*Originally published by Graphic Design Education Association (GDEA), Annual National Symposia*


*Computers are a new medium—not merely tools.
They combine many forms of information and offer
new ways of organizing information. Designing
for computers—using computers as a medium—
can open up business and creative opportunities.
Design education should recognize the opportunities,
embrace the use of computers as a medium,
and adapt curricula accordingly.*

This article is based on a talk I gave to the Graphic
Design Education Association at its 1989 annual
symposium at the Chicago Art Institute. I have
expanded my notes from the talk and included
some recent developments in the computer industry.

The main point of the article is that graphic designers
should view computers not only as tools for completting
traditional tasks but also as a new medium for
communicating ideas. This view suggests a need
to change design education.

For many years, computer scientists such as Alan Kay
and Nicholas Negroponte have seen the potential of
computers to become a medium. Their vision has not
been practical until quite recently. A look at the past
will help show how much computers have changed.

Ten years ago in 1980, I first visited MIT’s Media Lab—
then known as the Architecture Machine Group.
I had gone to see some interesting work that Wendy
Richmond was doing on fuzzy or “anti-aliased” fonts.
By accident I happened to see Andy Lippman’s
“Movie Manual,” an interactive car repair manual.

Remember, this was still 1980. I was drawing lowresolution
fonts on graph paper because no other
method was available outside sophisticated labs.
Personal computers were barely four years old.
IBM was a year away from releasing its first PC.
Apple had not even begun planning the Macintosh.

What I saw at MIT was a large screen—perhaps
19 inches across. On the screen was type that looked
like type—not jagged green dots pretending to be
letters. There was also a mouse controlling a cursor.
(I had never seen a computer mouse before.)
And there were also colored diagrams and photos.
With the mouse I could move the cursor over a
photograph, click the mouse button, and like magic
the picture would become video—complete with
narration. At the time I thought the demonstration
was impressive—largely because I had never seen
anything like it. I assumed that most computers
worked pretty much the same way. Later I was
surprised to find the rest of the world not quite
as advanced as MIT, and I began to appreciate
Lippman’s achievement more.

Think about what he had to do—well before the
days of personal computers. He had to assemble or
build all the hardware. He had to develop the basic
software—the operating system and the applications
(or authoring environment). Having done all that,
he could then get down to the task of designing
the content and interface of the manual. It seems
to me an almost impossible task for one person.
Few individuals possess both highly developed
engineering skills and highly developed design skills.

Ten years later the task is much easier. You can
accomplish it with off-the-shelf parts. You can use
Macintosh II or IBM 386 class computers. Their operating
systems provide much of the basic software.
Apple throws in HyperCard, and Microsoft offers
Asymmetric’s Toolbook. You’ll also need a laser-disk
player such as the Pioneer 4200, a video-card, and
a couple of cables. You can put together a complete
system for $10,000—maybe a lot less.

Of course you still have to design whatever shows
up on screen. And you have to create the video.
But now you can actually concentrate on the design
of the content and the design of the interaction—
on what you see and how you use it. You do not
have to worry (relative to ten years ago) about how
the hardware and software works.

The MIT Movie Manual story illustrates an important
point. Computers have advanced enough that graphic
designers now have a major role to play in the
development of what shows up on our computer
screens and in the way we use our computers—
that is, in the design of content and the design of
interaction. I believe this is the area where computers
will most change the way we communicate,
the way we design, and the way we teach design.

**The problem of using computers as graphic design tools has been solved.**

In order to focus on the potential of computers to
be a medium, we must move beyond our fascination
(or fixation) with them as tools. We are exhausting
the topic—and the audience.

Most designers did not give much thought to
computers before 1986. If they noticed computers
at all, it was probably for billing or word processing.
Macintosh, PageMaker, the LaserWriter, and Post-
Script changed our view of computers. Designers
found a new tool for comping and page layout.
Many people complained about quality, but the
software improved. And now, most design offices
use computers as part of their regular business.
(In 1988 Wendy Richmond reported the results of a survey of Communication Arts Magazine
readers in which 70% of those responding said
their businesses owned computers.)

The rate at which computer software has improved
has been quite extraordinary. Today programs like
Adobe Photoshop and Letraset ColorStudio can
handle photo collaging and retouching. Before last
year, high-quality, digital photo-retouching was only
possible on expensive systems like Scitex.

