Making the Best of Design in this Century

Design is a cross disciplinary attitude, behaviour and sometimes a way of life. It brings together numerous disciplinary fields waiting to be discovered and nurtured by the greatest minds of this century.

According to a report by Invision from 2016,

  • Design plays a leading role in 38% of the world’s largest organisations.
  • 2 in 5 designers are involved deeply in code development.
  • Around 35% of Directors, 25% of Managers and 12% of VPs are designers.
  • The average salary range of different design disciplines is anywhere between $10,000 to $80,000 per annum.

From these numbers it is evident that in the current age of technology, and I’m being modest when I say, design is in high demand. The noise needs to be filtered, the content needs to be curated, the products and experiences crafted and the data tuned to make the best of every problem-solution statement and use case.

Those of us who treat this subject as such will stand to benefit from the resultant understanding in this noisy, curiosity-driven and transformative century.


The scope of design as a philosophy

The foundation of design is closely related to the philosophy of art and is relatively new as a field of research. We see patterns and reflection of design in countless instances and artefacts that are both for the “now” and/or can achieve a sense of timelessness.

The final translation occurs through technological and scientific methods and tools, but in concept design is entirely natural. In fact it beckons a seriousness towards philosophical practices in the first place. An example, as mentioned above, is having a sense of philosophy of time — presentism & eternalism.

The philosophy of design thus, in ways, calls out specifically to the philosopher in everyone, whether by discipline or by habit, to give shape to this subject. All of us are involved in this global activity in different ways. In its youth and by nature, design is iterative, should its philosophy be any different?

Design is full of newbies — authors, philosophers, engineers, coders, product thinkers, etc., the imposter syndrome may kick in at times as well. My understanding is that the discipline and field will benefit more from such a heterogenous make-up at this point. This will ensure an open-source style transparency towards this enquiry itself and thus speed up the evolutionary process.

Philosophers of design therefore spend time in fundamental and abstract exploration, the problem solution statements and daily practice will naturally follow up. In my frequent interactions with this subject, my understanding is that this creates a natural full-cycle creative process.

Argumentatively, design goes well beyond empirical observation into rational and critical observations, pattern making, lateral and double thinking, design thinking etc., things that do not follow any protocol or analytical curve. We can disagree, but then we would be talking design.

As a discipline

In study, design has a two-fold structure made of utility and form. These two characteristics of any artefact takes into account their functional-intention and structural-implication, respectively. The first indicates what it does, often referred to as usability. The second indicates how easily it can therefore be used, also popularly known as the subject of human factor & ergonomics or heuristics.

This is just one of the many charts that can be drawn around one of the many fields of Design, this being for UX

You see this visual, you get the idea, we have so many disciplines we could lose track if we started charting them out. Scale it out to a scope of 10 years ahead, and you’ll see we’re just getting started…overwhelming? Don’t worry too much, this guide and many others like this (kick into “Google” mode) should help you out.

Therefore as a subject it is as expansive as the designer’s enquiry itself, the current heterogenous nature of this world adds to this. There are the basic fields, management and leadership roles, specialisations, research oriented fields, ones that go into psychology, behavioural economics, data centrism and leadership — you name it.

In practice and as a career

The two different approaches to design practice take into consideration both the cognitive habit and style of process, the approaches being design thinking and design activity respectively.

Argumentatively, the current usage of the term ‘design thinking’ is misleading. While there has been some commentary that design thinking hinges on how designers have done things, it might not be that natural a term for someone who has just walked into this discipline.

As seasoned designers understand, the translation into the final design has little to do with the theory and often changes entirely when activity is carried out. Take for example Uber, which started off as a luxury car rental, IBM which shifted from hardware-only to software-first or Nokia’s pan from a paper mill, to rubber boots, to electronics and finally the mobile phone. And for this very reason I prefer to understand the practice, of which, as design activity and not design thinking.

Every aspect of this triangle affects and benefits the other

In my belief, a career in design is made of a professional mixture of both design thinking (or philosophy) and activity. A designer’s career takes off once their sketches are in a setting where work needs to be translated into something working, co-designing with users, working with a team to come up with the best solution, that completes the cycle till another iteration. As every aspect benefits from the other, just like in philosophy, design in practice can be considered a living mechanism.


I have noticed with the work that I have done in this span that the subjects (people), objects (goal), communities, activities and technologies are all becoming increasingly iterative. In 5 years time mobile technologies have become the forefront of our experiences, in the last 10 years the static web has turned into a dynamic virtual reality and we are at the forefront of what many call the 4th industrial revolution.

The future of design

The definition of design is becoming broader by the day, designers are organising and orchestrating units from micro-teams to large businesses, implementing structured processes to solve a large variety of problems.

Soon the disciplines of philosophy, psychology, economic behaviour, data studies and social sciences will come together to lead this evolution. In fact we already have the initial responses in research into this communion as well.

The vastness in scope is expanding as we embrace career possibilities in accessibility (for age, colour, disability or other attributes), internet of spaces (extension of the IOT), smart objects that learn and teach, native platforms, human operating systems, decentralised spaces, 3D printing, augmentation, genetic design, space-craft design — the list goes on and gets more interesting.

New job opportunities will give birth to more fields. Graphic designers, 3D designers, design engineers, UXers, product designers, interaction designers, systems designers and researchers will receive clarion calls to supplement this new era of design careers.

Tips

If you are looking to get into design don’t think too much into what you wish to become in few years from now. This keeps it simple and leaves space for you to grow into something that you might not have discovered yet.

If you are already a designer it’s a nice time to pull up your socks and do a lot of work. At the same time read up as much as you can about new technologies, trends, research, factors and possibilities.

Great design makes, breaks, rebuilds and changes according to needs, perspectives, experiences and therefore time. It creates experiences for ‘today’ and sometimes it helps sustain ‘tomorrow’.

My golden rules for design,

  • Equanimous observation leads to your own discoveries.
  • Have the creative confidence.
  • Validation is important, but balance it out with intuition.
  • Document and iterate efficiently.
  • Practice to quiet your mind.
  • Empathy gives the most value to what you make.
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