The future for digital design

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The best industry events are those which leave you feeling inspired for days afterwards. So it was with Design Manchester’s DM19 conference.

A brilliant line-up of speakers shared insights on how they overcame obstacles to achieve professional success.

One highlight was an appearance by designer Daljit Singh, who spoke wistfully of the first wave of digital design pioneers.

“When it was first adopted, digital design gave way to huge creativity in the industry, we were able to do incredible, beautiful pieces of work,” Singh explained. “But in a digital world where you expect things to be really experimental and beautiful… we now live in a world where things are incredibly flat.”

To illustrate the point, Singh shared a well-known graphic showing several fashion logos – from Burberry to Yves Saint Laurent – which have evolved from being distinctive and characterful into something more homogeneous, a process Singh playfully calls “sans serification”.

And while not everyone may share Singh’s nostalgia for Adobe Flash, it is easy to understand his longing for a time when digital designers could be more auteur-like – in the pre-feed era, when the web was more Wild West than Instagram. Another highlight took place away from the main auditorium where Ladies, Wine and Design Manchester hosted a panel discussion. Here the topics were less about tech trends and more about gaining confidence and knowing where to set boundaries.

Paula Scher, a partner at Pentagram in New York, brought the event to a perfect close with a walk through her long career – from designing record sleeves in the 1970s to heavyweight corporate identities in the 2000s.

Scher confessed that her iconic work for The Public Theater was more likely to be encountered in design books than on billboards as “there was never the budget.”

These days Scher seems most enthused by design in the built environment. “I love big things outside,” she says. “And I love it when other people engage with them.”

By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design