Monday, August 24, 2009

New Media Revolution

When I started college 25 years ago, the graphics industry was beginning to undergo a revolution fueled by new technology. Pre-1984, the pre-press workforce consisted of specialists—designers, typographers, illustrators, layout artists, paste-up artists, graphic arts photographers, and film assembly technicians. With the advent of the Macintosh Plus computer, Apple LaserWriter printers, Adobe PostScript page description language, and Aldus PageMaker page layout software, the specialists needed to become generalists. One person could now do the work of several, and many job descriptions were eliminated. Graphic designers adapted, and for the past quarter-century, they could be successful with only knowledge of print.

Today, the industry is undergoing a new revolution—this one, not fueled by new technology, but by the economy. When one comes to think of it, print is a 19th century technology. Paper has to be harvested from trees, then milled, printed on, assembled, stored in warehouses, and then shipped on trucks, incurring financial expenses as well as drawing upon the Earth's resources. As we are in a verbally literate society, quickly transitioning to a visually literate one, most people prefer to obtain their news from cable or satellite television networks, or from the Web. Large print shops have closed in the Miami area (and all across the country). Newspapers and magazines have announced layoffs and cutbacks.

But it's not all doom and gloom. There are still many opportunities for graphic designers who know print, Web and video. It’s easy to find creative graphic designers for print. It’s also easy to find good video production technicians. It’s not easy to find a creative person who can apply that creativity equally to print, Web and video. Therefore, the successful graphic designer will be fluent in Photoshop, Illustrator and Quark or InDesign, but also in Dreamweaver, Flash, After Effects and maybe even Final Cut.

Print will never totally go away, just like radio hasn’t been completely replaced by television. However, the current trend in communications technology is toward all-electronic, and predominantly visual media. If you’re entering school now, you’re getting in on the ground floor of this media revolution. If you’ve been around for a few years, it would be of benefit to learn the software and technology that drives electronic media, and embrace the changes that will affect visual communications in the 21st century.

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