COMMUNICATION DESIGN IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT

30 May 2007
Jacques Lange, Icograda President 2005-2007
Jacques Lange, Icograda President 2005-2007

Presented to the China International Cultural Industry Forum at the China (Shenzhen) International Cultural Industry Fair 2007, Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Centre Hall, Shenzhen, China,
18 May 2007.

Honoured guests, speakers and delegates, all protocol observed.

I have been invited to talk about 'the state, development and outlook of international graphic design in 2006'. The choice of terminology used in this brief provides me with the ideal opportunity to summarise some of the most important trends of my profession's activities during the last year in the first few paragraphs of my presentation.

During the past two decades, design has increasingly emerged as a strategic management imperative and is enjoying an unprecedented focus from diverse audiences. Design and design thinking (innovation) has become a desired topic for the public at large - you hear it discussed on the streets, in boardrooms and in governmental planning sessions - and the public is looking to designers to critically define the role that they play in today's world. So, it is no longer enough for designers to simply be talking to designers. We must increasingly engage in conversations with business, the public, governments and international organisations.

For my profession, traditionally termed 'graphic design', this has created a challenge to review the language that we use to describe what we do as skilled professionals, so that our external stakeholders have a better understanding of what we do as specialist professionals.

The term 'graphic design' no longer adequately describes the diversity of activities that designers working in the sphere of communication engage with during their daily professional practice. The staggering pace of technological advancement and the rapid expansion of knowledge in the management science provide designers working in the field of communication with vast opportunities to expand their services and increase their scope of practice. Today, graphic design is just one of the many dimensions of the constituency that I represent, and almost daily, new dimensions emerge. Therefore, one of the most profound developments of the past year is the emergence of 'communication design' as a more representative professional descriptor rather than the term 'graphic design'.

Emerging sub-disciplines
This direction respects the evolution of our profession to include practice areas that have emerged and become well established in recent years but also includes past traditions. Today, we practice communication design in many more spheres than what is traditionally defined as graphic and visual. For instance, think virtual (purely imaginary), experiential, sensory and emotional. Graphic designers traditionally worked in the domain that was predominantly visual and two-dimensional, but today, they increasingly work in spatial, motion and sensory modalities that are not just visual and therefore not 'graphic' by purist definition.

Increasingly, our profession works in the kinaesthetic world that traditionally belonged to the performing, cinematographic and fine arts. These artistic techniques and sensory experiences have recently become mainstream marketing and communication tactics and technology empowers designers to apply it as part of their strategic communication pallet or professional offering.

Further, design thinking as a management tactic resulted in new design disciplines emerging such as design management, place branding and service design, to name just a few. Also, in recent years, we have seen tremendous growth in design management education and integration of design management principles into business education, and at the same time, designers are learning to speak the language of the global business citizenry. The traditional delineations of the professional design domains of graphic, industrial and interior design have become increasingly arbitrary and now it is often difficult to delineate the difference between the traditional design disciplines because the overlaps of practice have become so ubiquitous.

Almost a year ago, the Icograda Board took the bold step to finally adapt the practice descriptor from 'graphic design' to 'communication design' and in October 2007, the Icograda General Assembly will decide on the proposal. As Russell Kennedy eloquently framed the discussion, The borders between graphic design and its associated creative disciplines have been blurring for some time the value of graphic design will only increase as the world['s] [economics, interaction and technology] moves closer together, because communication design is emerging as the new international language.

Therefore, the pace set by the diverse design industries and its multi-platform environments challenge us to evaluate our core assumptions about effective use of creativity today and in the future. It has also become our profession's responsibility - as cultural agents - to be open and be receptive, to the ever-changing world that is shaping our own understanding of the diverse creative professions and the influence and impact of the technologies that we create.

The scope of the communication design profession
It is not possible for me to accurately talk about the global climate and scope of the communication design economy because there are no commonly agreed measurement criteria or mechanisms in place today. However, Icograda implemented three temporary measurement instruments to gauge global activity of profession management. We are very conscious of the weaknesses of these instruments and have subsequently rectified it by launching an initiative that I will talk about later on.

