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University of Abertay Institute of Arts, Media and Computer Games (IAMCG) Module SO0962A - Digital Media Practice Module

tutor: Christopher Lowthorpe Student name: Nadege Charline Florival Course: BA Visual Communication & Media Design - Year 3 Sudent number: 1104163 Submission: Essay Submission date: 10/05/2012 Essay title: 'Consequences of the digital age for Graphic Design' Word count excluding headings, in text references and bibliography: 2,088

Module SO0962A - Digital Media Practice - Essay Nadege Charline Florival - 10/05/2012 BA Visual Communication & Media Design Year 3 - IAMCG - University of Abertay

From the first types of medium of communication used by humans, media evolution has been prompted by a combination of historical and cultural factors and by technological advances. However since the 1980s, digital technology has allowed the creation of news tools and processes of exchange from sender to receiver and interaction between producer and user at an exponential pace, empowering media to the extent that the whole phenomenon became a complex area of study. Besides technological aspects, the social and cultural implications in the birth and evolution of new media are so broad that 'media studies' are compelled to draw on a wide range of disciplines such as visual culture, media theory, media history, media production, philosophy and sociology (Lister, Dovey & Giddings, 2009). Media studies help understand that technical improvements have been accompanied by significant changes in societies and economies, namely the post-industrial era, globalization and a mood of uncertainty triggered by the post-modernist current. Rather than opposing digital to analogue, the unifying term 'new media' conveys the idea of newness associated with the modernist belief of social progress, which was characteristic of the ideological movement that took place in Western societies after the Second World War. Lister et al. (op.cit.) propose to break down the concept of newness into new textual experiences, new ways of representing the world, new relationships between users or consumers and media technologies (introducing user-generated content), new experience of the self in the world, new relationship between the biological body and technological media, and new patterns of organization and production. Some sociologists and communication theorists such as Hanno Hardt (2004) argue that over the past two decades, new media has caused to reduce individuals to users and hyper-consumers and projected them into individual and social realities that are hypermediated by mass information, mass entertainment and mass distribution, induced by political and commercial powers. Media studies offer a different approach to the phenomenon, following either Raymond Williams's view that technological evolutions are dependent on existing social processes and structures, thereby implying that society is not a victim of technology, or the theory of Marshall McLuhan who predicted that new media would re-empower people with the tactile and auditory relation with the world that they lost in four hundred years of print culture (Lister et al., op.cit.). The current user and consumer experience is extremely visual, yet through virtuality, simulation and interaction, it no longer is about passive viewing only. Media may be perceived as extensions to the human body and mind, allowing to maximize everyday experiences.


Module SO0962A - Digital Media Practice - Essay Nadege Charline Florival - 10/05/2012 BA Visual Communication & Media Design Year 3 - IAMCG - University of Abertay

Lister et al. (op.cit.) explain that the key characteristics of most new media are digital, interactive, hypertextual, virtual, networked and simulated. These have profoundly altered the working processes of disciplines such as marketing, advertising and graphic design. The latter in particular has been revolutionized by digitization. The speciality, which required artistic and communication skills from its beginnings to the 1980s, now relies heavily on digital technology. One of its characteristics, the flexibility needed to convey very different sorts of messages while working for extremely varied types of clients and audiences, may have led it to embrace roles and technologies that could be in the process of proving overly ambitious. From poster art in the late nineteenth century, graphic design became a craft for the presentation of information and commercial message after the First World Ward (Hollis, 2001) and transformed into a set of sub-specialities that has not ceased to broaden in the past fifteen years. In the 1980s, graphic designers worked essentially on corporate identity and promotion, branding and advertising, publishing, typography, signage and environmental graphics, using manual tools more frequently than computers. Within twenty years, computers and specialist software became vital tools, or as Adrian Shaughnessy (2010) describes them, 'digital life-support systems of smart software' and have brought designers to information design, web design, motion graphics, post-production, interactive media, user interface and user experience. The variety of software that designers may use increased considerably in the past decade and unceasing upgrades are making it difficult to remain proficient with core tools and learn new ones at the same time. Shaughnessy (op.cit.) raises essential questions on the vocation of graphic designers in the digital era: 'In a world where a [smartphone] can connect us instantly to billions of other human beings, what is the point of a thousand years of typographic tradition? In an age of gestural interactivity, what is the role of colour and form?' And more importantly 'Are graphic designers the best people to be creating the new digital communication products and services of tomorrow?'. He then answers that digital design takes designers back to the original definition of their work, that of a 'detached reporter of the client's message without overlaying personal taste or clinging to fashionable stylistic gestures'. This idea implies that as graphic design became subsumed to branding in the 1990s, too much focus may have been put on aesthetics and style. New digital specialities such as interface design require designers to be highly skilled technicians rather than artists and could be helping them re-evaluate the importance of form against function in some of their work. Shaughnessy concludes with the reassuring perspective of Hilary Kenna, who confirms that traditional graphic design principles such as those of typography are far from being made obsolete by the digital practice. As an example, the latest trends in web design, for example the use of web themes and templates, demonstrate the difficulty of handling screen typography and require from the web designer to combine technical know-how and aesthetic sensitivity.


