The ever-changing role of the designer

I wrote the commentary below for the latest issue of Quark’s Jabber magazine — an issue that focuses on education. Today, I felt like sharing it with our Planet Quark readers. :-)

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The ever-changing role of the designer: 
Now, as always, education is a bargain.

by Jay Nelson
Editor & Publisher, Design Tools Monthly

One reason we choose the crazy life of a designer is that it’s always changing — we wouldn’t thrive in a world that’s any less exciting. Now that we’re smack dab in the middle of what I call “the second desktop publishing revolution”, it’s easy to see the change: clients are calling upon us to design publications for devices that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

The tools are new, the media and technical rules are new, and yet the goal remains the same: communicate as clearly as you can, get it done as quickly as possible.

We’ve got iPads and Kindles and Nooks, ePubs and iBooks and iPad apps, and of course we need to learn about them at the same time we’re also designing our familiar print and Web publications. Fortunately, our tools are evolving to take care of most of the complex technical stuff. Those of us who use QuarkXPress are extremely fortunate that Quark saw this coming and built QuarkXPress to elegantly output to whatever new formats arise.

Right now, the momentum is focused on getting magazines and books published to digital devices. I’m seeing a strange and beautiful melding of technologies: those created for websites and those used for print-based publishing. And yet, it’s more than that… because these new devices can be held horizontally or vertically, for the first time we need to think about orientation when designing publications. That’s new.

On top of that, the marketplace is changing almost daily. New avenues of distribution are quickly arising and then changing. Publishers are gambling on one or more channels: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Blio, or…? And again, Quark has had the best interest of designers and publishers in mind. Right now, you can use QuarkXPress to design and output to formats that will work for every one of these devices and channels.

But here’s where I get sentimental. I love the fact that I can use the tools I’ve already mastered in QuarkXPress to create documents for media that didn’t even exist when I was learning how to use it. First it was HTML and interactive PDFs, then Flash animations, and now ePubs and iPad apps. Each new medium has added to my skill set and built on the previous ones, because I’m using QuarkXPress. And that makes me more valuable in the design world.

If I had to choose one period of time to be active in the design world, this would definitely be it. The freedom to create almost anything, using tools available to almost anyone, has never existed before as it does today. The price of admission? Continuous learning. Not a bad bargain, I’d say.