Defining a “Designer” can be a difficult task. The definition of “design” is a vague, misused and often misunderstood term in culture today. We often mistake “design” with aesthetic, beauty, art, look and feel, or something visual. However, design is an underlying premise, process and execution of a solution implemented in various ways to solve a challenge.
Design is not art. Design is not purely aesthetic. Design is not a singular attribute or tactic to a wider body of challenges.
Design exists as a solution within or beyond a system. Design seeks to find new and innovative ways to uncover all information (qualitative and quantitative) within a challenge and use that information to explore and define possible solutions to test and iterate upon through various processes until a positive solution can be discovered through valid confirmation. Design seeks to understand, and then use the understanding to step forward into discovering and implementing solutions.
Cultural majorities view design as a means to an end. A logo. A graphic. A website. A set of icons. A marketing campaign. All of these parts are integral to the process of design, however, design must look at the deeper underlying information to understand the challenge as a foundation and design through a process of discovering the right solution from that foundational challenge.
For example: Steve Jobs didn’t inherently know that minimalist white clean design and inspiring messaging would help transform Apple in the 90’s. This wasn’t a tactic he used to get the masses to take notice of Apple as an innovative company. The end result we see in those products and marketing initiatives was a result of Steve Jobs understanding the depth of what he believed about the world, and what people wanted to believe about the world. The challenge was to inspire and create new innovative products that took humanity into a future that had not yet existed. The end result is a minimalist and beautiful product line combined with a marketing approach that reflected those deeply held beliefs.
I studied under Marty Neumeier, who was responsible for the execution and design class this we direction for Apple. He described Steve as being difficult at times. During the process they went through rounds and rounds of revisions until this different package leapt of the shelves because it was so different from all other packaging design during the time. The ability to embrace different and push boundaries was part of Apple’s DNA.
Design is as much about reflection of the underlying beliefs as it is about coming up with new and interesting ways to create ideas and products. Designers must understand the DNA of the business, the challenge, the audience and the vision before creating an impactful solution.
In order to align and reflect the depths of a product, brand or service, we – as designers – must seek to go beyond the esoteric and aesthetically pleasing approaches and disciplines of our work, and truly seek to uncover the truth about a product, brand or service and use that discovery to inform the design approach for creating.
When people ask me what I do, there is usually a long answer that dives into the strategy and nuances and approach of my work with digital, brands or campaigns, but then there seems to be a default, shorter answer which usually sounds something like, “I’m a designer, I work in digital for a lot of different brands.” And that usually ends that part of the conversation. Whereas, the alternative explanation better lends itself to you reading the rest of this work. Where I explain the depths and nuances of my work, or at the very least, my approach to the work.
I am not interested in educating you on how you should learn about design, or what tools to use, or even the foundational principles of design. Because I think those tools and information is easily accessible, and the landscape of design 20 years ago, the tools we used and the ideas we had look very different from today – and furthermore – the tools and ideas we will have about design 20 years from now will look much different than today.
However, I believe the idea of design and what a designer represents for society boils down to a few things. First, design is about systems and making things better for others. Designers take on the responsibility to discover the best possible solutions to fix problems within the world. Be it visual, experiential, environmental, economic, political, strategic, etc. Designers take on the hard responsibility of society and seek to make things better. Therefore, I do not believe my work here is designed (pun intended) for only those who chose the path of visual designer. I believe my thinking is meant for those in the boardroom, wall street, main street, entrepreneurs, social butterflys, artists, professors, and anyone who seeks to make the world a little better than when they started.
If you have ever solved a problem in life, you have partook in the act of design. If you have decided to commit your life to solving problems through systematic thinking, you are, in my definition, a designer – at the very least, did some kind of designing. Design is not limited to those who create visual work or visible products, but those who think deeply about the challenges that exist in the world and seek to solve them through resourceful means within their work and craft. The act of design transcends the definitions we have applied to them over the past century. Design is not limited to creative fields, but expands to systematic, engineering, business and economics as well. Design is difficult to define as a practice because it exists ubiquitously amongst our daily lives and therefore the act of design goes beyond the title of designer and finds its way into many variations of work. To be a designer is to seek to solve problems through the lens of making the world better for others.
