Designers should take a share of the blame

I wasn’t expecting great enlightenment from last week’s debate on the “damage” creativity might be suffering in the digital age. It’s obvious to me that a mouse is as much a tool as a pencil, and the quality of the work produced is down to the heart and mind of the person wielding it – or the person whose concept a Mac operator translates on to the screen.

The evening showed that many share that view. Of the 100 or so people the Design Business Association had packed into a pub in London’s Soho, only product design doyen Ken Grange shunned computers as the Antichrist, pointing to what he perceives as the parlous state of car design as evidence. Most of the rest saw the opportunity new technology – and new media – presents to designers open to new ways of working. No surprises there.

There was, though, wholehearted agreement that creativity is slipping. And it wasn’t just the old guard harking back to happier times; this was a youngish audience. But there was also an overwhelming desire to apportion blame for this. If we can’t pin it on new technology, what can we cite as the cause?

Inevitably, the colleges got a mention, largely for forcing through too many students fitted only with computer skills, and clients got the usual stick for putting too much pressure on creative consultants. Hardly anyone admitted that designers might have a part to play.

If by enhanced creativity we mean better quality work, it is surely down to the design community to raise standards. Even the most design-aware client looks to a designer as the expert who will come up with the goods. As for colleges, we never used to expect new graduates to be fully proficient as designers, so why do we now? Maybe we should reinstate a form of apprenticeship to secure the industry’s future.

Above all, if trade bodies like the DBA looked as seriously at ways to improve creativity as they do at business matters, and not just as a topic for a talk show, designers might not find it so easy to duck the issue.

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