Throughout college, almost every design professor asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Seems like a simple question, but how was I supposed to know? I sure hoped I would end up somewhere I’m happy, successful, challenged, and growing. I certainly couldn’t be the only person who found this question overwhelming, and I do believe anyone who’s gone through the rigor of design school has had their fair share of concern as to whether or not they’d survive in the world of competitive design.
Growing up, I spent so much of my time creating that when the time came to decide what I wanted to do in life, I knew that I wanted to be a designer. I wanted to communicate through creativity and design.
Five years ago, I was in the midst of my college career at MSU Denver. I was prepared to work as hard as I could to make it into big name design agencies and prove myself, especially as a female in a male dominated profession. Communication Design is all about the visual representation of communication. The goal is to attract, connect, and motivate people through your design. When we think about Communication Design as a whole, we now include digital communication into its entirety, but during my education a few years ago, print design was its own entity. It was made up of magazines, posters, advertisements, identity, and branding.
Print design was my future.
Well, here we are in the digital age. A time where phones and tablets consume our attention. When more often than not we’re more focused on the devices in our pockets than the tangible elements of the design around us. But, the medium is now more important than ever. Design disciplines have shifted to digital. They have grown and evolved so much since my time as a student, and I often think about the idea that my job, specifically in the mobile arena, didn’t exist until I was well into my degree. Trends come and go and styles evolve. I have evolved.
So, where have I landed in five years?
I am a mobile designer. I have already gone farther out of my design comfort zone than I ever imagined. The foundation of my knowledge undoubtedly stemming from my lengthy college education, I was confident in moving into this realm just as much as I was terrified. It was a new job. A new medium. A new potential. I was so used to the tangible-heavy side of design where most everything we created on the computer was then printed and mounted. The majority of our work was done in a digital space but rarely stayed there. Coming into the mobile space I experienced quite the opposite. Although discovery processes and sketching out ideas stayed the same, anything that started on paper was taken to the computer and then to a mobile device. The change of pace was refreshing and welcoming.
During my last few semesters, MSU Denver started to offer a mobile design class, however, I had my eyes on the prize for graduation, and I was only concerned with the courses laid out before me. I remember hearing friends and peers who attended the class talk about how they felt mobile design was ‘too intimidating’ and had ‘too many guidelines’. But, isn’t anything new a bit intimidating? The structure that binds the foundation of mobile design emanates from the same basic stepping stones as print. Guidelines are created to be followed, respected, challenged and then broken; resulting in an infinite cycle that we have forever been accustomed to. Where are we to start if there isn’t a basic guideline? It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or a new platform, it’s all the same foundation.
The grid, for instance, is one of design’s most fundamental staples and can be applied to anything you work on. The grid sets up the design for success by creating visual uniformity, harmony and hierarchy. It allows a designer to work fluidly and quickly by eliminating clutter and visual chaos, but most importantly it keeps the design organized. When designing, organization is key, and in mobile organization goes farther than the UI. Mobile design files can have multiple layers, artboards and image assets that start to build up – and quickly. If you’re not mindful of your organization and naming conventions, things become chaotic. Having organizational knowledge at the forefront of my mobile design experience significantly helped when stepping in to learn how to export and deliver design and asset files to developers. Organization isn’t only crucial for the designer, but everyone else involved in the project as well. It saves time and money; two very important things every client cares about.
On top of that, there were many more concepts I learned while transitioning from print to digital. The application I was so used to designing in on a daily basis changed from Illustrator to Photoshop, and while I gained novice experience in Photoshop from my college courses, using the program every day compelled me to leave my old habits behind and become more open to other design programs. Now more than ever I believe it’s crucial that designers remain flexible and open to new tools, because the design tools we utilize should never define the design being created.
As students, we’re all used to getting project assignments and working in group settings. At the time, it seems frustrating that you have to rely on and work together with other people. However, these opportunities condition us to work with different kinds of people and personalities in a professional space who are all working towards the same goal. In the mobile world, those people are the clients, project managers, and most importantly, the developers. I now understand the importance of the designer to developer relationship, and working side by side on a daily basis has also taught me the importance of pixel perfect design. While our languages differ, we are able to learn how to communicate with each other to produce a quality product. It’s no longer about the singular person aiming to reach their goal, it’s an entire team working together to create great work.
What about in five years from here?
I hope we don’t lose the timeless beauty of print design, or how its influence contributes to the digital age. Design is forever changing and consequently, I am forever learning. Like most things, the future of design is always uncertain. We’re never quite sure when new technologies will be available or when industry leaders will shift. In mobile design especially, it is essential that you’re always one step ahead of what’s coming. At POSSIBLE Mobile, it’s our job as mobile experts to keep our processes and our clients’ products ahead of the curve. It makes us and the products we make top-tier and more competitive. In this mobile era, we will succeed by taking the best of the old and marrying it with the new. Mobile may not be my past, but it is my present and my foreseeable future.