Written by Rasha Alsharqawi
This is a blog that discusses design as we know it today, how it’s changing, and according to what.
Unlike 20 years ago when designers had very specific career paths and roles within certain industries, designers today enjoy being part of a growing number of sectors with an ever-evolving set of roles. They’re not only participating as web designers, graphic designers, or fashion designers; but also as user experience designers, service designers, environment artists in video games, and so much more. With new industries emerging and products and services becoming more human-centric, a designer is a hot commodity on the market today with increasing salaries that can reach up to $140k annually!
According to the UK’s Design Council report on Design Economies, a designer is an individual “employed in design roles in a wide variety of industries — from design-intensive sectors, such as web design or animation, to designers and design-engineers in automotive or aerospace companies”. Today, design is utilized in more than just aesthetic aspects of a product, it encompasses the experiences of consumers in places and their interactions with an app on their phones and is about the approach you use to solve a problem. This means that if you are considering being a designer, or you are one and are looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve, then you have many options to consider.
Design is a Mental Process
Before diving deeper into how to maneuver the design field in the coming few years and looking into emerging types of design, let’s tackle what design is and how that reflects on the market today.
An interesting definition of design is used by a Parisian design school stating that design “is the process of envisioning and planning the creation of objects, interactive systems, buildings, vehicles, etc. It is user-centered, i.e. users are at the heart of the design thinking approach. It is about creating solutions for people, physical items or more abstract systems to address a need or a problem”. This is a broad definition that tackles the two categories of design: human-centered design and technical design. Human-centered design is inclusive of sectors ranging from graphic design and animation, to fashion, furniture, architecture, and design of the built environment. These are all design fields where “design starts with the people being designed for and ends with solutions tailored to meet their needs”. whereas Technical design is “when the process is around the design and specification of an item, component, or system; it includes gadgets, automobiles, applications, computers, and machinery” according to the Design Council.
Both types of design employ varying tools and can require different university degrees or focuses in high school; however, they both share the same mentality when it comes to problem-solving. Regardless of the type of designer you are, design is a way of thinking. It is a systematic, dynamic, and creative problem-solving ability that allows you to integrate multiple industries and translate ideas into services, processes, and products with a market value or benefit. A car is designed to be visually appealing and comfortable to drive while simultaneously it is designed to operate properly to provide a safe means of transportation. Alternatively, a banking app has to not only be visually appealing and intuitive but also must operate quickly and safely to allow you to complete your banking transactions. In these two examples, the user’s comprehensive sensory experience alongside the technical design of the products work side by side to present a satisfactory and safe experience to the user. They illustrate how technical design and human-centered design are becoming complementary processes to most products today. Design processes and methodologies of delivering services are finding their way to sectors that have nothing to do with design. In 2016, a group of physicians at Stanford Medicine X discussed the benefit of design thinking in the medical field, and their prognosis was that design thinking allows medicine students to deal with ambiguity, ask the right questions, and become more empathetic physicians. Design thinking is becoming necessary to keep up with the fast-paced changes taking place in our world.
Design is Where Technology and Empathy Meet
With technological advancements taking place and affecting almost every industry and sector in our societies, it has become increasingly important that humans can interact with and access these technologies easily. A major reason for this is the fast-paced turnover of technological products powered by consumer behavior, and the highly competitive nature of companies that is providing more and more options for consumers and driving designers to find unique selling points for each product or service.
Like the examples I mentioned earlier of the car and the banking app, there are two factors to consider in any type of product today: the technical aspect and the human one. In a study done by the Design Council on the Guardian’s rebranding and website redesign, they were able to increase the brand value in addition to readership through employing design thinking processes. They started with reorganizing their website navigation and optimizing the interface according to how their readers categorize subjects and approach articles instead of how the journalistic process is structured within The Guardian. This optimized process increased efficiency and allowed for easier navigation on the website which in turn reflected in the increased number of visitors on the website. This is a perfect example of utilizing empathy to create a human-centered website via technical knowledge of web development. It is fundamentally understanding your end-user, their needs, and motivations and approaching them accordingly. Another example showcasing the effect of consumer engagement via technology would be PokemonGo. The game design involved virtual characters on users’ phones with the users themselves, their environments, and other users resulting in a high engagement rate.
Designers are Changing
If we are to take a quick look at the 20th and 21st centuries, we can see that the change the world has gone through and is still going through is great. Not only did we change our production processes and automate them, but we also changed the way we interact with each other and our environment. We can now FaceTime with our loved ones with a click, attend a concert for an AI-generated singer, or even watch Abba holograms perform a new single. Words like metaverse, virtual reality, and mixed reality are becoming more common. These technological advancements are changing much of the interactive terrains humans are experiencing and exploring, and shifting towards virtual and mixed reality mediums.
Design industries are very much a part of these innovations and this is reflected in the educational programs being offered in universities worldwide and the upgraded skill sets required for the workplace. New courses such as Co-Designing Innovation, Creative Leadership, and Innovation Design Engineering are technology-driven courses that integrate design with technology and business studies. As for the job market, we are witnessing new job titles such as consumer experience designer, service designer, or user interface designer; whereas others are becoming more specialized. Graphic design is a job title that is starting to refer to printed material as opposed to the new ‘digital design’ title referring solely to graphics used in virtual mediums.
Concerns about Design
Despite the growing need for designers, there are concerns that the advancements in technology are taking away more than they are giving. This concern stems from the fear that technology is automating so many processes and tasks that fewer people are needed and so it is taking jobs away. This is true in the sense that an architect needed a team to complete the many drawings needed for a building project, whereas now, the drawings can be self-generated by the program with a few clicks. On the other hand, artificial intelligence and technological advancements are opening up doors into new realms of design that are hybrids of many sectors. Artificial intelligence can work speedily and complete menial tasks, however, it will not replace critical thinking, social skills, and cultural understanding anytime soon.
To conclude, design is a versatile and widespread term, yet fundamentally it is a method of problem-solving that is finding a willing audience in an increasing number of sectors. Taking into consideration technologies that are changing human interaction as we know it, designers are pioneering ways to humanize technology and virtual realities. They are faced with the challenge of up-skilling and re-skilling themselves to keep up with the fast-paced market demands and the automation of many jobs. They are learning to use empathy and their knowledge of consumer behavior to humanize virtual experiences and products thus becoming more and more in demand.
If you have more ideas about where you think design is headed and what are some things to consider for the future as a designer, share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or continue this conversation with FLAN’s community on discord. Stay updated and connect with FLAN at any of its social media pages on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.