April 30, 2003
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Clement Mok

Writing in the new Communication Arts, AIGA president Clement Mok argues that the design profession took a wrong turn in the last two decades.

In the ensuing years, the deadening effects of social turmoil followed by stagnation and, later, the sheer volume of work created by waves of economic expansion engendered an environment of complacency. Designers increasingly just scrubbed and brushed what they already had for each successive client and project. They added more bells and whistles as was required by their clients, and chimed all the way to the bank.

Tough words.

There has clearly been a steady decline in the design profession for over 30 years, and the source of that decline is the profession's intractable stasis.

For Mok, the core problem is one that will sound familiar to Information Architects as well as to hypertext theory folk: designers have concentrated so much on developing a personal, branded vocabulary that their customers are no longer convinced that designers actually know anything at all. "The design profession functions as if each individual designer is selling his or her services in some sort of terminological vacuum, with nothing more substantial than his or her personal charisma or taste to serve as the foundation for vast edifices of public influence."

This is why we need to take stock, to compile an inventory of what we know about hypertext and new media. (As a convenience for students, we could also compile a list of questions for which we don't have answers. I remember, when I was an early grad student, it sometimes seemed that everything in my field was either well known or over my head.)

Update: Beth Mazur (thanks!) of IDBlog has found that Mok's article is now online.