Reading, Writing… Repeating Ourselves.

I have been returning to the discussion on Elliot Jay Stocks’ recent post, an interview with the eminent “Typographic Designer” Erik Spiekermann. I would recommend watching the interview and reading through some of the responses despite the chest beating of a few dudes.

Working these days primarily on the design of websites, I have been thinking about the new medium and the echoes of the past that are sounding from it’s progression. As Spiekermann points out, the interactive screen is just a new medium which graphic designers must now work with.

For websites, pixels are the raw material and HTML is our toolkit, through which an endless number of technologies exist. The design act is still very much a task of the composition of sensory material to accurately communicate a message. Our closest collaborator is still the writer and we are still simply a bridge to publication and communication.

We can see as digital design evolves many of the same controversies that faced designers working with the development of printing & typography, industrial design, architecture, advertising and so on. Themes have resurfaced such as artistic expression and ornamentation vs. utility and minimalism, as well as questions of the roles of business, fine art, technology and other philosophical, social and political influences. We can see the attempts to imitate styles from the past with more advanced technologies that have their own visual predispositions (Apple’s fondness for skeuomorphism). The same thing happened with printing and typography in the transition from calligraphy to movable type in the 15th C. and again in the mid 19th C. and was the source of heated debate which involved people from inside and outside of the design world.

Designers have long experimented and argued extensively around these themes, but how much can we say we have learnt from this?

Do we need to take the long way round all over again to become masters of the new medium?

Would it be possible to skip a few steps and make a few educated guesses? Or do we need to go through the motions once more in order to come to a collective understanding about what the web actually IS.

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