The new designers are back

So for a long time I use to call myself a designer/developer because I couldn’t quite put myself in one or the other category. This in between category was the best I could come up with at a time when the industry wasn’t very accepting of someone who couldn’t code but didn’t live in photoshop or walk around with a mac attached to there hip (obviously I’m totally joking about the last bit).

The problem started for me when I thought xml was a very cool technology and I started to use it for things in my design class. For example SVG gave me chills, I wouldn’t shut up about it. I mean a way to describe a picture or illustration without resorting to a describe field was amazing. And that was just the start. In previous years I learned about XHTML, XML, XSL, Xpath, SMIL, VRML (now X3d), Xpointer, Xlink, etc. All these technologies seemed to fit together nicely. So after spending some time with startup Edwards Churcher (a design/coding/business outfit based in fashionable Clerkenwell, London) I went back to college during the risk adverse dot bomb era and started doing work with these technologies. Thats also where I learned XSL 1.0, played with Apache Cocoon (the xml pipelining framework) and started messing with a XMLdb (existdb). I was also teaching the students about the technologies I was learning myself. Teaching interaction design students XSL was one of my biggest challenges at the time.

Anyway, before we go too far down memory lane, lets get back to the point.

All the designers were learning Flash and Shockwave (director) and the programmers were learning Java, PHP, Perl. I didn’t fit in either camp and even worst there seemed to be no one else I could spot who was going through the same identity crisis.

However as the industry got more mature, things started to come together and now I can gladly say I’m spotting more new designers (thats what I call them) that ever before. Some of them I’ve known for ages but they have been pigeon holed all this time or chosen work which has let them reflect a certain aspect of there knowledge or personality.

  • Chris Messina or FactoryJoe as he use to be called is a designer who learned to code. I use to think he was just a coder but after many meals and chats with him, I’ve come to learn that no he’s a designer really. If that wasn’t shocking enough, I also learned how old he is *lol*. What a guy!
  • Gavin Bell who now works for nature science magazine and I’ve known him for quite sometime but really well enough it seems. In a recent conversation with Jon Udell on Itconversation’s interview with innovators. Gavin talked about the challenge of having a design focus in a technical job (among other things). Its actually what prompted me to write this blog post.

New designers are popping out of the wood work all over the place and frankly this is no bad thing.

I was a recent barcamp in Manchester and I attended a session which was really a brainstorm for ideas. After the predictable ideas, I chimed in and said "heck I have a idea every few seconds. There ten a penny, here’s a few ideas for you…"

My boss (Adrian Woolard) talks about the continual use of design techniques to problem solve, collaborate and process a idea a lot. And he’s not wrong, I’m seeing it more and more. The thing we learned in the design world are being adopted and modified for creative people generally. For example BarCamp has its roots in something called Unconference which leads back to the design focused Openspace which goes right back to the 70’s I believe? There’s many examples of this and other design process’s being taken up.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser. Can be found at, and