design randomness

If Bruce Lee was a designer, what would he think of CSS?

The defined role of a designer has evolved rapidly over the last few years. Are we more like boxers, or mixed martial artists?

Bruce Lee

Where I’m coming from

Let me get this out of the way. I’m not a huge sports fan, nor have I ever really been very athletically inclined (despite being almost 6’4″ and having heard “don’t you play basketball?” more times than I care to remember). But for some reason I love watching fights. It started with boxing, with me sitting with my grandmother to watch the big fights on cable. It always amused me to see this tiny (under 5 foot) woman, who was usually a hard-core pacifist nerd (the woman taught HS science and had a Master’s in Biochem), get all worked up watching two guys beating the snot out of each other. Recently though, mixed martial arts (MMA) fights have taken the place of boxing. If I had to put my finger on it, I guess it’s because I’m attracted to the combo of Eastern and Western arts, since most mma fighters DON’T focus on one single discipline, and instead work on being proficient in a few areas– boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, muay thai. In a roundabout way made this whole thing made me think of our roles as members of the design community.

Finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of places

Last week, while I was in the shower (seems like a lot of my good ideas start there), the image of a boxer came to mind. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the recent Cotto-Pacquiao fight, which coincided with a UFC card that same weekend. It got me thinking that we might be seeing a paradigm shift in the fight world. For the longest time, a guy would become a boxer, and that’s all he would do. He wouldn’t necessarily go into wrestling, or any other area, for that matter. The same went for Greco-Roman wrestlers and martial artists. To see a Greco guy boxing or a karateka in a judo match was unheard of.

Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.
— Arthur Schopenhauer

Muay Thai fighters
But in the last few years, that perception’s started to shift. With the advent and increase in popularity of mixed martial arts, it’s become pretty common to see boxers that have worked on their wrestling. Wrestlers who’ve taken up jiu-jitsu. Even judokas are taking up boxing. The audience looking just for boxing has seen a drop-off. The numbers for mma have (arguably) gone up some. The lines between these disciplines have been blurred, and in some cases erased.

I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.
— Pablo Picasso

The times, they are a-changin’

The same thing, I think, is happening in the design world. It used to be that you could do print design and leave it at that. If you were a web programmer, you never got involved in logo development. If you were into digital animation, that’s all you did. But, in recent years, it’s become commonplace– and in some cases expected– to see print guys (myself included) getting into web design. We’re seeing web designers incorporating coding and programming into their bag of tricks. The lines between these disciplines have been blurred as well.

Now, I don’t pretend to have an answer as to why. Maybe the Web making it easier to connect with the rest of the world is at fault. Maybe the economy and a crappy job market precipitated this. Maybe the democratization of software is to blame. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that, as professionals involved in graphic design (in whatever capacity) we’re going to have to adapt to this new paradigm, if we haven’t already. It’s become a requirement, and not an option, that we at least have a passing familiarity– if not an outright working knowledge— with a variety of skills. We have to adapt to this ever-changing landscape. We can no longer be like boxers, and focus on one thing. We have to, as designers, act like an mma fighter, and use every martial art and technique at our disposal, not just to get the win, but to become better fighters in the process.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.
— General Eric Shinseki

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