Novel ideas are seductive. When we’re exposed to a new way of doing things, we can tend to assume that it represents a revolution of sorts. That it is inherently better than what was done before.
But once you’ve been around a while, you start to realise that what purports to be better often isn’t – and that it pays to heed what has worked in the past.
And there is no better example than the current trends in digital and online communications.
With the increasing prevalence of user-generated content in digital media over the past few years, we have seen a clear return to tried-and-tested design techniques. The platforms for this kind of content require a strong focus on both ‘form’ and ‘structure’ – two of the most fundamental elements of design, dating back thousands of years.
And indeed many online platforms that allow users to generate content are underpinned by one of the most basic design elements: a grid. This enables the user to build a hierarchy of information, disseminate information in an orderly manner and create layers on which to build.
The following examples of contemporary digital design all use a fundamental grid structure.
And so we are witnessing a kind of reverse evolution, in which the traditional design grid has been reborn for a digital age. While print design has tended to become more freeform in recent times, the newer media have almost become reliant on grids.
So I think there is a lesson in all this.
Unless we give careful thought to how new methods will improve upon our existing ones, it’s more likely that we will end up with the emperor’s new clothes than with a revolutionary approach. So next time you’re faced with a new challenge, the ways of old may be a good place to start.
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