Therefore, when I use the term “designer” or “design” in the context of my writing here, I am not thinking about a traditional form of design or designer, but the iteration of designers of tomorrow. I believe that there are foundational truths and principles of design that are beginning to emerge at a more prominent level of business, brands, economics, politics and influence within the world that has mostly been a way of thinking at a micro level of the practice of design. However, this nuanced level of approach, process and thinking when applied at larger scales is proving to be sustainable approaches to impact humanity at greater measurements.
Throughout my writing I share what I believe to be the evolution and iteration of a designer and how we can grapple with the changing landscape of design, focus this to a individual approach first and then apply this to the larger landscape of our work and our discipline. I am not going to focus on how to design, but more-so how we should approach our selfs by first addressing who we are as designers and how we can move forward into more global and larger impact by first focusing on the tenants of the self related to our work. We must choose to not only focus on the discipline and craft of our job as designing but inherently recognize the responsibility we have as designers and the growing role our work is having in our world.
Traditional definition of a designer
Traditionally, design derives itself within communication arts as an intention to create.
“It [Design] communicates to the viewer or user a visual and emotional message to change or guide through an emotional connection with a product or service enhancing their experience of the product or brand” (“Designer”, 2020)
Design has changed over the years to account for the needs of mass production in society, whereas the intention of designing a product or service is directly related to cost of production. Within this area of production, design breaks down into specialized areas of the field of design.
As designer’s progress within their careers, they begin to hone in on an area of specialization and a nuanced focused related to the work. Today we see design transcend many different areas of production such as Architecture, Costume design, Customer experience design, Experience design, Fashion design, Floral design, Furniture design, Game design, Graphic design, Industrial design, Interaction design, Interior design, Jewelry design, Landscape design, Learning design, Lighting design, Packaging design, Product design, Scenic design, Service design, Software design, Sound design, Strategic design, Textile design, Urban design, User experience design (which frequently includes mobile application design), User interface design, Visual design, Web design, Yacht design.
Design is a labor.
Design is an act.
Design is an intention.
Designer’s exist within economics, business, politics, religion.
Design exists within every facet of our constructed society where one’s job is to define or understand constraints, goals, research and make decisions. Design is not limited to the physical manifestation of a product or service, but the intentional act of creating better systems in the world.
Collectively, design can be found within the fields outside of the “creative” realm and manifest itself in the forms of economics, business, politics, religion, manufacturing, agriculture and technology. Design is the ability to understand the constraints, goals and information and create new or improved systems within these parameters.
There is a myth that design is “left to the designer’s”. The “creative” types that no one really understands and their job is to consistently make magic happen through design. However, this is not the case, and I believe we have operated in a culture where this intentional act of solving problems has been misconstrued with some form of “creative magic” only to be sparked and fostered within the expectations design and “creative” culture infused with ping-pong tables, beer on tap and free lunch.
But this fostering of culture is not the inherent driver of success (or failure) of design. Instead, we should seek to understand what design is at the micro-level of our thinking, approach and process; and then let these ideals permeate themselves throughout a culture or body of people who do not work specifically within the discipline of design, but to shift the thinking of those who do not believe they are “creative”.
After working for close to two decades in corporate environments, startups, agencies and running my own business, I have come to the understanding that everyone is capable of design. But, the act and discipline of design requires a deep understanding of the tools and experience to execute. It also requires the ability to work with people collaboratively. However, within the initial part of understanding goals, constraints, and research, design tends to fall flat into the ever growing abyss of failure. Whereas, the actual intentions of defining goals, constraints and gathering information requires some design within itself – and this is where my belief derives. Design is not hinged within the culture, environment or amount of free lunches, but to look closely at the process and how we define initial foundations of our work – the information and discovery – that informs the success or failure of the actual act of designing.