The first measurement instrument that we do have in place is regional meeting survey. These surveys are snapshots of regional activity which were provided by participants in Icograda Design Weeks since 2001. Seven regional meetings have taken place in Latin and Central America, North America, Central and Eastern Europe and Asia which provided top-line data on national professional bodies, education infrastructure, industry publications, common challenges and opportunities, climate of the design economy and estimated numbers of qualified professional designers.

The second measurement instrument is data resulting from national research conducted ad hoc in countries in various parts of the world. These are commonly supportive of the development of national design strategies and policies. Again, these provide only top-line data. However, this data is not scientifically insightful in an international context, because it lacks common research protocols, indices and definitions.

Thirdly, Icograda continuously gathers information on industry and professional trends by tracking the communication and interaction of members with the Icograda Secretariat. Though potentially faulty, the following assumptions can be made.

Based on the available data, I would say that there is a cautious optimism in the international design economy today. For example, in Canada, specialised design firms generated $2.4 billion in operating revenues in 2004, up 11% from 2003. The double-digit growth rate, not seen since 2000, exceeded the cumulative growth of the preceding three-year period (from 2001 to 2003). Firms in communication design, the largest industry of the group, continued to represent one half of total operating revenues.

A further example, when we look at the reports gathered from the Icograda Regional Meeting in Seattle in July 2006, in both the US and Canada, communication design is increasingly being recognised as a vital component of overall business strategy, with more and more attention being paid to the quality of design. As put by the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG), The ability to communicate visually to hurried and jaded audiences has become an important asset to business, marketers and communicators. However, professional fees and salaries have been declining as competition increases and clients have grown increasingly cost conscious and demanding; budget cuts in higher education continue to threaten the professional development and networking opportunities for those working at colleges and universities. Survey respondents listed a number of challenges that the profession continues to face. Among these are: the impact of technology, inadequate compensation, increased competition and the devaluation of work, a limited sensitivity to communicating across cultures and to understanding global markets, and a limited integration of sustainability into professional practice.

By contrast, when we look at China and the reports from the Icograda Regional Meeting in Hong Kong in January 2006, we see the pace of transformation in emerging design economies: "Currently, the profession of communication design is undergoing a period of fast development and tremendous changes, offering more opportunities to designers in China than their counterparts in the US and some other counties. In China, graphic design is socially recognised as a good profession, and one of the top choices of university graduates. Whereas the income of graphic designers and design companies are not as high as their western counterparts in absolute value, they are among the high-income groups of the country."

"With 25 years of economic growth in China, the social demand for graphic design has risen sharply and pushed up the development of the profession, one sign of which is the increasing numbers of universities that offer communication design programs. The rise of the profession in China is quite spectacular and dramatic, and the changes are so great that one could hardly link the current state with what the profession was ten years ago. While only a few good designs could occasionally emerge then, good designs are everywhere around us now. A look at the magazines will tell how much better we are than ten years ago. I believe communication design is the one in all design genres that has undergone the most gigantic changes."

A common concern between many of the regional reports that Icograda have compiled during the past year or two is the number of designers entering the market. The rise of private educational institutions is sometimes seen as capitalising on the current design 'buzz/hype' which have led to oversupplying under-trained students that are not necessarily a match for the market needs. Yet, the opposite is also true and many private institutions are producing world-class professionals. The emergence of design education as a free standing industry - independent of market trends - is a phenomenon that we have yet to address as a profession.

Critical questions
Aiming to gather some additional trends and intelligence, I sourced some additional intelligence from the Icograda Secretariat.

I asked the CEO to report the recent trends in membership numbers of Icograda as well as that of the membership numbers of members' members. The result is based on annual membership surveys that Icograda conducts for administrative purposes. Overall Icograda is experiencing gradual growth in membership numbers among professional associations. The establishment of professional bodies in specifically developing and underdeveloped countries are increasing which implies that a greater proportion of the world is becoming part of the mainstream of global profession management. Another trend is the merging of national professional bodies that were previously unsustainable. By consolidating resources, multidisciplinary national bodies reduce the number/headcount of individual associations but it has a positive result long term - fewer but stronger organisations with accumulated critical mass, increased influence and more sustainable resources.

