Design Without Designers?

CoverFarnham_1“Trumbull” (left) and “Gilman,” two of the canned magazine templates now sold by Ready Media

How should publication designers greet the news yesterday that Roger Black–the magazine design (and redesign) guru who’s had his hands on Rolling Stone, Newsweek, New York, Popular Mechanics, Esquire, and about a zillion other titles over the years–has launched a new venture called Ready-Media to provide “outstanding media templates for both print and web-based formats” to publishers “at a fraction of the cost”? Several commenters on the Society of Publication Designers’ Grids blog were understandably displeased by what they saw as yet another nail in the pub-design coffin:

What a huge setback for designers and magazine makers.

You’ve got to be kidding. Paint by numbers for magazine design?

Working at a city/regional magazine and seeing the ever reducing budget & staff, this sends a shiver down my spine.

Indeed, the templates do seem to have the potential to cut seasoned designers out of the publishing enterprise, allowing less-skilled workers to dump content into one of five canned magazine or newspaper formats. But not everyone in the field is upset by this development. Also writing in the Grids comments section, Paula Scher argues that the emergence of Ready-Media is actually “good news for all terrific magazine designers everywhere” because it means that we have hit “rock bottom” and there is now “nowhere to go but up.” Even more optimistic is her fellow Pentagram partner Luke Hayman, who writes that the templates are “better than 90% of the magazines and newspapers out there” and that good designers will be able to customize them.

The discussion will no doubt continue on the Grids blog and elsewhere. But we wanted to open up the debate to designers of all stripes, not just those in the publishing industry. As we wrote last month, architects are facing a similar challenge with the advent of Building Information Modeling software, which could eventually allow amateurs to realize their own building and interior designs without the involvement of trained professionals. And it seems likely that continued advances in technology will put more and more design power in the hands of consumers. So how do professional designers begin to convince clients and the public of their indispensability? Will these developments just make quality design stand out–and thus become more valuable instead of less? Or should budding designers start thinking about other ways to make a living in the coming decades? Please share your thoughts by using the comments form below.

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