Today, when potential clients can download templates for business cards, stationery, websites, and book layouts, and bypass paying for design altogether, what’s a designer to do? According to many of the speakers on Day 2 of RGD’s recent DesignThinkers conference, you stop talking about aesthetically pleasing — but static — things and start talking about function, brand experience and flexibility.
“How are our brands and designs going to live on the platforms that haven’t been invented yet?” asked John Furneaux RGD, founder of Toronto design agency Projektor, in his session Designing Building Blocks — Not Edifices. “Define for clients the visual, verbal, emotional and tactile attributes their brand may need in the future. Create the pieces they will need to build their brand today, and start thinking about how those pieces can be taken apart and rebuilt tomorrow.” Furneaux, who talked about finding each brand’s particular speed or music, also believes that design should be adaptable and collaborative — you should not be afraid of other designers building on your work.
Similar thoughts about the fluidity of the design process were echoed in the U.S.-based keynote speakers who bookended the day. In the morning, artist and author Austin Kleon discussed how everyone builds on the work that came before — and that’s okay — it’s how you transform the elements you steal into something unique that counts. While in the afternoon, designer and author Frank Chimero talked about how design is a continual process of “articulation, clarity, fluidity and a journey from not knowing to knowing.” He also mentioned how many problems cannot be solved by design, but certainly can be diminished and managed on a continual basis.The themes of continuity and follow-through were also taken up by Michael Lejeune, in-house creative director of LA Metro, Los Angeles’ public transit agency. In an inspirational session about what can be accomplished in-house long-term, Lejeune stated: “There are no piddly jobs, everything is an opportunity for branding and clarity.” Every job, he said, is an opportunity for you to build trust with management, so that you are invited to those essential planning meetings. LA Metro’s — and therefore his — mission is to change the way the most car-congested city in the U.S. gets around. “Any and everything that is thought up in the organization flows through our in-house design agency.” Lejeune believes that designers working in-house can help solve important problems, but you have to stay put long enough to see the potential.
While, earlier in the day in a session on accessible web design, Adam Antoszek-Rallo RGD from Toronto’s Catalyst Workshop also emphasized the role designers can play to better society. In between the many practical strategies and tools shared for making accessibility a core part of the web design process, Antoszek-Rallo passionately advocated for robust function over aesthetics (though, of course, you can strive for both). Web designers have to be trained to design websites for functionally diverse users, for example people who use only keyboard commands, or those using primarily screenreading software. Like Lejeune, Antoszek-Rallo believes designers today have an opportunity to really make a difference. Arguably, people with disabilities have a harder time connecting and communicating with the outside world than people without disabilities. Therefore, said Antoszek-Rallo, “This is a chance to do something for the people who need the web the most.”
Designedge Canada is a DesignThinkers 2015 media partner.