Design and creativity – Are we losing sight?

Derek Cassells – Creative Director, Orangeye media

Design and creativity play a key role in all of our lives, not just those connected to the industry, or those blessed with the chance to spend their days making things look pretty. No, design is much more functional than that. It’s the ultimate influencer in our lives. When you got up for work this morning, your alarm clock went off – it was created by a designer –  you had a beautiful, probably warm shower – created by a designer – brushed your teeth with your favourite toothbrush – created by a designer – you put on your clothes and shoes, packed your laptop into your bag, took a coffee to go in a travel mug, jumped in your car/took the bus/cycled to work on a bike, sat on your chair nested under your office desk… All these seemingly irrelevant interactions with objects don’t just define who you are , they have defined the designer whose life these objects consumed at one point.

We live in an age where design is being both facilitated by society and technology, and hampered by society and technology. The hampering, you might ask? The era of social media and online connectivity has created an exponential need to be visible, both on a personal and commercial level. This is not groundbreaking news to anyone by any means but what is interesting is the vast development of both technology and applications to facilitate this hunger to make ourselves look better, again both personally and commercially. Movies can now be shot in 4K on budget cameras with highly credible steady cam systems. Meanwhile, website templates, production filters, mobile apps, Instagram filters, smartphones and 360 cameras now populate the area of industry that once required years of experience, dedication and craft, stealing its credibility in turn.

But now that we have the negativity out of our systems, let’s look at the positives of this onslaught of tools to facilitate our creativity. It is a celebration, and we should be embracing it as much as possible. OK, the influence of new applications and technologies in the connected world does facilitate an ability to bring bad design to the core, but the principles haven’t changed; the cream will always rise to the top. It has just given us a quicker path to do so and a portal to better seek out the next generation of people who are finally being encouraged, not only by those in the industry, but by society as a whole, to be creative. We live in the first generation since the sixties where it’s now fashionable to be arty, creative and expressive, only now, we have the tools to facilitate it at an economic level.

The key is to spot the cream when it rises to the top, not allowing our vision to be blinded by programs, apps and technologies that allow design to take second fiddle to appearance. Let’s face it, we all want things to look pretty but we can’t allow this to be at the cost of function. What has always made designers worthy of shaping our lives is their ability to spot the failures, requirements or possibilities and to address these through a structured design of both function and aesthetic.

In fact, my confidence that we are not losing our design generation of function and aesthetic principal to that of just aesthetic is encouraged by the industrial world. It wouldn’t shock me to learn that this would surprise many people, but if ever you wanted evidence of a designer’s value in the world, you need to look no further than the industrial revolution that is happening not only globally, but no more prominently than right here in Ireland. Of course it is happening commercially – that goes without saying – designers will always feature heavily in a commercial world, but we are seeing a shift in how the industrial world sees designers and their value, influence and way of thinking.

I have to commend our nation on becoming a global leader in this area. Over the past few years we have seen a huge investment in design in Irish Industry. 2015 was a landmark year for Irish design. Throughout the year, Irish Design 2015, an initiative backed by the Design and Crafts Council Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, showcased over 2,000 designers at home and abroad to more than 1.4 million people, through over 600 projects. Not only was this a showcase exercise, but it highlighted a shift in industry toward design thinking, playing host to many events such as “better business by design” hosted by Grand Designs’ very own Kevin McCloud which played platform to talks from some of the most influential brands across the globe. We heard first-hand from speakers such as Jason C. Mayden (previously of Mark One and Nike) and Phil Gilbert (Head of Design at IBM) how the industrial world had shifted to making the designer the hero, recognising the problem solving approach of designers and how their process was always consumer-facing. Phil cited the importance of design thinking, highlighting the fact that most senior management employees at any serious global brand should have design experience, or at least design training of sorts, not for aesthetic purposes, but as an integration into process and as an approach to problem solving and production.

This was a shift in perception and process management that Apple created many years ago as it constantly obsessed over the process of problem solving as well as designing for aesthetic. It’s not rocket science, it’s business 101: find what the consumer needs and bring it to them and you will always sell. But that should not for one second let us lose sight of how difficult this shift can be for a business and how much courage and belief a business or brand needs to have in order to facilitate the change. Yes, the approach is simple and it must look good, but that’s a consideration and not the goal. That’s the bit we create with the tools we are given, tools like beautiful 4K production cameras, 50 million mega-pixel photography cameras, drawing tablets, light filters and all the endless offerings attainable to at least designers, if not society. The designer’s job is much more complex than that. It starts with identifying the problem – be it that of the client or the consumer –  breaking down the problem, identifying the barriers, and setting about changing them so that we create something that truly works. Ultimately, it is the designer’s approach that has let them stand strong in a new world of aesthetic and visual takeover, and so it should, otherwise we are just odd people who like to make things look nice.

To summarise, have we lost sight in an evolving world of design? No, not at all. From the outset looking in, sure, it may look like anyone with a smartphone can create something nice, and of course they can, but it takes a designer to solve a problem aesthetically. On the contrary, considering both the shift in industry and the commercial world to a reliance on design and its presence in product development, digitally in social media and online, design is stronger and more credible than ever, still improving the world, and more importantly our lives on a daily basis.