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


About rgddesignthinkers

The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD) is the professional body for graphic designers in Ontario. RGD grants graphic designers who qualify the right to use the designations Registered Graphic Designer and R.G.D., a quality signal of standards of professional practice. RGD has approximately 2800 members. Attracting over 1,000 participants and a full line-up of fascinating speakers, DesignThinkers is Canada’s largest, most important graphic design event. It’s an occasion to listen, learn and interact with peers from across the country.
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1 Response to The Evolution of Design – industry roundtable

  1. Hong Zou says:

    I also noticed that quite a few speakers stressed the role of graphic designer and the responsibilities of design from social, political and commercial point of view. Design can make a sale, and more importantly, design itself can be a product. In addition, Designers shouldn’t be the last group of people who get involved in the process of researching, producing, and promoting a product.

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