Welcome to The Design Jungle

It’s a jungle out there.

One of the dictionary definitions of a jungle—apart from the obvious, dense vegetation interpretation—is “a situation or place of bewildering complexity or brutal competitiveness”. Mapping that definition to the creative industry is my conclusion, arrived at by talking to many designers, artworkers and digital artists over the last few years, and especially the last two, since the advent of Creative Cloud. The rapid pace of change in the world and our industry—new devices, new standards, new formats and more—could easily fit the description of bewildering complexity.

Cover of report

Adobe’s New Creatives report, which surveyed over a thousand U.S. creatives and was published in June 2014 makes for some interesting reading, and let’s use a couple-or-so of the findings of that report in this definition.

75% of creatives believe the industry has changed more in the last five years than the previous fifty.

As someone who has been present in the industry for just over three of the decades referred to, I am largely in agreement with this statement, even though it is quite likely that the vast majority of respondents in the survey were not present at the time when Apple-Macs—as they were then referred to—started to appear in place of drawing-boards in the studio.

The Desktop Publishing Revolution—how antiquated that sounds, these days—was revolutionary, changing the entry points and individual capabilities within the industry but it was still only essentially a different set of tools to publish to the print world. The web revolution that followed soon thereafter, was when things really started to change; increasingly creatives had to begin to come to terms with the limitations of formats, and concepts that had previously been the domain of specialists exclusively, such as video, animation and more.

Even so, given that we are more than twenty-years-in to the web, the change for many of us has been way-short of rapid. It has snowballed, and for myself I think that the snowball began to gain momentum in 2007, when the iPhone debuted. The shift was hardly perceptible at first, probably because early-adopters of these devices were well-off, or maybe total tech-heads, but they have become increasingly commonplace here, now.

Do you have an iPad? Did you have an iPad in 2010? You may well have but even if that is so there were no where near as many around as there are now, and there are also so many different kinds of tablet devices around. There weren’t any—what I would consider full-size—slate or tablet computers to speak of until relatively recently; the first generation Surface from Microsoft didn’t appear until 2012, and Wacom introduced their Cintiq companion in 2013—aimed at digital artists and illustrators, the Companions are a great piece of kit by the way—but there’s never long to wait before a new piece of tech arrives. Something else to publish to, something else that content can be consumed on, or another platform we can work on.

We expect to able to work from anywhere, at any time, on any device.

So, we have all of these wonderful things appearing, but it’s no longer just about consuming content on our devices, we increasingly expect to be able to work on them too, and a third of the respondents to the New Creatives survey confirm this.

Personally, I have almost always taken work home, to get out of the office or studio ahead of the rush-period (it stopped being an hour about twenty years back, I think) and quite often (space-permitting) could be found scribbling away in my sketch book on the train. For quite a time, this meant waiting until arriving at home or the studio to spread out the sketchbook on a scanner and digitise that work. As the camera capabilities of the iPhone (and later the iPad) improved I found myself  snapping the page(s) which almost completely eliminated the scanner from that workflow—after all if the distortion of the camera angle was a problem it was usually sorted by a quick visit from the perspective functions of the crop tool in Photoshop (now of course a tool in its own right).

When Adobe launched Ideas my world changed completely—the ability to be able to work on a tablet (and phone) with useable vectors directly into Illustrator—was incredible and the recent additions of Sketch, Line and Photoshop Mix have only made that more so.

Now for the most part I only carry a sketchbook on holiday, as the new tools I can use on my iPad have finally just about caught up with my own expectations, and for the first time it actually feels like I am free to work completely digitally if I choose to do so.

Two-thirds of creative professionals believe their role will be significantly different in three years.

It’s quite possible you’re working as a print designer or layout artist and working in exactly the same way that you were ten years ago, and think that you don’t need any of this new-fangled stuff. Really, though? You’ve never wondered how long all that is going to last?

I’m not saying print is dead, because that simply is not true, at all; but we are reducing our reliance on printed matter—certainly for sales and marketing materials—and I think the main reason behind that in the business world is that it is potentially out-of-date by the time it is produced, or very shortly thereafter.

Just as one example, let’s take an imaginary peek into the boot of a sales reps’ car, and look at the stacks of paper in there. The catalogues, brochures and data sheets. The various “whoop-sie” updates, addendum and errata, pushed into those publications. The modern world shouldn’t be like that, not least of all environmentally.

Some customers like to be left brochures, though. Yes, they do and there is still a need for that kind of thing in some places, but that need is diminishing. Why? Because we also need to engage our audiences in the way to which they are rapidly becoming accustomed-digitally and interactively.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then twenty-four-pictures-a-second is worth considering.

With what is dysphemistically referred to as “dead-tree technology” you have a limitation on how much content you can allocate your publication. How many catalogues have you seen where the pictures and text are so tiny? Digital publications free you up from such constraints and why have four different views of a product when you could have one view that your audience can swipe over to see it from all-around? One of the forms of digital publishing—Adobe DPS—has shown that users spend on average NINE times longer engaged with DPS app against responsive web. Whoa!

There are other ways to publish digitally apart from DPS and the web. PDF—although with limitations imposed by the device/app being used to render it—has been used for years and will continue to be an option for quite some time yet. EPUB fixed layout to my mind is the perfect middle-ground between PDF and DPS, allowing interactivity and deep-engaging media experiences.

So these options exist, and the people that I’ve had the privilege of meeting who aren’t currently exploring those options either don’t know of their existence and/or have one barrier in their way, that can be simplified into one word: mindset.

The Law of The Jungle.

At the beginning of this article, we also had “brutal competitiveness” in the definition of “jungle” and while “brutal” may be a bit of a stretch for us civilised modern types we are definitely in a very competitive industry. One of the lasting legacies of the aforementioned revolutions was the entry point into the industry, and personally I think that was a really good thing as it really did level the field, presenting those that invested time and effort into their work, to develop their offering and gain the opportunity, perhaps to become a giant-killer.

It’s possible for small teams or even one person to have a crack at big studios and established agencies. I have seen it, and have done exactly that, myself. The ability to do more, be more versatile, stretch and develop into areas—such as utilising these new forms of publishing, producing new, engaging content, creating animated content, just as an example—has in my opinion never been as accessible now as it is with the Creative Cloud tools and services.

You may well agree but say, “That’s all well and good, but how do I get started with that?”

You’re why this blog was created. If you haven’t got the first clue about animation, or smart objects, or multi-states, or tweens, or transitions, or time-saving-productivity-boosts-from-the-latest-version-of-[software] for that matter, then you need a guide through the wilderness of the design jungle, so you can hopefully carve out your own clearing, and develop it into something you can be proud of.

The expeditions start on Friday 19th September 2014.

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