Three Mindsets for Adjusting to Shifts in Content Creation.

Any designer that you talk to will tell you that what they design changes on a regular basis in response to shifts in content creation. I'm not talking about merely changes in that designer's personal taste but actual external shifts that come from the marketplace. What kinds of shifts? It could be changing trends that determine what "looks good," it can be changes in the publishing platforms, and it can be changing expectations from your audience. If you're the designer, none of these are within your control so you have to adopt a mentality that will help you deal with them effectively.

Put your mind in the right state.

The absolute worst thing that a designer can do when confronted with a shift in content creation is to put their back up against the wall and treat it as a threat. Treating new developments as a threat is a natural instinct for any industry, and designers are just as human as anybody else. We are bound to make the same mistake of fearing competition and technology. However, when you do that you cease to be relevant as a designer. So I want to point out a few mental principals that will keep you from doing this. Remember these are mindsets that you need to adopt as a matter of practice, even if they go against logic and instinct.

Commit to embracing any new shift rather than discounting it.

Let's get this out of the way: it is incredibly unlikely that a market shift is going to make you smile at first glance. They are invariably a wake-up call that our routines have turned stale or that we are no longer meeting the ends of our audience. Usually, the inconsiderate designer will then discount the shift as "just a trend" or insist that it's "not as good" as what they are already designing. Even if both are true, a good designer embraces the shift and moves with the market.

I can give you an example of this from work where I needed to figure out how to embrace a shift in the content. For the past two years, the PragerU content line consisted of a series of post formats which we had either picked up by looking at what was popular on Instagram and Facebook, or by solving other in-house content requirements. We have names and descriptions for each one that make them easy to assign and plan. However, thanks to the 2020 lockdowns, User Generated Content eclipsed passive consumption. Social media companies responded by updating their platforms with tools and new post formats to accommodate the demand. Reels were really popular on Instagram and they were favored by its algorithm. The catch was that they were meant to be built natively within Instagram, and the incentive was very high to simply post rather than wait for the design team to develop something more artful.

For a short time I was really irritated about all of this. I spun my wheels, annoyed that the stupid platforms had gone and ruined two years of content development, undermining my efforts to brand PragerU content with consistent treatments. What solved the issue was letting all of that go and embracing the challenge. Most of the time, we designers need to look at these shifts as nothing more than an opportunity to design a new solution. That's just what we did, by adopting motion graphic templates and passing them over to our publishing team so they could add the branding at-will. As I said, embrace every shift and look for the opportunities it provides rather than cursing it.

Treat any new tool as an opportunity to improve your workflow.

One of the largest fallacies that anyone can fall into is thinking that new technologies, particularly automations, are going to take your job. Designers are no different. I was reading a graphic design forum on Facebook the other day when a designer was lamenting the fact that Adobe Photoshop now had an automatic background-remover tool (and it's really good by the way). He was upset that the "art" was being taken away by technology.

I think this is a really dramatic position that undervalues the creative mind of a designer. I would ask him if he is upset that computers allow for instant color matching, the undo function, or super-fast prototyping. I suspect he doesn't consider that at one point all of those were the "new threats" to design. The fact is that some aspects of the job are rote, and some are creative. We aren't just keyboard monkeys whose value lies in monotonously cutting people or objects off of their backgrounds. That's just a time-consuming step on the way to achieving a creative result. It's great every time a new tool arrives that can save the drudgery and let us achieve our ends more efficiently.

Assume that non-designers CAN design.

Don't you hate it when a writer takes the smug attitude that an everyday person can't really write? What about a doctor who scoffs at your home remedies (chicken noodle soup for a cold? Yes please)? Whenever a professional raises himself on a pedestal by assuming that nobody else could possibly do what he does, it makes him a jerk. The same is true of designers. The big shift today is toward a do-it-yourself design culture, with many readily-available, high-quality tools like Canva (for example) at the lay person's disposal.

What exactly do you gain by saying that these people "can't design"? They don't need to listen to you, and they won't like being patronized either. But they will respond to your assistance, as well as any effort you make to enable them to be creative. Assume that anyone can design, and position yourself as the design mentor, facilitator, and expert in that arena. You'll do much better than treating everyone as an amateur while artificially elevating yourself.

Closing Thoughts

Nothing we've discussed here changes the fact that there are unchanging principles and elements of good design. You should take that as a reassuring fact. It means that when a huge shift happens, the end product might be at risk, but by sticking to first principles you'll come out alright on the other side. It all comes down to trusting your skills and creativity no matter what comes. When you flinch at every new trend, every new technology, and every new competitor then all you are saying is that you may not deserve the special distinction of being a designer. Embrace all of these things and the question will never come up because you'll already have taken the first step in designing a solution to your new environment.