A broad school

As one of the most robust design disciplines throughout the downturn, digital is an attractive option for ambitious designers. Anna Richardson talks to senior figures about the mindsets and skills you need in this competitive area

The design community is not one for training courses, generally. Compared with their colleagues in other sectors of the creative industries, only 9 per cent of designers take part in job-related training, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics last year.

As the clamour for digital talent carries on unabated, however, issues of skills and available training courses have remained at the top of the design agenda.

Skillset Interactive Media has been tackling the skills needs of the interactive media sector for the past three years, identifying new strategies for improving the provision of training and qualifications in the sector and encouraging cross-platform collaboration.

D&AD, meanwhile, includes digital elements in many of its Workout workshops and offers a Talking Digital: Walking Digital day, as well as Demystifying Digital. ‘Everybody needs to have some understanding of the digital area,’ says D&AD senior project manager Jo Maude. ‘It’s an area where there’s a lot of interest from a broad mix of people.’

The word ‘digital’ itself can be confusing, daunting even. Colin Jenkinson, design director at digital consultancy Cogapp, is keen to simplify the expression. ‘A few years ago, everyone was trying to define the term, but it’s very broad, and far broader than anyone imagines,’ says

Keeping abreast of developments can seem an impossible task for aspiring interaction designers, and, according to Jenkinson, the key to digital success is understanding the area’s breadth and the importance of collaboration, rather than swotting up on software. ‘What we look for is an understanding of teamwork. It’s important to have a thorough understanding of what’s out there, but that doesn’t mean you must go and learn all the packages. In most cases, it’s putting thoseopposite and different skill sets together that breeds originality.’

Poke London founder Nicolas Roope agrees everything in digital ‘is a collaboration of one sort or another, so there’s no space for bloated egos’. The ideal designer for Poke should be ‘dripping with raw talent, incredibly flexible and driven by the idea of being part of a team, and by making great things together that they can never own’, he says. Candidates who can combine programming skills with a graphic aesthetic are rare and, therefore, sought after, says Brendan Dawes, creative director at Magnetic North, who is also keen to demystify digital – and especially programming – skills. ‘People make out that it’s rocket science, but programming itself is a creative pursuit – it’s about solving problems.’

A basic knowledge of animation should be a given in young designers, believes Maude. ‘A logo or a brand is never static,’ she says. ‘People have to have an understanding, even if limited, of how things work, because you’re never likely to see something just in print. It’s always going to be used on other platforms.’

But the most important skill within interaction design is rhythm, believes Dawes. ‘The sector has more in common with the grammar of film than print,’ he explains. The most important elements in interaction are ‘the bits in between and the transitions from one state to another. They are based on time, not print, and influenced by the user.’

When it comes to finding inspiration, Jenkinson urges designers to embrace technologies, look for innovations, and visit conferences and exhibitions. ‘If you stay narrow-minded about technology, you will always be behind,’ he says. ‘It is important to have a thorough understanding and good viewpoint of what’s out there.’

‘[Good digital design] is about being aware of changes in society,’ says Dawes. ‘The problem with looking just on the Internet is that it has all been done, whereas being an interactive designer is giving people what they didn’t know they wanted.’

Traditional design methods still play an integral part, meanwhile, with the search for the big idea the prime objective, regardless of the medium. But designers need to love the Internet, says Roope. ‘They don’t need a young, self-conscious, flushed puppy love, but a deep and respectful feeling for the medium and its many wonders,’ he explains. ‘Our designers are more communicators than stylists, and if you’re trying to communicate, you need to know, and have an innate feel for, the culture and language of your medium. And that means you have to be in it, up to your neck in it.’

Latest articles