Digital Technology’s Impact on Design and Design Thinking

A three-part Question and Answer blog featuring:
Yen Chu R.G.D., Creative Director, Parcel Design Inc.
Brad Green, Creative Director, Interbrand
Paddy Harrington R.G.D., Executive Creative Director, Bruce Mau Design

To what extent is the convergence of media a reality for you and how does it affect the way you work?

Yen Chu R.G.D.
“The changes are huge and affect much of what we are doing today. What is challenging is finding ways to articulate ideas differently. The way we tell stories today has to be different for digital formats. I feel at times that we are still in the Wild West, in the sense that we have to figure out the best ways to tell our stories in each new medium.

There is still a large visual component to storytelling and we are still struggling with how to do that best with new media and technology. A whole new visual language is emerging. The craftsmanship tied to executing has to be reinvented because of the way we interact with digital information and visuals and video. It’s no longer simply a print context. Now, you are in front of a flat screen and that requires new ways of engaging people in a stimulating manner.”

Brad Green
“It’s an absolute reality. You can’t think in ‘channels’ or in a linear fashion anymore – you’ve got to think in terms of ideas that can be brought to life across various touch points. An idea needs to be strong enough to work within any medium to which it may be applied, but also strong enough to leverage the ability of new media to create deeper and more meaningful connections and increase engagement. That is the challenge.

Design has become an essential communication tool to all media – it’s hard to imagine new technology like your iPhone without design. Almost all disciplines of communication and new media now have a stronger , more thought-through design.

Brands are now also able to use the power of new media to increase engagement. Interactivity, personalization, sounds, action and many other components enable brands to inform, entertain and build new communities very fast and in real time – something we traditionally could not do. We can really bring a brand to life today in unprecedented new ways.”

Paddy Harrington R.G.D.
“We’ve always worked across a variety of media. If anything, what has happened is that as things have become more technologically diverse, we have needed to be more refined in how we talk about ourselves. With the expanding realm of possibilities, people often don’t know what to do or where to even start. What we are saying is: It’s all about the story – what is your purpose, what are your objectives? Once you have that, it then becomes a matter of finding the appropriate technological solutions to back up or deliver the story you want to tell.”

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The Designer as Entrepreneur

Today’s designer hardly needs to be told that the discipline of design is rapidly evolving. But how many designers today consider themselves entrepreneurs?

If you have not considered the possibility, you should, according to a revealing and insightful webinar presented May 18 by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico, co-chairs of the MFA Design (Designer as Author/Entrepreneur) program at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

“The role of graphic design has evolved from one of problem solving. Today’s designer is definitely becoming more of an entrepreneur,” said Talarico, who with Heller is a co-founder of the school’s MFA Design program. “Our goal in the MFA program is to educate designers so they are prepared to serve both clients and their own creative voices.”

With increasingly sophisticated production and distribution tools continuing to reach the desktops of designers, noted Heller, design entrepreneurship is quickly expanding as part of the graphic design practice.

“Students in our program are geared to be entrepreneurs and their work involves projects that are seen as viable both in the marketplace and for the person doing the design work,” said Heller, author and editor of over 130 books on graphic design, satiric art and popular culture.

Heller and Talarico are also co-authors of the book The Design Entrepreneur  – Turning Graphic Design into Goods That Sell” and their presentation featured a fascinating array of successful student projects that clearly demonstrate the concept of design entrepreneurship.

A key to success, they emphasized, is identifying a need in the commercial marketplace and then meeting that need with an innovative and practical design.

“Be sure that your design has an audience in the marketplace.  You need to fill a real need that exists in the market – so know what the audience will be for your design,” commented Talarico.

Among the many interesting examples presented was one MFA design student’s thesis project focusing on prescription drug bottles in the U.S. market – and how confusing they are for consumers trying to make sense of jumbled, text-heavy labels lacking standards for typographic elements and overall design.

“The student took the typography of prescription labels and cleaned it up – which is really what designers are supposed to do,” said Heller. “She developed a prototype for color-coded, more readable, user-friendly prescription bottle labeling. She basically replaced the one-size-fits-all approach to labeling. And she sold her concept to retailing giant Target, which did a major roll out to consumers.”

That is an excellent example of entrepreneurship, he added. “A designer saw a need in the marketplace, filled the need and then sold the design to someone who can make the best use of it.”

The session concluded with advice on how to succeed on the path of entrepreneurship today.

“There are many ways to be a design entrepreneur,” said Talarico. “The best advice we can give if you want to bring something to the market is that, even though there are many rigors and processes and challenges involved, don’t give up! Just keep at it. If you have a really good idea, do your homework and get the idea out there to your intended audience.”

Added Heller: “There are so many media available today to help you be entrepreneurial. A key aspect for success is having an audience for what you are bringing to the market. But you also need the ability to take a risk, because being an entrepreneur is not the safest thing to pursue. You are putting yourself and your ideas on the line, so it requires a certain amount of courage to take a risk.”

