It’s always difficult to predict which topics will generate the most interest on Merge. I would have never guessed, for instance, that after roughly nine months online, the most popular post by a long shot would be one that I wrote shortly after launching this blog, entitled Microfinancing. A model that can work for designers?. Even more interesting to me is to follow which posts generate the most reader commentary. My post last week about Tom Friedman’s New York Times column from December 13 (Tom Friedman’s 12/13 NYTimes Column: Why it Matters to Designers) takes that prize. Friedman’s story about how market demands—and opportunities—have impacted his friend’s marketing business clearly resonated with the Merge audience.
Knowing that most readers don’t revisit blog posts to follow the commentary, and because many of the reader comments from this post expanded the theme I was writing about, I want to take a moment to recap some of what I’ve heard in the week since the Friedman post.
Carl Tully made a thoughtful contribution from the architecture world: “Interesting from the perspective of a large scale architectural design practice. The urgency to reinvent the way we work, design, communicate is upon us. Will high quality high value design survive? Current design practices cannot support a sustainable business model based on the fees that are currently winning the work.”
Michael Ratcliff echoed the themes of my post, “My practice as a designer is profoundly changing, and not for the better. Because of the tools we have available, the speed and ease I can create things is remarkable. The downside is that clients are not wanting to pay for services rendered, or they will but at a significantly lower rate.” He goes on, “The genie is out of the bottle and we will never be able to go back to the old [way of working]. Rather than being all gloom and doom, embrace the changes and move forward, or get out of the way.”
Jim Finnegan added some historical perspective with a comment posted to the Merge Facebook group, “It seems to be an ever evolving theme in the graphic design industry. I saw it in typesetting, photography, and now in creative services and design. Fear not. The real future of the creative mind is what you have been discussing in Merge.”
Ironically, a short article entitled Good Enough is the New Great in the NY Times’ Sunday Magazine “Year in Ideas” issue from 12/13, caught my attention as further evidence of the ripple effect of free and low-cost online tools on the industries they serve. The article examines how the nosediving of our quality standards as media consumers has paralleled the availability of these new tools. “High-definition televisions have turned every living room into a home cinema, yet millions of us choose to watch small, blurry videos on our computers and our mobile devices. Cameras capture images in a dozen megapixels, yet Flickr is filled with snapshots taken with phone cameras that we can neither focus nor zoom.” The article refers to research conducted by Jonathan Berger, a music professor at Stanford, who polled his college-aged students over a six year period on whether they preferred music played from a high-quality CD, or lower-quality digital MP3 files commonly used on iPods. Each year more students said they preferred the lower quality audio. “To a new generation of iPod listeners, rock music is supposed to sound lo-fi. Good enough is now better than great.”
This story gives us a glimpse into what the next generation of consumers will respond to. One wonders if we are poised for a pendulum swing.