The digital revolution has made a huge impact on the design industry - there’s no denying that.

As technology has evolved, there has been a shift in both what we are able to do and what clients expect to see. But where some may think that the skill and craftsmanship behind traditional design has been lost to shiny new software, we would disagree.

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With the introduction of the Mac, CAD software and Adobe programmes, it might be safe to assume that design has already gone digital - and in many ways it has. But when you track the creative process back a few decades, although some things have changed, others have remained constant. At its core, design remains about ideas, creativity, and personality.

Without the creative minds driving the process, all the high-tech tools in the world can never be as impressive as they promise to be. Ideas and creativity, of course, can’t be replaced by technology - that’s not the point. How those ideas are captured and presented, however, has advanced quite a bit.

Technology has infiltrated our way of working across all specialisms in design, including interiors, graphics, product and architecture. It has given us the ability to speed up the design process, produce photorealistic renderings and illustrations and be more accurate in terms of colour, lighting and scale.

This doesn’t just apply to the practical development of a brief either, but to the pitching process as well. Digital tools allow us to give clients a more holistic visualisation of our ideas, and they also allow for easier collaboration and communication; projects can be picked up and put down by multiple people and we are able to give and get feedback almost immediately. 

Still, there’s often concern about change and while tech has definitely streamlined the process and allowed us to be more efficient in our way of working, some still fear that there is a danger of design becoming commoditised by digital.

Graphic Means - A History of Graphic Design Production. 

When we think of iconic designers the world over, what comes to mind is their distinct styles and ways of working which have helped to make their finished product truly unique and added value to their work. If everyone is using the same tools, there could be a danger that everything will soon look the same.

Recently, Artificial Intelligence (AI) which aims to replicate the creative process has been trialled. Mark Maker, for example, can ‘draw’ logos from scratch - something that could signal the beginning of the end for the creative professions as we know them.

These automated machines can’t solely generate an idea though; they can take data and keywords and create what they think you want to see, but they can’t employ the same level of inspiration-driven detail, emotional intelligence or artistic ability that skilled designers bring.

We gave it a go, and we weren’t blown away by the results. That being said, bot technology is still very much in development and without an attitude of openness from the creative sector, the future could see design tech developing without appropriate controls and structure.

The convenience of digital design tools could encourage laziness in some; feeling that time is more precious than quality and that there’s no need to fill a sketchbook or gather benchmarks when you can take an idea and turn it straight into a glossy design ‘at the click of a button’ - ultimately creating a finished product lacking depth, insight or emotional connection.

These designers might as well be handing over their studio keys to the robots and, although we fully embrace new tools that can aid our development, we don’t intend to be replaced altogether. Which is why it is more important than ever to retain our design integrity and ensure that the unique value in what we do is kept alive.

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Team communication, brainstorming, initial sketches, mood boards and even model making should be explored before turning on a computer screen and, where relevant, materials and samples should be handled and tested physically. 

When we study design, we are taught the importance of the many stages of the design development process, about mark-making and that every mark should be expressive, deliberate and carefully considered.

There’s some irony in the way a logo-designing bot has been named Mark Maker - because although digital is slowly becoming more expressive (such as with Microsoft Surface®, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality) it should never feel easy. That would devalue what we have the ability to create ourselves.

When interviewing graduates for a prospective job, we always ask to see sketchbooks, so we can see the core understanding and the thought process which led them to their final work. Digital tools can’t start and finish a piece of design at the click of a button, but they can open doors for new ways of working and add a further layer of depth and realism within the design process.

Digital design in itself is a craft, and like all elements of a collaborative design process, it must be treated as part of a wider picture. In another 10 years, we may well see AR and VR become the norm in interior design and architecture, but for the more traditionally-minded creatives sketching will never go out of style.

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