Design is commoditizing, what can we do about it?
We say that a product or service is a commodity when its brand is not as important as its price.
Can you give me an example? 🤔
Pendrives! Pendrives are a commodity.
Compared to other USB Pendrives, there’s no significant difference in quality or in how you use it.
The same with microwaves, laundry services and well, design.
Did you just compare a microwave to design!?
I’m just saying they’re both commoditized.
This might get uncomfortable… sure you don’t want to talk about something else?
Signals are everywhere but they’re different for every type of design.
Graphic design is a commodity because people can go online and get it from a wide variety of sources for a price close to zero.
Decent quality wedding invitations, posters and banners are available in the form of templates that you can customize.
You can also get it done by a graphic designer through a marketplace like 99designs. Quality is arguable but price is super low, most people find these solutions good enough for their needs.
For more advanced projects you will also find a large offering of local freelance designers and studios. Apart from the world-famous, most compete on price as well.
Another clue of commoditization is salary: the average salary for a graphic designer in the United States is US$41,000, but for a UX designer (a disclipline not yet commoditized) it’s a whopping US$74,000.
ok, I see your point, what else?
Everyone can launch a decent website for a price close to zero. Wordpress or Squarespace templates and tools like Wix make it super easy.
Wix and others are already using Artificial Intelligence to design a website for you, check this out:
And just like with graphic design, for more sophisticated projects, there is a large offering of freelancers and studios available which also compete on price.
Are you telling me that we’ll be replaced by robots?
Wait, it gets worse before it gets better.
User Interface design is commoditizing as well.
Remember when we used to design everything manually?
Well, with the rise of UI kits, the standarization of design languages (Material Design for example) and the use of robust design systems it’s easier than ever to produce professional results with less effort and skill.
Some companies have even started to experiment with ways to automatize UI design. Airbnb is training computers to recognize quick paper sketches and turn them into coded user interfaces.
I have to tell you, it gets worse.
We are a bit farther away from this one, but I’m sure it will happen eventually.
(I’m talking about the user experience inside a digital product –lower caps ux, not UX– we can talk about this later in detail…)
Yes! When you think about it, it’s just a matter of feeding a neural network with interface patterns, best practices and usability guidelines…
You will just have to select the function of a determined flow, upload your brand guidelines, add content and ta-da!
It might take a while though and it might not work great initially, but it will happen.
This will mean that good ux will no longer be a differentiator, it will be expected.
What’s the point, then? Why be a designer at all?
If computers are designing…
If design is a commodity… why care?
Well… although some of our abilities will be gradually automated and commoditized as a result (designing wireframes and user flows, creating responsive websites, applying design languages…), there are some others that won’t.
Our job as designers is to figure out how to make the highest contribution to the problem while keeping the users’ needs and business’ goals in mind.
To do this, there are several soft and hard skill we will need, acquiring them is the best way to future-proof ourselves.
I’m all ears… 👂👂👂
First, we must deeply understand people.
We design for people and that won’t change, so we have to become the best at empathizing with them and knowing how to help them make better decisions.
Makes sense, how do I get better at it?
You’ve probably already have some of these books, but just in case here’s my list of favorites on the topic:
By understanding humans — and their needs — we’ll be able to frame problems better and find more effective ways solve them.
Some people call this value creation process: “innovation”; and yes, we should all understand how it works.
It can be delievered in the form of a product, a business or even a non-profit organization.
Again, I’m sure you’ve seen these books before, but just in case…
Bring them on…
Sprint! I just got a copy :)
Great! There’s a couple more around storytelling and growth.
And last but not least, we should also understand the technological landscape, to come up with feasible solutions. Staying on top of technological advancements (machine learning, computer vision, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, voice recognition…) is fundamental to our role as a designer.
Are you saying I have to learn code?
Probably the basics but, just like you don’t need to become a phycologist to understand people, you don’t have to become an engineer to understand technology.
Alan Cooper wrote a 3 part piece about this topic
I ❤ Alan Cooper
To stay on top of the commoditization of design, we’ll all have to think strategically because everything else will soon be free – or almost free.
“Delightful”, “Easy to Use” and “User-friendly” experiences will soon be a commodity. A lot more is going to be expected from Designers.
Technology will keep constantly evolving too, but focusing on the principles of how to create and distribute value and engage humans will always be relevant, regardless of the medium.
Good news is, we can still catch up! 🙂