Module SO0962A - Digital Media Practice - Essay Nadege Charline Florival - 10/05/2012 BA Visual Communication & Media Design Year 3 - IAMCG - University of Abertay

Referring to digital technology, Lister et al. (op.cit.) warn against the risk of technological essentialism; although the digital state is real and operational, it should not be reduced to its features. A parallel can be made with the digitization of graphic design work: producing digital outputs in a graphic design exercise does not mean offering an exclusively digital user experience, as digital products often accompany traditional ones in order to add to it. For instance, the branding of Harry Potter films did not involve commercials and merchandising only but also the creation of an interactive website and of a video game. It may happen rather frequently nowadays that a marketing object becomes an extension to the product, or a product and an experience in itself, such as the Harry Potter World at Universal Orlando, but this is mainly the case with large-scale branding. The graphic designers that have succeeded in the industry by the first decade of the twenty-first century, that is to say those who occupy a post of Senior Designer, Artistic Director or Manager, are from a generation that did not study with computers and did not work with software to start with. Therefore keeping a position and keeping winning contracts required immersing oneself into the digital world at one point of their career, learning computer skills when they had barely any, keeping up with the upgrading pace and learning to work on digital products or at the very least, acquiring digital 'thinking'. Besides this effort, it appears that the key to surviving the big shift is having a global approach to graphic design. Owain [lastname removed], who carries out exclusively digital work in postproduction, explains that although a large part of the traditional design skills are transferrable to digital work, he found the transition from static work to motion graphics and compositing quite challenging early on and now thinks that even with long-term experience in the digital field, a graphic designer is led to question his competence due to the ever broadening software package and skill requirement. Moreover, he explains that the working and approval processes have changed to become non-linear and that the resulting dynamics between designer and client brings the latter to having the highest expectations. His perspective though, is that despite the increasing difficulty in finding new creative ideas and effects, the coming decade will see new ways of thinking and working. Ian [lastname removed] manages a team of graphic designers, web developers and marketing officers and demonstrates a clever and effective approach to branding. The key to his success most certainly is looking out for emerging technologies and evaluating whether they ought to be integrated in the range of products developed by his team. No matter how overpowering the digital technology may be, his view remains that it is 'just another medium', which prevents him from being overwhelmed and allows him to follow the fast pace.


Module SO0962A - Digital Media Practice - Essay Nadege Charline Florival - 10/05/2012 BA Visual Communication & Media Design Year 3 - IAMCG - University of Abertay

