Hybrids, A Brief History Of Design

In the business world, a vacuum between the user, the business and the technology has opened up and design has a chance to step up to the plate and take ownership of a new way of doing business. Looking at the history of design and current developments that are shaping the design field can help us see where we need to go and how we can get there.

1. In the beginning there was branding

Phase 1: Brand Design (BD) and Business Consulting (BC)

In the early days of design, designers created an image of the organization the user was interacting with. The brand was an illusion, a desired image of an organization that was projected to the outside world. Because the user had no access to the real organization that was producing the products and services, the perceived reality of the organization, the brand, was all he had to go on. In the back business consultants were helping to shape the processes that produced the products and services. In this phase there were two consultants: the Brand Designer (BD) and the Business Consultant (BC).

2. Then there was software

Phase 2: Information Technology Consulting (ITC)

Branding already started before computers entered the business world. But at some point, computers and software were introduced into the business world. Business people used software to support administrative work and other business processes. A new breed of consultants entered the arena: the Information Technology Consultant (ITC). They made sure the business processes that were in place could be done more efficient and with fewer errors.

3. Then consumer facing technology came onto the scene

Phase 4: Digital Design (DD)

At some point in history, businesses started to use technology to not only support internal business processes, but also support the interactions with its users. With the arrival of the Internet and webbrowsers, the businesses had new ways to interact with users. These interactions had to be designed and a new breed of designers emerged: the webdesigner, the interaction designer, the user interface designer, the use experience designer — the digital designer. The digital designers designed software, but on a whole different level than enterprise software that used for internal business processes. The user now started to interact differently with the business. At first the webpages were digital versions of the flyers and other marketing materials businesses already used. But over time the webpages became web-applications that allowed more complex interactions between the user and the business besides communication.

4. Three big shifts

Phase 5: two big shifts

Right now we are in a period of big shifts. With the widespread adoption of mobile devices with Internet connection, the web-based interactions are becoming so important that technology is no longer supporting business operations, but is enabling the creation of completely new operations and strategies. People call this digitization or digital transformation. Digital interactions are transforming businesses so businesses have two choices: transform to become more digital or die. The other big shift is the growing rejection of traditional add-based marketing. More and more people are using ad blockers. But that is just one effect of a deeper movement. People are no longer basing their choices on the images organizations project to the world, but on the value their services provide. The User Experience is the brand. It’s no longer important if Amazon has a blue or a red logo or if it’s called Amazon or Maya. It’s the User Experience that counts. The actions are more important than the images and texts. Connected to these two developments is the growing servitization. Before most of the things companies sold were physical products, now people use more and more services. Even transactions that used to be about buying physical products are transforming into services. Pioneering customers no longer want cars, but transportation service. The servitization is powered by the digitization and it also adds to the fact that the brand is more about the actual experience of the service than the perceived image of an organization.

The fact that technology is getting closer to business, means that digital design has to get closer to business in order to stay relevant, in order to add the most value.

The fact that branding is more about behavior, about User Experience, means branding has to get closer to User Experience Design.

5. The end game

Phase 5: Digital Branded Business Consulting Design (DBBCD)

If you extrapolate these movements, you come to a situation where digital design, branding, IT consultancy and Business consultancy have to work closely together, become one. Digital design and branding need to work as one. If you only take the digital design road, you miss out on the emotional side, the mental images, the helicopter view of an organization’s image. If you only follow the branding path, you have less access to the power of technology that is changing the world. Teaming up is crucial. But the products and services that are being designed don’t work if they don’t align with back-end software and processes. In fact, the back-end software and processes have to be taken into account when designing services that actually work. New forms of design like Service Design are leading this development by not only taking the Customer Journey into account, but also the back end systems and processes. All need to be redesigned to deliver engaging services. And the fact that design can also add value in a business consulting setting is proven by the enormous popularity of Design Thinking. In the end, all will come together, everything that should be connected must be connected. We will have Digital Branded Business Consulting Design that uses brand-driven innovation to create services, organizations and systems that work as one.

In this phase, there is no difference between business and technology. Businesses are digital, the processes are digital. Branding and UX design have merged into Branded UX (BUX). Processes and systems are designed to deliver the best possible service to the user within the strategy and resources of the business. Digital services are no longer designed from a technology point of view, but from a UX perspective. Digital Design, Branding, IT Consulting and Business Consulting are inseparable. To get there, Digital Design needs to Business-up, Branding needs to UX-up, IT Consulting needs to UX-up and Business Consulting needs to Design-up. These are all developments that we can see in the field right now. IT consulting companies are hiring UX Designers, Business Consulting firms are acquiring Design Agencies, Digital Designers are learning about Business and Branding Experts are learning about UX.


Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you enjoyed it. I will dive deeper into the topics of Design Leadership and Design Thinking in upcoming articles. If you follow me here on Medium, you will see them pop up on your Medium homepage. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.