Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part III: The Future
This is part three of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 (You are here.)
Are we really afraid? Are we afraid that we’ll be out of jobs or are we afraid the design can’t solve all the problems we think it can? Do we think opening up our toolkit1 — improvising, frameworks, storytelling, and delight — will ruin our field? Or is it possible that these are skills that can help push the world forward, shining light into the darkness?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part II: The Tools
This is part two of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 (You are here.) / Part 3
"The liberal arts have always been changing just as much as we have." —The New Liberal Arts 1
The liberal arts are those subjects that were considered essential for students to study. They provide the student with the tools they need to learn and a framework in which to navigate through the world. Somewhere along the way, we decided writing was something every student should learn. Public Speaking is a required course in most university programs. Could graphic design sit along side these liberal arts?
The Content Designer
Bill McKibben, in an article for The New York Review of Books on public radio, wrote:
Radio receives little critical attention. Of the various methods for communicating ideas and emotions—books, newspapers, visual art, music, film, television, the Web—radio may be the least discussed, debated, understood. This is likely because it serves largely as a transmission device, a way to take other art forms (songs, sermons) and spread them out into the world.
Design is a lot like radio. It’s a language of sorts. It’s vessel that can be filled with any type of content. As designers, a lot of our work is actually finding a way to communicate and transmit someone else’s content.
For years this is how our profession has operated—design means working for clients—but it doesn’t have to be like that and I think we’re headed to a world where designers make the vessel and fill it up themselves.
I’m about halfway through an independent study I’m doing for my senior year of school. I’m designing a series of books but I’m also producing all the content for these books. I’m involved in creating every single piece of this project from concept to completion. This is profoundly different from the way we are used to working. There is a new push and pull between the design and the content. I can do more than design around the content, I can now make the content fit the design as well. They constantly can influence each other.
Sure, designers will always work for clients because clients will always need designers and designers have always worked on self-initiated projects but the future is pointing towards the idea of designer as content creator; the designer who has an opinion and pushes that opinion out into the world.
If design is a language, and I believe it is, we now have the chance to create our own content and shout it into the void. With the economy the way it is, clients aren’t coming to designers as much as they use to and this is pushing us into the role of content creators allowing design to be finally be it’s own language and not simply an empty vessel. I think the time of calling ourselves print designers or web designers or interaction designers is coming to a close. We are all now content designers.
“The creative act is no longer about building something out of nothing but rather building something new out of cultural products that already exist.”
That is from Wired Magazine’s 7 Essential Skills You Didn’t Learn in College section on “Remix Culture.” I’ve been thinking about meta content recently; work that is based on preexisting frameworks and products. How many people make a living and spend their time writing critiques on movies and music and books? How many people spend their free time writing fan fiction based on their favorite television shows? How much art is built on preexisting works?
This bothers me. It frustrates and unsettles me. Is there nothing new? Are we simply left with dissecting work that’s already finished? I wonder how much time is spent (wasted?) making fan art, producing work that honors old content, or reviewing and critiquing new work that could be spend crafting new original art. I guess this is why I’m blown away when Sufjan Stevens writes a 25 minute song or a show like LOST comes along or that at half way through, I still can’t put down East of Eden. It’s like a breath of fresh air. A wind of new and original feels good amidst a culture of meta content.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this type of work. There is a place for it in culture. I just pray to God that Wired is wrong and there are still people producing amazing work from nothing.
And for what it’s worth, the seven principles in Wired’s feature are fantastic. I think each one is important in today’s culture. It’s especially interesting to look at them through the lens of design. Each skill is critical to today’s working designer; more proof that the creative fields are needed now more than ever.