Future of Design/Designers 2/2

What is the future of Design and Designers? Such questions never arise when things are going great. Existential questions come up only when one is living on the edge. Design profession today, is. But then so is the case with everything else today. Tech-driven disruption is redefining fundamental boundaries of products, professions and even relationships between humans. As a designer and a futurist, here are some thoughts on the future of this profession:
1. DIGITAL-DEMOCRATISATION & NO-DESIGN
From banking to a chauffeur driven, air-conditioned taxi, to healthcare and higher-education on demand- everything is getting democratized. Entire concept of luxury being ‘super-exclusive’ is under threat due to the online sales. Larger population is participating in the new economy and giving rise to new business models which are about ‘renting’, ‘right sizing’, ‘experiencing’ and ‘personalization’ rather than about ownership, cost reduction, accumulation and mass-consumption alone. This is changing the entire business landscape — right from what kind of USPs to build in products and services, whom to target, what to say to them, where to sell, what kind of margins to keep, how to reach out and engage them further etc.
Market researcher made sense of the conventional data. Design researchers mined the hidden layers of subconscious. But with data analytics is getting powerful by day using AI, is likely to diminish the role of ‘design researcher’.
What will all this do to the designers? This is going to finish their profession. Yes, technology will enable enough tools and simplified methods to achieve stuff that was previously ‘designerly’ i.e. from Gestalt Laws to making harmonius visual compositions to pattern reading. Some thinkers envisaged new roles like 3D avatar designers, human organ designers etc. could be a passing phase in between.
2. MELTING BORDERS INTO RENAISSANCE-MAN
European Union was an initiative in the recent times to melt the physical borders between the countries. Technology is now melting the cognitive borders as well. There used to be a huge wall between B2B and B2C earlier. Professionals were different who worked in these two areas and rarely one would see people crossing over. Today, it is a done thing. Why? Because the consumer of a banking service is also a consumer of Facebook and a customer for a business intranet portal is also a consumer of Facebook. This consumer continues his/her expectations from one world of social media to second world of business. This ‘seamlessness’ of expectations is giving rise to new ‘liquid expectations’ as Accenture puts it. So, a business software cannot be treated very differently than a social media site and might even be looked at as a ‘game’ in the adventurous cases.
In the sense of melting borders, the different boundaries between product design and visual design or animation design versus furniture design, will vanish. Already the advent of UX has spawned off several new or differently named disciplines such as ‘new media design’. Multitudes more may come up. Within UX design, now a wire-framer differentiates from the UI designer. On the other hand, the digital boom is closing the gap between physical and digital. Industry is at a loss on whom all to employ to get a simple product off the ground. This diffraction will push for emergence of multi-disciplinary designer or what I call “a RENAISSANCE designer” who can smoothly sail from one end of design skill spectrum to the other.
3. THE NEW ECONOMIST: We now have several ‘economies’ doing rounds -On-demand economy, experience economy, distributed economy, sharing economy etc. It is called as an ‘economy’, because it is changing the entire behavior of society and in this process generating value. Never was a time where so many institutions broke down together. When you are ill, you go to the hospital. Now we are saying, hospital will come to you i.e. on-demand. Movie, money, elder-care to grocery — the list is quite long now for on-demand services. Earlier, you went to school or college to study. Now the college is available on your phone, literally. As if in a meta-physical realm, everything seems to be in a time-warp. New economics is more about people than about money. It is more sociology, anthropology and psychology than mathematics. This is the border where ‘design’ meets them.
This new economics there can be no better person to ‘liberally’ connect the diverse domains with the narrative of human existence, than a new age designer. The term ‘experience designer’ will evolve into a ‘systems designer/architect’ of a different kind. This would push the designers to take up jobs in governance, in career politics and in places for advocacy like UN.
4. THE ‘SLOW’-DESIGNER
Every trend has an anti-trend; the yin and the yang rising alternately. With everything fast, there is already an emergence of the ‘slow’. Craftsmanship of the yesteryears will smoothly merge into digital-era-artisanship. People who can use the digital tools deftly to craft elaborate ‘hand-made’ stuff, from food-recipes to decoratives, will be the new age designers in demand. These people will redefine mythology and traditions through the lens of modernity and will spin off concepts like ‘Uncoference’, ‘Unconvention’ and probably ‘UnDesign’ :).
Future of Design has extreme scenarios. Whenever extreme scenarios arise, one know that there is a sort of transformation underway. From a position that takes designer right till the table where decisions are made, to complete annihilation in the wave of automation, the stretch is long. In between, we would see a complete redefinition of many of the currently well-paying ‘tactical’ roles i.e. UX Designer. Designer and the Design profession, need to read the emerging patterns, this time for themselves to escape Darwin’s wrath :).

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