Old dog. New tricks.
Darren Richardson reflects on three decades of design and the critical role it has to play in communicating lasting meaning, now more than ever before.
"As I get closer to completing my third decade in the design industry I’ve had a kind of revelation. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis, or just a rush of blood to the head, but my experiences over recent years have allowed me to see that design has an even more important role in today’s world than ever before.
"The 80’s, at the start of my working life, were a real time of change. The Millennials of the day were the Yuppies, with their Filofaxes, Walkmen, pastel tops (I had a few myself mind), aerobics classes and of course the obligatory statement poster from Athena (you must remember the tennis girl?) There was a growing desire for a new modern lifestyle and an aspiration to succeed that was tangible.
"I loved it. It was such a buzz being in London at the creative centre of it all. Design played a major part in expressing the aspirations of a new generation and it was truly a designer’s playground. You were defined by what you looked like and everyone was desperate for a new visual style that caught the eye and matched this constant desire to be different.
"Fast forward nearly 30 years and we’re again living in a time of change. This time around brands and marketers are desperately trying to fathom out the Millennials, a new breed of ‘super-Yuppies’, in order to try to stay relevant to the latest wave of discerning consumers.
"The fundamental difference is that these guys don’t just want something that simply looks different on a superficial level. They want to be around brands they believe in and have a strong emotional connection with. This has seen the emergence of new brands like Airbnb, giffgaff, Smart and (one of my favorites) Hiut Denim, as well as the rise of established ones like Patagonia and Ikea. It’s about being distinctive and having a point of view, not just about being different for the sake of it. So, design has to adapt and be purpose-driven and not just about the aesthetic.
"I’m not saying that design shouldn’t be aspirational, but it has to have meaning and relevance to both brand and consumer. It has a critical role in communicating lasting meaning.
"I appreciate this might all sound a little “fluffy”. But that’s because it’s all about finding a very simple, human way of communicating. And after all, that’s all humans really are: simple, emotional creatures.
"In practice, it’s easier said than done - especially when you’ve been doing it in a certain way for nearly thirty years - but I’m genuinely excited about this new era of design. What makes it even more exciting is that I’m fortunate to have seen both ends of the spectrum. I’m hoping that this will allow me to see the way forward more clearly and avoid some of the pitfalls of design indulgence.
"So maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks after all – if they’re up for it that is."