This essay is part of “Defining the Studio of 2015,” an initiative by AIGA and Adobe that seeks the insights of visionary design thought leaders who are poised for the future. In this series, these leaders share an inside look at their plans, predictions and aspirations for the studio of 2015 and beyond.
Have you ever failed to define to a six-year-old something
that defines you? When it happened to me, my son and I were cruising through
Brooklyn to his school. In the thick of our daily sleepy
question-and-answer car huddle, Isaac threw me a curveball. “Dad, what’s
design?” he asked.
These three words and a curvaceous punctuation mark formed
like Voltron right in front of my face and drew me into a staring contest. I
didn’t know how to define something that defines me. And my answer had the
potential to define how my son would value—or devalue—something so important to
me. I tried to drive but Voltron kept looking at me; he wouldn’t even blink.
“Everything that isn’t made by nature has been designed.
It’s how people make everything,” I said.
I felt like a failure. Voltron made me flinch, and I had
taken what could have been such a magical moment and accidentally practiced
some sleight of hand on my son.
But my answer stuck with me.
If design really is how we make everything, how do we define
an organization, a culture and a workspace to make, well, everything? And
how do we do it at a time when everything is bleeding into everything else?
Right now, we’re all moving to the middle. Technology
companies, management consultants, advertising agencies, digital agencies,
innovation shops and design studios are rushing toward a fuzzy center point
where the skills we need aren’t so different. Research, data, interaction
design, code, storytelling, visual and written expression—some groups will be
more adept at some things but there’s no longer a clean line from “business
problem X” to “partner Y.”
As a result, the convenient ways we’ve sliced up design are
becoming inconvenient as we move toward the future. What happens if industrial
design gets pulled into this “fuzzy center” due to 3-D printing? Or fashion
design due to wearable computing? Or interior design due to smart surfaces?
And this is all happening at a time when digital media has
made everything elastic. Digital media has introduced more ambiguity, which
requires more small decisions than ever. (Compared to print and television,
very little is imposed by the medium.) What those decisions are and who makes
them will be what defines the design organization going forward.
So rather than telling you what you should do with your
studio, we’ll tell you what we’re up to here at Big Spaceship. We’re trying to
design our studio for lots of small decisions.
We define our studio with the invisible stuff. Lots of
invisible stuff. It starts with the belief that outcomes matter more than
outputs. Output obsession is a hangover from the manufacturing model where
factory lines and divisions of labor prioritize efficiency and the elimination
of defects. But if we’re not striving for repeatable outcomes, why define a
studio by a repeatable process? (When things don’t fit neatly into boxes
anymore, we know that trying to cram them in simply isn’t going to work.) We
prioritize getting to unique outcomes, an emphasis that demands ambiguity and
randomness—but not chaos.
A clear (and hopefully compelling) vision, mission and set
of values help us navigate the ambiguity. These mental and emotional frameworks
exist to guide and provoke human beings to make lots of small and interesting
decisions. While the manufacturing model and technology have made so many
businesses robotic and unemotional, we believe businesses that exist for
humanity—not in spite of it—will thrive. And we believe that we can help design
humanity back into business.
This belief drives Big Spaceship’s mission to create
marketing that’s useful and products that have emotion. And this guides the
direction our decisions take. But it is ultimately our values that shape how
those decisions happen. And they’re simple:
When these three things happen, we get interesting groupings
of people and skills bumping up against each other in random ways—yet guided by
the invisible stuff—and interesting outcomes materialize. And that’s something
all studios are striving for.
If “design is everything” and we need many perspectives to
solve problems and create new things, then we don’t need a new generation of
generalists in 2015 and beyond. The challenge doesn’t lie in individual
designers and their specific areas. The challenge lies in bringing people
together in ways we haven’t thought of and couldn’t plan for. (Because
processes don’t lead us to where we need to go. A lot of catalytic interactions
is where we need to go.) We need to design the studio of 2015 for lots of small
decisions—like how to define design for a six-year-old.
founder and CEO of Big Spaceship, employs an
original leadership style by staying extremely focused on the agency’s culture
and maximizing creativity as a catalyst for developing avant-garde campaigns and product innovations for brands including Absolut, Google and HP. His creative business model was profiled by Harvard Business School and is now taught in more than 40 countries throughout the world.
Mark Pollard, VP of brand strategy at Big Spaceship, leads a team of ten brand and content specialists on clients including Chobani and YouTube. He’s a brand planner who grew up digital and has been featured in AdNews’ “Top 40 under 40,” was named one of Sydney’s “Top 100 Creative Catalysts” and was listed by The Guardian as one of ten digital strategists to watch.
Today, designers are designing to
enhance understanding when form and content are conditioned by context and
impact over time. “Defining the Studio of 2015” seeks the perspectives of visionary design thought leaders
who have organized their studios—physically, technologically and
culturally—with an eye toward the future.
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