Assignment 2: Question 4. The Impact of New Digital Technology on the nature of Graphic Design and the role of the Graphic Designer

This is old research from Oct 2001


Andrew Kelsall – Module 220GD – Design Culture – Module Leader: Mark Williams     Support: David Tidball

The Digital Designer

Within this essay an investigation shall be made into how graphics designers work now, compared to how they used to work. Firstly, a short study of the origins of computers will be shown, and a brief history of how computer generated design concept was developed. I shall look into what exactly the role of the graphic designer is and the different and varied ways in which technology is used within it. Also, the nature of ‘graphic designer today’ will be studied and compared with the areas of graphic design in previous eras. Secondly, a study shall be made into what different technologies which are used in design and what these different technologies are. This essay will explore how these technologies are used and what benefits there are from using them over traditional and established methods. Thirdly, there shall be discussion about why graphic designers need  – or think they need technology and if there is merely a want for technological advances.

The concept of a design method derived in the 1960’s.’Design method’ refers to the procedures and techniques to be used within design. ‘Design Method’ has often been referred as ‘design methodology’, which is the study of the methods of design. At this time there was much discussion into the ways in which design was moving. The ways of design method in the 1950’s and 60’s were used to justify the development of new design techniques. It was at this time when computers were starting to be marketed to business users and scientists, not just for the Military. By 1962 there was enough interest in new design methods for a conference to be held in London. Many agreed that the use of new technologies, utilising a more systematic method of design by use of computers and automatic controls was the way forward. There were other conferences up to 1965. However, there were many disagreements about ‘design method’ and ‘scientific method’ due to the similar methods utilised in both – such as the use of machinery and computers.
One of the last conferences was about the different areas of design in which these new technologies were being used and experimented with. Such area included architecture, engineering design and computer-aided design methods. Computer-aided design was a subject of much interest which inspires many publications and              conferences. Since this basis derived, computers were starting to be used for other areas such as
artistic and graphical applications. The late 70’s saw the advent of the Macintosh. From there was an explosion of technological advancements which have greatly helped in this field. Such advancements include the invention of the 3.5 inch floppy disc, which was launched in 1980. This has given the means for graphic designers to be flexible and distribute and archive their work. Fig one shows an early computer aided design of a hospital bed designed to a systematic design specification. It was produced using newly developed computer technology. As can be seen it is simple and precise. As computer technology developed and printmaking techniques have improved, colour designs such as playing card prints (fig two) were developed. It is the techniques of printing and designing simple designs such as these which have evolved into the kind of computer-generated imagery that we all see today. Fig three shows a combination of fine colour print, 3D design and computer-aided design that we are al now used to seeing every day. Even with the use of computer technology, let us remember that the computer has been developed; edging towards a perfection – but they are just tools and it is the role of the designer which confirms a good design.
So what is the role of the graphic designer? Well, there are roles in which graphic designers take part. Not only do they choose to design, they have to be aware of such matters as currant affairs and peoples
attitudes towards design. Also, they are employed as strategists, conceptualists and aestheticisms and work in management. Currant affairs can greatly affect the direction of a designers’ work. For example, if a British designer was asked to promote British beef for France after the ban was lifted, the designer would have to incorporate many factors in his/her thought to produce a good and appropriate design. There would need to be a factor of sensitivity towards the attitudes of the French people towards British beef – not to mention the political issues involved. A design must then be devised which does not offend but instead reassures. In my opinion the nature of the graphic designer is fundamentally to produce design work that is worthwhile, appreciated, responds to the target audience and is original and different. The desire to create work that is different, I feel, is the greatest challenge of all requirements. After all, not all work is aimed at a certain target audience, therefore cannot respond to everyone. In light of this, graphic design work which reaches further into originality has the greatest impact within some areas. Obviously, sometimes an original, pleasing design is not always appropriate, such as designs for elections (such as America now), designs need to be able to be punchy and easily understood – which have their basis on simplicity.

