Thursday, January 28, 2010

is the arrival of the iPad 15 years earlier than predicted here?

Written in 1999 for the AOI Millennium edition of Images
The Next 25 Years
To consider the styles and fashions into the future is the most difficult thing of all. We will see the usual retro styles coming round in fashion, but whatever the style the market will use highly skilled and creative illustrators who are both professional, good to deal with and progressive in their work.
I very confidently base any thoughts that I may have in this piece on the one over riding belief that illustrators will be playing as an important, if not greater, role in the worlds' media in 25 years time as today.
The real question is what will constitute an illustration? We are already seeing hybrid images that float between illustration, animation, computer graphics, model making and photography. These images are being created principally on computer systems that have now become affordable and software that is of a standard that can be used commercially by the majority. This is only going to evolve and embrace more illustrators. There will be just as many individual styles and techniques. Illustrators will be as confident working on screen as they were with brush in hand, as many are already. The market is and will demand animation and 3D imagery in nearly all styles along with quicker delivery.
We need to consider, as the basis of all thoughts on the future, where illustration will appear. For about the last 250 years illustration has enjoyed print as it's main platform, in fact it was this technology that really gave rise to our genre.
Will this remain our platform when screen use is accelerating so fast? We have come to a fork in the road as I see it. Over the last year or so our agency has seen a significant rise in commissions for use in New Media and it is set to grow. Things will really change when two technologies arise:
Firstly, the merging of the web and television. This is just around the corner and within 5 years the majority of the population will have a Web/TV in their homes and offices. This will mean that web sites become more like channels as we know on TV, and every one of those will need visual content. Some of the content will be film and studio. However there are going to be millions of channels requiring illustrated images in all forms.
Secondly, the development and distribution of wireless broadband technology. This is already advanced and we will be seeing this easily within 10 years. The important thing about this that we will all have our own highly portable real-time "tablet' (for want of a better word). This tablet will be our complete communication tool. It will be our PC, Web/Tv, phone, e-mailer, we will be able to type on it, write on it, dictate to it, read our books, newspapers and magazines on it. And we will probably have several of them, one for the office/work, one for home, one for school, one for holidays and reading in the bath etc. They will all hold the same info and have the same functions, but will be differently designed depending on the use, i.e. waterproof, or flexible, leather-bound etc.
How often, if this is the future, will our work be reproduced on paper? Less and less I would suggest. When everything is so portable, when memory is not ever an issue and processing power is real-time, will we need many of the reference books, the educational books, the picture books to be printed, let alone the newspapers and magazines?
There will be, for the current living generations, a printed requirement. Print output may well rise up until the time that the 'tablet' is both affordable and taken up by most of the population.
How do we exploit all the changes ahead rather than feel threatened and swamped by them? Well it is an attitude of mind as much as anything, new technology and a changing way of life is happening and will continue at an ever increasing pace. To turn our back on it is to jeopardise our futures so we must embrace it and use it. Leading illustrators in the future, much as they have always been, will never rest on their laurels. Perhaps this has traditionally been as much to do with continually evolving ones style and perfecting techniques. Now with technology giving us what it does they will seek out the latest developments and harness them to their own creativity, building on what they do and taking them on to new levels. The boundaries for the majority of illustrators are being taken down giving them access to a whole new market on the screen.
The marketing of our work is changing rapidly. The web allows a truly international audience and what with e-mail and cheap international calls it is now not an issue to think beyond our shores. This applies to us going to the rest of the world, but it also means the rest of the world is available to our traditional markets. Clients are losing their fear of international commissioning to the extent that where you live will be a complete irrelevance from now on. One of our busiest artists moved to Australia 2 years ago and has more work now from the UK than ever before. This is a liberty that technology has given us and it may as well be taken advantage of.
Our agency currently enjoys over 50% of inquiries involving our website. This has changed from zero in just 3 years. Each month we see this gradually building and with it a lesser use of portfolios. I can only assume that in not many years from now traditional portfolios will become somewhat redundant. We place as much importance updating online portfolios as on the traditional. This has meant a very heavy investment in technology, personnel and training to achieve and maintain it. This is not a process that we will see diminish, increasing our investment year on year, learning new ways to market ourselves on the net and create the best possible platform for our artists. This has not meant a reduction in printed promotion yet, it may be increasing. However this is bound to change in the longer term, as people's first point of call becomes the web, rather than the bookshelf. The marketing challenge will be to get commissioners to find your website.
Stock image sales are perfect for the web and I am sure that we will see an increasing availability of stock illustration. However it must not take over from bespoke commissions. If we allow too greater proliferation of stock and cheap prices we will be saying to our clients that we are would rather they bought stock than commissioned us. This could lead to our industry starving itself and drying up in many quarters. It is beginning to happen in some instances and we have all heard how some photographers have been put out of business as stock proliferates in their industry. It is our duty to take a long-term view on this and manage our stock resources responsibly.
One of the greatest evolution that I see coming to our practice is the involvement of the art director / designer in the commissioning and creating process. Illustration has been thought by a sizeable part of the market as a bit risky, because clients had to wait until the final delivery to see if the illustrator had recreated their minds eye. These days are going as clients are already able to see, and get involved in the process via e-mails. In the future real time invited access to the artist's screen along with a webcam chat will complete this involvement. This will put us on a par with the photographer's Polaroid, and should see new clients come our way.
Again our agency has seen a marked move from the days when changes had to be sent back to the artist, this never happens now as the client will have seen the work before it left on an e-mail. Rejected work, which painfully happened from time to time, seems to be a thing of the past. And it is all because clients are so much better informed on who and what they are commissioning and being that much more involved in the process.
In summary, if an e-year equates to 7 normal business years then being asked to reveal the next 25 is to consider the next 6 generations of illustration and how it will be used in the technology that will be available to us. Challenging and highly speculative but there are some happenings and that can give one a steer.
I believe the future is very rosy. It is changing fast and there sadly will be casualties along the way. But it is a future where the illustrator will become a key supplier of visual content in New Media to a much greater extent than we have ever seen in the role to date. The work will be much more widely seen and appreciated, giving a greater acknowledgement and public awareness to the genre. Illustrators will be consulted and play a fundamental role in the direction and production of content, be it TV, websites, presentations, publishing, ads and graphics.
Harry Lyon-Smith
November 1999

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