Despite having so much to be thankful for, interactive designers all share a common affliction: our work decays faster than almost any other form of art. We speak of designing timeless experiences, but deep down, we know that within three or four years, technological advances will render our work hopelessly dated.
Print designers don’t have as much of a problem with this, as the pace of innovation in print is much slower. Architects also enjoy longer relevancy in their work, thanks to slower advances in building techniques. Additionally, both print designers and architects produce things you can actually touch; things you can preserve forever with proper care. No matter how well one preserves a work of interactive design, it will probably compare poorly to what can be created only a year later. Retina displays alone have rendered all pre-Retina work unattractively patinad.
After starting my career in print design and then moving to interactive almost 15 years ago, I began to look back at everything I’ve created over the last decade or two and wondered if any of it would be even worth looking at by the time I die. Everything is just pixels — pixels designed to make the world a better place, but pixels whose best days are instantly behind them.
When I decided to build a house recently, only part of the reason was because I thought it would be fun. The other part was so I could help design and construct something that people will enjoy longer after I die. The entire process took about two years, but it was easily the most enjoyable project I’ve ever been a part of.
As pixel pushers, we are spoiled by how easy it is to fix our own mistakes — or to “iterate”, as we call it. When you are laying down wood, steel, and concrete, however, changing your mind costs thousands of dollars. One small mistake can bankrupt you, and even take a life. This permanence of process was entirely foreign to me, but it gave me an even greater respect for those who build the meatspace; from architects, to urban planners, to steelworkers, to structural engineers. What is harder to build is also harder to tear down, and that is why there is so much more permanence to architecture than many other forms of design.
Two years after moving into our beloved nest, we have, of course, already moved out and hightailed it to San Francisco. We may be back in a year, or we may be back in twenty. What’s comforting, though, is that this thing that we’ve built will be just as enjoyable when we return.