Unlike previous generations, designers now have digital technology as an allie and tool. Designers can now interface with various forms of technology in many different ways. Digital technology is now the way forward in the field of graphic design. ‘Digital’ language is the language of computers. Digital technology is now practically used in every form of machinery; from mobile phones to car engines. One of the most useful ways in which to utilise digital technology is through the use of computers. Digital applications used on computers give designers to means to create, erase, manipulate and experiment with design.
There are many different forms of technological applications at the designers’ disposal. Graphic designers and artists can use graphical computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and many other professional applications to create images. There are literally endless possibilities of what a good and talented designer can use programs such as these for. There are other collectives of computer programs such as publishing applications (such as Quark Express and Adobe Indesign) and also 3D programs, such as 3D Studio Max and Rhyno. There are Internet applications (such as Dreamweaver and Adobe Go Live!).
These applications are utilised using a Macintosh or Personal Computer. The applications have simple interfaces and can be easily
learned by enthusiastic people within a good education. A mouse or graphics tablet is used by the designer to produce designs on-screen. Digital cameras, printers and scanners can be plugged into the computer to give the designer versatility and creativity. There are many benefits from using computer technology instead of more traditional methods. Methods of design in the past were all produced by hand and methods of print were vastly different. The impact of the digital revolution is profoundly affecting the ways in which designs are printed. For example, the days of using acetate type overlays, colour selectors and ‘cut and pasting’ are pretty much now in the past. One great advantage of using computers is that applications contain tools which enable graphic designers to experiment with much ease. Therefore, designers now have more power with the use of new digital technology. Technology has given not just professional graphic designers and students in education the chance to express themselves in various ways, but it has given way for anybody around the world who is interested in design the chance to get themselves known.

“ Because of the technology, we have the opportunity to become really important. We don’t need publishes anymore to do this. Just look at the Web designers, they can single-handedly reach the world eventually with
full-motion video and stereo sound. We can do this for free; we can all do it at home, not only designers, but also everybody else in the world. So I am exited by this because I am hoping that people are going to be serious enough to not be constantly in search of something that’s just cool, but to be in search of ideas that can eventually begin to fill these huge empty vessels of technology”
Steven Heller and Elinor Pettit
Graphic Designers use digital technology because it is more productive than previous traditional methods, but do they need to use the technology – or merely want it? In my opinion designers need digital technology. There are many complexities within the field of graphic design. It incorporates technology, art and science. Therefore designers have to produce work which can be commercial and to be distributed throughout the world. The only way to do this is through the use of digital technology. There are many areas of graphic design, which include various specialties (editorial, corporate, retail, ect) and subspecialties such as direct mail, environmental design and Web design. The only way to ‘tie’ all these areas of design together id through the use of digital technology. Not only is there a need for digital technology, there is a requirement for it from the Industry. Designers also want to embrace the technology because of the vast implications that it can and does have in
design. There is risk in using computers though. Designers’ work can easily become systematic and boring – only utilising the computers functions and creativity as their own.

“…..a couple of things bother me. One is the extent to which technology has evolved. The evolution of technology has been tremendous. I’m not computer-literate at all. And at the risk of being thought an old fogey, I mistrust what computers do to ideas. But given the impact of computers within the design world, the impact of computers on photography, the impact on the Web, I think that there has been a really fundamental sea change, a kind of shift of the critical mass.”
Steven Heller and Elinor Pettit
I agree with the above quote. I feel the development of digital technology is a great aspect of graphic design. As computer applications become more powerful, it is easy to let more of the computer produce the work and lesson a designer’s creativity. As the nature of the graphic designer is to think and then act on his/her thoughts; when a computer can do the thinking – where does this leave the graphic designer and what is the role that they play?

Introduction to The Education of a Graphic Designer
Steven Heller
Writing, Publishing, and the Internet
Tad Crawford
Excerpt from ‘Design Dialogues’
Steven Heller and Elinor Pettit
Type and Colour
Alton Cook and Robert Fleury
Design and Industry
The effects of Industrialisation and Technical Change on Design
The Design Council