By Bruce N. Wright
“Graphic Design in the 24th Century”
In the Twenty-Fourth Century we will be completely happy. Our every need will be swiftly and silently met by increasingly sophisticated electronics, high-tech, high-touch robots, high-performance vehicles, diagnostic-aerobic-celebrity-recreational centers and video parity.
Everyone will have their own private logo (designed by a licensed graphic designer, of course) and be hyper-conscious of good design in every part of their lives. Contrary to our predictions, publishing will flourish as a consequence of the instant fame syndrome sparked by pop-artist Andy Warhol. Through the miracle of desktop publishing billions of very thin books will be produced representing fifteen minutes in the lives of everyone. And communications will become near instantaneous with the help of neural-cellular telephones that don’t fade in and out. Everything will have been taken care of.
Beyond belief, you say? Well, it’s already been done, or much of it anyway. If you care to see for yourself, every Saturday night on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” you can watch the crew of the Enterprise battle with aliens, malfunctioning equipment and their own minds while a dazzling display of graphics blinks in the background.
But these are no ordinary graphics. The Starship Enterprise is fully equipped with interactive graphics that give instant information, provide ship controls, or help people find their way around the ship. You could almost say that for the Enterprise, the graphics are the key to control, for in Star Trek, understanding the displays and instruments gives command of the ship.
With the new TV series, graphics plays a greater role than in the original and it is sometimes used as a method of moving the story plot along. In a recent episode, an “alien force” (in the form of a medusa-like bundle of energy with the ability to pass into the minds of one person or another), took control of the ship. It could do this at will, but only through the ship’s control panels, where the advanced interactive graphics are concentrated. In other words, the graphics become the conduit through which the creature could interact with the humans. This makes tremendous sense, for it is through graphics (symbols if you will) that we communicate when we don’t use speech.
The idea of talking to a computer, or a set of signs, goes back many years and has been a favorite gimmick of science fiction writers since the 1940s. (Incidentally, the Bible described a form of interactive graphics when it spoke of the “Burning Bush,” but that’s a study for others to take up.) It is only within the last five years that we have had the capabilities sufficient to the task. And, as technology speeds up, the use of interactive computer graphics will become more and more important as life’s activities become more and more complex. It will be a matter of providing more information to people who need it. We already see such things as electronic yellow pages being promoted on TV through the Connection. These things will need graphic designers to make sense out of them.
There will be innumerable occasions where good graphic communication could help. Take the act of finding one’s way around downtown, or Dayton’s for that matter. With new buildings and changes being made to our urban setting monthly, sometimes weekly, the need for information expands. This touches on one of Bill Stumpf’s favorite subjects, the civility of a place. In a civil society, people can find their way around, and, if they get lost, they are easily able to locate and find the information they seek to get themselves back to where they are going.
Too much of the urban landscape these days is uncared for. There are vast swatches of no-mans-lands where no one is responsible to that land. This is a notion the American Indians believed in, that humans are stewards of the land and must respect it. In France, at least in the southern provinces, every shopkeeper is required by law to keep the patch of sidewalk in front of their store clean at all times.
To the denizens of our great American cities today, the thought that sidewalks and streets should be anyone’s responsibility is beyond comprehension. Of course, it’s somebody else’s job! The same can be said of the responsibility of communication and signage within our communities. Who is responsible for making sure that everyone can find their way around, or that visitors can find goods and services? Too often the work is left to some corporate management that fails to realize that the essentials of communication are the clear and unimpeded transference of information.
There are many opportunities in our own time for good graphic information: building identification, shops, institutions such as our libraries, civic groups, government, transportation systems (the old Paris Metro maps were the original interactive graphics), parking facilities (probably the worst offenders of clear graphic information. People are always losing their cars in parking ramps), and on the simplest level, the company logo as an opportunity to communicate information. How many logos do you see every day that communicate little or nothing of their company’s aspirations or activities?
Society is getting more and more complex. The opportunities are there. It will be up to the astute graphic designer to find new areas of need. Now, more than ever, the world needs capable graphic designers to take the lead in making the world a comprehensible place to live; to go on a continuing mission to seek out new worlds (it’s no longer safe to set five-year missions), and new ways of communicating through graphics.