On Thursday, September 22nd, the Downtown Film Festival LA introduced its 2016 Art+Architecture+Design programming (no relation) with a snappy and stylish film that raises some intriguing questions. The software startup InVision hosted a red carpet premiere for Design Disruptors, a documentary covering some of the prominent ideas and players on the current digital landscape. Reps from InVision and several featured tech companies were in attendance and held a quick panel discussion afterward.
Design Disruptors consists of interviews with well-placed Silicon Valley designers along with action shots of their work (and their fanciful workspaces). Decision-makers at Lyft, Facebook, Mailchimp, Pinterest, Spotify, and other powerful companies chime in about what they’re working on, what design is, and how it is shaping the contemporary world.
The film traffics in the catchy slogans of its milieu: “Saving time is sexy now.” “Radio didn’t replace newspapers… media got more specific.” Or, from LA premiere panelist and obvious star Jason Mayden of Accel Partners: “Chaos is delicious.”
The speakers are particularly clever as they tackle the challenge of defining design itself. Julie Zhou, head of product at Facebook, calls it “the act of intentionally solving problems.” According to John Maeda of Automattic [sic], “design makes answers. Art makes questions.” Art, design, chaos, and chance will always be neighbors, but the film proposes potential lines of demarcation that provoke interesting arguments. Clips of Mike Davidson (“the best design is invisible”) and Andy Law (“not completely… it makes you feel a certain way”) are juxtaposed as if to highlight that this is a healthy and ongoing debate.
Without calling it out by name, Design Disruptors hints at a vast cultural gulf between designers working with material goods and their now-dominant digital descendants. Creators of digital products can steadily iterate based on ongoing user feedback. Credos such as “fail fast to succeed sooner” are a bit harder to live by when one’s work must end, or at least pause for applause, and take a relatively stable form. Over time, a physical building can be modified based on visitor comment cards. But compared to updating an app, it is a slower process, to say the least.
InVision’s film is very much of this new world, so much so that it inhabits a new genre: “iterative documentary.” Anyone who sees it can comment on it or Tweet about it as they watch, reviewing it for the world in real time. The filmmakers will take feedback under consideration and modify the film’s content and structure. Each time the film is screened, it may be slightly different. Older technologies, including the computers and internet connections of a few years ago, simply did not allow for this sort of project.
The digital design community at large still carries a marked reverence for those who came up in the material world. Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things remains a fixture of UX bootcamp reading lists. Lyft’s aesthetic has evolved to bring in real-world elements (from driver photos to the tiny cars dotting its maps) to foster a sense of comfortable familiarity. Google’s Material Design was painstakingly strategized to facilitate digital products that emulated the “look and feel” of tangible objects. And Design Disruptors notes that advances in polymers and plastics, as much as brainstorming, made the Eames chair a thing.
The more grounded digital designers recognize themselves as part of a tradition.The trade changes with the tools, but our attachments to the corporeal realm are not so easily disrupted.
Aside from capturing some of the excitement around design culture in influential tech companies, Design Disruptors serves to remind that digital denizens and traditional architects and designers still have much to share with and to learn from each other.
– Emerson Dameron, A+D Intern
– Photo Credit: www.dtlaff.com