Social media has changed the way we interact on and offline. It has opened new ways of communicating and been largely responsible for the democratisation of the web. Want to be a writer or a musician? Want an audience for your homemade sea shell and driftwood jewellery? Think Rio Ferdinand needs to know your opinion? Social media makes it all immediately possible.

 

As we have mentioned on the blog before, designers do not operate in a vacuum. Such sea-change in the way we use the internet, the way we live in fact, must have had an impact on something as sensitive and porous as design.

 

Here are a few of the ways that social media has affected design.

 

Attention

 

More stimuli reduces our ability to (stay with me here) concentrate. There is academic work, almost as old as the web, suggesting that links force us to think differently when reading online. The micro-choices we make as we read, do we click or not and if we have, do we return to the original page or not… make concentration and comprehension far harder than when all we had to deal with was ink and paper.

 

Social media is linking and stimuli. You are constantly being asked to check something else out, and what is better/worse, you are being asked to check something out by people you like and trust. End result, we have a lower attention span than that well known deep thinker, the average goldfish. The upshot of this overload of external stimuli, is that design must grab your attention long enough to be able to deliver the content payload. This applies on and offline as the cognitive effects stay with us when we stop using the internet – which in any case is now almost never.

 

So at the very least design online has to be minimal and it has to be as accessible as possible.

 

Conversation

 

I have been following the drawn out, heavily tested re-design of The Guardian website and quite like it. It had been in beta for an age and has just been officially launched. In the old days, a redesign of a paper might cause consternation and the reader’s editor might publish a few angry letters, but generally you couldn’t do much about it if you didn’t like it apart from suffer in silence until you got used to the new fonts.

 

With that in mind, check out the seriously angry comments on the page dedicated to the redesign, where the users are able to publicly express their feelings (mostly fury apparently). Whether the design changes or not as a result of those complaints remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the design is far more of a dialogic process than ever before as a result of the open-source impact social media has had. Whether the audience likes a design or not, they are now much better able to voice their opinion.

 

Personal space

 

Reaching into social media, as a brand, requires a major shift in thinking. You cannot impose a brand on social media, you need to be, as Chris Brogan says, a human first before being a company. Major brands know this too. Who has more chance of being invited into your personal space (whether that is your living room or your Facebook page), BGL Group, a major financial services company with over 7 million employees, or just one of their employees; Aleksandr Orlov?

 

Social media has dictated that brands, and by immediate proxy, design must be more personal. Cue cuddly insurance, cute banks and downright altruistic outsourcing firms. Anything and everything can be shared, whatever the format – on or offline, and as a result design has become more personable across the board.