One of the most important trends in membership to Icograda is the rapid increase membership from educational institutions in the Icograda Education Network. Educational institutions globally realise the benefits of being part of global profession networks, and this is encouraging, because we are starting to see greater interaction between academia and practice at an international level.

Today, Icograda represents 194 member associations and institutions in 57 countries, including professional associations, promotional agencies, affiliate organisations and educational institutions. This excludes corporations, which do not currently form part of Icograda's membership basis as well as Friends of Icograda.

When we measure the reach of influence and engagement of individuals - designers on the studio floor - the measurement becomes more complex because of differing accounting methods. Yet if we aim to establish a total headcount, the guesswork rolls out as follows: In Icograda, we count professional members from our member associations, and those number just short of 25 000. As an average, 25% of the actual total membership holds professional standing, so Icograda represents approximately 100 000 designers directly. Extrapolate that further, using the guide that only 10% of all professional communication designers belong to a professional association, then there are at minimum 2.5 million professional designers practising communication design today.

What is not included in these numbers is the number of individuals that Icograda represents who are engaged in design promotion and design management. Currently, we have 19 associate (promotional members) who employ between five and 100 staff. Additionally, our professional associations employ staff that contribute to the management of the design profession. Then there is the design education community. When we look within our own board, it is easy to see that today many of us wear multiple hats as practising professionals and educators. A full 50%+ of our team are both practising professionals and educators.

Growth of professionalism
A further important trend that the Icograda Secretariat has observed is a significant focus on the development of professionalism in design practice. Evidence includes increased support for the implementation of the Icograda/Icsid/IFI Code of Professional Conduct and Ethical Practices in national membership application requirements to for membership, increased professional development programmes dealing with acceptable ethical practices standards and acceptable practice exclusions such as unethical copyright practices and speculative work. The latter has received the most attention and in many parts of the world and national bodies have taken assertive actions to curb this inherently faulty practice because fails to serve the best interests of commissioners or their potential service providers in a logical manner.

On the international front, Icograda has made strides in developing best practice policy frameworks such as reviewing Competition and Awards Guidelines, best practices on soliciting design work, organisational governance policies for professional associations and developing long-term strategic planning based on newly defined goals and objectives that focus on contemporary trends and needs in the international communication design profession, especially multidisciplinary practice. During the past year, Icograda realised that the profession has become more outward looking, focussing increasingly on its place in the societal context than on the economic and practice areas.

Additionally, from a professional development point, particularly learning opportunities, the prognosis for ongoing education and learning seems to be exceptionally healthy. The average number of new entries that Icograda receive and include in the events section of its weekly eNews is approximately 10 new events per edition - or 500+ on an annual basis. These include conferences, seminars, workshops, courses, social engagement initiatives, awards and competitions. Most notably, the majority of these relate to best practices in sustainable development, socio-economic entrepreneurship and issues related to responsible global citizenship. This is an obvious reflection of the profession's urge to learn new skills, expand professional knowledge, highlight the strategic importance of design thinking and design excellence, grow the capacity of communication designers to offer clients with a more holistic service offer of competitive and strategic skills, balanced by social, cultural and environmental responsibility and accountability.

Overall, these equate to forward-looking advancements to benefit the triple bottom line of what communication design has to offer as well as displaying respect and commitment to cultural diversity that enriches our global community, professional accountability to people and the natural ecology.

Multidisciplinary interventions
To demonstrate the value of design, we need to do valuable things that are also valuable to other people. This implies creating new depth, relevance and resonance around the design industry/ies and its economic, social/cultural and environmental responsibilities.