Now everything graphic designers have traditionally
done from generating comps to setting type, from
drawing logos to retouching photos, can be done
on personal computers. In fact, designers can now
create their own high quality, color separations.

In its essence, the problem of using computers to
produce traditional print graphic design has been
solved. Certainly designers would benefit from
faster machines, more storage space, and better
screen calibration. And computers will continue
to improve, but software aimed at the design and
production of print will not radically change. It will
simply become faster and handle increasingly
complex pieces.

**Computers are not merely tools.**

We have heard a great deal of discussion about
the computer revolution in design. The emerging
wisdom is that computers are merely tools—
tools for students to master like ruling pens and
paint brushes.

Reputable designers as diverse as Paul Rand and
April Grieman agree on this point. In Rand’s words,
[They’re] just like pencils. Nothing special.” I am
sad to report, Rand will not tolerate discussion of
the matter. I think his view is a little short-sighted.
It overlooks the potential of computers to be a
medium. What I mean is that computers are not
just something to design with; computers are also
something to design for.

Computers are not just fancy typewriters. Computers
are not just a new way of doing the same old things.
Computers are also a way of doing new things—
unexpected things. Here is the promise of technology,
the promise of science fiction. It is magic—the magic
dream of a better world. The reality is that computers
differ from the other tools designers use in two important
ways. Computers can simulate and combine
most forms of information, and they can combine
information into new structures.

The development of computers is a history of their
ability to simulate new forms of information. The
first computers understood only numbers. Text
followed quickly. Type and pictures are much more
recent, as is sound. Animation and video are now
limited mostly by available memory. Computers
can combine all these information forms on screen
creating a kind of super-medium. (Several electronics
manufacturers are working to make computers
handle video more easily—Apple, Fujitsu, IBM,
Intel, Matsushita, Philips, Sony, and others.)

Computers also offer a way of organizing information
into new structures or structures that would otherwise
be too cumbersome to use. Most of the time,
we structure our information in one of two ways.
We organize information so that we can see it all at
once—in a point source like a magazine ad or stop
sign. Or we organize information so that it unfolds
over time—in a linear sequence as in movies or
books. But unlike movies, computers can offer more
than one path. Screen 1 might lead to Screen 2 and
also to Screen 3—and to any other screen as well.
A screen describing Joe DiMaggio might lead to
screens describing baseball, Marilyn Monroe, and
Mr. Coffee. A screen about baseball might lead to
screens about rules, history, and current statistics.
Each successive screen might lead to still more
choices. All these choices lead to a new way of
presenting information. The viewer takes control
and can ask for more—or for less.

The different structures available for organizing
information offer much potential for research. A quick
look at information structures reveals that aside from
points and linear sequences, we can organize information
in structures such as parallel time-lines or
parallel texts, hierarchies including definitions and
magnification, matrices of 2, 3, or any number of
dimensions, overlays of maps or diagrams, and webs
or networks. Probably there are other structures.
Design would benefit from further research.

The point is that computers make it possible for us
to organize large quantities of information in new
ways—ways that would have been hard to create
or hard to use in the past.

The combination of several forms of information
in structures that are not only linear is called hypermedia
or multimedia. For a better idea of what
multimedia might become imagine something
new—something that combines the properties of
books, movies, and video games. Imagine pointing
to an area on a map and then watching the details
enlarge or calling up video of the area. Imagine
pointing at a word in a novel and then seeing
a definition or photograph appear. Imagine an interactive annual report or an interactive newspaper or an interactive telephone book where you could
ask for more information about any topic that
interests you.

We are at a point in using computers as a medium
very similar to the point movie making was at before
The Great Train Robbery. We have a new technology
but cannot yet see how to use it in a new way. We
can set up the camera to record an event like a car
driving by or even to record a play. But we have
not found the best way to use a movie camera to
tell a story. We have not yet figured out how to pan
or cut. We have not yet invented the computer’s
equivalent to the language of film.

