How will the future look? Does the world simply evolve at random? Do things just magically appear? Hardly. All man-made creations are designed. Everything that nature did not create required human thought, creativity and manufacture.
Design variables are vast: Does it have an attractive appearance? Is it logical and functional? What size? What weight? What materials? How does it feel when you hold it in your hand? Can it be produced profitably? Will it be in demand? How can we make it even better? All these answers are in the minds of designers. These wizards create the fascinating world we live in. What they conceive today will be before our eyes tomorrow.
Graphic design touches our entire world. Take a look at something quite familiar: a television remote control. What a difference execution can make. The two remotes pictured above accomplish the exact same functions. Which one would you prefer to use? Which one would you buy?
The Cablevision remote on the right is oddly shaped, poorly laid out and garish in appearance. Look carefully at the very top and you might see a frowning clown face. The Samsung remote is sleek, functional, logical and efficient. The look is contemporary and entrancing. The design makes all the difference. I want the one on the left!
Outstanding designers also must master skills of leadership, experimentation and innovation. A fine example occurred back to the 1950s, a time of wonderful stylization. Post-war America became fascinated with the new space age and all it had to offer. The look of rockets and space and the promise of the future became integrated into nearly everything from automobiles to kitchen blenders to eyeglass frames.
One 1950s trailblazer was General Motors designer Harley Earl. Always looking for a new gimmick for next year’s autos, he decided to replace standard developmental pencil sketches with 3D clay models. Experimentation became easy and viable when adding this new perspective. Now he could see exactly how his visions would appear. His peers were duly impressed too.
Harley was relentless in his quest to design the next great thing. Under his leadership, America was soon driving futuristic vehicles complete with tail fins inspired by fighter jets. His influence was adopted into nearly everything that required design: TV sets, fashion, architecture and interior design and just about everything else!
Harley’s early design work in clay led to computer software like Alias, Wavefront and now Maya. These innovative programs met the increasing demands of the design departments at GM and Ford. Harley’s techniques also live on in media like the very popular Sculpey, a polymer clay used especially for movie models and special effects.
Who will be the next designer to introduce a whole new look for our future? How will we first see it? How will it be adopted, develop and weave itself into all that surrounds us? Will the look be considered a form of social engineering? This is where all the excitement is!
The graphic designers who will decide the look of the 2020s, 2030s, 2040s and beyond are now sprouting and germinating in our high schools and colleges. Their mentors will point the way but the future is ultimately in their hands. What is in their minds? What is their vision? Wouldn’t you love to know! Just wait a while. You’ll see!
My sincere thanks to Northeastern University Art and Design Department Chair, Nathan Felde, for the inspiration to write this article. He reminded me the look of the future will emerge from the gifted students who learn to design. What an exciting position to be in! Nathan enjoys first look into the minds that will create tomorrow!