Pre-digital times…

When I began my career in the creative industry as a young graduate graphic designer in 1992, the use of computers and graphic design software was still something new and unfamiliar. In school, we refused to have anything to do with the new computer fad. We were all reluctant to use these ‘new’ ways and regarded them as impure, ‘traitorous tools of the devil’. Needless to say, I had to re-educate myself after graduation to come close to obtaining anything resembling a job. Buy a Mac or die!

(First published Sep 27, 2014)

In the early ’90s, the industry had already taken on the use of Apple and Macs to a large extent, while Adobe, Aldus, Macromedia, and other graphic software companies were digitally reforming the graphic design landscape.

In 1994 I began a course in Desktop Publishing (digital pre-press) and obtained a loan to buy my first Mac. Soon after that, I became truly ‘digital’, though one part of my heart stayed in love with the traditional “arts” of painting, drawing, and sketching. Over the years, this particular re-development or self-adjustment of skills became something of a habit and a necessity.

So, I went from hand-drawn illustration graphics to presentation design and multimedia over interactive design and later from the web to native apps. Redevelopment became an intrinsic part of the design process. In order to stay up to date, designers and teams of designers have to realign themselves to technology and find new solutions to a never-ending stream of new problems.

Another side-effect of entering the digital era was that the personal style that I had pursued and developed at art school had now become obsolete, awkwardly outdated, and seemingly impossible to combine with the digital world. In other words, how was I to combine a drawing in ink or a watercolor painting with a program like Illustrator or Photoshop and integrate that into the design of a CD-ROM user interface? In the beginning, the fusion was very difficult.

There has always been a duality. Digital or manual? How was I to keep my soul and integrity in this techno-crazy world? How was I to stay original and authentic?

I believe that, although deadlines need to be reached, as a creative leader it is more important to be a mentor or a coach than a commander. Help your people to evolve and push themselves to re-develop, and re-assess their work. It will make the team more flexible and self-conscious.

Today, the digital seems to have the upper hand but I believe that using manual (pencil on paper) ways to visualize or sketch ideas is an important way of getting things connected or compartmentalized in your mind or creative subconscious.

A while ago I managed a small team of young designers who would rarely, if ever, use a pencil or sketchpad, instead, they viewed sites such as or other sites that contained hackneyed, secondhand ideas. I used to show them how to sketch their ideas in a notebook and, over time, they started to draw and sketch too. Eventually, they created files on their Macs based on their own embryonic ideas to guide them with their creations.

To sketch or not to sketch, that is the question.
Professor Gabriella Goldschmidt

I notice that with the rise of responsive frameworks, the ubiquitous Google phenomenon, and the extensive use of templates, stock libraries, or DIY website builders everything tends to blur to the point that 90% of all new design is becoming sterile and generic. It almost seems that the hand and the role of the designer are becoming invisible and everything is starting to look the same, for example, Graphic design made simple? I doubt it.

I know that the process of simplification is the only tool we have at the moment to make content accessible and look good on a variety of devices. There is a lot of talk about the functionality of design and about the content being the main goal, but what about bespoke, original, and authentic design? Does it all need to be so automated and unified? Creativity in the responsive era, where mobile and web collide, will struggle until all browsers support all new technologies.

To study, how we can combine the rise of new digital formats but keep the intensity and heart of a genuine, authentic artwork?

The rise of computers in the graphic world forced me to change my style of work and direction. These were the 90s and they were chaotic. By the mid-90s, Adobe invented Photoshop with layers and we were now able to create very complicated layered work in minutes. Urban, techno, and ultra-modern styles, everything went towards electronics and high-tech, and ‘digital’ became a real style. Streamlined and sleek, but still with remnants of the 90s grungy chaos.

David Byrne explains in ‘How Music Works’, that the style of music and the way musicians play or use their instruments, even the way we listen to music, have changed because the technology in the recording industry required new solutions. For example, the amplification of the guitar was required in larger concert halls. This changed the sound of the instrument and the way bands created their music. The new technology offered a much broader palette and extra features. They had to play louder but could use a plethora of new applications and effects. We see the same happening with the evolution of digital audio files and internet music platforms.

In the same way can we, in the creative industry, and more specifically in digital design, claim that styles change continuously and at a constantly increasing frequency? Technology is becoming more and more embedded in our lives and work. Of course, there are other socio-cultural factors and recurring retro styles that will also determine new styles.

The use of new software and the way in which designers use their newly acquired tools, change art drastically, together with the demand for much faster results and an ever-evolving set of new digital formats and solutions in the advertising, printing, and publishing industry. Embracing new technology will push your artwork or creative team to design differently.

I experienced this with the sudden, widespread appearance of responsive design and animated HTML5 websites making old website design obsolete overnight. Designing for these new trends involves a new thinking process. You have to forget everything you learned before and start processing ideas in a manner completely opposite to what you have been used to. Not only do you have to change your style, but you also need a different conceptualization and design process.

I believe that leadership also consists of having a firm knowledge of the styles that are currently in trend and anticipation of new styles that might emerge. It is the task of the leader to inspire his/her team and to lead them to what could be the next style or technology without telling them what to do. Sometimes it might be risky, but they will have to follow and develop their own ideas.

How can you keep yourself or your team up to date with new trends in technology? Your style will change each time you encounter a new format. How to control when and where styles will change?