Still, the limits of our technology or our ability to
understand it have not stood in the way of making
a business of multimedia. If you have any doubts,
look at the investment on the part of large corporations.
In one of the largest deals ever, Matsushita
purchased MCA. Sony owns Columbia pictures and
CBS Records. The Japanese are hardly alone. Philips
owns Polygram, and Polygram owns American
Interactive Media. GE owns RCA, and RCA owns NBC.
ABC has a multimedia division—as does GTE. Time-
Warner has a multimedia publishing group. Disney
has a software division. Microsoft has a publishing
division, and The New York Times recently reported
that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is negotiating with
museums for the right to electronically reproduce
paintings and photographs in their collections. While
there are only a few published titles, the investment
is already enormous.

In Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and
New York, graphic designers who understand
multimedia and today’s software and who are skilled
at typography, art direction, animation, or video
are in demand. This is partly because they are rare,
but the market for their skills is also growing.

Design education should embrace computers as a new
medium. While we have seen a lot of business activity
surrounding computers and multimedia, we have
seen little activity on the part of design education.

Most graphic designers may choose to work only in
print and not to experiment with other media. They
have a narrow view of design. It is a view of design
related to Rand’s and Grieman’s view of computers
as merely tools.

A broader view sees design as a process. It is a
process of bringing order, of solving problems,
of communicating. The idiosyncrasies of any
particular technology—be it printing, photography,
or computing—are not the primary subject of
design. Therefore they should not be the primary
subject of design education.

Even while design educators grapple with the
problems of how to integrate computers into
traditional curricula, they must look beyond. They
must look at the problem of teaching students to
design for computers—to design what shows up on
screens. They must build curricula that anticipate
rapidly changing technology.

Video monitors will become large, high-resolution,
fl at panels. A myriad of hand held computers will
appear. Computers will connect to—and then be
built into—goggles and glasses and also into clothes,
cars, and buildings. All these computers will display
information. The information will require form.
And the people using the computers will need to
interact with the information. Both the form of the
information and the form of the interaction will
require design. Someone must figure out what to
show, how it looks, and how it works. That someone
will be a designer.

Graphic designers who design for computers—
who use computers as a medium—should receive
encouragement and training in college. They will
require familiarity with traditional skills including
communication, typography, photography, animation,
and video production. They will also require
new skills especially in the areas of interaction
design, design process, problem solving, team
dynamics, and project management. They should
also be somewhat familiar with programming
though they need not be programmers.

Introducing students to the idea that computers can
be used as a medium should not be difficult for any
school with a computer lab. Schools with Macintosh
computers probably already have HyperCard
software. Macromind Director and Silicon Beach
SuperCard also work well. Schools with IBM 386
class computers can use Asymmetrics Toolbook.
Schools can also have students tackle the subject
with paper storyboards.

The biggest problem may be keeping assignments
simple. Design an interactive map of your building.
Design an interactive system that explains a process
such as how to play baseball. Design an interactive
history of typography with references to the arts,
sciences, and politics. The essential questions to
ask students about their work are these:

+ What is the message?
+ Why should it be interactive?
+ Who is the audience?

The ultimate criteria is this:

+ Does the piece make sense?

Before design curricula can change, design educators
must make important choices. Is graphic design
about producing print or is it about communication?
Must design education be specific to a particular
medium or can it span a number of media?
Do computers have a place in design education as
more than mere tools? Resources are always scarce,
and computers can be costly. However the cost
of not investing now may be high later.

The change I advocate for design and design
education—from using computers as specialized
tools to using computers as a medium—will
happen in the rest of the world as well. In the 1980s
computers changed from a few isolated mainframes
used by highly trained specialists to millions of
personal computers used as business tools. In the
1990s computers will change again becoming even
smaller and more widely distributed. Computing,
television, and telephone communications will merge.
For the rest of society as well as for designers,
computers will change from specialized tools to
universal medium.

The opportunity for designers is great.
We have a chance to do things never done before.
We have a chance to explore, to play, to invent
the future. It’s time to get started.

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  • pallavi

    Jun 5, 2013
    4:00 pm

    Graphic designers are ambassadors of meaning. They define commercial identity through trademarks and logos. They broker understanding across language barriers. They clarify the messages of authors, advertisers, organizations, and the media with type, image, and space.And also they need to have knowledge on web technologies also for developing websites.

  • khalil ibrahim

    Dec 9, 2014
    2:35 am

    i need a search of hipermaedia desigh method

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