Evolving our design roles.

Four voices on the current state of design practices and their roles in product development, innovation, and design engagements.

Our head of design, Roger Andersson Reimer, recently asked four people at Topp what the state of our design practices looks like — how have their responsibilities evolved, and what perspectives make them successful in projects and organisations.

Though their titles may sound familiar, their roles seem to keep evolving.

  1. Design technology: the future of design technology is a creative practice
  2. Visual design: the future of visual design goes beyond the screen
  3. Research & strategy: the future of research and strategy is about activation
  4. UX design: the future of UX design is found in experimentation

“Technology is in the golden age of creative practice.”

Michael Cartner on engineering and design technologists…

“Machine learning, computer vision, mixed reality… The variety of mature technologies, whether it’s found in consumer products, industrial uses, or across enterprises, seems to be reaching the market at an accelerated pace.

Michael Cartner, Director of Technology

“Engineers and technologists are not just here to implement a spec or create the raw technical innovations — To help reveal and demonstrate the creative potential of tech engineers need to take a driving role. And engineering must be incorporated directly into the creative practice — this is not something that should be done sequentially Pure R&D or pure implementation just doesn’t cut it anymore.

“The entire design team must understand what‘s’ possible today, what’s coming tomorrow, and how we can ultimately innovate a new product or service.

“Our engineers constantly evolve their design skills and are becoming hybrids: design technologists — by being part of the creative practice we can reveal what these underlying technologies are really capable of and provide more opportunities for the product teams to differentiate or become more valuable to the end user, and we do this by making ideas tangible.

Tech pushing creativity: An algorithmic visual design system based on the Ethereum blockchain. http://www.topp.se/case/marble-crypto-collectibles

“Today, all design processes must create tangible prototypes from day one. In the face of complexity the root of decision making is found in tangible design options.”

“The visual goes beyond the screen.”

Oscar Olivestedt on visual design…

“Augmented and virtual reality are clear examples of the notion of the screen exploding and inverting on us. We’ve lived with the rectangular frame of devices for decades to capture and communicate the visual (centuries even, taking into account photography, paintings and books).

“But it doesn’t even take AR or VR to breakdown the notion of the screen being the end-all and be all of what the visual designer should be doing.

Oscar Olivestedt, Director of Visual Design

“Products aren’t experienced in isolation, and devices are no longer only simple rectangles, but are systems of touch-points — how might a wearable communicate with my home security system? Where do I visualise the feedback of different commands? — Many experiences, such as ones leveraging voice-based interactions, won’t even have a screen at all.

“Our visual designers are often working in conditions where there are no best practices defined yet. The new world for the visual designer is to orchestrate a narrative across the many channels, screens, and ecosystems that constitute our experiences.

Exploring AR and occlusion. http://www.topp.se/post/making-augmented-reality-more-real

“What was once a challenge of creating a highly structured, beautiful design language is being elevated to ensuring flexibility across devices, modalities, and partners.”

“Research has become far more than insights. It’s activation.”

Jen Ignacz on research & strategy…

“The point of research isn’t to compile a report, or even to create user empathy in an organisation — it’s about that organisation being able to take the best decisions possible… it’s a practice of empowerment and activation.

Jen Ignacz, Head of UX Research & Strategy

“The way we practice research is all about forward momentum — either for the design choices needed for the creation or new product /service or to shape how an organisation takes decisions altogether.

“We’ve found that the best way to do this is to look at research as a strategic practice of building tools and frameworks that can be used by entire teams. The ability to generate insights or continuously be inspired by them shouldn’t be something owned by an individual — it’s a practice that is crucial for all to have access to.

One of several summary videos and frameworks illustrating key concepts and an analysis framework for stakeholders. http://www.topp.se/case/a-future-vision-of-places-and-data

“This evolution of research is still rooted in connecting innovation to real people — understanding real needs and what is valued. But it moves the insights attained to a place that comes with the ability to be more actionable upon them, to better be prepared to prioritise, and to see data generated through lenses that allow confident and validated decisions to be taken.”

“Experience is found in experimentation.”

Marcus Ericsson on UX Design…

“The reality of how we experience a product is more than the traditional design choices made — from a holistic perspective it also includes the business decisions and technology choices that have gone into a product as well. UX design is a practice that has moved to a place that informs a big picture, not only the micro details.

Marcus Ericsson, UX Innovation Director

“The ability to experiment and iterate is paramount in UX design — as we expand the areas that we influence in large scale organisations we must also be able to experiment with all the moving parts, and our practice has become far more than the ability to deliver sketches, wireframes, or specs. Business prototyping, advising on technology roadmaps and requirements, informing strategy — in the end it all affects experience and are practices we take responsibility for.

“In many ways the practice of specifically designing “UX” is a temporary one — this could really be the role of the product owner. But still today, we must fight the good fight and represent the clear value we are creating for users in balance with the entire product vision. Presently, it’s the responsibility of our UX practitioners to achieve a balance of strategic + technical stakeholder objectives throughout the processes of design, development, and release of a product… And that the best product experiences are not the ones on the whiteboard, they are the experiences that reach real people.

“A designer has a responsibility to see the best product make it out to the world — not just come up with ideas on paper.”

Roger’s wrap-up:

Our head of design’s big take-aways…

  1. To stay relevant, a design practice can’t be static
  2. However, experimentation, iteration, and a focus on real people are constants
  3. To release elegant solutions in complex conditions the ability to jump between a multitude of organisational and stakeholder mindsets is needed
  4. Getting into the guts of what technology can be used for, and the ability to create tools to activate organisations are critical must-haves

About Topp…

Topp is comprised of a diverse team from 11 nationalities sitting in Malmö, Stockholm, and San Francisco. We have backgrounds in product development, consulting, education, service design, R&D, and start-up entrepreneurs. Our shared trait is a drive to shape new, meaningful experiences for people and knocking down perceived barriers to do so.