Musings on a Future in Design

Towards the end of last summer I saw Chet Faker play the Gothic Theater and during one of his sets he said something quite profound. He’d just performed his cover of Blackstreet’s “Yo Diggity” and was talking about how he was probably never going to perform it live again (his original stuff is far more interesting anyway); but then he said, “All you Millennials out there: you know something? You will be the last generation of people to know what life is like without cell phones.”


I’d never really thought about it but he was right. It made me feel like my favorite uncle had unexpectedly died and I never got the chance to say goodbye (with any chance to intervene having long since passed).

Don’t get me wrong—cell phones are great and for a great many reasons: navigating my way through an unfamiliar city, instantaneously and simultaneously delivering me messages, news and information, awakening me to each new day by playing Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It; but on the flipside there’s all that other stuff: texting and driving, texting and walking, smartphone neck, smartphone thumb, text shorthand (not to mention cell phone on the table, cell phone ringing during a movie, cell phone talker during a movie, texting while people are talking to you)….I couldn’t help but think of that Oppenheimer quote, “I am become death”.

In the days that came and went the idea stuck with me. And I began to wonder if my generation (X) ever had its “cell phone”? According to Wikipedia, Garbage Pail Kids, Windows 95 and Prozac all happened under our watch (pretty innocuous—although my parents might consider the Walkman and the jam-box as being unholy terrors).

I also thought of my father—he’d spent the first 50 years of his life without a cell phone. I remembered seeing pictures of him in the ’60s when he was a combat medic in Vietnam and they had to use those bazooka-tube sized walkie-talkies to communicate (imagine Krazy-Gluing three cinder blocks together end-to-end and trying to hold them up to your ear while you simultaneously stitch up your best friend and call in for back up).

I also thought about what the next generation’s cell phone might be? And as a designer of all-things-digital, what kinds of devices would I be creating for? Virtual Reality? Google Glass-like Contact lenses? 3-D displays? Or perhaps something even more unimaginable…

But am I ready for that? Can I see myself executing such a task?

It’s easy to take for granted how tech-savvy we all are (I keep thinking of Ozymandias) until one day you wake up and realize you’ve come to resemble one of those esoteric (and drool-worthy) designers like they have at Foils and Dyes—the kind who one day when young people look at you will wonder where you must’ve learned how to use a keyboard and actually write HTML?

As a designer you have the opportunity, every day, to bring someone’s dream that much closer into being. We’re constantly and (somehow) consistently grasping at concepts that lie dormant in the antipodes of the mind and cleverly molding them into artifice and subtlety. Someone needed a way to move a heavy load over a long distance—a designer came up with the wheel. Someone needed volunteers—a designer conceived of Uncle Sam. Someone had an idea for a device that could receive phone calls on the go—a designer gave them the cellular phone. For better or for worse, someone called upon a designer to make the idea practical, presentable and user-friendly, and they answered. How lucky are we that Design touches every gadget and graphic in the world that Earthlings touch and interface with? We’re the ones who’re tasked with envisioning (and not only that, but putting pen-to-paper) everything that, well, gets built. A scary prospect—but exciting, is it not? To all the visual learners and communicators, to all the shapers and molders—to all the designers (full-time, part-time, hobbyists, enthusiasts and as-yet-undiscovered)—thank you.

By Richard Slemaker
Chet Faker playing at the Gothic Theatre, August 3, 2015, somewhere between 9:30-11:00pm
Published April 11, 2016
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