Trends will eventually make designers redundant

Originally written as a guest article for InVision’s blog by Andy Budd, UX Designer and Partner at Clearleft.

Editor’s note: This is a new column about design leadership. We’ve asked a handful of design leaders to respond to prompts each week. This week’s prompt was “What is the biggest problem in the design industry?”

Back in the 1700s, master cabinetmakers and furniture designers like Thomas Chippendale plied their trade across Western Europe, creating bespoke designs for the consumers of the day.

This approach to furniture making lasted till the early 19th century, when new materials and industrial production methods left the need for master craftsmen almost redundant. Why go to the expense of commissioning bespoke furniture when you can buy a “designer” chair from Habitat at a fraction of the cost?

A recreated furniture workshop in Colonial Williamsburg.

Industrialization democratized furniture design and put it in the hands of the masses. I believe the same process is happening with graphic design — at an accelerated rate.

If you wanted to start a small business, it used to be the case that a local designer would spend a week or 2 crafting a new logo.

“Trends will eventually make designers redundant.”

Today, you can put the brief on a “design competition” website and get hundreds of options for free.

Similarly, getting your first web presence used to require the skills of an experienced web designer. Today it’s easier and cheaper to buy a professionally crafted Shopify or WordPress theme.

All these approaches still require the hand of a designer, but if the rhetoric of startups like The Grid are to be believed, this won’t always be the case. The Grid aims to bypass years of training and experience through the use of artificial intelligence.

We should look at these claims with a healthy dose of cynicism, though they do hint at an interesting trend. If artificial intelligence doesn’t make the designer redundant, another trend may help it along the way.

“If artificial intelligence doesn’t make the designer redundant, another trend may help it along the way.”

The rise of design languages

Large companies like Google, Facebook, and the BBC have developed their own modular design systems, reducing the reliance on UI designers. Instead, more conceptual designers can prototype new interfaces with little traditional design skills — just one of the forces fuelling the inflation of UX design and product design.

This approach is useful, but it presumes that the graphical user interface (GUI) will remain the dominant interaction method. I’m not so sure about that.

I have a hunch that discursive user interfaces (DUIs) in the form of smart chat-bots, intelligent software agents, and voice-activated servants may significantly reduce our reliance on the humble GUI.

If that happens, UI designers may find themselves sitting alongside cabinetmakers in 20 years — a historical craft performed by future generations of hipsters sentimental for a bygone age.

Want to join the conversation?

Write your own response to the prompt “What’s the biggest issue in the design industry?” on Medium, and submit it to our publication.

Originally published at on February 19, 2016.

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