Designers are afraid. On forums and Q&As young designers repeatedly ask if crowd-sourcing platforms and automated website builders like Squarespace will destroy their business. And truth is: maybe they will. Maybe this whole industry is facing a state of disruption just like many others have before.
If you are in the creative business for longer than some years you will remember the days when you would send designs for fine drawing and press proofing and all that pre-press stuff to a print shop. But than it all became easier with better DTP-workflows and cheap screen calibration. And a whole industry was shaken up and in deep trouble. Who can say that this will not happen to us designers as well?
The signs are obvious:
- There is more good design available for (almost) free.
- Extraordinary design is less important than sticking to the standards.
- Designers earn less than developers. (There is a nice article on these perceptions on uxmag.com)
It has become significantly more difficult to make a living as a pure visual designer. You have to focus on a certain aspect and be a real expert or be very state-of-the-art to be hired as just someone who makes things more beautiful. Once a web designer was someone who was making nice images of how the web could look like but today you need to know your CSS inside out, understand Java Script and PHP as well as SEO and content strategy—at least to some extend.
That is something all web designers moan about: How much more complicated the business has become. But it has become harder for all other design disciplines as well. Once you as a designer were happily reusing all those free fonts and icons and photos and illustrations for your own business which made you competitive and fast and cheap. But now your clients discovered these resources, too. And an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription is no huge investment, either. Suddenly your clients start making your job and designing brochures with free templates and send them over to a cheap and convenient print shop somewhere in the cloud. Suddenly each and every grocery store has a tasteful and well designed logo, bought for less than three hundred euros at a crowdsourcing service. These developments will transform the design industry permanently.
Remember Flash, you dinosaurs?
There are many reasons why flash failed big time. It was hard for developers to stay on track with ActionScript (Flash’s own scripting language) when it switched from version one to two and finally three. Adobe had a strong feeling of invincibility around 2000 and wasn’t afraid to turn away developers who didn’t like ActionScript 2. At the same time, Adobe didn’t invest enough resources to compete with successful open source software and failed to make Flash safe and reliable.
When Apple announced to not support Flash on iOS devices they justified that with Flash’s proprietary approach and lack of control over what it does to the operating system. Okay, hearing that from Apple, the masters of proprietary, is kind of weird, but true nonetheless.
And finally, the web has become more readable. Delivering content through an API or a feed of some sort becomes more important, and that is something Flash can not provide. So all odds are against Flash—even though it had some great advantages at a very early state: Vectors and multimedia, 3D and a great WYSIWYG interface for designers. But in the end it will vanish.
How does that relate to designers?
It seems like design may be the next sheep to be cropped. And designers—visual designers in particular, but coding designers as well—may be out of business sooner or later. But at the same time Design Thinking is a big buzz word. Here’s a nice quote from Steve Jobs I found at creativityatwork:
Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
Okay, designers may one day not be needed as cooks for eye candy or as the Photoshop guys. But designers still got a unique way of thinking and planning and coming up with unpredictable ideas. They have a sense for the right tone and for a less-is-more attitude. They walk through there everyday life and spot common impediments everyone else just got used to. They know a great user experience from a revenue driven sales approach. They understand that there is a tiny but massive difference between a product you need and a product you love. These are all must have skills for a brand to succeed in a service driven market. And designers are experienced in thinking this way.
Grab your skills and run
There really is no need to fear the end of the designer. Yes, not all designers will work as creators of icon families or corporate fonts or illustrators. And, yes, the job is changing. But staying ahead of the time, and knowing the zeitgeist has always been a core competence of creatives. That is the expertise you should hold on to. Grab it and run from the golden ratio and the perfect code. Learn to educate your clients and express your ideas. Learn to know your clients and to take them with you. You can utilize all your experience and talent to equip your client with the best design possible and at the same time make working with you a pleasant experience. Thoroughly developing the best solution possible—even with using frameworks, pre-designed material and established methods—is a demanding task for a talented designer. Just as much as designing every bit and peace of the artwork can be.
Of course, you still have the choice to stick to the way of the classical designer. You can keep on designing visually but you need to be really good to be hired to do that. Or you can try to make a living on stock graphics. That may all be a fulfilling and lucrative profession—even though competition is going to be tight—but the times when that was the usual job of a designer seem to have gone.