How did we get here?
Media is no longer an ivory tower. As the years progress, the media landscape has continuously expanded and fragmented. Where once there were only newspapers, radio, television and print, the internet has spurred on an unprecedented growth of platforms. The most striking development in this fragmenting process has been the rise of interactivity in both media and design. People are substantially more involved in their media interactions, and they are armed with influence, and a voice. The consequences of interactivity in the present have shifted the role of the designer, and will continue to do so for the designers of the future.
The internet has brought brands down to a personal level. Dying are the days when Coke, McDonald’s and Budweiser could reach millions of eyes and ears at a given moment, each of their ads creating a collective experience among the mass of consumers. Media now plays a bigger but unique role in each of our lives, based upon individual media consumption habits. Brand relationships are more intimate, driven by repeated interactions on a wide range of platforms. A newsfeed ad on Facebook. Fifteen seconds of video content on YouTube. A sponsored Instagram post. A Spotify video ad. So goes the day of the modern consumer.
This “new world order” in advertising and design gives designers a better opportunity to forge connections between brands and market segments. Through online targeting, more information than ever is available to understand how people interact online, which gives designers the ability to tailor work to a specific audience. More informed designers create more effective designs, so we should see the increasingly technological and data-driven landscape not as thwarting creativity, but as focusing it. New technologies have given rise to new possibilities, like interactivity, which has elevated the potential of relationships between consumers, brands, and design.
Interactive design today
These shifts have also altered the role of the designer. Designs must no longer simply appeal to us visually or emotionally; they must stimulate us to interact with them on a non-superficial level. In order to do this, designers must be able to motivate, to show the value that engaging with a brand can provide. The creativity behind interactive designs is increasingly psychological, as well as aesthetic; designs must charm the eyes and the mind. Due to these considerations, designers must now craft their work with an emphasis on the conceptual. The internet is so crowded with beautiful, vibrant, flashy imagery that, in order to really hook your target market, your design must stand out through some kind of ‘added value,’ whether because it’s thought-provoking, funny, or has an interactive component.
Interactivity comes in many forms. The common thread between them is that they have turned design into a conversation, rather than a sermon. Previously, branding and design were tools through which companies and organizations could shape consumer attitudes and preferences. While this is still largely true, more than ever, consumers are able to contribute to a brand’s standing, for better or worse. Social media gives consumers the ability to interact with companies in real time, in areas of high visibility. This has only increased the importance and value of thoughtful design.
The viral culture of the internet means that both great designs and offensive/ill-advised designs spread rapidly, totally out of the control of the brand or designer. With the potential to wreck your brand’s reputation with one misstep, brands and designers are at the mercy of the masses like never before. This dynamic has bred a heightened accountability of brands and designers to their targets. Designs face intense levels of scrutiny, because of people’s ability to interact directly with the ads, designs, and companies, but it is not all doom and gloom.
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Interactive designs are celebrated for how they connect us, how they make our lives easier, how they allow us to express ourselves, and how they empower users. An outstanding piece will receive the praise it deserves, so as long as it is both stimulating and appropriate for the social climate, online creativity will be rewarded to a higher degree than was previously possible. An example of this is Bellroy, a wallet company looking to cut down on the weight and bulk of your wallet. By using interactivity to showcase the benefits of your product, they combine the benefits of a traditional retail environment, with the convenience of online shopping. A simple, animated and interactive home page shows off the wallet’s innovation production process, outlines the wallet’s features, and even has an interactive comparison tool that allows you to visualize the thickness of a Bellroy wallet vs. a traditional wallet, with an increasing number of cards in each.
While the media landscape has been so thoroughly fragmented by the internet, the next jump in both technology and interactivity will come with the rise of virtual reality. The consequences of this evolution will likely be as disruptive of the status quo as the internet was to traditional media, potentially even more so as VR technology becomes more sophisticated, to the point where designers can create fully immersive virtual worlds. It is extremely difficult to forecast the exact changes that will occur, but there are some fairly clear possibilities we can explore.
Virtual reality will allow for the creation of full environments and atmospheres, instead of merely imagery. This will allow designers and brands to place their target constituents in the exact scenarios they want their products to be connected with. Budweiser could simulate a beach party, placing you directly in the context of one of their ads. BMW, Lexus or Audi could put you behind the wheel of their latest luxury models. Outdoor companies like The North Face could put you on top of a mountain. Companies could also show off their office branding, giving a unique view into the setting where the work is created. By extending interactivity to full-blown experience, design will be less about creating beautiful accents to the world, and more about creating the worlds themselves.
These possibilities are just the beginning of the next transformation in the nature of design. Design has always been about expressing creativity through any means of available technology, and the fractured media landscape of the internet has made this clearly evident. Social media, apps, and web programs pushed the boundaries that had previously been laid by traditional media, and advancements like virtual reality will continue this process into the future, restricted only by the talent and imagination of the designer. Interactivity is just one of the many benefits to come from these advancements, but it is crucial in that it has allowed us access to designs in an unprecedented way.