Taking a look at today’s highly democratized and liberalized productive landscape, lots of systems are available to get design solutions at virtually no cost; there is a multitude of contest organizers that promise logos, identities and book covers at the cost of a cup of tea, as well as aging marketplaces selling Wordpress themes. There is a large availability online of tools for desktop publishing and image manipulation, and lately services that offer a complete toolbox to create one’s online identity (such as Squarespace) have emerged.
Ironically, to get decent quality design among the dozens of proposed templates, companies like Squarespace need to hire real designers — people that have spent tens of thousands of dollars for their education, professional activity and continuous personal improvement. On top of the irony, these people are offering their design expertise so that designing won’t be needed anymore and, as a result, their professional services won’t be needed anymore.
So it would seem. However, if we stopped for a second to take a closer look to the situation, we would realize that this landscape is a bit more complex. A fundamental distinction should be made between people that use those services because they can’t afford hiring a professional designer (i.e. freelancers, tiny commercial activities, non-profit organizations and so on) and the small to medium businesses that should instead hire a professional designer but don’t understand the strategic importance of good design for their companies. As for the former, designers shouldn’t really worry: contrary to popular belief, the solutions they’re adopting are not “stealing” work to any designer since -as said earlier- these people don’t have enough budget to hire professionals in the first place.
We should focus our attention on the latter — the small and medium businesses. Theirs is a problem of cultural origin that won’t be solved by removing the possibility for them to use such free tools to assemble a mediocre identity and website. If they choose to do so it’s because they don’t consider design and communication as a fundamental need, as something important as business planning or other activities they instinctively understand as unavoidable for any company.
First of all, it would be useful to dispel the myth that only big companies need good design. It’s not only a false statement, but the contrary is often true — where big firms have large budgets to flush on advertising and marketing, for smaller businesses it’s fundamental to have an appropriate communication that can introduce them to the public in the best possible way, since there won’t be any kind of marketing to water down the results of a bad design, to give the false impression that the overall communication works thanks to the fact that people are buying the product or the service anyway.
What now? If it’s impossible to infuse better awareness in the businessmen, educating our own clients is actually feasible, so that they’ll fully understand the importance of good design. Big steps have already been taken among those avant-garde entrepreneurs that operate so close to design, where for the first time in history design has a seat at the board of directors. It’s possible to work to achieve a higher professional dignity, through critical and social commitment. Whichever way is chosen, we must remember that as designers we’re not makers of pretty pictures, but a cultural catalyst that has an influence on society. Our duty is to guide this society towards a better progress, for the benefit of all.