The death of 2B

The trusted pencil has been all but replaced

COMMENT, Design

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One can’t help but worry about the future of the 2B pencil. A long-held, loyal companion of designers the world over, Mr. 2B is being unceremoniously swept aside in favour of that brash young upstart: technology.

In its various guises, technology has democratised design, making ideas, information and inspiration easier to access, distribute, share, discuss and dissect. Technology acts as a vital communication tool, allowing design to be understood by all. It allows design – that most personal, subliminal, subjective of things – to be taken out of the mind of the designer and put it into a medium that others can tap into. It creates a common language.

It is also a key driver in the creative process, enabling designers to explore new forms, colours and textures; it encourages people to push boundaries and challenge existing norms; and it offers speed, ease and efficiency, godsends in an age of frantic productivity and incessant pressure to perform and create.

Moving forward, technology’s role in the design process is only set to increase. There is a new generation of designers coming into the business arena that are largely unfamiliar with the merits of the meagre pencil. They probably learnt to read on a computer – and they definitely learnt to design on one.

On the one hand, this is cause for celebration. Virtual walk-throughs, where designs are presented in all their multi-dimensional glory, could become ubiquitous. The ‘experiential’ side of design will be enhanced and the practice of communicating ideas will only become easier.

However, there are concerns. Just as people will always worry that computers will eventually displace genuine human interaction, one has to question whether technology will end up cannibalising creativity.

Technology shouldn’t shape design, it should facilitate it. Unfortunately, it can all too easily create a disconnect between the designer and their design. As Zain Mustafa points out in this month’s Industry Speak (page 13), rubbing out your mistakes, throwing away your piece of tracing paper and starting all over again is a sure-fire way of getting you to think carefully about what you are doing. That level of focus and engagement is what creates truly great design.

As with most things, the secret is balance. Ultimately, designers must be masters of the technologies they employ, rather than slaves to them.


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