Contemporary Design Landscape

(This article originally ran in March of this past year. Dan Blanchette is taking December off. New articles will appear in January 2019.)

I’d been applying for freelance work recently, and one of the sites posted had a reference to an application I hadn’t been familiar with: Sketch.

In my digital career, among the tools I’d become proficient with were Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator; Strata 3D; and a bunch of photo RAW things like and including Capture One. I’d also dabbled with a few photo editors and filters that add effects to bitmapped images. So when I saw Sketch listed in the posting for freelance work as a desired attribute by the agency, I was curious as to what it is.

In searching for it, I found it is just another tool in the current landscape of communicating with other places and “teams” when collaborating on given projects.

There are other well-known applications to use for this kind of communicating. Slack is one. Sketch combines that kind of communication with added things like digital asset management, interface development, website building, and icon tools. But it’s anything other that what its name implies: sketch.

What about creating the art in the first place? It’s fine to come up with all this digital asset management and sharing across teams. Using all that stock imagery. What about the actual artwork creators? Where are those artists these days?

A close friend of mine recently was messaging me through Facebook about where we, as artists and designers—and also educators—coming from a generation before digital was even thought of as the way to do artwork, stand in today’s realm of art and design. She was taken aback by noting that art and design students currently do not know how to draw, and are not required to learn so.

And she’s right. One of the classes we attended as formative students in the discipline was anatomy. It was necessary to know anatomy for proficiency in figure drawing. And although it was not necessary to have that talent to totally succeed at the college, the ability to draw—to sketch—was.

She mentioned that her son in his capacity at a firm which employs several designers was one of a bare handful who could actually draw, even now considered an asset at that place. But it’s largely true that most art schools these days do not teach students to actually draw. And I find that unbelievable.

It’s like that grade schools do not teach students how to do handwriting. Cursive handwriting hasn’t been taught in elementary education for years. Those kids do not know how to do their own signatures.

Are we totally that different from baby-boomers to millennials? Apparently. We can easily see the way small children have learned how to manipulate gaming devices and smart phones. It’s part of their early learning now. And that kind of instant interactivity has become the norm.

It does not matter to them what they are missing in the process of getting from point A (or zero) to point B (winning the game); or the process of getting from point C (having a blank canvas) to point D (having a piece of art). They never learned the value of actually making the art, seeing the picture developing from their own hands.

Years ago when I was an illustrator, I was visiting a photographer friend of mine and admiring his work. After listening that I was interested in developing a skill for it, he looked at me and said, “I don’t know why you as an illustrator find this so fascinating. I admire your ability because you make something from nothing.”

That insight stayed with me for a long time. It made me value the talent I had more.

Maybe drawing and sketching is not valued any longer. I certainly have not seen it used in any form in the last twenty years on the job, in the last four positions I had in the design industry.

I remember learning the digital way back in the early 90s, learning how to “draw” in Adobe Illustrator. Even then I felt the name of that application was a misnomer.

To this day, I feel more akin to Leonardo DaVinci than I do to any digital artist. I still draw and sketch my ideas on paper. I will visit this subject again.


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4 thoughts on “Contemporary Design Landscape

  1. Dan,

    You’ve put your finger — literally— on what happens, or doesn’t happen, when technology replaces human skills.

    I’m not sure exactly what it means to lose the ability to draw.

    Or when computer-driven ‘finished’ layouts replaced ideas/concepts/sketches for ads.

    Or when Spell-Check and Auto-fil diminished/eliminated the need for proofreaders, copy editors and writers who understood the nuance of meaning within punctuation and choices of words.

    Or when calculators made doing math in your head seem cobwebby.

    You mentioned your photographer friend’s praise of your ability to create something out of nothing.

    The key word here, of course, is “create.”

    I learned the same lesson as an ad writer. My first boss, a writer and owner of the agency that took a chance on me, said copywriters were the only people in advertising who started with a blank sheet of paper.

    He may have overstated a bit, but point made.

    Technology puts vast sums of information at our fingertips. And gives us the tools to assemble, manipulate and produce.

    But it doesn’t have what seems to be uniquely human: Imagination.

    Nor can it do — yet — what also seems uniquely human: Leap with that imagination to wholly new realms of understanding, perception, knowledge.

    Technology can imitate, expand, manipulate. But it can’t sketch.

    • Grammarly is a relatively new tool for writers that does the same thing SpellCheck does, only more so: it checks your grammar and practically finishes your sentences for you. Just one more thing to make us feel more dependent and not being creative on our own.

  2. I saw your friend’s post and heartily agree with you both. i too value the drawing skills we learned back in art school and use them nearly every day in one way or another. We have a classmate from art school who was hired and is still employed (at our age) specifically and exclusively for his drawing skill. We can only hope for a Renaissance in the desire for and learning of the skills to actually draw with a pencil and paper. It’s so satisfying for the soul.

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