The Age of Digital Design Deskilling

Earlier this year I wrote an article, You Can’t Replace me with a Robot – Can you?, which explored the concept of machines filling the roles of creatives. Machine learning is here and, in the not too distant future, will change everything we do in daily life. However, from a creative point of view, I’d say that the bigger shift in the digital marketing and design world is what I’ve termed digital development and design deskilling.

About 3 years ago we were asked to produce a simple animated video for a client, something that we would normally hire a freelancer or contractor to do. However, we couldn’t make the budget work, so after a little bit of online research I stumbled across a couple of sites Wideo and Animoto. After playing around with it for 20 minutes, I showed the results to our designers, to which they said, “Cool, how did you do that?” They jumped on it and within a couple of hours, they were seeing it’s limitations (as any decent designer at the time would), and went in search of better. A few video tutorials later and they were combining their illustration and typography skills and knocking out some pretty amazing videos in aftereffects. All this happened in the space of about 3 days. Since then we’ve done all our video production work in house.

So what’s my point here? Well, it’s about the design & digital deskilling tools that allows ordinary people to do seemingly extraordinary things. It’s happening all around us without us really noticing, particularly on social media with photography! Just think about the things you can create within Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram with just a smartphone. Nowadays anyone can build a website (and I mean anyone). Recently I built one for a friend using Wix as I didn’t think they needed a native build, this only took me 10 minutes. Not only did it function, but it had everything a website needed and was instantly responsive across all devices. Another digital deskilling site that’s really cool is Squarespace. Both these businesses advertise to both B2B and B2C audiences and their ads can be seen on mainstream TV sandwiched between episodes of X Factor and alike. Both Wix and Squarespace tell normal folk that they too can create their very own website, host it and update it without any digital skills.

These services allow you cheat or fast track through deskilling. It’s like being DJ without actually knowing how to play vinyl – this doesn’t make you any less of a DJ for using digital software. The traditionalist/purest will be harder to convince, but the paying audience will be less bothered if it sounds good.

Last week, for a bit of fun, I challenged everyone at Angel to create an animated video about themselves in 30mins using Adobe Spark (a platform none of them had used before). Everyone completed the task and shared his or her video in a very entertaining and enlightening way during an agency “show and tell” session. The point of this was to illustrate to everyone at the agency that things are changing quickly and many of the skills that were once reserved for the gifted few are now accessible to everyone.

What does this mean for us as an integrated creative agency?

Whether you like it or not, the value of our skills and roles are changing. It doesn’t matter if you’re an account manager or a designer, this industry is becoming increasingly deskilled and simplified as it becomes accessible to the many. Personally, I see this as an opportunity that it will redefine the value roles of people within a design, creative or digital agency to being more consultative, strategic and creative whilst also being master of design efficiency. The threat is to those who do not anticipate or prepare for these changes.

My view is that digital and design deskilling will continue to evolve at a rapid rate over the coming years as these services encourage all of us to express our creativity – even for those who claim not to have any. It’s not just happening in design, think about brands like Hello Fresh and Gusto, and the way they are enabling greater creativity with daily meals. This is what the future is all about – anybody can do anything!

With so many design deskilling tools available for everyone and anyone to use, the capabilities of your workforce increases and so does the expertise of your teams, which I see as a good thing. If anything, this competition prevents complacency.