This column – 2020 GDUSA People To Watch: The Best Way To Predict The Future Is To Create It – was originally published in our January/February 2020 print edition.
New Year’s Resolution one liner: “I was going to quit all my bad habits, then I realized that no one likes a quitter.”
There are a million of these New Year’s quips, almost all bordering on cringeworthy. This particular line resonated with me, though, because there is no quit in us here at GDUSA where, against the odds, our print, digital and web presence continues to grow. We kick off our 57th year of publishing as we have so many other times, focusing on three pillars of our community.
First, influential and newsworthy designers whom we quaintly refer to as “People To Watch,” creatives we respect for their talent, leadership, success, insight, business-savvy, community service and newsworthiness. Second, we introduce you to a group of top students from leading design schools. Their fresh take on design, education, careers and life are energizing and hopeful. The third pillar – manufactures, makers, vendors, distributors – is featured prominently on our website in our ‘Designer-Friendly Suppliers + Services’ directory. These are the increasingly rare organizations — papermakers, printers, hardware and software producers, type purveyors and stock visual companies, and more — who understand, embrace and serve the graphic design marketplace. There is a symbiotic relationship between creators and their tools; we urge you to link up with these potentially invaluable partners.
It’s good advice but I fear it will go in one Year and out the other Year.
Connection and Empathy
2020 is a copywriter’s dream, expected to generate infinite puns about ‘clear vision’ or ‘creative vision’. Luckily, not one of our 100+ designers and students-to-watch employed the vision thing in their interviews. Instead, what they have managed to express, collectively, is an insightful glimpse into the state of the graphic design business and community.
The following are my take aways. But don’t take it from me. It’s all there for you to read in print and online.
• The future of graphic design as a profession is bright because great design has the power to communicate, simplify, express the essence of a thing and, ultimately, to enhance, advance and even shape commerce, culture and causes. Our world needs that more than ever. Effective communication is about human connection and empathy between messenger and audience. This is a scarce resource – and the true opportunity – for designers in 2020.
• Perhaps the biggest challenge of the moment is the need to adapt and accomodate to blindingly fast and incessant changes in audiences, tastes, demographics culture, not to mention media platforms and technology.
• Of this challenge, the importance cannot be overstated of discovering and nurturing big ideas and concepts that can capture and hold the attention of a fragmented, skeptical and impatient audience.
Digital, Data and AI
• Print is not dead and its classic strengths are appreciated, and that is affirmed again and again. Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged that the real energy and innovation in the design field is in digital media, interactivity, video, animation, CGI, even Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. As such, designers need to become more multidisciplinary and more open to collaborating with others who have a complementary range of skills, talents and competences.
• Data is on people’s minds. Designers must learn to incorporate and take full advantage of newly available streams of data so as to craft ever more responsive and targeted messages.
• Interest in Artificial Intelligence is on the rise. (Frankly, I was blindsided.) Designers are beginning to explore – and welcome – the advent of AI as a way to shorten repetitive tasks, leaving more time for creativity. This development presents opportunities and risks but, either way, AI is very much on the agenda.
Instagram, Of Course
• Instagram is, hands down, the most popular, useful and inspiring social media platform for creative professionals.
• Sustainability remains top-of-mind in terms of client branding and marketing as well as how, where and why designs are produced and reproduced.
• Graphic designers are, at heart, creators and makers. What careers would our People To Watch pursue if they were not graphic designers? Architecture, engineering, interior design, landscape design, fine arts, illustration, photography, chef-ing, music or music production. My buddy Max Allers would be (is) a professional race car driver; I cannot make that fit the template and will not even try.
OK Boomer Moment
• Our Students To Watch cohort love their schools and the idea of design school. They are impressed by their respective faculties, appreciative of the resources available to them, and see the immense value of being part of a community in which can innovate and succeed or, alternatively, experiment and fail — all while being critiqued in a supportive and almost family-like environment. Design school is life-changing and life-affirming.
• Every year we ask people to name their design heroes. The question assumes that we all share a common belief that the history of design is foundational, that there is an accepted pantheon, and that today’s designers stand on the shoulders of giants. I was concerned that this query has become irrelevant to millennials and students in an age that seems to reward immediacy, narcissism and anomie. Turns out, not so much. They know their history and they know who they like and respect. I think of this as my (most recent) OK Boomer moment.
• When asked for a mantra or saying to live by, the students most often quoted RuPaul and Sister Corita Kent. What that means, I choose not to speculate.
What He Said
I conclude with a quote from Gerardo Ortiz of Brands&People.
While I am not deep enough to fully comprehend Gerardo’s point, my sense is that it makes an important contribution to all the above. Noting that many of his clients “are leaving industrial mindsets behind” Gerardo states: “Just as manufacturing typified the last two centuries, applied creativity is the defining characteristic of thriving 21st-century economies. Our clients are moving forward into new frameworks, seeking business potential and competitive advantages through design, sensorial experiences, architecture, technology, strategic foresight, innovation, communication, culture, arts, filmmaking, content, and education. The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
What he said.