Upgrade junkies, Part 1
I  N  T  E  R  A  C  T  I  V  E    D  E  S  I  G  N    F  O  R  U  M 
Issue 2   |   August 1999 



Do I need to get out more?
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Why do we do it?

Designers, having embraced the computer sooner or later, enthusiastically or reluctantly, have found there's no turning back. I've been mulling over the implications of what this means for our profession and more importantly, for how we teach design.

Maybe it's the $1000 I just added to my credit card bill updating the software I use regularly. I pretty much wanted Director 7; Photoshop 5.5 offered the lure of the History palette; Dreamweaver 2 was unavoidable once I created most of this website using Macromedia' free 30-day trial offer and it expired last night before I had this article finished; but Premiere 5.1, well, there's the problem in a nutshell. I HAD to get Premiere 5.1 for a course I'm teaching this fall. I'd be happy to use my older version, but we've got to keep up with the technology.

Don't we?

Students, of course, always want the latest & greatest. I don't blame them. But does it make sense for us as designers/artists and educators? What do we gain by spending thousands of dollars to keep school labs up-to-the-minute? Is this the way to teach students more about design? How to design better?

Let's say for a minute that computer-based design is an art (work with me, OK?)... other forms of art depend on always using the latest technology? Do painters immediately switch to the newest acrylic paints & synthetic bristle brushes as soon as they are available? Would they be better painters if they did?

...has every photographer abandoned film and the darkroom for a digital camera and a computer? Are digital photos more powerful, more beautiful?

...have sculptors sold their mallets & chisels for the down payment on laser-guided cutters? Would you expect their sculpture to improve if they did?

Why is design different from these fields, or is it? Maybe we've just bought a bill of goods sold to us by computer hardware & software manufacturers (the pushers). We're the junkies, believing that we HAVE to have more features, the improved interface, the enhanced productivity and unprecedented flexibility that just one more upgrade will give us.

As educators, should we be putting our energy into constantly learning new software or should we be spending these hours developing projects and instructional techniques that are more challenging and more inspirational?

As educational adminstrators, should we be allotting huge chunks of our departmental budgets to annual software upgrades (which often then require hardware upgrades) instead of adding new courses or hiring new instructors?

OK, this is the outline of the problem as I see it. I believe, of course, that we're foolish to continue our addiction to upgrades. It puts the focus on the tool rather than the creator, on the technology rather than the idea. The message this sends students is dubious at best.

My own interactive work will be EASIER to do using Director 7, but could be done with Director 5 or Director 4. Will I be a better artist with the newer software? Not likely. Could I put the same investment to better use? Sure. I could spend that $400 on a course in scriptwriting, music theory, sound mixing, or cognitive psychology at a local college or community college and reap much greater rewards in my own work and in what I can share with my students.

Unfortunately I 'm an addict too. But I've taken that first step toward overcoming my addiction. I've admitted my problem.

What do you think? Send me your thoughts to be included in Part 2 of Upgrade junkies.



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