The Convergence of Visual Communication in the Digital Age


Perhaps it’s because my daughter is a college freshman that I see the role of a dorm’s common space or university quad anew. I’ve been an academic for a long time however now I see that those common areas bringing everyone together represent something similar in design.

In the digital era, graphic design isn’t easily defined; we know it when we see it. It has always been a process and an end communication, but now it’s social, an environment, a product, a video—it is UX. Graphic design is… not your grandfather’s discipline.

Consider Sagmeister & Walsh’s solution for Appy Fizz, a sparkling apple juice drink available in India, targeted at markets in Mumbai and Delhi. One look at the campaign is to see the underlying concept relied on a digital era gestalt—the dynamic moving circular language of 3D spheres and circles, from the print campaign to the TV spots to a film featuring brand ambassador Bollywood star Privank Chopra. Is it a branding concept? TV spot idea? Digital design concept?

Design continues to solve problems. To help people master Canon’s capabilities and by utilizing digital technology, 360i in partnership with Canon “set out to create a classroom experience in the field.” With Canon Photo Coach, 360i helps photo enthusiasts take the kind of photos and photographic stories they hope for. “Famous skylines. Iconic landmarks. And an awful lot of selfies.” When people around the world take over one trillion photos in a year that kind of enthusiasm begs for a valuable utility.

360i “used social listening to find New York City’s most photographed areas and then placed billboards right where people were taking those photos.” They created smart billboards—digital screens and trucks equipped with giant monitors that tapped into API data like light, weather, time, traffic, location and events—giving real time tips to photographers right when they need them.

When Moira Cullen, then Coca-Cola’s design director, spoke at the Thinking Creatively conference a few years ago, she said our profession could no long tolerate thinking in silos. Yet we’re still divided in agencies, departments, and in our own brains.

In an interview, The Brand Identity asked Brian Collins, CCO/Co-founder of Collins, How has the “Convergence Era,” as you call it, affected branding and how you approach it? Here is part of Collins’ response:

“We’ve entered an era where a company’s success no longer hinges as it once did on crafting one perfectly controlled ‘story’ defined by one dominant channel. Instead, people now seek coherent information and responsive experiences that enrich their lives – everywhere. Is Uber transportation or a brilliant interface? Is Oculus Rift branded content, gaming, technology or an environment?

It’s all of it. You can’t pull it apart.”

How do you effectively deal with digital-era design? Abolishing design or advertising silos is one way. Get everyone to think of graphic design as more than visual communication, as value-based experiences that take people’s behaviors and needs into account at every turn. Ask:

  • What advantage does your design solution offer people?
  • How does the solution build a relationship with people? How does it build community?
  • Is there any social good you can promote while promoting a brand?
  • How well does your design concept best utilize the media channel of distribution?
  • Can a design solution be in the form of a product? Service? Utility?

Inform, entertain, or educate.

Globally. Nationally.

Design. Branding. Advertising. Animation. Tech. Social.

If design experiences have converged then our approach to them must change too. We can alter this resigned silo position. Social psychologists have demonstrated that changing people’s mind-sets alters outcomes. Let’s assume an open mind-set about what graphic design is. Back in ’63, our latest Nobel laureate said, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

And so they have. Let’s share our experiences. Meet me in the quad.

Learn more in Robin Landa’s 3rd edition of Advertising By Design, publishing this week.

Improve your resume and expand your skill set: Earn a certificate in UX Design from HOW Design University.