Which craft

Guest blogger Steve Price, of Plan B Studio, reflects on the need for basic design skills and craft know-how despite developments in technology

I spend most of my waking hours online, on my laptop, and on my iPhone. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am addicted to it – to being connected. When it comes to working as a designer I believe there’s never been a more exciting time to be in this industry. The possibilities are endless and the opportunities only limited by our collective, collaborative and individual imaginations.

However with every action comes a reaction. Is the ease of access to technology and information is also dampening craft and skill? Is the laptop generation at risk of becoming mere lapdogs unable to properly communicate because they never look up from their laptop screen.

I draw parallels between cooking and design because I’m passionate about both; both require the best (not necessarily most expensive) ingredients along with patience, skill and craftsmanship.

As a chef you have to work under incredibly intense conditions, highly levels of pressure, intense heat and stress. Working in a kitchen also taught me the necessity to learn the craft of your chosen profession is imperative, otherwise it’s like trying to bake a cake without having ever entered a kitchen.

So imagine my horror recently whilst working with a group of students when one of them told me the reason why he was on that particular course (interactive design) was because the graphics course wanted to teach him ’boring stuff like typography, kerning (or somethin’) and all that shit’.

My jaw hit the table. There he was plugged in to his iPad telling me that the fundamental basics of graphic design were not only ’boring shit’ but not important. Not relevant to his degree in interaction design. ‘What about how the UI of your iPad is designed? I asked him. ‘What?’ came the response.

Steve Price
Steve Price

Having worked with lots of students I can say that this particular one is not alone, in fact he represents a growing trend where the only research findings are sponsored by Wikipedia or Google. I wish I had a penny for every time a student’s presentation started with ‘Well I went on Google and found…’. I’m a big fan of Google, Wikipedia, Quora and the like, but the best solutions are often to be found elsewhere.

I too am guilty of turning to these platforms and so are you. Time constraints, pressures and the fact that I can quickly visualise what I mean with the touch of a few buttons means technology is not a hindrance, it’s a helpful part of the process. But a part of a process nonetheless.

I spent two years of my BA hand-rendering typography, creating grids, layouts and guides by hand. This doesn’t make me better than someone who hasn’t, but it gives me a fundamental appreciation of the craft it takes. Every time I go to Indesign Layout/Margins and Columns to alter my layouts grid I appreciate how long that would have taken me by hand and I thank my lucky stars for Adobe.

But it’s a trend that is spreading into the professional arena too. Most colleagues now take an assorted array of technological accompaniments with them to meetings like condiments to the dinner table. Their laptop, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc. They sit there clicking, typing, looking down through that window to the ’world’; replying, sending, forwarding, RT’ing, accepting, liking, following and blocking. Typically anything but focusing on the reason for being in the meeting.

I ban students from doing that and unless it is relevant. In meetings I ask colleagues, even clients to close down, put to sleep or turn-off their condiments. Not because I am against technology but mainly so I don’t have to sit in endless meetings which now seem to take longer because people’s attentions are elsewhere.

My point is that being a creative (the clue is in the name) is forcing yourself beyond the screen. It’s more than just having good ideas (although this does help), it’s about craft, skill, quality, talent, attention to detail and the  execution of all of those combined. It is about making the time to fuel that imagination of yours. It’s about the precise combination of all those ingredients. Otherwise you’re just another amateur enthusiast at home who knows how to bake a cake.

Steve Price is founder and creative director of Plan B Studio.

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  • Stephen Kirk November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It all starts with a drawing!
    I agree – the de-skilling (forgive me 🙂 has been taking place for a while – next time ask your students what French curves are for and watch eyes glaze – technology is our friend not master, if we dilute our ability to craft effective design thinking, we restrict effective critical understanding and creative leadership…
    It’s as simple and hard as that.

  • Phil Young November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Totally agree, when I started out back in 1990’s it was about raw talent, the ability to draw and visualise an idea was key! it seems these days anyone who can switch on a computer and find there way round an adobe package wants to be a designer. I recently asked a design student what motivated them, the response was. “I love computers and all stuff like that” needless to say, when I asked him to have a look at a little logo design project he went straight to google for ideas. I sat him in a corner and gave him a fine liner and a layout pad… He told me he couldn’t draw for toffee and just chuckled to himself. Oh dear!! As an independent creative I’m amazed and frustrated by the amount of tosh being produced today due to a fundamental lack of basic skills and understanding.

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