Swimming together in a cyber soup

AUTHOR:  
Published:  July 1, 2015
Nick Rudenno

Nick Rudenno, creative director at Nowhere Famous laments the blurring of individual formats in design.

Feature image: Nowhere Famous studio mailer
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Nowhere Famous studio T-shirt

Nowhere Famous studio T-shirt

Since a very early, pre-internet age, I’ve been obsessed with computers. Watching on as my dad battled with DOS, where yelling expletives alongside terms like ‘CD’ and ‘C:’ was commonplace. It was a frustrating, B&W, text-based doorway to a world of pixelated colour and animation that rarely worked.

There were no forums, wikis or blogs chronicling the frustrations and musings of others; the computer was (for the most part) an endpoint – a device reserved for nerds and gamers alike, not yet co-opted by the masses. If something broke, you had to reach for a printed manual. Wanted news about that new piece of tech called a CD-ROM drive? You had to read a magazine. I’ll skip the rest of the technological history lesson, but my point is, there was a line where the physical came to an end and digital began. There was a permanence to content that came with a certain level of risk. Once you put something out, it was there to stay. Today, that line could not be less permanent or more blurred.

Formats have very quickly bled into one another, with some being left behind, and others rising to take their place. Things we used to collect now sit as ones and zeros in a cloud that we merely subscribe to. We’ve traded ownership for a smattering of ads in between songs, and abandoned a more complete experience for convenience. Searching through a CD store for something undiscovered, holding the case and inspecting the artwork were all part of an experience that went beyond listening. Your music collection defined you and your social niche. Adding something new to it was a risk, hopefully not met with a disapproving look from a peer while thumbing through the pockets of your Case Logic sleeve. In all honesty, mine was exclusively Metallica. My pigheaded devotion to their dulcet tones was plain to see, but I was proud of it. Now you can be a fan of anyone at any time and without forfeiting your time, money or even social status. Yes, my narrow-minded younger self may have benefited from exposure to more than a screaming Hetfield, but now we are all swimming together in one big homogenised cyber soup. It’s safe, it’s warm and it means we rarely need to take risks.

Our ability to consume or create is so unhindered that we often lap at the soup bowl without giving thought to whether we are communicating or consuming ideas in a way that really stimulates or nourishes us. Do we publish content because doing so is easy? Is our access to endless content reason enough to consume it? And what is it that we’re really looking for? At this point I’ll happily write ‘hypocrite’ on my own forehead as I’ve boarded the ship in pirate bay waters many times, but I feel we are losing sight of individual formats and holistic experiences under waves of content.

So where does this leave us as visual communicators? Merchants of risk! (Shotgun that as a band name by the way.) In this world where we apathetically consume but are unmoved to commit, it’s no wonder that companies are becoming increasingly wary of formats that can’t be quantified. We’ve all been there – holding a client’s hand as we discuss colour, form and function; agonising over positioning, demographics and font choice; running ideas past our loved ones to see whether they hold up in the eyes of our harshest critics. Investing emotionally in someone else’s dream to finally reach an endpoint where the outcome is a set of social media assets and a carefully crafted email signature. Print executions lying crushed on the studio floor. Environmental graphics deemed passé, heaven forbid we should set this newly established shining light in stone.

After all that, if it sounds like I’m bemoaning the existence of the internet, I’m not. The web has never been a more beautiful and accessible place, with web fonts and HTML5 empowering even the most cynical print designer. Social media is a must for any self-respecting business; however, much like my younger self’s decision to listen exclusively to one band, the shift towards brands using online as their sole form of communication may be the biggest risk of all. The instant feedback that pixels and clicks provide may be easily quantified, but they rarely leave a lasting impression.

It’s a commercial reality of the industry we inhabit. But it doesn’t mean we can’t keep fighting the good fight, and certainly there are great communication designers out there who embrace all formats rather than depending on one, pushing clients towards investing in forms of communication that extend their message beyond the screen, and hopefully toward solutions that may elicit a smile and not just a scroll.

COVER

This piece first appeared in the June+July /networked issue of desktop. Click here to subscribe to the mag.

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