The world is careening into an ever more connected place. And while the ostensible result of a more connected world would seem to be a place where we all unite to solve problems it has actually made us more tribal than ever, and for clients of designers the results have mostly created chaos.
Social networks have been a known animal in the world of branding for some time. The concept of word-of-mouth is nothing new. But it was much easier for companies to influence the words that came out of those mouths. Designers and marketers by and large were responsible for codifying, uniting and creating those words and images. Design as a profession and indeed as a quasi-artistic/scientific endeavor has tried to distill and simplify its principles. The drive towards this simplification and the quest for qualitative control over brands led to a world where designers dictate the brand and the brand is simply consumed.
Then shit started hitting the fan. Social networks, particularly those that can be viewed and interacted with on a screen have totally changed the role of the consumer. The consumer became marketers. The ease of sharing amplified their role as marketers. The significantly further reach due to online social networks amplified their roles as marketers. The new way of participating in social networks gave us more influencers with bigger numbers of lurkers. It also created a more nuanced, splintered world where you could unite in larger numbers, but around more obscure things. Large corporations still swing a big stick, but smaller tribes could subsist and even thrive and challenge the larger firms in this new environment.
Most of the time when shit hits the fan you find a great deal of people simply ducking and covering, doing anything they can to avoid the mess. And for designers and marketers this is a messy time. No longer is the role of a designer simply maintaining consistency. In a world where anyone anywhere can communicate your brand, standardizing your communication is likely a fruitless effort.
This is no reason for designers to throw up their hands in frustration, or fear for the future of the profession. This is a time where generating meaningful, thoughtful and inspiring design can carry more impact than ever. Helping clients to simplify rather than standardize their message leads to a world where the designer is more important than they've likely ever been in the past. Designers true skill is to connect the dots from the client to the consumer, the big difference now is there are way more dots, and they're not all the same color. Designers are those with the skillset to draw straighter lines connecting all these dots. Designers need to run towards the fan when shit happens.