How is the rise of digital technologies changing graphic design? Written by Reece Upton

As a graphic designer I learnt that there are many different avenues that encompass this career, but, what I truly learnt was that graphic design has evolved and changed, especially in the last twenty years from the emergence of the internet . According to Rosicky (2011, under “03 Events and 04 Timeline” ) this field of design has been around been around for over a hundred years, within that time the art style has changed, new methods were tested, but one thing was certain, everything was done by hand with no replicability or even scalability, until possibilities opened up for artist as the internet became global.

The rise of digital technologies and the creation of networked publics have allowed a new change for design; this case study will analyse how some networked publics and certain "new media labours" shape the graphic design field, placing it both in a precarious position and possibly a positive future.

Networked Publics are the result of people, their practices and technology creating an imagined community, that has been restructured by technology, from these spaces four “affordances” are created (Boyd, 2011). Graphic designers, including myself, can utilise these affordances, specifically searchability and scalability, with social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to name a few, both for a different purpose. As outlined by the Australian Governments eSafety Information page (2017) the use of Instagram is to post pictures and videos or even stream a live video, you can watch stories from friends and discover content to like and follow. The basis of this is far simpler when compared to say Facebook, which involves more than just imagery but also writing and sharing content, which is why I believe myself and other designers gravitate towards using Instagram to build a portfolio of work, perhaps a reason for this may also be because we are visual human beings, in the Ernesto Olivares visual information blog on January 11, 2013, research was found from 3M corporation giving evidence that humans process visual imagery 60,000 times faster than text and when information is transmitted to the brain, 90% is visual. With this knowledge and knowing that design is visual based, it’s clear to see why Instagram is a stronger choice.

The Sensis Social Media Report (2016) states: “Instagram is on a growth trend, almost doubling its reach since 2013. The main attractions are the visual content and the ease of use of the platform.”

This knowledge may also help explain specific techno-social publics like The Loop and Behance for example, which are portfolio styled websites specifically created for graphic designers to showcase their work; When first entering Behance your mind is immediately drawn in by a very simple image driven grid structure, you can like, comment, share, explore and create, similar to Instagram, but these social network sites focus more on a specific user, that being graphic designers and the numerous fields falling into that category. The profile setup is much more in depth compared to Instagram, with Behance it has an about section, links to other social sites, your resume and work experience, but, similar to Instagram, your photos are the prominent focal point. VS

“As social relations come to be integrally intermediated by digital tools, where the self-represents a public and social device that enables professional interaction, the practices of personal and self- branding become mandatory activities” Gandini (2016, 21).

I believe for graphic designers that these social network sites, both specific and non-specific types, are all about self-branding; I remember in my first semester at university that Ruth Bridgstock (2015) talked about a portfolio career, where a creative practitioner has multiple employment arrangements, allowing them to chisel their own future, by not being restricted in a traditional job. I personally prefer working in a studio environment, however, I know plenty of designers that enjoy freelancing. Flexibility within the workforce, freelance work, as well as the need to continuously learn and brush up on skills, is an increasing trend that the internet has given by ideological and material support (Terranova 2013, 34).

Graphic designers, particularly those freelancing, can fall into the trap of free labour Gandini (2016, 65) states that meeting face-to-face is decreasing from the connection of digital media and the idea that free labour is an investment to your reputation, within a professional context… to have a portfolio of your work that highlights your talent and known skills, is fundamental for freelance workers. This may not seem negative, however another example of a free labour trap is internships which can be argued to be the quickest-growing job area in recent years, especially for recent graduates trying to get a foot in the door, but entry is getting more competitive by the day (Ross 2013, 23).

To me it seems like designers can easily be exploited for work just to gain either skills or a reputation, which reminds me of some aspects of crowdsourcing, another avenue for graphic designers where they can receive funding, for either product ideas, events or competitions, but this too can become a "new media labour". Khalid, Shehzaib and Asif (2015) summarised crowdsourcing as a door to innovation and co-creation value, where, a company or not for profit organisation makes a proposition to a group of people willing to undertake a task voluntarily.

ZICS (The Zine and Indie Comic Symposium) is a three-day expo in Brisbane, this event is only made possible through a crowdsourcing site called Pozible, if they do not receive enough funding from the public, the event does not run, but with each chosen dollar amount, the volunteer receives a prize.

Events and campaigns like this are truly rewarding for designers, but Ross (2013, 17) argues against crowdsourcing by saying:

the whole gamut of contestant volunteering that has transformed so much of our commerce in culture into an amateur talent show, with jackpot stakes for a few winners and hard-luck swag for everyone else.

I agree with Andrew Ross in some regards, mainly with online crowdsourcing websites like Designcrowd, a perfect example of an “amateur talent show”, it may appear like a great place for freelancers or new designers, but working for free with no guarantee of paid work, qualifications aren't needed and the sense of contribution is questionable. There are numerous websites like Designcrowd, that are competition based, asking designers to spend their own, unpaid time, creating a logo or similar branding products for a company, and, out of the thousands only one is chosen to receive a reward.

I don’t believe it’s all doom and gloom however, (IBISWorld 2016) statistics state revenue is going to increase over the next five years and advancements in digital communication like social networks sites, have given graphic designers the tools to instantly send their work across the globe, opening the marketplace and creating competition.

In conclusion the research gathered does shed light on graphic design being stuck between pros and cons, especially when it comes to freelancing and certain crowdsourcing companies, but social network sites have given the world of design a breath of fresh of air, it has allowed the creation of new jobs, it has given us specific network publics to showcase our skills and if we are smart with our decisions and become aware of the possibilities that we can be exploited, then graphic designers can only grow from here.

Reece Upton 2017


Australian Government. ”Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner" Accessed April 05, 2017.

Boyd, Danah. (2010). "Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances,

Dynamics, and Implications." In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi), pp. 39-58.

Bridgstock, Ruth. Creative Industries Foundation Unit. 2015. “Portfolio Careers” YouTube video, posted February 18. Accessed April 5, 2017.

Designcrowd. Accessed April 6, 2017.

Gandini, Alessandro. 2016, 21. “The Rise of a Freelance Economy" In The Reputation Economy, Understanding Knowledge Work in Digital Society. DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-56107-7.

Gandini, Alessandro. 2016, 65. “Urban Knowledge Work: The Cases of London and Milan" In The Reputation Economy, Understanding Knowledge Work in Digital Society. DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-56107-7

IBISWorld Industry Report. 2016. " Global Graphic Designers. November 2016." Accessed March 30.

Khalid Mubasher, Shehzaib Usman and Asif Muhammad. 2015. “A case of Mobile App Reviews as a Crowdsource" A I.J. Information Engineering and Electronic Business, 2015, 5, 39-47 57. DOI: 10.5815/ijieeb.2015.05.06.

Rosicky, Jan. 2011. “150 years of Graphic Design Evolution" Accessed 30th March, 2017.

Ross, Andrew. 2013. “In Search of the Lost Paycheck" Digital Labour: The Internet as Playground and Factory. Part 1 (1) 17.

Ross, Andrew. 2013. “In Search of the Lost Paycheck" Digital Labour: The Internet as Playground and Factory. Part 1 (1) 23.

Sensis Social Media Report. June 1, 2016. How Australian people and businesses are using social media.

Terranova, Tiziana. 2013. “Free Labour" Digital Labour: The Internet as Playground and Factory. Part 1 (2) 34.

Valdueza, Raquel. 2013. “We are 90% visual beings” The Ernesto Olivares visual information blog, January 11. Accessed April 6, 2017.

ZICS. “The Zine & Indie Comic Symposium” Accessed April 6, 2017.

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