I’ve been wondering for the last few months what kind of effect Web 2.0 and social networking might have on design, both online and in print. It feels like there’s a huge shift just percolating under the surface, but I wasn’t able to articulate what was coming until now. I just got back from the 2008 SXSW Interactive Conference and the ideas all of the speakers shared are starting to gel in my brain.
What we’re facing is a radical shift in the roles designers play in our culture and economy, a shift from creators to facilitators of participation, conversation and collaboration. And it’s already starting to happen.
Check out the Poetic Licence website. Instead of creating a single look for the site, the designers instead made an engine that allows users to customize their experience. Not only that, but if you play with the site enough, you’re rewarded with a coupon for a 10% discount.
In the fashion world, NikeiD lets users create their own shoes. But not everyone has been happy with their creations, so Nike developed a NikeiD Studio at Niketown in New York City, complete with computer stations and design consultants. And in the realm of product design, the Japanese company Muji solicits new ideas from its customers, who then vote on which items should be put into production.
So how might this play out in other kinds of design? There are several scenarios. How about a customizable brochure that contains only the specific information each customer wants. As print-on-demand technology improves, this is becoming more and more possible. Even easier would be a customizable PDF. The user could choose from a selection of text and images to create a totally personalized magazine or newsletter. The possibilities are endless.
And that’s exactly the role designers will play in the future: as engineers of possibility. So don’t worry when amateurs mess around in Photoshop; it’s just a tool. And don’t close yourself off from consumer feedback; dialogue with your end customer will make your work that much stronger.
There’s an uncomfortable but exciting tension right now between creator and consumer, creativity and technology. That tension shaped the stories in this issue, which focus on the role of the handmade in design. It’s a trend that’s been building for the last several years, but even more interesting is the trend of using technology to bring a handmade or customized feel to a mass-produced object.
It’s an exciting time to be in the business of communication, and I look forward to seeing how Design 2.0 develops.