We must seek to think about our process of defining constraints, setting goals and understanding clear objectives as an act of design within itself. These parts of our work go unseen in the end product or service, but they greatly inform the environment of our mental space in which we seek to define an end product. These initial parts are not limited to the responsibility of the designer, but through a collective of disciplines and experts in multiple fields to help define and clarify goals, objectives, strategies and research information. It is our job to ask questions, gain understandings and hold this part of the process responsible for never leaving any stone unturned. We must seek to examine all aspects, ask questions, and pull the information needed to see the entire landscape of a company or project before diving into our nuanced view of executing design.
Design is to create.
For decades, design has been placed as another expense on the assembly-line-conveyor-belt-of-mass-corporate-production. An added cost to make something look good and get it out the door. The success or failure then rides solely on the designer to deliver (or not deliver) on a product or service and then they reap all the glory or take the brunt of the blame.
However, as the Industrial Revolution has propelled us into the future of the early 21st century, design has articulated it’s value from an economical, ergonomical and cost effective solution. Into the 21st century, we have found that the value of design has somehow transformed us out of the dark ages and into a society of productivity and consumerism.
Whether it be the rise or fall of the influence of design.
We forged new frontiers in technology and innovation with the implementation of design into software, hardware and technological products. We became inspired by these designs that unlocked doors of communication and endless possibilities of a transition into global commerce and communication systems for humans to share ideas. New forms of doing business and pushing new boundaries of innovation and creativity emerged.
We saw the era of Web 2.0 emerge from the bust of the dot-com boom in the late 90’s. And the next step was to innovate and find new ways for us to utilize technology – all attractive, mysterious and elusive to mainstream society. This thing (tech, the internet, the web) was a designed system and we became like moths to the light.
Emerging from this opportunity came Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netlifx, Microsoft (FAANGM) and other industries adopted this technology. We gather our insights, news, communication, business and connectivity from a designed system built from the processes of design dating back to the Industrial Revolution.
With this, we also garnered amplified problems along the way.
- Social divide
- Cyber bullying
- Identity theft
- Cyber crimes
- Drug trafficking
- Sex trafficking
- Sexualization glorification via social media
- Sex crimes
- Suicide from online activity
- Self-image issues
- Hate and racism
- Identity politics
The future of design will not look like the current landscape of design. And our current landscape has been informed by the past cycles of revolutions. Our current processes and understandings were born out of the notion to explore the details with design itself. The fundamental truths of design and the essence in which design derives it’s value.
However, our future will not look like today – as the same way our present understanding and perspective of design does not look like our past. The thread is that design has and will continue to shape culture. Finding the meaning and purpose to shape our future is where I seek to uncover meaning and truths about what the landscape of design might look like in the coming years.
The term “designer” in this text is not limited to those who work within a discipline of design from the traditional definition. My intention is that “designer” means the “designer” which exists within all of us, and that must be articulated and defined throughout this work.
Design is systematic thinking to solve challenges and create new opportunities which improve the lives of others.
Design is the ability to connect the solutions and the audience in which a system serves and align these with the intentions of the business or brand.
Design seeks to execute within constraints to mitigate risk, minimize poor user experience and delight the audience throughout the interactions.
Therefore, with each of these defined, design is not limited to those who partake in the act of designing an end product or service from a traditional definition. But the act of design derives itself from the preparation and thinking about solving problems from many different disciplines. I believe that design is found within all parts of work and labor in which an individual or organization seeks to improve a system, or intentionally create something innovative. The complex parts within the system can only derive themselves with understanding the complex information that connects each piece of the system. Therefore, everyone involved in these endeavors takes on a role of design in one sense or another. It becomes the designer’s job today and into the future to facilitate the act and intention of design within the collective disciplines of many to uncover the constraints, understand the goals, define the objectives and determine a strategy.
There may be work that has been done from various disciplines to articulate and define these things. Business leaders break down the goals and objectives, financial leaders seek to crunch numbers where things make sense to pursue, etc. However, the ability to look at these parts and serve as a liaison to the audience, define the needs of the audience, and translate the goals and intentions of the business or brand is where the designer takes on new responsibilities to make sure that the perspective and lens in which a business or brand is viewing these aspects are from a place of empathy and understanding to meet the needs of others.
