The traditional role of design has been to improve the visual appearance and function of messages and information. The publishing industry relies on designers for printed and online books, magazines, and newspapers that inform, delight, and support the interests of readers. Designers distinguish businesses from their competitors in the marketplace through innovative approaches to branding, the comprehensive design of messages, products, and services that express the character of a company and define its relationships with consumers. Advertising design promotes the marketable qualities of commercial products and services through a variety of communication media. And information designers translate complicated numerical and textual explanations into visual forms that help people see patterns in data and relationships among the components of complicated ideas. In all these practices, designers use typography, photographs, illustrations, and graphic elements to construct messages that attract attention, cause us to think about their meaning, and stay in our memories over time.
Some areas of design practice are more specialized. Motion graphics, for example, add sound and movement to the visual toolkit of designers and are viewed on television and computer screens, in film, or in environmental installations such as technology walls and stadiums. In addition to text and image, exhibition and packaging designers are often responsible for creating the physical structures and selecting the materials that carry messages. The design of wayfinding systems and signage focuses on directing people’s behavior across time and space in unfamiliar places. These practices pay close attention to the demands of particular settings in which people encounter messages and focus as much on their behavior as on the interpretation of content.
While these traditional practices require the designer’s use of computer technology in producing visual, audio, and time-based form, most of today’s design work focuses on people’s digital experiences and the role technology plays in their everyday lives. From smartphones to voice-, gesture-, and sensor-activated devices, designers actively connect us with other people, information, and services through an array of digital technologies. These designers address the nature of people’s interaction with digital information, as well as the visual form and subject matter of communication. User experience (UX) designers also create digital tools and systems through which people produce their own content and engage with others who share common interests. Software design supports an increasingly technology-aware environment that reads and responds to everything we do.
Designing the conditions for experience requires more than the arrangement of form and content and is often built on models of conversation and community, rather than objects and information. Interaction and experience designers study people’s motives and behaviors in activities that people find important, shape the relationships they build with others, and support their engagement with the cultural and physical environment. Web and software designers balance industry demand for technical efficiency with concern for the creative and humanistic qualities of technological experiences. And these designers imagine new roles for technology in solving the increasingly complex problems of contemporary society.