London’s Johnston100 typeface

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Great look at, and revamp of, London’s 100-year-old Johnston100 typeface. Interesting how that typeface quietly defines the look of the entire city and city services, and has been doing so for 100 years. It’s getting an update, thanks to Nadine Chahine and company at Monotype. Additions include a hashtag (#), apparently not in frequent use in the early 1900s, a few modifications, and the addition of a number of thinner typeface weights. If you’re interested in type, London, or both, here’s Monotype’s article and video.

Death of the Supermarket, or Why I Never Buy Sugar-free Jell-O. HOW Design Live, Atlanta

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The HOW Design Live conference took place in in Atlanta this year. I participated in a double-session with a few other members of the  SVA Masters in Branding faculty. With me were Debbie Millman (hosting the double-session discussions), Sem Devillart, Tom Guarriello and Richard Shear. Our topic: Death of the Supermarket. My topic – Why I Never Buy Sugar-free Jell-O. The quick answer – because my supermarket feels obligated to let me know it costs $45 a pound. The longer answer – supermarkets aren’t nearly as relevant as other entities in our lives. Based on their own descriptions, many consider themselves to be less about the food business, and more about shipping and stock. Which made sense in the distant past, because it’s how they came to be – but many have failed to evolve. They are suffering for it, including the 156 year old Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (a.k.a. A&P), who met its demise last year.

Apparently this is a hot topic – our session went on for two straight hours, the room was packed, and I don’t think anyone left! If you attended, thanks for coming. Hope to continue the conversation.

Six predictions about the future of design

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The world of design is changing rapidly. The practice of design – not as quickly. The methods we typically use to design things today are based on decades-old practices. (I have project plans from the 1980s to prove that – I save a lot of things.)

Following is a list of six things that I believe are about to change the world of design. Some are starting to happen already, others are long overdue:

1. In the future, designers will know things.

2. We’ll add metrics to design.

3. Advertising and marketing budgets will be diverted to design.

4. We’ll return to basics in understanding people – psychology and physical ergonomics.

5. Females will re-think the fields of design and engineering.

6. We’ll see an exponentially increasing demand for better design, worldwide.

 

1. In the future, designers will know things.

In the 1980s, how to design something was important. Designers introduced new (and valuable) methods to improve products and help embellish a line of goods. The approach to design was helpful to many companies at the time.

Today we all know, globally, how to design something. The process of design has become a commodity. The value now is in knowing what to design, and why. To evolve designers need to base value on knowledge, not process. We need experts in design, not simply designers who can fill a slot in a project planning spreadsheet. Knowledge in design will be its future.

2. We’ll add metrics to design.

In past practice most designers have avoided any form of measure in their design work. Quantification is typically not something taught in design schools, therefore, not something that a majority of designers even know how approach. Yet we’re all trying to innovate. It’s hard to imagine running a lab, or learning anything, if we’re not measuring things.

Quantification, or data visualization, can take many forms. There’s lots of opportunity to advance our knowledge in design if we can get better at this understanding. Not to mention the fact that early quantification will not only give design ideas more credibility, it will enable design teams to push forward with more confidence, in more far-reaching directions.

3. Advertising and marketing budgets will be diverted to design.

There was probably a time in the world (before my time) that designers would invent something, then hire a marketing group to promote it. With the 1950s advent of television advertising, that got turned around. Companies needed something to advertise. And whether the product was new or not, at least in advertisements it had to look new. Marketing groups started hiring designers. Designers became stylists.

The internet, our go-to medium today, has been changing that. Product messaging is no longer coming from the top down, it’s coming from the bottom up, because we now own the media. Through blogs, Amazon reviews, discussion groups and all forms of social media, we’re advising each other about what to buy, and which brands and organizations deserve our allegiance.

With this phenomenon showing no sign of letting-up, companies are embracing design. They are setting up design and innovation centers, and hiring some of the best designers available. Advertising budgets, which historically have been exponentially greater than our paltry design budgets, are being diverted to design. Design is the new advertising.

4. We’ll return to basics in understanding people – psychology and physical ergonomics.

Lots of designers, and design schools, tout the idea that they are all about understanding people. Yet when I ask if they provide any background or courses in biomechanics or psychology, their answer is “no.” Biomechanics is the study of how the body works, Psychology covers cognition, the brain’s thought processes. If they’re not versed in the body or the brain, then it’s not clear exactly what part of “understanding people” they are about.

As physical and emotional needs are to be met, and as design becomes less about “what” and more about “why,” this is certain to change. Understanding the basics will be essential.

5. Females will re-think the fields of design and engineering.

The way we design something, unto itself, is a design. The fields of engineering and design, and the work cultures that have emerged, are based on the way males would engineer or design something. Naturally, since males dominated those professions for decades. The result is often a feeling of discomfort or uneasiness by females working in those environments. While the gender ratio in engineering and design schools is roughly 50-50, in practice the ratio is more like 20-80 – many females drop out.

Change is inevitable. There are too many females emerging from STEM initiatives in schools (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for those male-generated cultures to continue. That change may not take place as a slow evolution – my sense is that female engineers and designers looking to change the world will be too impatient for that. I’m thinking it will happen quickly, we’ll see female-lead practices that will have significant impact on the testosterone-laced cultures that have developed within these fields.

6. We’ll see an exponentially increasing demand for better design, worldwide.

I’ve been advising a major consumer electronics company on the future of their products. They have always considered their competition to be other companies that manufacture the same items – for instance, televisions. My advice was different. Their competition is everything else in an individual consumer’s life with which they interface. That person may only own one television – but he or she using websites, microwave ovens, audio equipment, hi-tech thermostats, smart phones – an array of products that can set a high standard for design and usability. They are the competition, and the products by which other products or services will be judged.

This appreciation of design is happening worldwide. Many countries I’m working with, for instance, are seeing the emergence of lower-income social classes. As more people in those populations begin to see or experience well designed items, the more they are realizing that other things in their lives have potential to be equally well-designed.

This is good news for designers and engineers, if they can respond appropriately, since this realization that things-can-be-better will assure new opportunities, worldwide, for many years to come.