The term “Designer” is loosely defined and understood. With no barrier to entry for tools to practice design and no need for education to learn the foundations of design, the ease of picking up the digital design hammer and building your own body of work is easier today than going to your local hardware store and buying a screwdriver. The misconception and responsibility we have to design is greater than ever. The lack of intention and ethics around how and what we design is more important to understand now than any time in history. We bear a great burden.
On top of this we have created some new and rather interesting design job titles such as:
Producer of Experiences, Designer of Diversity, Interdisciplinary Technican of Design, Designer of Symptoms, Composer for Symbolism, Leader of Design Communications, Full-Stack Design of User State Regularity, Design Conductor, Designer and Entry-Level Generalist, In-House Designer of Composition, Staff Designer, Deputy and Intermedia Designer, Dream Alchemist, Creativity Analyst, Design Ambassador, Creator of Happiness
These pseudo-intellectual jargonist titles are a few examples within the design industry. They are whimsical and obscure to continue adding vague meaning behind the actual intention we really miss about what design is and how we can apply the meaning and purpose of design to our work.
The definitions of these titles around design are evolving and changing. Each designer is different whereas the standards and expectations of titles are not widely understood.
A dentist holds a set standard of operation.
A doctor maintains a standard.
A pilot flying a plane must be able to take-off, fly correctly and safely land. There are expectations within these fields that help others, progress society and lead people to destinations.
Design is no different. However, there is little expectation of the role of a designer within an organization outside of the work exemplified on a portfolio. It is the approach, process and strategic thinking of a designer in which does not get defined. The variance is great between designers (related to time in the field, experience and past projects) and it becomes an abstract topic to discuss the value design brings – whereas the difference between a junior designer and an Creative Director should be massively different, but there is no set bar to differentiate them within society.
Design, as it grows more into multidisciplinary work for the designer across print, identity and digital mediums comes closer to art and the designer referred more as an artist due to the lack of clarification on the designer’s role as practitioner, workman, and thinker in society – socially, culturally, politically, and economically.
A designer, in whatever discipline, (but especially in digital) engages in creating solid/concrete design based on fundamentals established over decades and centuries of the practice – only to knowingly accept that the design will change, shift and morph itself whether by the bastardization of development or from the results of AB testing and the learning from data/research – or an update to the design after years of additional work by the same designer or a team of other designers. A concrete approach with known fundamentals to a fluid process and end result created an oscillation within itself from designing work with passion, sincerity, and empathy to understanding the underlying sentiment of irony that this work will inevitably change or completely disappear, no matter what.
To me, this experience, strategy, process and set of emotions defines metamodernism towards design. The oscillation between two poles (modernism and post-modernism) and having enough self-awareness to understand and accept the differences, regardless of personal preference.
There is a constant struggle between the designer and society where the view of the designer is seen as a workman, a hammer swinger, the last stop on the creative subway. Whereas, designers see themselves as providing deeper meaning, powerful thinking and strategy behind every choice of a design. The emotive dance between the perception of the designer and the reality of the work has created a struggling paradigm between the designer as a worker, and the designer as a thinker.
The value of design has always been exemplified through history as the immediate visual communication to modern culture. Designers have been at the forefront of culture, thinking, and progress. And this progression has led society to be inundated with technology, tools and social platforms for every person on earth with access to the internet to be part of this cultural immediacy. The over saturation of design begins to drown out the value of the designer. But, I believe, for the designer to survive, we acknowledge not only the oscillation of our work between being the Workman versus being the Thinker, but also the oscillation of the perceived value within society.
Design has always been a slight step outside of the lens of society, peering in ever-so cautiously and making commentary in visual, systematic, economic, human-driven dialogue. The irony of music, art and the cynical undertones as a commentary about the rise or fall of culture and society has plagued the design community for decades. Even so, being a designer has often been thought as being a lesser version of an artist, whereas they are equal, with differing points of strategy, thought and approach; yet culturally, design has not been as emotive, progressive or influential as an artist in the eyes of society.
