In the fast-paced world of design, nothing stays the same for long. (Just look at the multitude of changing design styles that Contract presents in Video: Contract Celebrates 50 Years in Design). Whether its interior design, architecture, or even fashion, today’s design trends will quickly fade as more innovative ways of thinking continue to evolve. But with more sources of information available than ever before, due to improvements in Internet and mobile device functionality, designers will need to expand their reading repertoire to encompass not only online mediums but become active participants in social media, as well.
One area in which the expansion of media and resources online has been exceptionally beneficial is in the release of architectural and design products. Brian T. Tolman, AIA, LEED AP, managing principal and member of board of directors for the STUDIOS architecture’s New York office, recalls the days when he would spend hours pilfering through catalogs in the firm’s library to find just the right materials for his client, only to learn that some of his top selections would already be discontinued. The Internet has been a big help for him in reducing these sorts of frustrations since online listings are almost always relevant and up-to-date.
“There was once upon a time when the architect lived and died by the big catalogs. They house multiple volumes of every sort of resource and design in the architectural world and those things are just old and dusty now. We’ve been updating them regularly but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone pick one up in the last year,” says Tolman. When it comes down to it, “you can just find better, more relevant information online.”
And that information covers an infinite-range of mediums—from news and media Web sites, to digital journals and magazines, to blogs, as well as social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. Young design staffers, in particular, are very active on social media; however, their participation seems to be more in line with their individual pages rather than business-oriented.
“I find it really fascinating and amazing how much communication goes on through Facebook and some of these other sites between designers and architects,” Tolman says. “They’re starting to share information across themselves and across the firms with their peer group and I think there’s more information being exchanged that way then there is business to business, such as a designer working with a manufacturer to find the right product.”
What’s even more fascinating is that it seems designers and architects for the first time are eager to play a role in not only controlling the information available to them but creating it. Rather than sitting by and waiting for a print issue to arrive in the mail, they are constantly browsing through and contributing to various online conversations.
Carlos Martinez, principal at Gensler’s Chicago office, for example, is a regular online contributor. He frequently uses his down time—such as waiting for a cab or sitting in an airport—to browse through various sites and then share interesting information on his Twitter, Facebook, and Yammer (an internal communication tool for offices). He sees others following suit.
Martinez believes that designers today are looking to rely on small, personal networks of people to create a much more diverse and manageable way of looking at information. “Designers are relying on their peers to help filter the information and tell them what’s important to know and to grow as professionals and individuals, and visa versa,” he says. “You also start being a contributor. So what’s happened is really becomes an interesting push and pull where you at first get the info from the people you respect and then soon you start contributing back, then they start benefiting from that. It’s a very interesting process of exchange.”
But for all his online activity, you won’t see Martinez sharing information about what he had for lunch, as so many “status updates” today can encompass. “You need to reflect your point of view as to what’s compelling and worth sharing with people. For me, it’s about things that are really important and really matter—from professional to the political to the social. Putting filters in place allows you to handle the influx of information we have coming to us and manage that in a very efficient way.”
Media it seems has then become more of a bystander, an initial source for new information but no longer the driver of its own readership. “Information is spreading faster and more effectively now, but not much of it is embedded in the recourses,” says Tolman. “The communication stream has become more viral and is replacing the communication by word of mouth.”
Finding room for print—and other media
Yet, despite all the technological advancements and Crackberry additions, designers still express a need for print mediums—newspapers, magazines, journals—as well as access to other kinds of information not limited to the design field.
carrierjohnson + CULTURE associate Viveca Bissonnette, AIA, LEED AP has joined designers in moving online. While she admits that the days of the print catalogs are over, she has yet to entirely give up her preference for print mediums. “I have an iPhone and I have it attached to my hand 24-7 and I’m near a computer all the time. I think it’s revolutionized how we gain access to information,” she says. “I still go to magazines because new information is in there on a regular basis and they introduce me to things that I don’t necessarily have access to on a regular basis. (I’m not going to Merchandise Mart on a regular basis, so magazines are a great introduction to new things.)
Bissonette notes that designers still like have materials and objects in hand, and should keep the door open to all different sorts of media, as each brings a different perspective to the table. “As designers part of the way we get our information is really from just living and all around us. My inspiration is not from other designs and other magazines. It’s everything I see on the street—from an alley to a building to a person.” As such, she reads magazine, newspaper, online design sources, and Web sites that are not necessarily design related. “It’s part of the priority for me growing as a designer, and I have to manage that with all my other things (my job, my emails, etc).”
Tolman, while he does stress the need to consistently stay up to date on new industry developments, also agrees that there is room for more traditional mediums to coexist. Yet, he feels that this relationship serves solely as a comfort factor. “People are sitting in the break room at lunch reading a magazine, while others are doing it all online; it’s just two different ways of gathering information. I don’t want to tell somebody to go look at an article online if that’s not what they’re comfortable doing. I certainly have become more comfortable looking online than I have in the magazines.”
But, as in all debates that accompany social trends, there is another side to the coin—those who believe the Internet is THE means to the future. “My big thing that I first tell designers (which [Contract] may not like to hear) is stop reading design magazines. Start reading stuff that talks about all the other things happening—the environment, economy, fashion,” says Martinez. “You spend all your career thinking about design and I think it will be very beneficial to get out of your world and think about all these other things that an be an influence. We have to stop looking into the traditional channels.”
Martinez also feels that with improving technology and the appearance of high-definition monitors and tools, online has the opportunity to better present itself to an audience. “Think of how retailers portray their products online. You can zoom in a get the feel for the construction of that product. You can’t do that in print. It’s more user-centered and engaging. I think that can create an interesting precedent in architecture and design.”
An uncertain future
Regardless of reading preference, the designers agree that there is still something to be said for print. Even digitally-savvy Martinez admits that “there’s still something interesting about going throughout the pages.”
Yet, with communication technology progressing leaps and bounds, Bissonnette worries that there may come a day when her favorite print subscriptions will stop showing up on her desk. “I have a feeling, and I say this unfortunately because there is something you gain from having a picture in front of and turning a page (there is a definite advantage to that for me), that the magazine industry will at least change.”
What those changes will be for sure, it is hard to say, yet new inventions such as Amazon’s Kindle pioneering the way for other e-reader technology, definitely signifies that designers will need to adapt and expand their methods of searching for information if they want to stay successful and push their own limits of creativity.