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Remaining Relevant: Adapting to a Changing Industry

by Taylor Slattery | June 17, 2021

Technology shapes our world and the way we interact with it. The degree to which technology has permeated the fabric of our lives would have been unimaginable to most just 20 years ago. While the world looks more or less the same as it did back then, the internet has touched just about every facet of our daily lives—the way we communicate, travel, even the way we eat.

The effects of technology are perhaps most felt in the workplace—especially so this past year when many found themselves suddenly working from home. These changes aren’t limited to those of us working in offices though, their effects are much further reaching, right down to some of the seemingly least technical jobs in existence.

Agriculture is one of the latest industries to undergo a tech-overhaul, with farmers now employing drones to disperse pesticides, using machine learning to improve crop yields, and using automated tractors and harvesters to work their fields.

Human needs remain the same but the development of new technologies allows for increasingly sophisticated solutions to the way these needs are met. As we continue to optimize these processes, the roles associated with them take on new forms. The daily tasks of today’s farmer might look completely different from those of a farmer even 5 years ago.

Just as the role of the farmer has changed in response to technology, so has the role of the designer. While the need for design hasn’t changed, the types of design needed & the solutions available have. The past decade and especially the past 5 years have marked a huge shift in the design world toward product design, or the design of digital goods and experiences.

This shift might in part be due to the rise of template-based website builders and tools like Canva, which offer an entry point into design for those with small budgets or unwilling to work with designers. While the bar has risen for run of the mill web content, the need to stand out has risen at a proportional rate, making branding & graphic design still viable pursuits.

Simultaneously, the need for design in the app space has grown exponentially, with countless numbers of new companies seeking to provide their digital services cropping up daily. Tools like Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD are now staples in most designer’s tool kits and proficiency in them has become an increasingly common feature in job listings.

The “Back in my day…” grumbles usually espoused by the bitter old-timer who finds themselves unable to keep up with a changing workforce are now coming from a much younger crowd. The cycle of technological revolution in the workplace has sped up exponentially. Tools like Figma & Webflow didn’t exist while I was in school, and I’m sure the tools we’ll be using in 5 years don’t yet exist today.

In design, this is just par for the course. From its onset with woodblocks, the addition of the printing press, and more recently, phototypesetting and the digital printing technologies, print design has undergone several radical changes throughout its history. With the majority of the technological advancements in this field having been developed in the last century alone, it appears this pattern will only continue at a more rapid rate.

The idea that the tools you’re learning may be obsolete shortly after you graduate can be understandably disheartening to a student. Trying to keep up with the changing demands of the industry and deciding what tools and skills your time is best-spent learning can be both confusing and exhausting. But at the same time, the scope of what can be accomplished by an individual has grown exponentially thanks to technology, and learning new tools should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a burden.

Be prepared to constantly learn how to use new tools. Embrace the process because it will ultimately take your work to places you could never imagine. From the comfort of our bedrooms, we’re now capable of producing work that would have required significantly more resources, people, and power not too long ago.

Take comfort in the fact that while the tools we use may be in a state of flux, the fundamentals that inform our decision-making haven’t changed at nearly the same rate. Tools are merely a means of expressing our understanding of design. If you have a strong foundation, your skills will translate regardless of the medium.

There’s a reason why we still study the work of designers like Jan Tschichold, which, despite its age and the limited production resources available at the time of its creation, still looks fresh and modern today. Tools will change, but the foundational principles that govern their use aren’t going anywhere.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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