Design is everywhere and it exists in everything we do. Our governments, our economy, our cities, and our daily aspects of life are all things that have been designed in some way or another – visual design is a merely a facet of the same kind of strategic thinking meant to be effective and solve problems. Through visual mediums, this is done through concise and clear means of communicating an idea to our audience. This type of thinking can be translated across all types of problem solving areas and is why designers are having a seat at the bigger tables of society and culture – because we solve problems and there is a return on that investment of thought patterns. You can apply the thinking patterns of a visual designer to most other problem solving areas and you will find that the designer will look for the patterns and find ways to circumvent the standard approaches to explore new and effective ways of thinking and solving problems.
The emerging of the singular designer/artist in society today creates an interesting oscillation of turbulent emotions in work. Uncomfortable. Whereas, design is meant to solve problems and art is meant to create problems; the merging of design and art as a single existence to work is a metamodern approach of how we function within both roles.
Breaking free from being the outsider of culture; a shift is happening within design. Design is becoming more prominent and leading progressive strategy and innovative approaches for business and culture.
Acknowledging the disconnect over the past few decades within a postmodern world and applying true sincerity from disconnecting the cynical emotions within our approach, to placing empathy and compassion at the center of work that is meant to evoke, disturb and question everything around us for the sake of moving forward in both irony and sincerity.
Versus being a designer or artist looking in from the outskirts of society and creating this ironic commentary on culture, it is the designer’s job to marry the approach of design and art to function from being at the postmodern outskirts of culture, to shifting as the central point of focus for how we move forward.
The fear of the postmodern design approach is gone. We do not exist in that space anymore. And for the sake of our own survival, we cannot exist in that space. We must forge ahead as leaders of culture. We must take the dissonance of what used to be, and reflect on where we are going and force ourselves into the uncomfortable space between art and design.
Humanize ourselves. Humanize the work.
Culture depends on it.
As Jasper Morrison articulates his idea of design in The Unimportance of Form 1991, he states:
“The designer is often seen as a giver of form to an industry whose technological expertise will allow production. Like most things it’s not that simple and in this case there can be no text book approach to a particular problem, solutions are always arrived at in unexpected ways. Occasionally a form will arrive, either through hard analysis or, more satisfyingly, intuition and chance. Restricting the probability of finding appropriate form to these two unreliable sources is a mistake. It’s a fact that the physical appearance of an object is to most people most of that object’s presence, but perhaps too much importance is attached to it. If we thought form less important we might develop a sensibility for other qualities in an object. Designing in a way that allows other aspects of an object’s make-up to propose its form may be a step in the right direction. If we think of design as an equation for getting more from objects then it’s clear that an approach which relies on gratuitous novelty of form is not enough. Avoiding the issue of form altogether may provide a truer solution. The formal appearance of an object need not be the result of hours of careful analysis of the problem or pages of drawings. It could be the visual consequence of an idea, a process, a material, a function or a feeling. Then again it could arrive in the shape of a borrowed form or a stolen object. There can be no moral objection to this if the result contains something that wasn’t there before. In fact the hi-jacking of everyday objects serves a dual-purpose of providing a new object in an economical manner and making the point that there is great beauty in the obvious or everyday. So describing the designer as a form-giver is inaccurate, he may be this but not only this and the less he concerns himself with creating form the better for all of us.”
The pendulum of aesthetic.
Design movements seem to swing like a pendulum. Back and forth. Minimalism, modern, sleek design, skeuomorphism, flat design, etc. is poised throughout our culture from the hands of designers across the globe. This ripple effect takes place every few years and we see a shift of a certain aesthetic breaking away from a past trend across various types of mediums, marketing campaigns, product designs, etc.
At any point in time, a designer could walk down the street and more than likely decipher the type of product, message, or campaign something was designed for purely based on the architecture and composition of the aesthetic. The color, font style, texture, photography treatment and construct of a design can quickly render itself to being a groupthink aesthetic within various industries at certain points in time.