Designers should also begin to pay attention to how their works are measured and how people are interacting with the content they generate. Tools such as Omniture can provide in-depth web analytics to enterprises. Having a sound understanding of these measurements can help guide clients to make insightful decisions and better demonstrate the value of the design in which they invested.

More information on design entrepreneurship and the School of Visual Arts is available at online.

By Mark Nusca for Adobe Systems

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Adobe introduces Creative Suite 5.5

Adobe has announced a significant update to Creative Suite, with the unveiling of our first mid-cycle release: Creative Suite 5.5.  This is part of a new release strategy, where we’re moving out our milestone releases (such as CS3, CS4, CS5) to a two-year cycle. Mid-cycle releases will keep designers and developers ahead of technology changes, such as the mobile communications revolution (tablets!) that is radically altering how content is consumed and created.

Creative Suite 5.5

Highlights of CS5.5 include:

For Design and Publishing jocks: Creative Suite 5.5 Design Premium suite builds upon Adobe’s recent product innovations in digital publishing. Using InDesign CS5.5 designers can add new levels of interactivity to their page layouts targeted to tablet devices.  Documents can include video, audio, panoramic views, 360-degree object rotation, pan and zoom of images, integration of HTML and HTML5 content and other interactive overlays.  Creative Suite 5.5 is tightly integrated with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite to support publication, sale and analysis of content on iPad, Android tablets and the upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook.

Holy tablet-revolution Batman!  Today also sees Adobe extend the creative process beyond the desktop by helping integrate tablet devices into creative workflows.  The new Adobe Photoshop Touch Software Development Kit (SDK) enables developers to build tablet applications that interact with Photoshop from Android, BlackBerry PlayBook and iOS devices.  Adobe also announced three new iPad applications that demonstrate the creative possibilities of using tablets to drive common Photoshop workflows – Adobe Color Lava for Photoshop, Adobe Eazel for Photoshop and Adobe Nav for Photoshop. Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is our policy to turbo-charge Photoshop’s integration into the tablet revolution, comrades.  Unlike some companies we think tablets are here to stay and creatives want to use them for their work.

And one more thing. Today also sees Adobe debut an affordable and flexible subscription-based pricing plan, attractive to customers that want to get current and stay current on Creative Suite products, have project–based needs, or try the software for the first time. New Subscription Editions ensure customers are always working with the most up-to-date versions of the software, without the upfront cost of full pricing. With subscription pricing customers can use flagship products, such as Adobe Photoshop for as little as US$29 per month, Adobe Design Premium CS5.5 for US$89 per month, Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection for US$129 per month.

Check out Adobe TV for video tours of our new CS5.5 family.

Eric Tang for Adobe Systems

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Designing navigation for public spaces

RGD hosted a Webinar by Wayne McCutcheon of Entro on Thursday March 24 to discuss signage and way-finding systems design to make buildings and public spaces more accessible. The following is a snapshot of the discussion.

Developing clear signage and way-finding systems for buildings and public spaces requires two critical first steps: Research and Planning.

Effective way-finding systems need to meet the needs of users of all ages and abilities because they need to:

  • Enhance the efficient functioning of a place and the positive image it conveys
  • Provide easy  guidance for those who have lost their way
  • Anticipate the needs of people with physical or sensory handicaps
  • Guide people to designated areas and exits in case of an emergency evacuation

Good way-finding design takes in or includes a place or environment’s architectural features or landmarks, verbal instruction, printed materials, electronic displays, and interactive technologies.

An effective design aims at the first-time users, delivering the right information at the right time, so that users know where to go instantly.

In addition to incorporating accessibility standards to provide clear information to people with physical disabilities, Ontario is proposing standards to meet the needs of children, the deaf, and those with cognitive impairments or limited literacy. The new standards apply to all public accommodations, including any facility open to public access, such as restaurants, schools, museums, public offices, transportation facilities, zoos, retail spaces and social service establishments.

Although the Ontario standards have yet to be finalized, it is prudent for designers to research and understand the recommendations now and learn how to implement them. As well, it pays to consult interest groups with deep understanding of accessibility issues.

For example, Wayne’s company worked on the Pearson Airport project for a number of years. The success was in large part due not only to the extensive research and testing that was done along the way, but also to the participation of the CNIB as an important part of the accessibility design process.

Plenty of strong examples can also be found in the US, with exemplary best practices for environmental graphic design as laid out in the ADA.

Creating truly accessible environments demand intelligence and discipline. The new Ontario standards will boost awareness of the issue. The onus is on designers in this province to turn accessibility into reality.

Wayne McCutcheon is a principal and a founding partner of Entro Communications. He is past president of RGD Ontario and current President of the SEGD.

