Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Future of Design

Jeremy Myerson spoke eloquently at a seminar held at Brunel University (West London) a while ago, on the subject of “the future role of designers”, which today, I believe is a critical point to explore, considering the rapid pace of change in the universally understood meaning and scope of “Design”.

Twenty years ago, “Design” was the task of designers. Today we are witnessing the beginnings of a paradigm shift with “Design” at the center of it. The meaning of design at a meta-level is evolving and becoming more abstract and fields such as business, engineering, and ethnography all entail elements of design.

While design is gaining attention and respect, it is ‘variably a value-add, an everyday event, a working method, and often “designers” are nowhere to be found in these scenarios. Rather than bemoan our absence, it is useful to explore what kind of future this interest in Design—but not designers—portends for design and designers alike.’ (Burdic. A, 2009)

To quote Bruce Nussbaum, “I believe that our focus on developing a design profession in service to industry has interfered with our ability to understand and advocate for design in larger terms. If design practitioners, educators, and researchers don’t expand thinking about the field, we risk its dissolution into other fields who may do a better job at claiming its powers”. (Nussbaum. B, 2009)

As Jeremy Myerson most accurately said, the idea of designers not being the ones designing is scary, but designers must be optimistic about adapting their roles. I believe that this fear faced by designers, is very closely related to the larger fear of design being taken over by non- designers in the future.

However, I feel that the idea of “design by people” needs to expand to include the current growing trend of non-design professionals “designing” in the contexts of their own professions as well.

Jeremy suggested that by 2020 “Design by People” would be the norm. I feel that traditional design fields such as graphic or product design will still use design “with people” and in some cases “for people”. “These professions will not disappear overnight as ‘users’ become co-designers” (Buxton.W, 2005). However, the emerging fields of design such as strategic or transformation design will design for a purpose rather than for a product and will evolve to use creative methods where users are empowered to design.

Designers hold the abilities and skills to work with problems that have high levels of complexity and ambiguity, and make decisions in such scenarios. Designers will be needed to create the tools to help non-designers think creatively and the platforms to help them create relevant solutions to problems. They will also conduct the creative process and fill the missing gaps of information and understanding to create cohesive and efficient solutions. “Designers will be integral to the creation and exploration of new tools and methods for generative design thinking.” (Sanders.E, et. all, 2008)

However, the question that arises in my opinion, is that if the users become designers, then will they ever design systems that might cause them inconveniences? For example, in the case of sustainability, designers have understood that people only consume less electricity based on selfish incentives such as lower electricity bills, however in some cases systems might need to be a top down approach to force people to consume less frivolously. Another case would be the enforced “smoking ban in public spaces”. Would smokers ever design such a system for themselves?

I feel that while “design by people” might be the best methodology in some situations (such as say healthcare), in other situations the best method might actually be “design with people” or on occasion even “design for people”? 

Do comment or write in with feedback!

  • Burdic Anne, 2009, “Design without Designers”, Parsons School of Design. (Pg 3)
  • Buxton, W., 2005. Innovation vs. invention. Rotman magazine (Pg 52)
  • Nussbaum. B, 2009, Is Design Too Important To Be Left Only To Designers”? (Part 11) [Online Source. Available at: /NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2009/06/is_design_too_i_1.html ]
  • Sanders, E.B.-N., Stappers.P, Co-creation and the new landscapes of design”, CoDesign Vol. 4, No. 1, March 2008, (Pg 15)