is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Today I found myself browsing the many After Effects project templates available at creative marketplace Envato, in particular the ones that offer the sort of make-believe user interfaces that are popular in action and sci-fi films. I was impressed by their quality. Here are a few examples, as represented by their demo reels.
The first thing that struck me about them was that they’re quite extensive; each boasts literally hundreds of design elements, almost all of them animated. And they’re not bad looking either; my critical eye for this kind of thing is solely limited to my experience as a moviegoer, but on the whole these design “systems” look about as good as what you’d get in your average summer blockbuster.
It’s interesting to think of this kind of work as evidence of the increasing commoditization of design. These projects seem to have taken many, many hours of meticulous labor, and yet any of them can be had for less than US$50—an almost comically affordable price point. Of course in all three of these cases they look like they were created in non-Western markets, where the economics make that kind of calculus possible.
You could argue that this kind of product, in which aesthetics are entirely divorced from utility, is ideal for an arrangement in which lower-wage workers deliver highly polished but functionally meaningless work. A corollary to that would be the assertion that truly in-depth, purpose-driven design will always need to be done in Western markets. Personally, I don’t buy that argument—it seems inevitable to me that the sale value of design work will trend down over time.
Then again, that was what I believed a decade ago too, when it first became possible to work with less expensive, remotely located designers efficiently. In the intervening years though the market has not tilted towards offshore work in any significant way; the very best work still needs to be done in relatively close proximity to the actual businesses that commission it.
Still, the fact that it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen—or that it can’t happen. Whether it takes another ten or twenty or thirty years, as technology further shrinks the world and other markets shore up their ability to produce substantive designers, it’s my bet that the world at large will catch up with the cozy, affluent market that Western designers enjoy today. The clock of globalization is ticking for us.+