Filed by Mark Nusca for Adobe Systems

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The Art and Science of Experience Design

Adobe’s Steven Webster, Senior Director, Technology and Experience Innovation, wrote a new blog on user-led approach to design can create optimum customer experiences. You can follow his entries here.

Below is his latest blog entry.

We believe that the problem we are fundamentally solving with Customer Experience Management, is to “create software that works the way people work, not the way systems work”.

Core to achieving this, is that we change the way we think about tackling the underlying problem – whether it be online banking, a call center application, a campaign management application for marketing, or a multi-platform online commerce application or a system for sending out interactive bills at the end of a billing period – from a technology-led approach, to a user-led approach.

As Einstein is often quoted, “…a problem cannot be solved with the same thinking that created it…” and so I strongly believe and fiercely advocate, that we must approach each change initiative we are responsible for in the digital enterprise not with the blinkers of technology thinking, or “what the business wants”, but through the microscope of design-thinking or “what the users want”.  I use the metaphor of a microscope, because the biggest results may come from the smallest of observations, and I can assure you that the observations have been under our noses all this time … we just weren’t looking properly at them.

What do I mean by Design thinking ?

It’s near impossible to not come across an article whereby Design thinking is positioned as the approach to changing the frame of reference for a problem, in order that we open up the solution space of opportunities for solving the problem.

But let me elaborate what Design thinking isn’t.  We’re not talking about “design with a small d”, about brand, aesthetics, style guides and look and feel.  We’re not talking about making something pretty, or about arranging pixels on a screen.  I’m not downplaying the importance of this kind of design – it’s a critical element to delivering an experience that engages users with a brand, not to mention bringing elements of usability to a solution through affordances, implications of how the system behaves, by how it is presented to the end user.  As much as an “imprint of a hand” on a door plate might look like “a nice touch, it looks great”, the imprint affords placing your hand on pushing it, and that nice touch removes the frustration that so many of us have experienced when we grab the handle on a door and pull it, only to realise the door is a push, not a pull.  Taking this kind of design away from designers is the difference between users wanting to use a solution, or having to use a solution.

For a more whimsical example of how bad design with small d can drive your customers away, go and see why there isn’t a huge queue of people at my local Kentucky Fried Chicken…

When we talk about Design thinking, we’re talking about Design with a Big D.  Design that is more fundamental, Design that walks in people’s shoes, understands their needs and their goals, experiences and observes the frustrations in completing tasks, the other things that they must “go outside of the system” to do in order to complete on their task.

Design is much more fundamental.  And so I strongly believe that Experience Design should be on the agenda of everyone embarking upon an initiative related to Customer Experience Management.

The Art and Science of Experience Design

Since around 2002, I have been on an enterprise campaign, imploring enterprise organizations to recognize that “Experience Matters”, and that it is unacceptable for the “last mile” of a digital experience to be an anaemic, frustrating and non-intuitive user-experience.  This was the period of “Rich Internet Applications”.

As the idea of “Rich Internet Applications” gained broad acceptance (who now asks for a non-rich application delivered on the Internet ?), around 2005, I up-levelled my conversation with our enterprise customers towards  a period of advocating for “Design-led Innovation”.  It was my position (and it still is), that if we truly want to deliver simpler, easier and more effective solutions to end-users, software that is useful, usable and desirable, we must bring Design consulting alongside Technology consulting.  In doing so, I believe that Adobe and our services organization had the opportunity to solve some incredible challenges, on blending the creative and holstic approach to user-centered design, to the methodical and iterative approach of agile software development.

These lessons service us well in how we think about bringing these kind of solutions to the mass market.  And with so much popular press around Design-thinking, this is also (thankfully !) beginning to feel less of a crusade about why, and more about a partnership in how.

And so I find myself at another point of inflection, a step-change in thinking about how to truly deliver the most effective solutions to end-users.  Over the past few years, as we brought Omniture technology into our fold at Adobe, I’ve found myself thinking about how the incredible wealth of information and insights that instrumentation, measuring and monitoring towards conversion events brings, can be used to optimize the delivery of all experiences, not just digital commerce experiences.

The Art of Experience Design remains the same; we engage experience designers, who are able to break free of trying to “…solve the problem with the same thinking that created it…” by looking at the problem through the lens, in the shoes, of the people using the software that we are delivering.

The Art of Experience Design is about acting on Intuition and Instinct.

The Science of Experience Design however, allows us to think differently about how we can instrument the experience that has been informed by intuition and instinct, and then collect insights about the success of our intuition.  Any digital experience is in service of solving for a key business requirement – helping a customer serve themselves online, right-pathing a customer towards the most effective online or offline help channel, personal finance management that increases the average amount of assets under management for a particular customer over time, migrating customers towards eBills rather than paper bills, or reducing call handle time in a call center.

