What is Design Now?

One of the things I love about working with talented people on a variety of dynamic digital media projects is that it makes me rethink basic concepts.

Designer Roger Black has gotten me to do that with his blog post on Treesaver, the company he and Filipe Fortes founded last year that I'm helping with business and communication strategy and execution. Treesaver is, at its heart, a way for publishers to streamline the publishing process and much more easily produce content for every screen and device without having to creat a website, then an iPad app, then an aAndroid app, then a tablet app and so on. It's all based on HTML5 which pretty much works on any reasonably new device with a browser.

Roger, whose imprint is on some of the most heralded publications and websites in the world (Esquire, MSNBC.com to name just two), asks what design is in the digital age and in what ways designers have to turn their thinking around if they're not working in a fixed width, blank page. Even Web designers, Roger notes, tend to create their sites for computer screens in a fixed width.

But with what's known as "adaptive layout," the Web page will be adjusted for whatever screen size you're reading on. Someone may be accessing your content on one screen at this moment, another screen the next. The text may cascade into 3 columns here, 2 columns there, and photos may be positioned here, there, or nowhere depending on the screen or device.

What if you, as a publisher, can control a lot of aspects -- think through the fonts, colors, logos, images -- but have to accept a level of fluidity as well?

This is a next generation of thinking and design. We are, with tablet devices and more media consumption on screens, moving beyond the clunky link-and-blink image-laden websites that put design in the background. We're moving beyond an era when someone designs for a Web page, and then separately for mobile sites, apps and so on. We're getting at a time when everything from font and gradations of color can be thought of and brought to life, again, with the pleasure of reading brought to a screen, but without losing the functionality (linking, embedding, interactivity, social layers) that HTML allows.

The effects of all this can be rather subtle to the consumer. How does the design of, say, The National Enquirer communicate a different message than The New York Times? Does the website of a typical publication reflect its design? What about its mobile site or apps? What functions do you want to preserve? Is the design part of the information, the experience?

It's another layer of input, a new way of thinking, and a cross between flexibility and control for publishers and users.

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