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What it Means to be a Forward-Thinking Designer

Last month, I was catching up over the phone with Grace Dobush, executive editor over at HOW Interactive Design—chatting about sci-fi, the future, 1Q84, and other technonerdery—and the subject of interactive design and what it means came up. We mulled it over for a bit and came up with a plan: I’d put together a short series of blog posts for her about that very question. The result is a group of posts looking at what it means to be a designer—not necessarily what it means to design things—and questions things like specialization, interdisciplinary practice, screens, and what it will all mean 20 years from now.

Here are a few clips from the posts that are published so far:


Why You Should Consider Being a Generalist

“…while specialization is necessary for businesses, it’s not always necessary for individuals. In fact, I believe employing individuals who are generalists can bring immense value to a creative firm. A serious, disciplined generalist will savvily navigate many fields to understand the big picture. They’ll see influencing factors that may come down the road and may otherwise be hidden in the blind spots of your firm’s narrow focus. They are human synthesizers. They see the unseen connections between things and act as the trimtab of your ship—sensing even the subtlest shifts in the current and adjusting your trajectory accordingly. They may not be comfortable with commanding the big, heroic reactions necessary to survive the rogue waves that come up every now and then—but they’ll probably have had a sense that something was up…”


The Future Belongs to Multidisciplinary Designers

“…In a room full of designers, you’re a Graphic Designer, Interactive Designer, Web Designer, User-Interface Designer, User Experience Designer, Packaging Designer, Industrial Designer, Interior Designer, Game Designer or something more abstract, like a Strategist, Planner or Branding Consultant. And once we’ve divvied up the design kingdom into our neat little taxonomy, we spend lots of time bickering over the boundaries between one kind of design and another. Which is why we’re likely to be pretty careful about how we describe ourselves around other designers…

…Unfortunately, if a designer describes himself as “multidisciplinary,” another rolls her eyes and calls him an amateur. After all, multidisciplinary is a word you hear more often in academic settings than the marketplace. I think that’s bogus. So here’s where I may be courting controversy: I believe that a designer who is not multidisciplinary on some level has no future…”


Interaction is More than Looking at Screens

“…Back in the ’90s, forward-thinking designers started playing with HTML. The ones who did might’ve had a sense that the web was going to be a big deal, but it wasn’t a prerequisite for experimenting with design and code. It wasn’t long before the web’s big-dealishness was obvious, and the mood shifted. The web was no longer about experimentation; it was about work. For many designers who began their careers in print, the web was what they did now. Since then, the big conversation has been about making the print-to-web transition. And we’re still having that conversation.

But just like in the ’90s, there is something happening on the fringes today that forward-thinking designers are experimenting with. And if we’re not paying attention, today’s interactive designers could get left behind just like the print designers did 15 years ago. We need to start shifting the conversation from “print to web” to something more nuanced and much deeper. It begins with expanding our definition of “interactive” to push beyond work made for the screen…”


The next post will feature working designers and their opinions on what it means to be a forward-thinking designer today.

Check out the whole series and let me know what you think!

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