- Interactivity, Digital Publishing, and the Web

Interactivity, Digital Publishing, and the Web

Analog in Peril

Just like how the Buggles sang about the downfall of radio, the graphic design industry often muses about how digital media is driving the traditional designers out of business: "Internet really killed the design star." At this point, I am sure that we can all agree that the industry is transforming with the rise of interactive media.

Since the 80s, desktop publishing positioned computers as mere production tools that enhance the traditional creative process. While the design phase may have taken place in the designer's screen device, the final product was always a tangible one that we can touch and hold in our hands.

Things are certainly different now. Computers are no longer as large or expensive as they used to be; better yet, they have become quite portable, ubiquitous, and much more powerful. Here we are, asking ourselves the following questions:

  • "Why bother carrying a physical book, when you have Kindle?"
  • "Why bother making CDs at all, when you have iTunes?"

The way we produce media content has changed a long time ago. Our distribution channels are quickly changing as well: for instance, Kanye West's Life of Pablo made history with commercial success based on streaming downloads alone. Analog media continues to compete against the wave of digital counterparts:

  • iTunes vs CDs
  • eBooks vs. paperback books
  • Netflix vs. Blu-Ray
  • Google Ads vs. newspaper ads

Interactivity and the Job Market

The concept of interactivity was perceived (and to some, continues to be perceived as so) as a direct threat to graphic design.

A typical graphic design product provides a one way street of an experience, which the designer creates, and the viewer passively experiences. On the other hand, interactive content is a two-way street, a conversation: the user has an ability to experience the work in a non-linear fashion, and even assumes some control over the way the experience unfolds. Sometimes, this results in an experience unintended by the designer.

The job market is also happy to reward those who can work with interactive media. The Creative Group Salary Guide explains that hybrid professionals are in demand, concluding that "digital proficiency is becoming a prerequisite for many traditional roles". According to the guide, "graphic designers must be familiar with web layouts or social media, and copywriters must have knowledge of search engine optimization." The bounty for such insights range from 10,000 to 60,000 CAD in salary upgrades.


As iTunes (and iPod) changed the way people purchase and enjoy music, iPad popularized interactive experience for the masses and changed the content publishing market by establishing another marketplace.

Initially described as a "giant iPhone" among other monikers, the first iPad was released in 2010 to bridge the gap between mobile and desktop devices: a gap that netbooks were barely addressing at the time.

Apple also released a series of guided tour videos to explain the company's vision for the device. In addition to recreating the desktop experience on a mobile device, Apple surprisingly marketed iPad as a family-oriented device that reaches out to previously underserved market segments: children and seniors.

Digital Publishing

Digital publishing came along with the proliferation of tablet and mobile devices. Allowing the content creators to reach the readers without producing physical products, the marketplace facilitated people to go paperless.

In addition to obvious cost benefits, these digital devices allowed publishers to enhance their libraries of old content in innovative ways, beyond new editions and book covers. Digital editions of classic books may include audiobook accompaniments, video and other multimedia content, and even hyperlinks to individual websites.

In a wider context, we are all digital publishers in a way, now that publishing platforms have become very accessible. Back in the 1990s, establishing one's web presence was a serious undertaking, requiring relevant programming skills (and patience) --- and the end results were not always satisfactory. Nowadays, we can simply download an app or sign up for an account to place ourselves on the digital map.

At this point, the web presence realm is much a larger one, that can be segmented into three parts:

  • Casual (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook)
  • Intermediate (Wix, Squarespace, Tumblr)
  • Expert (Adobe Dreamweaver, Visual Studio Code, etc.)

Early Years of the Web

While originally spawned as the US government project in the 1960s, the history of the "civilian" Web is a relatively short one, dating back to the 1990s. Since then, the Web has enter the common communication channel for the world, and its technologies and related industries continue to aggressively evolve. Nowadays, to create a website is to assemble an all-star team: a team consisting of designer, content writers, programmers, server administrators, and many more.

Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist at CERN, created a technology named World Wide Web to facilitate information exchange between scientists. Only consisting of text-only documents, surfing the (then much smaller) Web was a rather muted experience: however, this technology showcased a new concept called hyperlink: a feature that you can access to jump to another document without having to manually scroll or open another file. Hyperlinks still remains as one of the most characteristic features of the Web.

Graphical elements only became accessible when a new browser named Mosaic was first introduced to the market in 1993. Fueled by the public embrace of the Web, the original authors moved onto create the legendary Netscape browser, which in turn spawned a spiritual successor named Mozilla Firefox many years later. Microsoft, Apple, and (much later) Google have subsequently joined the browser market.

In 1994, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was established to maintain goals and standards of the Web. Armed with a protocol to solicit, scrutinize, and recommend new practices and technologies, the W3C continues to serve as the governing body of the Web, dictating the best practices in creating web applications.

Paradigm Shift

One of the bigger shifts in the Web is a change in the business model. Customers are now familiar with free-to-use products that require no upfront fee, and also recognize that they themselves have become the currency and the building blocks of the Web: advertisements and dubious use and collection of personal information are rampant.

These free platforms commonly encourage user's contribution and participation, no matter how small they may be. YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, and many other websites are characterized by sharing, collaboration, and remix, and this trend certainly made a mark in 2006, when Time Magazine chose "You" as the Person of the Year.

Today's Web services are heavily fueled by user-generated content that comes in different forms and contexts:

  • Videos on Youtube or Twitch
  • Blogs posts on or Tumblr
  • Ratings on Amazon or TripAdvisor
  • Comments or likes on Facebook

The end user is more than just a passive customer: the user is now the creator as well.