When I was working at Disney, I was very intense about my work. I loved every minute of working in that environment. Surrounded by pure creative energy, lots of ideas, so many personalities; it was great.
I was passionate about finding ways to do really good work in a space that had already developed its voice and brand and meaning. So, for me, there was no struggle in finding with what or why the brand existed. The struggle for me was to give meaning to the new work I was creating. The tasks were without much room for creative freedom in the sense that we were building a billion dollar digital ecommerce platform. It was a lot of production work in the sense that the brand and voice and products were already in place. The meaning, for me, which I have recently discovered (years later) was the pursuit of design perfection – not in the artistic sense whatsoever – but in the sincere approach to the foundational elements of design and implementing them into a system. Unseen and unnoticed to the untrained eye. Executives, business stakeholders and project managers were sure to dismember and destroy most of the forward facing content and move layouts around to suit their taste, but for me, my fulfillment as a designer – which I didn’t fully understand while I was doing it, existed in the pursuit of the the foundational elements such as code, typography, line heights, grid systems, HTML, responsive frameworks etc etc etc.
The work may or may not exist in 10 years. 10 months. Or 10 days from now. The irony is that being a designer in today’s commercial landscape is that we are “needed” by a postmodern society because our value increases ROI, but they have no idea how. Our work influences and sells and convinces consumers to “pay attention” but those who don’t know why or how don’t see the value they just blindly accept it.
I remember working with older designers during this time. They went through traditional routes to get to where they were in their careers. They learned the art of design from postmodern thinkers who existed solely in a print world. The idea of a work being designed and changed was unsettling to them. I could hear in their voice and see it in their eyes whenever confronted with changes in a meeting or request to build it differently than what they preciously presented on a screen. For me, this made no fucking sense. I accepted that change and fluidity was imminent and needed. I was the responsive subject matter expert at Disney – responsive design fully acknowledged and embraces that fluidity and change isn’t an option, it’s the standard. And today, it is the standard. They could not understand my obsession with seemingly meaningless and “less important” parts of design, but my contrast to that is that I needed fulfillment in my work, just as much as they did (only to have it stripped away during business meetings). My fulfillment did not hinge on the acceptance of others, but in the sincerity of my pursuit of implementing the foundational pieces of design knowing that the rest of my work, for however long it exists, will be changed, destroyed, or bastardized into oblivion.
So now what? What does this mean?
As the tools for design become more accessible to everyone through various means of our computers, apps and web services, the barrier to entry for designing things aesthetically becomes obsolete. For speed and efficiency, this is a wonderful thing for business and commerce, but for the dedication and craftsmanship of designers, this is a dangerous path for our careers. Instead of focusing on the meaning and fulfillment within perfection of a single work, I believe we should shift our focus not only to the execution of our work, but to the strategy and thinking behind everything design touches. This means that every step of our process, as a designer, is just as important as the finished piece (which will more than likely change many times if you work in digital design). So we should apply the same type of attention to detail as we would with our typography choices and color palettes to executive briefs, business meetings, collaborations, and the holistic strategic thinking about how design can be applied to every aspect of a project – not just the visual.
The sincerity of our process and structure, I believe, is the next logical and important step for us as designers to recognize in our careers. We must face these intangible parts of our work with the same objective and subjective thinking we apply to the visual things we create. We are leaders in thinking and strategy, we just haven’t been told we are for decades. With the rise of design becoming more and more important in the process of any business or product, its imperative that we begin to sincerely focus on our structural thinking. Gone are the days when designers were the last stop of a business plan. Gone are the days when design was an afterthought to any product. Design is becoming a forefront of our humanity – not just in visual terms – and it is up to us to lead the way.
Things change. The landscape of design is changing. We have to accept this. Embrace it. And say to ourselves, “how can I take the value of the approach to my work and apply it to every aspect of my life?”