Design has a leading role in new media

New media. Such a catchy phrase and one that several design groups have added to their list of services over the past year or so. Identity consultancies feel it can extend their branding offer and literature buffs have strayed into it in case it represents a threat to print. Both camps often have to farm the work out though to smaller, specialist groups they prefer not to credit. Then there’s the product design route – well, it does demand 3D thinking, doesn’t it, even though graphics folk generally claim superiority on design for communication?

It’s an area where clients too sense they need to have a presence, even if they don’t always understand why and, therefore, how best to commission and use it. It’s so often a case of the blind leading the blind.

The best models, we’re told, are to be found on the other side of the Atlantic, and the greatest aptitude for new media is among the very young. This generally excludes clients and consultancy bosses, who frequently face decisions about a subject they can’t really get to grips with. The fear of the new too often causes them to stick with convention rather than go with new media as a key communications tool.

British Design and Art Direction for one plans to help its members breach the gap with a course aimed at senior agency and design folk. Due to kick off in the spring, D&AD’s course should at least lift the veil of mystery for hitherto technophobes.

But whatever their level of understanding there are two overriding issues design groups should remember when thinking about new media. First, design is currently in a very strong position in the communications mix. New strategic groups such as Circus, claimed by adland as a new start-up in its bailiwick, but overarching design, advertising and marketing, and the specifically targeted Millennium Projects Consortium (DW 9 January), see great strength in bringing creative talents together. Design, they maintain, is better placed to do the thinking and deliver being more flexible than advertising. Ad agencies are only really used to selling from one platform.

Second, new media equals the invention of the printing press in the reach it will have in disseminating information and creating a forum for debate. As we understand the technology better, it will cease to be a hero and be seen as a means of delivery, rather than an end in itself. However scary it might seem at present, the only frightening scenario would be design failing to seize this fantastic opportunity to get in there and lead the way.

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