds as well. It’s a broken conversation that does not benefit a mobile user. Mobile devices are built to scroll and users naturally scroll to find more information.

It doesn’t serve in our best interest to keep having the conversation about the existence of the fold.

The process is just as important as the product

Throughout my life I learned a few important things. One of them that always has stuck with me is the idea of the importance of the process. No matter what you do, how you do it and how you get there is just as important as the end result.

The process is just as important as the product. Learning about yourself, taking risks to fail and understanding those around you are just as important as the final outcome of a project.

For me, my creative process is one of the most important assets that I have. With years of education in communication and design, I realize that the process to develop a creative strategy is just as important as delivering a final product to a client.

The Process
While I can’t give away my ingredients for success, because, they are tailored specifically for how I work and what I have personally found to be a successful process for myself over many years; I can provide some kind of advice about this topic.

Start with Research
Develop a process that seeks to understand, evaluate and provide adequate research for whatever you are doing. Research is very important before embarking on any project. Again, let me say this. RESEARCH IS VERY IMPORTANT BEFORE EMBARKING ON ANY PROJECT. By understanding your client, what needs to be accomplished and the goals that need to be met, you can set proper rules and guidelines for yourself and provide your clients accurate expectations that they should have for you and your work.

Let them know
Once you have done your research, let your clients know what you plan on doing. This can be done through a variety of techniques. From wireframes, mood boards, creative strategies and proposals, you can provide your clients an idea of the summarized research you have done. This will provide a mutual understanding of the direction you plan to go in order to reach a successful outcome.

Execute with what you know
Next is execution. With all the quantitative and qualitative data acquired, meetings, proposals, phone calls, emails and understanding of what you plan on doing – you can now execute all of this to your final outcome.

Developing a great final product is what you get paid for. You are being paid to do something others cannot. But, you also need to lay proper groundwork to reach that final outcome. Take pride in the process. Nurture it. Revise it. Constantly evaluate how you do things and how you get the final outcomes and you will continually make your clients happy and build long-lasting

Good design is found in revisions

Good design comes with experience, but also revising and taking your time.

Design isn’t about owning a tool on your computer or having a folder full of free fonts. Design is about taking an idea and creativity communicating it to your audience. This article will describe a few key steps that I take with every design I work on and how I revise my work.

Design  is about finding solutions to problems and challenges that may arise. These challenges are usually faced with how to properly communicate with a target audience in the most effective way possible, while at the same time, having the ability to evoke some kind of internal emotion from the visual way these things are communicated.

Similar to writing an essay or thesis, design should be approached in various steps. Before opening up any program and starting to throw fonts, layers and textures around, it’s best to do your homework. Research is the key to beginning a successful piece of design. You should ask yourself these simple questions:

1. What is the goal I am trying to communicate?
2. Who is this for?
3. What is the target audience?

Once you have a good idea of the goals for your design piece, you can then enter the creative part of the design. This is what “separates the men from the boys” in the design world. Taking the goals and what you are trying to communicate into perspective and having the ability to successfully execute a design to not only communicate, but evoke some kind of emotional response with your audience will set your design, your client and yourself apart from the competition.

If your design doesn’t properly communicate the goals of the design, then it is not good design. Period.

Rough Draft
Write down a few key things that the design will include. Start with a few visual elements such as textures, photography. Find out what kind of color scheme would work well with this design, maybe it calls for a warm color palette or some very modern bright colors. I use to quickly find color schemes. It’s an easy way to visually see colors and palettes….

Last, but definitely not least, you should be able to decide (or have a rough idea) about what kind of typography this design needs. If it calls for a classic feel I usually find a nice serifed font like “Hoefler” or “Mrs. Eaves” or “Rockwell”. If the design leans more towards a modern feel, I usually think about popular clean typefaces such as “Helvetica” or “Futura” or “Franklin Gothic”. Depending on the type of design, sometimes I will work with a typeface in Illustrator and customize the typeface depending on what the design calls for.

You might be one of those people who can sit down, knock out a design on the first round and think “Man, this is awesome” and you’re done. I used to think I was that person. The truth is, everything can always be better than what it currently is. Always revising your design isn’t just a good thing to do, it’s necessary. The truth is, I will get into “design mode” for a few hours and come up with something that I really like. But I will save out that file and come back to it in a few hours or a few days and critically look at what I have done.

I usually ask myself these questions:
1. Is the composition correct?
2. How is the spacing throughout the piece?
3. Are the colors too strong or distract from the message?
4. Is the line height, font size, and typography working well?
5. Do the margins provide enough “breathing room”?
6. Do the textures distract from the piece?
7. Is the imagery/photography appropriate for this design?

Final Draft
Beautiful design doesn’t always happen on the first stroke of genius. Keeping in mind that revisions are necessary to find a solution to a problem (design) will help you be a better designer. Always ask yourself questions and try to find solutions to the challenges faced in any design.

Keeping these questions in mind, understanding your audience and realizing what you are trying to communicate are the core components to developing a design that is functional, communicates properly, and will make you a better designer.