If it can be measured, it can be instrumented, and if it can be instrumented, it can be optimized.

And so for me, the Science of Experience Design is an opportunity to apply everything we know about measuring the performance of a digital experience, and baking that right into the fabrication of the digital experiences that have been informed through the Art of Design -thinking.

No-one wants to be a half-brain when entrusted with a bet-the-business digital intiative.  And so I encourage you to engage both sides of your organizational brain, to recognize that not only is technology necessary but not sufficient, but that there is both an Art and a Science to great user-experience design.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how this thinking could transform your digital experience.  And I look forward to sharing more of mine.

Steven Webster, Senior Director, Technology + Experience Innovation

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The Evolution of Design – industry roundtable

I attended a roundtable discussion this morning, titled The Evolution of Graphic Design organized by RGD. The panelists represented the advertising, marketing, design, education and technology communities. They discussed the role and value of design in the commercial world, how design plays a role in engineering social change and how creativity is redefined, what clients and agencies are expecting from the new generation of designers and other topics that extended beyond the realm of graphic design as traditionally defined.

The highly energized panelists included Vanessa Eckstein R.G.D., Founder, Blok Design; Grant Gordon, President and Creative Director, Key Gordon Communications; Martha Ladly R.G.D., Graduate Program Director, OCAD University; Reena Merchant, Team Lead Visual Design, Research In Motion; Michael Oliver, Vice President & Creative Director, The Marketing Store; Barry Quinn R.G.D., Partner, Executive Creative Director, Juniper Park; Paul Rowan, Co-founder and VP Design, Umbra; Dave Watson, Creative Director, North America, TAXI; and Ryan Wolman, Creative Director, henderson bas.

Despite the jovial complaints of an early morning start, the panelists threw plenty of challenging questions and ideas at the audience. Barry Quinn at Juniper Park pointed at a big elephant in the room in the design industry saying, “We promote thinking but we reward craft.” He argued that technology has democratized design, but only to a certain extent. True, many untrained but tech savvy creative people can now produce creative work, including Quinn’s nine and 11 year old daughters who produced a short film on their desktop. The good news, according to Quinn, is that these tech savvy people can potentially take the “crappy jobs” away, leaving designers to move forward from doing to becoming thinking professionals. He further argued that most designers are no longer building monuments but organisms and they need to focus on the interrelations between design, commerce and users.

Dave Watson at Taxi shared his personal experience and understanding of this notion of interrelations between media, users and corporations. He remembered, when he first started his career, he didn’t understand why he was expected to be an all-rounded designer even at his tender age. Ten years later, he is now making the same demand on his team, even more so than before, because his team now works with multiple media that his corporate clients choose to deliver their messages.

Not only do designers feel that they now need to be master of all trades within the design world, they also need to deliver results fast. Ryan Wolman at hederson bas stressed the importance of open play time to inspire creative professionals. He argued that efficiency and practicality are two of worst enemies for creative people because being efficient and practical means eliminating the opportunities to explore peripheral, seemingly irrelevant thoughts but where original ideas are often found.

At Blok Design, Vanessa Eckstein, takes open play time seriously. She devotes 50 per cent of her team’s effort to creating original projects to stoke their entrepreneurial spirit, hone their collaborative skills and generate revenues for the company.  Better yet, these projects are ones that drive her and her team because they contribute to some level of social change. “Designers are problem solvers but it’s not enough to solve problems. We need to ask ourselves what are the problems to be solved,” said Eckstein this morning.

Quinn echoed Eckstein’s question at the conclusion of the discussion by stating that design is not a job but a discipline. Design will continue to evolve by creative professionals who embrace this challenge of changing how people communicate.

Eric Tang for Adobe

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Interactive ads in digital magazines better engage readers – new study

A new research study conducted by the University of Connecticut finds that interactive advertising in digital magazines can more effectively engage readers and create stronger purchase intention than similar static ads in print.  The result is a new brand advertising paradigm where advertisers can engage consumers with a brand in the immersive context of a digital magazine.

Titled “Digital Ad Engagement: Perceived Interactivity as a Driver of Advertising Effectiveness,” (PDF – 260KB) and conducted by Alex Wang, Ph.D. (Univ. of Connecticut) the study exposed participants ages 18 to 32 to print or iPad versions of advertisements featured in a past issue of a digital magazine. It then surveyed them to measure perceived interactivity, perceived engagement, message involvement, attitude towards the ads, and purchase intent, and compared the results.  Overall, the research discovered that readers are more likely to engage with interactive than static ads, as well as have a more favorable attitude to the ad and greater purchase intent.

To find out more about the study, please visit our colleague David Dickson’s blog or download the study.

You can also see how Martha Stewart Living Magazine is taking advantage of new digital publishing technologies to transform the publication and deliver a completely new experience to its readers.

By Eric Tang for Adobe

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