I’ve been musing lately about how technology is shifting into the ‘mobile’ age. In Steve Jobs’ recent keynote speech at the WDDC, he heralded the end of the desktop era as everything shifts to tablets and mobile devices. Of course, desktops will be around for a long time and everything he says lately, needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
On my morning commute to work, I see people of all ages walking around the city of Lowell, MA with their devices in hands, glowing screens in their faces, mesmerized by whatever they are engaged in – thumbs blazing on the miniature keyboards. Seems that everywhere I go, in fact, someone has a device of some sorts that they are constantly looking at. In traffic on the highway after work, I see people in their cars – despite the recent laws against texting while driving – doing the same thing. I’m sure you’ve all experienced the frustration of standing in a checkout line while the person in front of you is carrying on an enthralling conversation while totally ignoring everyone around them.
The immediate gratification of the internet throughout the 90’s has paved the way for this paradigm shift. At work, my co-workers walk through the hallways with their Blackberries in their faces. In the bathroom stall next to mine, someone is checking their email and responding to it. That immediacy of information is changing the way we work, the way we learn, and sadly, the way we interact with each other. People feel more inclined to tweet something or email, poke, or Facebook a quick message to an individual with, surely, sincere intent, but without that human contact. It’s safer, dare I say more sanitized interaction.
How will this change us as a people? I was talking with a co-worker about the explosion of tablet and mobile devices and pondered on the impact it will eventually have on education. Students will no longer need to open a book. Their entire curriculum will be loaded onto their iPads. How will it affect the way a class is conducted. Instead of a student raising his/her hand, they can just text the teacher or some other digital form of hand raising.
Touch screen displays and devices will change the way we order something at a restaurant, or interact with a kiosk at a gas station. Apple has already changed the entire retail experience. Instead of walking up to a register, an employee can process your transaction with an iPhone. Who knows, maybe eventually, all we’ll have to do to vote in an election is download a voting app.
The implications here for design though is what I’m getting at and what this paradigm shift will do to design education. With the release of CS5.5, Adobe has made authoring for tablets and mobile devices from its entire Creative Suite much easier. Of course, this falls in line with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen’s vision of design once, deploy everywhere. How will this impact design?
I believe most designers are receiving traditional print design training through their college careers. It’s graphic designer’s and typographer’s that are teaching these classes. The basic principles of design are explained and experimentation and appropriation are used to propel the students through their portfolio classes. What’s the end result? Usually, a print portfolio. Surely, there are design schools who do have the ability to use technology and produce students with a portfolio that is something more than print. A website or an interactive Flash piece.
If graphic design training continues to follow the same principles, how can students be expected to incorporate more UX design practices into their portfolios? Are we at a point where the term Graphic Design is outdated? What should a design curriculum encompass these days to ensure that students have the right foundational competencies, but yet have all of the technical competencies to meet the ever changing technological landscape?
Another possibility is that students learn specific, narrow topics in design school to prepare them for a niche career? So one student could focus entirely on website design for the desktop. Another student could focus on mobile development. They would be acutely aware of all of the aspects of their respective fields and would be prepared to troubleshoot problems as they arise. Is this feasible though? Probably not. The thinking might be, ‘you can design a website, so you must be able to do develop one for mobile use?’ Maybe graphic design curriculum becomes more of a liberal arts study. More exploratory in nature until the student finds their interest and holds on to it.
There’s no question though, that as with the rise of desktop publishing changing graphic design behavior, tablet and mobile development will change it again. Are we ready for that change?