The changing role of the future designer

Design is fascinating to me. It touches every aspect of our lives and has the capacity to transform not only the artefacts we interact with, but also the culture and societies we live and work in. Fields such as interface design, service design and business design follow similar processes (albeit with different methods and outcomes). I believe design creates the greatest value when it successfully frames a problem through the lens of user, business and technical needs.

Gaining this understanding calls for a greater interaction and creative collaboration between users, stakeholders and engineers. I believe this is reshaping the definition of what a ‘designer’ is.

Alongside the traditional methods and abilities required by design professionals; cross-functional, collaborative processes call for additional skills requiring empathetic interaction, including:

  • Research: bringing user-centred perspectives into the design and delivery process
  • Co-creation: designing in cross functional teams with people rather than for them
  • Facilitation: bringing together communities and cross functional teams to work on issues from a design perspective
  • Teaching: developing design-led skills among people to enable them to address challenges themselves

I feel like a lot of these skills aren’t currently covered by a formal design education, with the exception of programs run by companies such as Hyper Island, D School at Stanford and Kaos Pilot who are closing the gap.

Many of these schools teach using constructivist methods, or “learning by doing”. In the constructivist model, the students are urged to be actively involved in their own process of learning. The teacher functions more as a facilitator who coaches, mediates, prompts, and helps students develop and assess their understanding, and thereby their learning. One of the teacher’s biggest jobs becomes asking good questions.

This feels a little bit like I’m about to enter an infinite loop, so I’m going to pull out the two biggest takeaways I see here:

  • Thinking AND doing: Immerse yourself in theory, then put it into practice as soon as possible. By thinking then doing you will learn the most and solidify your understanding.
  • Give yourself time to regularly reflect on what you are experiencing. Reflection is key to understanding what is happening and more importantly why. This is central to developing the skills to do this (and pretty much anything) well.

I was lucky enough to be able to take a year out and take part in a masters program at Hyper Island. The intense immersion in both theory and practice has led to the best year of my career to date (I spent the previous 5 years working in enterprise UX). If you’re in a position where you can take a year out and you’re looking for a solid foundation in culture, team dynamics and an end-to-end design process — I wholeheartedly recommend this one.

Taking the plunge is a huge deal and not to be taken lightly, so I wanted to recommend a few alternatives if taking the time out just isn’t viable.

Recommended Reading

Online Courses

Toolkits

At my previous employment I combined a few of these elements by organising regular meetups to teach anyone interested from our delivery teams about the design process. I facilitated sessions using the DesignKit NovoEd course provided by IDEO as content. This let me focus on developing my personal facilitation skills, without having to create and plan a training session from scratch. The content was great and it worked really well in on-boarding colleagues with the design process. In turn, this helped us increase user empathy within the teams and brought the designers, the business and the developers closer together.

Design offers problem solvers of any stripe a chance to design with communities, to deeply understand the people they’re looking to serve, to dream up scores of ideas, and to create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs — IDEO

Don’t forget to put things into practice once you’ve grasped the theory and reflect on how it went or what you could improve next time. Start small and grow from there!

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