- Trajan Pro as the movie font
- Bright gradients for anything related to the music industry
- Lifestyle campaigns for automotive commercials
- Minimalism for technology products
- Web design as flat design
- Skeuomorphic digital design for SaSS
- Handwritten fonts and natural colors for boutique consumer products
This pendulum seems to swing back and forth faster and faster. From the minimalist Swiss influenced modern approach of the Bauhaus era of design, to the reckless and abandon-all-rules of the ever chaotic approach of the 90’s. Somewhere between the two, we find the aesthetic of various designers who have garnered their own sense of style by focusing strictly on either side of the pendulum, or creatively balancing the two within their personal work.
The 90’s saw a group of designers who threw out all conventional design thinking influenced by the Swiss or Bauhaus modern movement and set out to disrupt every piece of visual they could get their hands on. Magazines, posters and prints during this time looked chaotic and completely destroyed. The visual language was oscillating and finding some sort of balance from all of the clean and minimalist designs that saturated the markets. Helvetica was an outcast during this time. Primary colors were disregarded. It was a playground of grunge and texture and disturbance. It was reminiscent of the culture – it resonated with the music, fashion, art and literature of the time.
And this pattern continued until the late nineties when Steve Jobs launched the visuals for Apple and the introduction to the iPod. The clean and minimal approach was back, with a notion of evangelical tones and a zen-like approach to the visual brand. The pendulum was swinging back and soon every tech company was copying the aesthetic because it was dominating the market.
And on and on, this happens constantly throughout culture.
(See 90’s design examples: Storm Thurgeson, Ray-Gun, David Carson, Sub Pop Records album art, Quentin Tarantino film posters, Stefan Sagmeister, Nine Inch Nails, Keiji Itoh, Paula Scher)
Further Reading: “The Decade of Dirty Design” https://www.aiga.org/the-decade-of-dirty-design
Commerce, business, commercialism and sales tend to drive the swinging aesthetic pendulum back and forth. Designers either follow an aesthetic that is working at the time to provide; or they have bought enough time to explore, experiment and begin swinging the aesthetic pendulum back the other way; if the sales follow, then so does the industry aesthetic.
Instead of bouncing back and forth, ever so often between these two dichotomies of design; clean vs. chaos. I believe visually, the true effectiveness of design lies somewhere in the moment where we can oscillate both at the same time. Presenting a clean product or brand in a very rough and distorted way. Or… a very dismal and chaotic product or work designed in a clean, minimal and modern way. To me, what I am trying to describe here, is that designer’s need to pay attention to the messaging and tone of the brand and product itself and use the visual approach to create the tension within the product, campaign or message. This approach creates an oscillation of a metamodernist sensibility to the work, and in turn, is more effective than the constant swinging of the aesthetic pendulum. It’s a difficult approach to execute, but if done correctly, I believe has the biggest impact to resonate with our future audience.
Through the lens of design.
The responsibility of being a designer is greater than ever. The impact design has on other’s lives through a lens of metamodernism becomes the measuring stick. Metamodernism describes cultural values that we’ve been trying to make sense of for decades. It becomes a way defining modern humanity through observation of sensibilities and movements.
We must be willing to go deeper within ourselves to ask the tough questions. Outside of the lens of modernism or postmodernism. But to ask “both/and” at the same time.
The practice of design has changed and evolved over time. We cannot assume that the varying definitions and practices of design today will be the definitions and practice of design in the future.
As much as the digital revolution has changed the landscape of design and designers, the future will also introduce new platforms and mediums where the definition of design and designer will also change and evolve. The practice of design is not rooted in the discipline, but in the approach and process of designing and creating systems, ideas and solutions for a world with new challenges. Design will never cease to be a discipline as long as humans continue to create and stumble through new innovations and ideas. However, the practice and craft of design will continue to change and evolve in the future.
As we continue to progress into our future of uncertainty and unknowns within society, the impact of design continues to grow and become an important tool for building new ideas and communicating globally. Design within the context of this writing, is meant to explore the impact of design in the future and how designers can approach their work beyond their current discipline. Because the act and practice of design may evolve in the future, so we must also consider that the very act of design and being a designer must be looked upon, investigated, iterated upon and revised to accommodate a new landscape of design that is yet to come.
