Designing in a Post Digital Era

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To understand the notion of ‘Post-Digital’ I have written this short formal essay to represent my perspective on a conceptual exploration I have been on with a few fellow professors over the past year. This is strickly my position in a mental exercise that Vjeko Sager, Duane Elverum and I agreed to participate in and does not reflect our overall group perspective.

The purpose of this essay is to introduce the concept of Post-Digital and suggest ways for people to be creative in a Post-Digital environment. This may be important to anyone interested in how Digital Media has had impact on culture, creation, communication and the idea of property.

Although related, I feel this essay discusses the Post-Digital concept in a very different way than James Bridle’s New Aesthetic, which looks at how digital artifacts and glitches can be used as a stylistic movement in design or art. I believe that the concept of Post-Digital should be a deeper dive conceptually than a surface-level glance at how digital tools can influence our design fashion.

Our initial attempt to define ‘Post-Digital’ came by describing what we felt we had lost and found in our experiences with being creative in the digital space. This thought experiment challenged us to think hard about the things we did that were conceptually different before and after we began creating in the digital world.

My first inclination was to say that the Digital era has given us ‘new eyes’. Much like how Charles & Ray Eames gave us a way of thinking and understanding scale and distance in their milestone film, Power of Ten. Some say the digital era has given us the ability to stretch time and space, at the very least it has given us a way to see beyond our normal capacity – magnifying incredibly fine details of images or sound or panning out to ‘see’ how nine Beethoven symphonies plot out over time. The notion of being able to convert something that happens over a great length of time or space into one macro view is a digital one. Although it has been done before we had digital technology, digital culture has brought that type of thinking to the every-day designer or artist.

This brings me to what I believe is the most important aspect of what I have found as a creator in the digital era. The digital world let’s us traverse media seamlessly. When I am creating with digital tools I can live in the moment and improvise without the borders that we have in the physical or analogue space.

In the digital space, everything becomes your raw material for creating. Everything is up for grabs – duplicatable and malleable. Everything can be converted from one medium to another. The boundaries melt away. I’m able to make something out of something else.

The digital medium let’s me convert sound into visual, and visual into sound. My multi-disciplinary tendencies are unconfined and my creative pursuit is unencumbered by artificial constructs. Perhaps digital media is allowing us to be truly multi-disciplinary.

What I believe to be an amazing advantage in the digital realm may also the cause of my greatest loss – my focus. In my teens I played guitar with laser focus and by university I was playing professionally and had gained a mastery of the instrument. The single-minded intensity and desire brought me the level of proficiency and intimacy with the guitar that in turn gave me the ability to express myself in extraordinary ways. Essentially, I am still striving for that same level of self-expression in the digital sphere. Is it even possible or reasonable to have the same aspiration?

Certain aspects of the digital sphere has an intoxicating allure, that tend to splinter focus and encourage tangential exploration. It offers keyword connections, a vast array of choices for any one niche and multple ways of doing the same thing.

Often these tangents bring me back to my original goal with new-found fodder, and sometimes it fragments a project into a thousand pieces.

In the conclusion I’d like to suggest ways of working in the digital space so as to not fracture and dilutes your original goal. Perhaps we should only work in the digital environment when we have to and complete whatever is possible in a physical or analogue way. How would confining part of your process to the digital world effect your outcome? Why would I want to do that? Because I feel that physical expressions in the design world may be an important key for communicating complex ideas and information. Additionally, allowing people to interact with data in a tangible form may help them understand the data in ways we have not been able to do before. But perhaps that’s another topic to be explored in another essay.

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  • Haig,

    You bring up a very good point. Having immediate access to an infinite amount of information is as overwhelming as it is beautifully amazing. I’m excited to see how technology further inserts itself into our physical realm or rather vice versa. I don’t think google glasses will be the answer as it’s too disruptive, but products like Makey Makey allow for anything in our physical world to be programmed into an interface. The possibilities leave me speechless. I would like to see more cohesion between the two worlds. It’s incredibly frustrating that as a North American society, it’s hard to have a conversation with anyone when at least one person involved starts fiddling with their phone. This normal interaction, I believe, is due to the lack of attention we’ve been trained to have because of our digital world. I could go on, but I will leave the soapbox for now….

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