The digital doors of design and production have been thrown wide open with the tools of our trade now commonplace and accessible to all.
A few years back your non-creative friends wouldn’t have understood three per cent of what you do at work. For all they knew, you sat around drinking cappuccino all day listening to Air albums. They did know that you could design business cards, create DVDs and knock up a little Web site for them for free – “It won’t take you long, thanks ever so much!” – but when you explained what a hard day you’d just had because Photoshop couldn’t parse an EPS their eyes would glaze over and they’d start talking to someone/anyone else.
The dramatic rise of digital photography has made the world sit up and take notice of pixels, digital camcorders have given tripods legs again, and everyone knows what Helvetica is when the topic comes up at the pub quiz. A powerful PC – packing more punch than a late-1990s supercomputer – can be had for about a grand. Remember when desktop publishing took off in the late 1980s? Suddenly, legions of page-layout artists roamed the land creating local newsletters and crappy posters that turned clip-art into a booming industry. No newsletter was complete without using every single font in bold italic outline underline with heavy shadow. PostScript and the laser printer have an awful lot to answer for, but the real culprit – if indeed blame is to be apportioned – was the graphical user interface. With the command-line interface banished to the laboratory, in three to four years computer literacy was there for all to comprehend. It had taken centuries for good old-fashioned literacy to escape the monastery for the libraries and front-rooms of the common man. The GUI’s folders, menus and tool icons spread through the western world faster than Spanish Influenza. They’re advertising PDFs on TV, for God’s sake!
Mass media and our lazy ability to sit around reading magazines and watching the goggle-box have made us more aware of design. And the more aware we are of something, the more it becomes a part of us. What’s changed is that people are turning from passive watching to active participation.
Should we be worried that our closed world of creative activity is becoming more open and commonplace? A digital photographer can get lucky, and produce the odd stunning shot every 512MB or so. It’s less likely that, after a few hours on iMovie or Premiere, the amateur filmmaker will produce anything to trouble the broadcast community. You can’t get lucky and suddenly design an interactive Flash Web site. And DTP proved that a few fonts and a word-processor don’t make for a great corporate brochure.
Now that so many more people are creatively literate, our visionary genius won’t be rumbled and humbled. Quite the opposite – talent, skill and imagination will be truly respected because now it’s better understood. “Couldn’t help me with my online CV, could you? I was thinking of adding some animation… it shouldn’t take long. Thanks ever so much!”