Design Practitioner vs. Design Thinker
As design tools through digital and print mediums become more accessible across the globe, we enter an era of design that allows many to explore what it means to be a design practitioner; that is to say, the techniques and time put into exploring the actual doing of design is greatly accessible. However, with all experienced designers, there is a strategy and thought process that develops over time. Years of exploration, failure, success and repeating this process around the actual doing of design manifests itself in the form of strategy, process and iterations on an individual and/or group level of involvement. Over time, designers begin to develop a heightened sense of design, recognize the positive parts of design and transform from being a practitioner of the craft to becoming recognized as a thought leader within the industry and organization.
In this new era of digital accessibility to many various design tools, designers who have been honing their craft for years (and even decades) should recognize their role in this fast moving atmosphere. Instead of becoming bitter about the onslaught of fly by night design shops and many unqualified people taking on design roles for their own projects and organizations; I believe it’s important that we begin to recognize the clear delineation between a practitioner of design and a thought leader of design.
A practitioner is a worker.
The practitioner uses the tools necessary to work in the design medium required. In digital, these tools range from graphic design, prototyping, photo editing, front end development, video and motion design, among many other tools. The modern designer is multidisciplinary – not by choice, but by necessity of the industry, job market, and requirements of projects set forth by leadership who have recently begun to understand the value (economically) of good design.
A practitioner today has many responsibilities and is often regarded as a “unicorn” type to the organization, but, the reality is that these multidisciplinary designers are applying the foundational elements of design thinking across a wide range of tasks and mediums. These practitioners are examples of the true value of design thinking throughout multiple mediums, across organizations, and even in daily living. Design thinking is powerful and we are finally at the intersection of society where the value of this thinking will be an intrinsically important role within the advancement of commerce, culture and aesthetics both digital and physical.
Let us not confuse the value of design thinking with execution. They are different but possibly mutually beneficial. There are many design practitioners who are incredibly talented at their work but they lack the intuition or practical application of design thinking into their work. That is at no fault to them, but the oscillating balance between being a practitioner and a thinker is unbalanced. This is a dangerous space to operate. In my opinion, design will be moving towards the value of the ability to think as our tools for serving as a practitioner become more accessible and automated. Just as working in photoshop 15 years ago to edit pixel by pixel for retouching an image has become some from hours / days worth of work to a matter of seconds, being a practitioner in the execution is going to be more automated . Designers need to understand the balance and difference of a practitioner and thinker.
This balance and difference is the future of design and the design industry. Design must fully embrace the foundations of design in every aspect.
Without these foundations embraced and advocated at the highest level of designer, expectations of an end product is unrealistic is there is a lack of the foundations that have brought design to where it exists today. The execution within itself must rely on the balance between aesthetic, function, form, development, testing, feedback, experience, quantitative and qualitative data and aligning with the overall brand style and narrative. The metamodern designer takes all of this into account when working on a design. We cannot afford to have an unbalanced approach to our work with the role as designer in modern society.
As we move forward, we must not look at the design industry as having an identity crisis, but we must continue to advocate for the value of design, the importance of design fundamentals, communicating these values and providing true return on investment through every project. There is a great oscillation between being a practitioner within society and forging new paths with thinking and ideas and the future of design in society.
- Abramson, Seth. (January 9, 2017) “What Is Metamodernism?” [Website] Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-is-metamodernism_b_586e7075e4b0a5e600a788cd
- Associated Press (2020) Divided America [Website] Retrieved from https://www.ap.org/explore/divided-america/
- Australian Government (2014) The market for design: insights from interviews with Australian firms [Website] Retrieved from https://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/ip-australia-economic-research-paper-03.pdf?acsf_files_redirect
- Bogdan, C. (2012, August 14) New French Extremity: An Exigency for Reality. [Website] Retrieved from http://www.metamodernism.com/2012/08/14/new-french-extremity-an-exigency-for-reality/
- Cameron, J. (2016, October 25) The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition
- Clarke, J (2015, April 16) “The Role of the Graphic Designer in a Metamodern Structure of Feeling”. [Website] Retrieved from https://www.metamodernism.com/2015/04/16/the-role-of-the-graphic-designer/
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