Ian [lastname removed], who deals equally with traditional and digital branding products, provides a most interesting insight into the subject of the soft against the hard, pointing out that instead of one eradicating the other, functions and status maybe simply end up being inverted. In effect, while the cost of digital production decreased, making digital interfaces become everyday tools, the lower demand in printed and physical objects is transforming those into a more exclusive kind. From his daily contacts and experience he feels that the need for 'tangible' remains, which anyone interested in creative things may easily witness. For instance, a revival of crafts started in the past decade (Twemlow, 2006), seeing a growing amount of workshops and programmes in art schools, universities and associations such as the UK Crafts Council. The integration of crafted elements into digital work or advertising is beautifully illustrated by the work of Yulia Brodskaya. In graphic design, old technologies such as screen printing and letterpress are being revived as well, with studios offering training throughout the UK. Speaking of old feel, it is interesting to notice how textures have invaded media such as the Internet or magazines, as though anything looking too polished needed to be given a touch of real. Even animation films using stunning three-dimensional art, such as Ratatouille by Pixar Animation Studios and Bolt by Walt Disney Animation Studios, seem to rely increasingly on traditional illustration and traditional animation to produce their credits, so as to convey a vintage feel that contrasts with high-tech animation. As a final example, a recent issue of the New Scientist introduced the rather discreet but expanding phenomenon of 'tinkering', a movement composed of researchers in disciplines relating to interaction design, who attempt to 'merge the online and physical worlds in surprising ways'. From a device that releases a soap bubble each time an email is received, to a smart pill bottle that reports medication habits to one's doctor over the web, the most quirky yet useful devices are being created thanks to Arduino, 'an open-source electronics prototyping platform intended for artists, designers, hobbyists and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments'. Governments, academics and big technology companies have been observing these innovations for years and are working on promoting this vision of an 'Internet of Things'. The latest reviews on graphic design suggest that due to a number of issues, the discipline may be in need of redefining itself. Tom Dennis from Computer Arts explained recently that despite the recent financial crisis, the industry is boasting with entrepreneurial agility and creativity and that funding in the UK is planning to further grow. Nevertheless, financial pressure exists as clients demand more on tight budgets and, together with technological changes this is prompting the field to change shape.


Module SO0962A - Digital Media Practice - Essay Nadege Charline Florival - 10/05/2012 BA Visual Communication & Media Design Year 3 - IAMCG - University of Abertay

Twemlow (op.cit.) points out that the industry is extremely late with sustainability questions. The problem encountered with the production of promotional items has always been the use of non eco-friendly paper stock and inks and it is proving difficult to attain the level of finish designers are used to with sustainable materials and working methods. In this respect, the practice of digital design has a positive effect on designers' work; by learning sustainable practices and combining traditional and digital production effectively, they may eventually find satisfying design solutions. Twemlow warns that digital work may not be as eco-friendly as it appears, due to 'ewaste' that is to say the considerable amount of electronic devices that are disposed of worldwide in non-suitable ways, yet the reduction of the proportion of printed material thanks to digital production is a positive outcome. Graphics designers can be distinguished from artists from the fact that their artwork has a function, that of conveying a message or, depending on the context, attract the consumer's attention or please the user's eye. The idea that graphic design is visual communication allows drawing a parallel with Riepl's Law, which states that new media or technologies do not replace old ones and that instead the two converge, the old finding new usage. In this frame of mind, designers may be able to combine their knowledge of a hundred years worth of design styles and techniques with the latest technology to produce state-of-the-art digital media.


Module SO0962A - Digital Media Practice - Essay Nadege Charline Florival - 10/05/2012 BA Visual Communication & Media Design Year 3 - IAMCG - University of Abertay

Cited: Hollis, R. 2001. Graphic Design (A Concise History). 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd. Twemlow, A. 2006. What is Graphic Design for? Mies: RotoVision SA. Shaugnessy, A. 2010. How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd. Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Grant, I., Kelly, K. 2009. New Media, a critical introduction. 2nd ed. Oxon: Routledge. Hardt, H. 2004. Myths for the masses. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Not cited: AIGA. 2008. Professional Practices in Graphic Design. 2nd ed. New York: Allworth Press. Gillespie, M. & Toynbee, J. 2006. Analysing Media Texts. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Dennis, T. 2012. 'Graphic Design: an industry in flux'. Computer Arts Collection. Vol 01, p.67. Street, O. The prospects for Graphic Design in the digital age. Email interview by Florival, C.,, Manchester, UK. 7 February 2012. McDougall, I. The prospects for Graphic Design in the digital age. Personal interview by Florival, C., Aberdeen College, Aberdeen, UK. 9 February 2012. Caie, I. The prospects for Graphic Design in the digital age. Personal interview by Florival, C., Rocket Print, Aberdeen, UK. 10 February 2012. Brodskaya, Y. 2012. [Accessed 04 May 2012]. YouTube. 2007. Ratatouille End Credits. (2:17) [Accessed 04 May 2012]. YouTube. 2008. Bolt ending. (3:28) [Accessed 04 May 2012]. Campbell, M. 2012. 'Make yourself at home'. New Scientist. 21 April, p.44.