I got my first design job while I was still in school. My official title was “Interactive Designer”. In 1996 that meant building CR-ROMS in Macromind Director. I created a lot of extruded gears with Kai’s Power Tools, and “Go to the Frame -1” was my Lingo mantra. I was on the “cutting edge”—CD-ROMs were the future of design.
During the dotcom era I got a job at a cutting edge agency. Designers were tired of the limitations of HTML tables and five fonts. My official title became “Flash Designer”. I learned the principles of animation. I built kinetic typography animations. I taught myself ActionScript, and actually regretted that I hadn’t taken advanced math classes (I wanted to understand programmatic animations like Joshua Davis was building at Praystation but was damned if I knew what a cosine was). I built an entire Flash website for Gateway Computers and an interactive animation for the art gallery in what eventually became the Wynn Hotel. Flash was *definitely* the future of design—until it wasn’t.
Notice a trend there?
At every job, my title, my identity, was determined by the tool I used. And every tool eventually became obsolete. No matter how cutting edge something is, it eventually got overtaken by the Next Big Thing. It’s just the way the internet works. If you don’t like constantly tap dancing to figure out what skills you need next, this is a horrible industry to be in. Look at today—there’s SASS and LESS, Backbone.js and Angular.js and Everyotherwordinthedictionary.js, PHP and Ruby on Rails, WordPress and Ghost and Iconic and…whatever else is on the horizon six days or six months or six years from now.
But you know what hasn’t changed?
Design. Through all the tools and trends, one thing has stayed the same since I started learning about design: the thought process. Creating a concept has stayed the same. Telling a story has stayed the same. Creating an experience has stayed the same. Translating all of that into a compelling visual language has been around since Paul Rand created the “Eye-Bee-M” pictograph and Milton Glaser created the “I Heart New York” logo.
Sure, some of the tools, from Twitter to Typekit have changed the way we *execute* that thinking…but the thinking hasn’t really changed all that much. Watch an episode of Mad Men. Don Draper says “You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells.” The magic of that perfect story that emotionally engages the audience has been there since the advent of modern advertising. Art departments have used markers and wax machines and Letraset rub-ons and a photostat machine, but the intent is the same as a designer with a Wacom tablet and Coda today.
Design principles have stayed the same
Leading and kerning and typeface choices still influence the emotional impact and readability of a design. The grid still adds rhythm and structure to a design, regardless of the medium. The use of white space still brings balance to a composition. *Design* has stayed the same—only the tools have changed.
That’s why I’m not a “WordPress Designer”
I’m a designer who uses WordPress. I’m not defined by the tools I use. I don’t want to be hired because I’m a pair of hands who “knows Photoshop” or can navigate WordPress. I want to be hired as someone who thinks about solving problems in a unique way. My brain is my most valuable asset—not the tools I use to bring those ideas to life. I’m more than just a WordPress designer.
I’m a designer.
It’s not what I do, it’s who I am and how I think. It’s the weird magic of the connections I make. And that hasn’t changed over the last 18 years. I hope it never does. I’ll keep tap dancing and learning new tools to execute that thinking, but I refuse to be defined by them.