The Future of Design: Adaptability, Not Perfection

Technology is moving at hyper-speed and as a result, the definition of designer is evolving. In less than 20 years, AOL’s SmarterChild has been outsmarted and in its stead come robot advisors; one has already been employed in the Russian government and the financial investment industry is banking on Robo-Advisors to attract first-time investors. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots replacing people in jobs and with new roles in technology emerging and previous roles becoming obsolete at the same hyper-speed, there is only one skill that will ensure job security; adaptability.

There is no doubt, that tactical design skills can be leveraged in the years to come; however, striving for perfection in any one of these skills will not ensure job stability, growth, or achieving success, personally or professionally.

In the last decade, the emphasis was in GUI (graphical user interface) design; desktop, tablet, and — how can one forget — mobile. In that time period, UX Researchers, UX Designers, Information Architects, UI Designers, Visual Designers, Interaction Designers, and Mobile Designers reigned. Now the emphasis is on AI and the need is for Conversational Architects focused on Voice Interactions, chatbot scripts, and data analysis. In this ever-evolving industry, it’s essential to identify transferable skills, and continuously keep learning.

First and foremost, recognize what a company’s objectives and goals are and understand how designing for the user’s needs can help meet those objectives. Next, reflect on whether delivering perfection in your role at a particular skill is ultimately meeting any goals for the organization you work for or the user you design for. Striving for perfection puts you and your company at risk of being outpaced by others who focus on short-term delivery of identified opportunities that need to be tested for directional success.

Perfection in technology shouldn’t be defined as entirely without fault or defect, but instead as satisfying all requirements that have been evaluated as important to achieve success for your user, your product, and by extension, your organization. This is where the idea of perfection gets more convoluted in technology; perfection is not directly correlated to success. Evaluating, identifying, and hypothesizing requirements does not ensure success. Ultimately, “failing fast” is the most important requirement in the journey toward success. Failing fast gives you an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and quickly iterate on your work with an understanding of what is working and what isn’t, helping you make smarter decisions. And when you need to fail fast, there isn’t room for perfection.

Here is where adaptable designers have an opportunity to achieve success in this ever-changing environment. Your ability to be agile and nimble, leveraging your skills, learning new skills along the way, and seamlessly traversing unforeseen hurdles is what will allow you to fail fast, learn quickly, and move forward. Realize as designers your power is in the toolkit of methodologies you have to solve problems — not an expertise in a fleeting technology or one skill in particular.

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Design Manager & Product Lead at Alibaba.com North America Previously: Infor, Motorola Solutions, & Zee TV. MS in HCI.

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