08 November 2006
Colin Wood
Colin Wood

The future's not what it used to be, or so the saying goes. Neither is the past if it comes to that. It all depends on where you have been, where you are now and how you got there.

The problem is that we have all got to where we are by different routes and so we view our current position in relation to our individual experiences.

Now, as every young designer knows, anyone over thirty has lost the plot and couldn't design their way out of a paper bag. If the value of experience has not actually been reduced to nothing, it is a close run thing. Anything over two years makes you a master, it seems.

Don't laugh. Macromedia's Flash is still relatively new and yet it has taken over a sizeable chunk of cultural real estate. The 'movie' is being reinvented: animation is on every street corner, web cartoons are ubiquitous.

Print continues to evolve. Computer-to-plate technology is now unremarkable and has taken on a life of its own, digital proofing is coming of age (about time, some would say) and people have stopped talking about the death of the book.

Its demise is about as likely as the paperless office: mere wishful thinking by soothsayers. It doesn't matter which area of visual communications you are in, a deep understanding of the fundamentals are invaluable. These fundamentals may be in technology, skills, business practice, culture or whatever; you must understand why something is relevant.

For instance, colour management has had a rough trot in recent years; it has been neglected. Sure, there have been quite a lot of isolated solutions and Apple Computer have done a splendid job with their ColorSync group. They have fostered prolonged interaction between key industry players that has been very beneficial.

But, when all is said and done, do you know of anyone (including yourself) who has had a problem with proofing or colour management recently?

One of the things experience teaches you is that if you are having a problem, it's a fair bet that lots of other people are having the same problem.

On the other side of the coin, if things looks easy, then maybe someone has done a lot of work to make it happen that way. While we may take it for granted that certain things behave the way they do, very little happens accidentally. Someone, somewhere made it that way. The trick is to make it seamless. Like a stage show; perhaps an illusion, but the effect is 'real' if the result is concrete.

On the development front, isn't it great that the so-called digital revolution is largely behind us and has now matured? The seventies were full of promising horizons. The eighties full of 'baby's first steps', 'nice tries' and names we have long forgotten. The nineties gave us wonderful tools we had only dreamed about and made us realise that this was for real. The noughties have given us young designers who have no idea why we think this is so cool anyway.

Our children are truly mutants. It's probably a good thing that the ideas keep coming. While we can all look around us and find people who resist change, and might even admit to liking the occasional bit of stability ourselves, we all tune in to the latest and greatest (and even sometimes assume that the latest is the greatest).

But where would we be without the sceptics? Stuck in the Dark Ages, that's where. For blind acceptance denies improvement. Dispersal without testing gives more than a little tummy trouble. Hail beta testing (or, how to get a lot of people willing to improve your product so that you can sell them an upgrade: brilliant!)

I used to be sceptical, now I doubt that was the case. I will believe nothing, and I will believe anything. Help. Please call the quantum mechanic!

About this article
This article is reprinted from Design Graphics, with permission.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood founded Design World magazine in 1983 and it became one of the world's largest selling generalist design magazines. He published it for 12 years in all. From 1990 to 1993 he published a large format generalist magazine for Australia (only) entitled Design Ink. In 1993 this was relaunched internationally as Design Graphics. He also publishes the annual Art & Design Education Resource Guide for Australia and New Zealand, now in its 17th year. Next year sees the publication of the second Oz Graphix, an annual showcase of the best graphic design from top Australian studios.

Design Graphics
Design Graphics is a magazine devoted to all aspects of digital publishing. It covers a wide range of related subjects from high end printing, through new media all the way to the web. Each issue contains inspirational work by top professionals, tips and techniques in the Studio Skills articles, feature articles, technology updates, information on the latest hardware and software, reviews, hardware comparisons and much more! Design Graphics has a loyal and enthusiastic readership, most of whom are professionally engaged in design, communication, publishing or related activities.