Phase 2.0

With digital technology so embedded in our daily lives, designers are now free to move on and embrace the challenges of interactivity and user-generated content. Mike Exon explores the potential of this brave new world

Most of us are just about over the D-word. It’s now accepted that ‘digital’ is something we can plug in to, regardless of design discipline. We’re looking beyond ‘what’s on the Web’ to what we can do with it, and where we can take it. Say hello to the post-digital world.

The fact is that, by rewiring the old world and connecting it with the new one, we’re finding enormous potential for having smarter conversations, experiencing new ideas and solving problems in exciting and surprising new ways.

Examining this shift in digital focus was a big aim of the recent i-Design conference in London, which took place during the London Design Festival. ‘We decided to call the show “Is it real?” because we wanted it to look at things that have a place in the physical and everyday world. What’s interesting at the moment is mobile technology, installations and technology that is enhancing day-to-day life,’ says Applied Information Group creative director Malcolm Garrett, who masterminded the event. ‘The conference was very much about what’s happening around us, not what’s happening on the Internet.’

Digitalisation may well be adding to what we do rather than deleting it. Books aren’t dead – they’re more alive then ever thanks to technology. You can buy a hard copy, an e-book for an e-Reader, or print your own with devices like the Blackwell’s Book Machine.

There’s been a print resurgence recently in design circles. Adrian Shaughnessy has moved offline with his print publishing venture Unit Editions, founded with Spin director Tony Brook. ‘We are aiming for a hybrid book – one that has additional content added online,’ says Shaughnessy. ‘Our books will have high design and production values, which appeals to our audience of designers. But this audience is also digital savvy, so we are planning to extend the life of our books by creating filmed or spoken word content and adding it online.’

‘Our latest book [Studio Culture] has 28 interviews with studio heads. Since conducting the interviews, two of these studios have radically changed their circumstances. Our plan is to interview them and post the new interviews online. We are also looking into giving away a text-only version of the book as a free download,’ he explains.

Unit Editions is not alone. With his Newspaper Club launching in January, digital pundit Russell Davies wants to use spare capacity at printing presses to let people make their own newspapers. Printing social media commentary during fairs and festivals has created a niche for The Incidental, published by the British Council during the Milan furniture fair and the London Design Festival. This daily freesheet repurposes Twitter feeds to great effect.

Increasingly – and not just online – brands are finding voice and learning to talk about, publish, film and document all sorts of thoughts and ideas via technology. Communication is no longer about messaging. In the post-digital era, it’s about having editorial authorship.

Digital content is also spilling over into the physical world. Exhibitions and galleries are buzzing with installations designed to wire up public spaces with 3D design, unlikely interfaces that feed on user-generated content and interruptive exhibits that react when you pass.

This year, in the UK, we’ve had an interactive section at the Design Museum’s Supercontemporary show. There was the inaugural London Digital Week built around Tent Digital. We’ve had a full-impact Onedotzero at the BFI, and the recent Hi-Tech Britain show of post-war innovation at the Science Museum, plus its interactive ‘Who am I?’ gallery.

Decode: Digital Design Sensations, opening in December at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, might yet trump them all, with a meaty roundup of digital design pieces. It features work by designers and artists such as Daniel Brown, Golan Levin and Daniel Rozin.

V&A curator Louise Shannon, who is co-curating Decode with Onedotzero director Shane Walter, says digital design is changing the nature of creative authorship. ‘Digital is becoming much more immersive,’ says Shannon. ‘Users are having a more active role, in terms of designing their own objects and being a part of the creative process.’

Nick Knight’s Show Studio, at Somerset House in London, is less a show and more like a window into a living universe of collaborations with designers, models, artists and actors. What began as a website, www.showstudio.com, soon moved far beyond that.

Digital life beyond the Web is becoming live and linked up. We’re only just realising what can happen if we connect people and everyday objects in new conversations, when we use technology to re-use and improve the things we have around us, and when we put live experiences together with archives of ideas. Authoring and editing this is the next job of design.

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