The First of Many Breakthroughs

If you weren't able to attend the first webinar of our six-part series—“Breakthroughs: Where Inspiration and Technology Meet”—let me sum things up for you with a few pivotal words: Complication. Democratization. Commodification. Devaluation. Education. Exploration. Articulation. Inspiration.

In an effort to help AIGA members bridge the digital and analog gaps in design practice, our first webinar was meant to be an overview of the series—a keynote, if you will. Our guest speakers were Rob Girling, founder and principal of Artefact, and Kiyo Toma, product manager for Adobe.


Today's designers are tasked with designing products and communications for which the context in which they're consumed is unknown. Consequently, design artifacts need to be dynamic and flexible. While designing for a book or printed piece, the end form is fixed and immutable. Not so when designing for today's media consumption devices. Designers must be able to design once for a variety of different screen sizes and contexts.


Technological innovations and the do-it-yourself design movement mean designing is no longer the domain of a chosen, educated few. More than ever before, everyone is a designer.

Commodification + Devaluation

As a result of the democratization of design, design has been devalued and is being commodified (read about Rob Walker's recent foray into outsourcing a logo for $200). Designers need to expand their repertoire, cultivating skills that are difficult to outsource.


Design education should be agnostic rather than specialized. T-shaped rather than I-shaped, having not only depth of knowledge but multidisciplinary breadth as well. 


Whether or not you're a designer, expanding your skill set means exploration. Exploring new technologies, methodologies, and thought processes that force you out of your comfort zone.


Designers need to be able to speak the language of business. And, increasingly, the language of engineering. It's up to designers to learn the vocabularies needed to communicate the value of design to business managers and executives. Designers must earn their spot in the boardroom.


Through collaborating with people of other disciplines and via online resources (such as this webinar), designers can inspire and be inspired. Inspiration is important. When we're stuck or unmotivated, seeing a problem through a different lens can help us push past creative blocks. Others serves as new lens for us; we are fresh lenses for others.

I could end this summary by repeating an old cliché: technology is radically changing the way we design and designers need to keep up with these changes. It is and we do. But design as a recognized field is a relatively young discipline, and with the exception of typography, spawned in large part by the industrial age. So historically speaking, has there ever been a time when designers haven't had to respond quickly and nimbly to change? Has there ever been a time when design stood still? Alexey Brodovitch and Bradbury Thompson had to keep up with rapidly evolving printing and color reproductions technologies in order to produce their revolutionary magazine layouts. Charles and Ray Eames were constantly exploring the boundaries of materials science, evidenced in their iconic furniture designs and equipment for the U.S. military. Being a designer means being a technologist.

For our own good as well as the good of our profession, we need to collectively roll up our sleeves and keep on working. One audience member asked about recommendations of tools and resources. Here's a list of those that were mentioned:

Also recommended by Rob:

Resources for shared spaces and collaboration:

Join us for the next AIGA-members-only webinar on June 22, "Devices Everywhere," with Michael Surtees of Gesture Theory.

About the Author: Callie Neylan is an Assistant Professor of design at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) in Baltimore, Maryland. She is interested in interaction design, the urban space, and designing for the disabled. She writes about design and technology for AIGA and and tweets via @neylano.