Driving a new medium

That previous bastion of ASCII text known as the Internet is gaining visual meaning as designers and students gather power through their modems. The press barons may not like it, but real democracy is taking shape and gaining momentum fast, says Janice Ki

Everywhere I look I see encouraging signs that designers are getting into the World Wide Web, cleaning up a design-free zone and making the Net a more attractive and useful place to be.

Oh yes, The Internet needs designers, like a car engine needs lubricating oil, if it is to realise its true potential as a global, technological, information democracy.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that my final year product design students had designed their own Web pages and posted their degree show on the Internet. They struck a deal to use Glasgow University’s Web site and, I’m delighted to say, it was entirely their own idea, nothing to do with me, and what a good idea.

Why on earth not use a world-wide facility to post your curriculum vitae, show what you can do, what kind of person you are (even show where you live and work). Why not reach millions of people who may be able to offer employment and opportunities. I look forward with great interest to hearing what kind of responses they get. I’m absolutely sure it must be a more effective way to evangelise about the benefits of design and tout for work than the tired old degree show format.

Seriously, if the world was as good a place as it should be, if everyone was educated to be visually and sensorially literate so we all could appreciate and control the world around us, designers would be gurus, princes, ruling over a realm packed with sensorial delights and captivated subjects. As this is not very likely

to happen tomorrow, because we are useless at communicating our worth to the uninitiated, it seems the Internet is a powerful way to spread our good news and persuade a few Net-surfing boffins that design is more than a new haircut and some expensive trainers.

The really interesting thing about the Internet is its potential to democratise information: a challenge designers are uniquely educated to undertake. As many more information-hungry millions join the Net, demand continues to increase as users create, process, edit and consume information. The powerful minority who presently censor information for our mass consumption will lose control. The role of Rupert Murdoch, Reuters and Associated Press will change from that of “retailer” to that of “wholesaler”, where the designer or the individual user becomes the editor, censor and “retailer” after purchasing raw information from the “wholesaler”. Designers will determine the final content and shape of a new-media product: an honest, creative and professional interface between the consumer and the foraging news barons.

Designers are in a unique position to ease this process of change and help create an infinite variety of new formats and interactive choices for the millions of newly empowered Net users. As designers gather more power through the modem and ISDN lines, the information barons will continue in a limited role as hunter/gatherers, foraging in dark places for primary data. The feudal information system is at long last undergoing a revolution.

I’m glad I’m a designer living in Renaissance times because we’re the best people to describe and give shape and meaning to change. The beauty of all that’s happening is that information-creating companies will inevitably have to find new ways of selling their primary news and information resources. They must therefore invest in either the design of hardware or software: cable, satellite television and film production or programmes which will enable Net users to shape their own information products. Either way, designers have the “wetware” between their ears which will ensure that they have two chances to win.

If we are not acting as “retailers” – pulling information from the Net and directly making it into products such as brochures, films and interactive CDs – we will be acting as “wholesalers”, taking a strategic overview of this terrifyingly massive and potentially anarchic resource. We will create new paradigms which will help us direct the flow of this global resource, this vast, invisible reservoir. We will direct shape, channelling and packaging it into formats which will encourage users to access it pleasurably and intuitively, effectively and interactively.

Designers are the lubricating oil, the catalytic converters in this powerful new information machine for the first time.Well, it certainly makes a change, huh?

Latest articles