I.D. and Design Culture

Over the past several years I rarely read I.D. magazine. And so when it was recently announced that the magazine was going to cease publication I wasn’t terribly moved. Yes, it was sad to lose an historic design voice. But the magazine had been feeling less and less relevant. Perhaps it was just another casualty to the web – and the focused discussions that take place on increasingly specialized websites.

But after reading Julie Laskie’s great post, I.D.’s Executioners on Design Observer, I suddenly understood what really happened. Julie took over as I.D.‘s editor in 2002, after Chee Pearlman left. The magazine relocated from its home in New York to its parent company’s home in Cincinnati. and it was run by management who didn’t understand design and instead were focused on short-term profitability. It was then that the magazine started to die.

In the mid-90’s, I.D.‘s Interactive Media Design Review — which began as a separate issue before being folded into their Annual Design Review — was the absolute benchmark for what was hot in the emerging field of new media design. But over the years, like the magazine, the awards started to lose their relevance. Winners seemed to be selected not because they were showcases of interactive innovation, but instead they simply looked professional and slick. Taking the two award issues and combining them into one was likely intended to be an embrace of interactive design — recognizing it as part of the design mainstream. In retrospect, it seems like maybe it was based on the economics of publishing. Likewise its award criteria may have been influenced by management that wasn’t very interested in pushing the boundaries of interactive media.

In the design press there are great discussions about design thinking and design approaches. But for design firms, as they grow, it’s easy for them to lose sight of  design. Internal cultures become oriented around project management, account generation, metrics, optimization, etc. Design is no longer their culture or a top priority. Can they survive? It’s why the recent appointment of Bill Moggridge to lead the Cooper Hewitt is so refreshing. A designer leading a design museum? Actually, what’s shocking is that this is unusual!

I.D.‘s collapse is a reminder, or maybe a call-to-action, that we need to keep design as the focus of what we do. Our jobs are to create and innovate, to educate our clients, and to inspire our users — to keep and lead organizations and cultures that are design oriented.

I.D. Magazine, Interactive Media Design Review, 2001
I.D. Magazine, Interactive Media Design Review, 2002