Digital Design

Simon Waterfall

I was asked to write a tubthumping piece as an introduction to explain to non-digital readers what digital is all about, and tell them of its delights and potential. Mouse fingers up if you don’t use a computer in your daily life, either at work or for private pleasure.


Yes, today’s digital arena is the Mars bar of all snacks. When I was involved it was fun-sized; now it’s a banquet of unending proportions. In fact, it is this ubiquity and unfathomable depth that is its biggest failing. In design terms it’s the white page before the pen, the blue-sky brief or the styling project without manufacturing constraints – the only limit is our understanding of it.


Well, that’s the article I need to write. So let’s point out five major trends that have either burst into the mainstream or emerged from the bedrooms of geeky technophiles, concerning people, branding, advertising or life as they know it.


1. Social networking – mass versus niche
There is of course a huge amount of noise, fluff and scratching of chins over the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook (in), MySpace (out), Bebo and LinkedIn. MySpace is running at 140 million registered users, which makes it the ninth biggest country in the world. I may be a country boy at heart, but I like to swim in smaller ponds. It’s less crowded, you can find what and who you’re looking for, and they are more likely to be people you could spend more than 45 seconds in a lift with. Hence the rise of niche closed networks, where membership is quietly and strictly controlled, invite only, such as Oink.cd and Asmallworld.net. Entry to such arenas will be the currency rather than just the content. Also growing fast in this arena is Ning.com. If closed communities are interesting, why wouldn’t people just start their own? Technology used to be a barrier to people creating their own community or content-sharing space, but it isn’t anymore. So why would you choose to house your community somewhere that’s owned by someone else? Make, shake, bake.


2. Life streaming – tools are getting simpler
If you’re over 25, the chances are you don’t get it and if you have a Nokia phone you most likely haven’t used its free tools for ‘life blogging’ (my N95 lies dormant in my leatherette shoulder holster). Responding to a growing demand from people who record and stream every aspect of their lives, from the mundane to the drama, it’s an increasing focus for networks (Orange) and brands (Nokia) to enable you, their trusted users, to record, create, connect and share. This next generation of streaming applications enable you to dissect and disseminate your life, with Ustream.tv and Twitter.com throwing out snippets of your life. Check out the phenomenon that is Justin.tv, a man living 24/7 with a webcam on his head. We confidently predict that Eeachday.com will be huge for a whole afternoon in December.



3. Internet TV
The networks, production houses and channel mega bosses are all shitting minstrels over TV on mobile devices. What will you do with it, how will you consume it, what will you do when you’ve seen it – call someone up on your iPhone? It’s all to play for in this new category of sites to check out: Joost.com, Zattoo.com and my favorite, Tapeitofftheinternet.com.



4. Evolution of entertainment formats
The rise of new formats that have been inspired from all manner of media is going to bubble up real soon. The new soaps like Promqueen.tv and the massive Wherearethejoneses.com, where the viewers are behind the lights, camera and action. Even the real soaps are at it, just look at Emmerdalemurder.itv.com, which has had 2.5 million viewers and 47 million page impressions to date. Others chose to piggyback YouTube and existing video hosts like iChannel and Askaninja.com, which keep pushing the boundaries of taste and tolerance.



5. Brands
Yes, products and services are now inseparable from the way they are used and advertised. Why pay for a signpost when the very application you are using for eight hours straight is doing a damn fine job of it already? Products and services that have marketing or advertising embedded in them are what every brand is after now. Goolemaps, Nike+ and Tesco Price Checker are just the tip of the iceberg.


My final rant is saved for people who are still trying to impose rules on the chaos that is the Web. It’s its untameable quality and rawness which means that something that costs a tenner will go global while Coke struggles to make double figures. Check out why 8.2 million viewers can be wrong when they say Alanis Morissette has even got it, at http://Tinyurl.com/2dacan

Latest articles