The Internet: A Designer’s Worst Nightmare!

I have heard numerous people share that dream where they end up in front of people without any clothes on. Well, many designers have a similar dream: being in front of profs and peers in design school without a project. But these dreams are the least frightening for designers. What is scarier in today’s world is how the internet is changing the field of graphic design.

The internet as a disruptive technology has revolutionized everything: industry, spirituality, relationships, culture, education, health, government and…design. This has allowed graphic design to further integrate with other disciplines. Another upside has been designers getting access to free resources that once were expenses. Check out my other commentary The Internet: A Designer’s Best Friend to see specifically what those things are.

But the downside is that graphic design is increasingly viewed as a commodity by western society which closely correlates with the rise of the digital revolution. The accessibility and ease of use of electronic graphic design tools has made this field less mysterious. (Journalism is dealing with a similar issue.) Basic graphic design processes and filters have been integrated into other word processing programs, social media and website design platforms making visual content more ubiquitous. Instagram has been the inevitable outcome of this. Although graphic design is enjoying a renaissance of attention and notoriety today, I wonder if it has gained more respect. 

So, how has the internet been a designer’s worst nightmare?

  1. Code driven Design: There is a difference between ‘user centered design’ and ‘code driven design.’ The former explores behavioral psychology and old-school design principles (composition, white space, etc.). The latter puts too much emphasis on style trends and usually attempts to fill every space on a webpage. (In the past, I fell for the latter approach with its endless choice of website templates. But now, I use wordpress to tweak the templates or hire a developer.) Even though the best websites are often the simplest, the latter’s ‘tabloidy’ approach to web design creates more visual noise.
  2. More Hats to Wear: Being just a graphic designer is not enough anymore. Assumptions are being made about this term that may limit opportunities in some areas. The internet has encouraged the integration of disciplines by its very existence. The overlapping of computer science, coding and design has given rise to new professional terms using words like digital, social media, interface, UX, UI and more. 
  3. Plagiarism/IdeaTheft: Putting your portfolio and visual ideas on the internet means you risk others stealing or appropriating it. (I heard this is rampant in the fashion industry.) Since the internet connects us globally, anyone can screenshot/download anyone’s work and claim it without anyone knowing. Over the years, articles have been written by other designers about plagiarism in logo contests and the appropriation of their work by large companies.
  4. Hypercompetition: Since everyone is a designer and the internet is so accessible, everyone is looking for work online. Two years ago, someone contacted me publicly on Twitter about a project. Right after that, he received numerous aggressive private messages from other designers attempting to lure him away from me. (I eventually did not do any work for this person. I do question the wisdom of contacting me publicly detailing specifically what was needed. I still wonder  if this was his strategy. LOL) Professionalism seems to be disappearing and desperation is becoming the norm. 

There seems to be an argument circulating in graphic design about whether the field is being devalued with all of the technological changes. This is a hard discussion especially for designers who just finished design school with huge loans. But graphic design is more popular than ever. More people are foregoing design school and are using MOOCs (massive open online courses) to upgrade their skills or are simply using Youtube.

I still believe that the most competitive space to occupy as a designer is where you can translate your ideas into bankable outcomes for someone else. There are designers who create trends (often accidentally) and will ride that notoriety until the wheels come off. Even though they will be in the history books, the trend will eventually fade. We live in a knowledge economy now. Staying relevant does not mean chasing trends. It means trying to understand where things are headed (future), what has already happened (past) and how both affect the present.

To avoid the nightmare, you will have to become more than just a graphic designer. When this happens, you will be able to add other titles to describe yourself such as entrepreneur, educator, thinker, writer, sociologist, anthropologist, researcher, marketer and many more. This will keep you competitive. For the record, I claim most of these depending on who I talk to. The fun part is explaining how it intersects with branding and design.

How are you keeping the internet from becoming a nightmare for you?