About Learning and a Life...in Design
By: Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl
By: Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl
A critical moment in the field
Communication and technology are at the core of an increasingly com- plex world. Consider the vast number of messages we process daily, and our reliance on computers, cellphones, and palm pilots for their transmission. Think about the channels of digital media—sound, image and motion— that can be merged to create larger experiences. And what about our information needs? We are consumers of healthcare, jurors making judgments involving DNA or pollution, and net- surfers searching for abstruse and specific details. The volume, media and nature of information coursing through our culture has revolutionized our world and the role that designers can play in it.
Design is at a crossover point—a place where art and science overlap. Eames’ film Powers of Ten merges elegant design with scientific data to help its audiences visualize the macro and micro, outer space and minutiae within the human body. This project set an important interdisciplinary precedent; it merged two distinct professions and modes of thought into one unified communication. Given technology and culture today, our need for the kind of intersection that the Eames’ work proposes is more important than ever. Many graphic designers, thoroughly trained in the properties of image, color, composition, line and shape, have little under- standing of science.
If graphic designers are message makers, information organizers, and large-scale communicators then our field must engage the study of perception, memory, creativity, motivation and feedback in order to stay relevant to the world around us. Which leads us to the question, how can designers become prepared to cross back and forth between art and science?
There are many differences and yet many similarities between graphic design education today vs 20 years ago. For example, computers and digital technologies have dramatically changed the practice of design, but the basic educational issues remain the same. The increasing complexity of the graphic design industry, the specialties in digital, multimedia and web-based work that have developed more recently, and the increased number of graphic design programs all lead to a highly competitive field. Yet, the need for clear, creative, effective communication is still the same—if not in higher demand—as corporations and institutions attempt to rise above the din of our inundated world.
In many ways, technology, our structures, and methods of thinking about communication have remained unchanged. Many graphic designers define themselves as makers of books and posters. Communication is migrating from a visual form to a combined sensory experience; communication designers are breathless in their attempts to catch up, rather than truly envisioning the future.