Mac Attack

By The Drum, Administrator

October 4, 2007 | 7 min read

You've lost that felt-tip feeling

However, not all would agree.

Design purists now argue that the mid ‘80s arrival of desktop publishing and the introduction of graphic art software applications has done nothing but drive down the quality of creative thinking while heaping further pressures on designers. As a result, turnaround speeds have been sent into hyper-drive, while agencies looking to wow their clients present finished concept after finished concept. As such, the big idea is being diluted.

“You don’t need to be a skilled artist any more,” says Del Sneddon of Pocket Rocket.

“Still, the people who really benefit from any developments are the people who back it all up with a robust idea.

“But the intellectual idea is going to be championed over the next five or ten years as opposed to just the look and feel. That is how designers are really going to score if they want to make it big.

“There was a period during the early and mid-nineties where technology was the answer to everything. One of the things I found when I was at KLP and BD-Network was that clients want to see the idea first. If you don’t harness an idea in something, regardless of how sleek it looks or how easy it is to PDF, it doesn’t really matter.”

The loss of ‘the big idea’ is something that Andrew Wolffe, creative managing director of the newly formed Pointsize Wolffe bemoans. According to Wolffe, the idea is no longer thought of as the important part of the creative process as a result of the rise of technology.

“People are now relying on their ability to use technology rather than the quality of the idea, but it used to be that everyone was more interested in the idea. Now people are going ahead and just doing it, rather than worrying about the idea.”

The loss of importance of the idea may be central to the debate, however it is not the only change following the takeover of desktop publishing. Another aspect that the design industry has been heard to bemoan is largely the loss of time available to designers to think and experiment with work. The pace has been quickened and deadlines tightened by clients who expect to see quality work produced within ever-tightening timeframes, which were never possible using methods from just over a decade ago.

Says Joe Hall, managing director of City Hall: “If you go for the quick turnaround that the clients are looking for, in some cases, it can have a negative impact on the work. You’ve got to ensure that every part of the process is taken care of.

“The delivery process depends on the planning and planning is key when working with clients. The joke we have here is that you press F12 and it all happens. Turnaround has become so fast, if you aim to do things at that speed then often you’re going to fail.”

Despite the limitations of time, a good designer will still be capable of creating something special with the vast array of tools that are now at their disposal.

With powerful computers and software packages ensuring that ambitious creative design is now achievable, designers are also aided by incredible levels of intuition.

But Alistair Chisholm, creative director of Avian, believes that as a result of using intuitive design software packages, a large amount of “soul” has been lost from the more “polished” work being produced.

“It’s easy to sell, it’s easy to create and the commercial priority of ‘let’s make money’ will constantly rear its head. The job of a creative is to question, to start with the fundamentals of the big idea, and then look at the techniques to embellish it. New software allows you to throw everything including the kitchen sink at a concept but knowing what to leave out is a key lesson every creative has to learn.”

Sneddon believes that the use of technology has meant that much of the work has become “repetitive” and “mundane” and at times has not developed the output of the industry in the way it should.

“It has helped design to be harder and faster, but not necessarily stronger. Designers tend to fall into the trap of whether they can do something without questioning whether they should. It’s not to say that design is easy, but it is much easier than it was because of all of the information and tools that are out there. It’s easier to copy, it’s easier to plagiarise too just because of the information available, but that doesn’t make it any better.”

These grumbles aside, there is a feeling within the design community that it is thriving at the moment. There are more companies than ever in Scotland able to offer clients a professional service.

“Technology fragmented the industry,” claims Raymond MacHugh, managing director of Keywest. “The whole map of the industry has changed. If you go back to just 15 years ago there might have been around 100 companies in the central belt. Now there’s over 300. Technology has fragmented the industry to make it a lot easier for people to start up in business.”

Andrew Wolffe agrees that while there may be more companies in operation than before, it is simply due to the fewer numbers of designers needed by each agency. All you need now to launch a design agency is a Mac and an idea: “The main difference is that designers can now do the whole project, from the initial ideas and sketches to the finished art work. In the past, you would have had designers designing and art workers art working. Now you have an individual who can do both.”

Hall continues with this theme. “Designers are charged now with taking the work right through to the finished process.

“There are, of course, problems with this, but it also has its advantages. With the same designer working from start to finish on the one piece of work, there is a much greater degree of consistency. The idea remains pure to the end.”

“Design is more achievable for the masses,” agrees Angus McIntrye. “When you’ve got powerful software, it gives you the tools to be able to think about things in a different way. When you look back, previously you’d be lucky to add an effect to a typeface.”

No matter what the industry’s feelings are towards the use of technology in design, it’s something that everyone has learnt to live with. “Thinking none of it is relevant to you as an experienced designer can leave you behind with the threat of a younger, more knowledgeable generation of designers nipping at your heels,” says Matt Buchanan, design director at Teviot.

“Keeping up to speed with the latest software and its capabilities opens a whole range of design possibilities.

“Most young designers knocking on our doors profess to have ‘good working knowledge’ of multiple software applications from InDesign to web publishing software, to Final Cut Pro and more.

“Does this make this newer generation better designers? Perhaps not. But it certainly helps.”


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