That is exactly the reason why the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) and Icograda formed the International Design Alliance (IDA). The IDA is based on the desire of both partners to 'do together what we cannot do alone', concentrating on opportunities arising from multidisciplinary collaboration. The IDA's vision is "The design community working together for a world that is balanced, inclusive and sustainable" and its mission is "To bring the benefits of design to world bodies, governments, business and society". Its founding goals include:
- To serve as the collective voice of design;
- To develop and share knowledge of design around the world;
- To stimulate innovation through multidisciplinary design collaboration;
- To promote the mutual interest of all design professions, and
- To encourage the use and value of design by building relationships with world bodies.

Since its official establishment in October 2005, the IDA has developed two major initiatives that aim to serve its mandate and in addition, merge several duplications. These are:
- The IDA World Design Capital™ - aims to recognise cities that 'reinvent' themselves through the strategic use of design and innovation by awarding the WDC designation on an annual basis. It entails a year-long programme of intensive investment in design activities and promotion by the selected city government as a means to boost the local economy and reposition the city as being 'design driven'. The first WDC designation has been awarded to Torino, Italy, which will serve as the pilot site for future designations.
- The IDA World Design Report - aims to create a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary database on the design economy in the world, classified by country and based on common indicators and a comparative research methodology. As an industry, we guess a lot, yet know so little about our local and global impact. This project aims to level the playing field and allow us to compare common indicators that would inform national and international policy making according to standardised indices. Therefore, the IDA World Design Report pilot project will be the first attempt towards establishing a standard matrix. It will not be perfect but it will be a seminal start for establishing a common set of indicators which will replace the vague measurement instruments that I referred to previously.

Subsequently, the IDA Executive Committee has defined its key priorities to include fostering greater collaboration between the international multidisciplinary design profession's and the greater civil society infrastructure. The intention is to ensure that design and designers are part of global debates and issues that affect society today. The design industry realises that it has a significant impact on global politics, trade and environmental issues and therefore needs to position itself at the centre of the policy boardroom. This commitment needs much investment and the groundwork has started.

These are some of the bold steps that the communication and industrial design profession management is taking to secure our place as global citizens. Yet there are many other project that the IDA partners are engaging in to ensure that design as part of the cultural industries respond to as concerned and proactive global industry citizenry. Some of the other projects that the IDA has recently initiated include the INDIGO Project. INDIGO stands for 'international indigenous design network' and its aims include celebrating, preserving and developing indigenous design. It additionally fosters pride of ancient cultural roots among designers, especially those who have aboriginal roots, as a means for preserving valuable heritage as well as fostering continuous appreciation and development of ancient cultural expressions in a dynamic and respectable manner in the 21st century.

In addition, Icograda launched +Design , a platform for designers and design buyers to display the successes of design and client relationships dedicated to sustainable management practices. +Design is a showcase for interventions that engages creativity, problem solving and reputation management - not just for financial gain - as a means to illustrate how design and business can resolve common environmental, social and industrial challenges in an original manner.

Also, Icograda and Icsid are engaged in dovetailing their education networks and have subsequently made vast progress on merging its media networks and databases. The IDA aims to build a comprehensive and integrated media database and content sharing platform for the generic profession by the end of 2007.

Conclusion
Even though the world is a much smaller place today than yesterday, there are still large parts of the world that remain isolated from the mainstream or active participation in the management of the design profession - Africa, many parts of Central and Latin America, Southeast Asia comes to mind. Also, language remains a divider between the international mainstream management of the design professions.

Today, information and communication are the basis of world-wide interdependent living, whether in trade, cultural or social spheres. As communication designers, we are called on to provide solutions to challenges of every kind in every sector of society to enhance the quality of life and the diversity of bottom-lines for all. The lines between local, national and global communication are becoming increasingly arbitrary. This opens up new possibilities for communicating across cultures and great distances that were previously unavailable. It also carries with it many new responsibilities to consider the power of communication design to unite or divide. We have entered a new dualistic epoch. Human civilisation is becoming more dynamic and complex by the second, yet our mother planet earth and her resources are increasingly becoming more vulnerable and depleted.

It is also our responsibility to be open and receptive to the changing world that is shaping our own understanding of our profession. The pace of communication and its multi-platform environment will challenge us to evaluate our core assumptions about effective use of design today and in the future.

I thank you.