Digital product design is a rapidly growing field that engages unique individuals with skillsets that unite traditional communication design principles with user experience capability and digital software skills. In an increasingly tech-driven world, more skilled digital product designers will be needed to create authentic and innovative digital touchpoints.
Because digital product design was traditionally dependent on a multi-team, multi-step process, the individuals involved developed specializations preventing them from seeing the entire production chain. Because the role of the designer has expanded over time, the field now demands a change in the methodology applied to the task of creating digital products—one in which the designer can lead the development of the product from start to finish.
With these emerging developments in mind, Parsons School of Design in New York City is pleased to announce the launch of a new one-year Master of Professional Studies in Communication Design. Featuring a concentration in Digital Product Design, the program offers students the cutting-edge conceptual design methods and technical skills needed to meet this growing marketplace demand.
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Alex Lardaro, Well Spent, 2015
Elevating the role of the designer
Regardless of a digital product's function or technical sophistication, robust design principles must still serve as a foundation—principles which extend beyond style and formal qualities. Today, visual designers need to understand the technical complexities behind their products, making them equal partners in the problem-solving stage of a project and amplifying their role within the overall development process.
Historically, a typical digital project might begin with research and strategy that would be handed off to a UX designer, who in turn would outline an information hierarchy based on target user behavior. Next in the process, a visual designer would transform a wireframe into an aesthetically pleasing interface. After a process of review, the design would get passed to software engineers who advise on what can—and often what can't—be built from a technological perspective. Roadblocks arise, and creative work would inevitably be compromised to meet technological constraints.
As digital products become more integrated into every industry, designers have a responsibility to evolve along with the process and find a more efficient, more effective way of working. Just as skilled print designers must understand the opportunities and limitations of their tools—printing techniques, inks, paper stocks, etc.—digital designers must gain an understanding of basic coding and prototyping skills. This capacity allows designers to work within a platform's limitations and identify creative opportunities, avoiding the time-consuming back-and-forth between design and engineering teams.
Zut Alors!, The Suzanne Geiss Company, 2014
Employers are beginning to recognize the tangible business benefits of designers who can see the big picture—overall goals, target audience, user expectations—while understanding the advantages and limitations of the specific tool they are designing for. Increasingly, designers are expected to incorporate typographic, compositional, and systems-driven thinking into data-dependent environments and create design solutions within technical parameters. It's our responsibility as designers to develop this new skillset in ways that harness our existing abilities while maintaining a commitment to experimentation and innovation.
Carrying forward a tradition of innovation
Traditional design skills are always going to be fundamental to great work, but as the use of software and digital products increases, designers must keep up with the industry's evolution. Graduate programs like the Master of Professional Studies in Communication Design at Parsons School of Design can help designers bolster their skills in design methodologies, and give them the digital product skills they need to transition into this new specialization.
As designers, we have earned our place a table—but the surrounding scenario has changed. As practitioners in a continually evolving industry, we are not only uniquely suited to adapt to the changes before us, but to lead it as well. Digital product design is simply the contemporary context under which designers can demonstrate their skill as cultural arbiters, critically reflecting on our rapidly evolving environmental, commercial, and social landscape.
Brendan Griffiths is a graphic designer, programmer, and educator living and working in New York City. He is a partner in the design practice Zut Alors! and is the program director of the MPS Communication Design program at Parsons School of Design within The New School. For more information about the program, visit the program's website.