28 July 2016

The Future of Design (And How To Prepare For it)

A handy guide to navigating what's coming up next in the design world.


In trying to figure out what the future of design will look like, we’re at a bit of a loss.


Technology is changing at a rapid pace. In five years, mobile platforms have gone from being an emerging part of a company’s strategy to the focal point of its future. So who’s to say when virtual reality and automation become more prominent? Quickly-evolving tools like these and a shifting playing field make it almost impossible to predict the future, because the gadget that will drive our lives in 10 years probably hasn’t even been invented yet. And then there is the matter of divergent career paths. The age-old standard of working your way up the ladder at a single company for the duration of your life has been disrupted by career professionals blending skills that were once thought to be mutually exclusive — like design and computer programming — to make entirely new hybrid careers in anticipation of the market needs of tomorrow.


So that is why we’ve reached out to visionaries and experts across the design world to get their take on what the field will look like in the next 10 years when the very definition of the designer will begin to loosen up and designers will soon be called on by companies to re-think the entire way businesses function, from how teams collaborate to how corporations are structured.


It’s setting up to be a golden age, one filled with wonderfully-wild new possibilities (full-body virtual reality suits that generate real-life senses, anyone?) and career opportunities. Worried? Don’t be. We asked each participant to give us a glimpse into how we can prepare for the world ahead.


The definition of “design” will loosen up.

“Historically, you would study graphic design, industrial design, or interaction design and there were a finite number of crafts out in the world. Now we’re starting to see that design and creativity can be brought to bear on a greater number of things. One is organizational design, thinking about anything from the design of culture within an organization to how those organizations are designed themselves in terms of the structure and roles. Another is business design, the idea of bringing a creative lens to anything from business models to venture funding.”

— Duane Bray, Partner and Head of Talent, IDEO


“Creativity” will become a coveted corporate leadership trait.

“We’re seeing teams of people from different disciplines spending time together from start to finish on a project. How do you maximize their creative potential? The core skill is unlocking collaboration between teams.”

— Duane Bray, Partner and Head of Talent, IDEO


The line between design and business will continue to blur.

“The more a designer understands how the business works, the more valuable they will be to employers. Designers who understand a company’s value proposition and mission can help them thrive and grow. They just need to learn the language that someone who is running a company actually speaks. When they can articulate exactly what they bring to the table, executives will realize that they didn’t just hire a designer — they also hired a strategist!”

— Shana Dressler, Executive Director of 30 Weeks


Crooked career paths will be the norm.

“More and more I am seeing people who haven’t followed the traditional career path. When hiring, I look for the narrative that stitches the person’s career together: Why did they make the decisions that they did? What was the trajectory that they found themselves on? I don’t really care that much anymore if you went to a pedigree design school or started at a prestigious company. What I care about is that you learned and grew and there was an intent behind what you were building towards.”

— Duane Bray, Partner and Head of Global Talent, IDEO


3D printing will bring more one-off design challenges…and opportunities.

“I think that product is going to be less static in the future. If you have 3D printing in a retail store, customers could customize their products to whatever size they want, such as an oversize version. There are so many ways that things are going to be designed just for you, as opposed to designed for set sizes.”

— Georgianna Stout, Founding Partner and Creative Director, 2×4


Data and design will make life trippy.

“Designers are typically experts in things you can touch, see and act upon. Now with software eating the world, a lot of the manifest expressions of the design world are giving way to things that are not as see-able, like personalization data that remember who we are. Designers are going to have to think about how a human and a machine will interact. For example, if a smart home artificial intelligence system sensor sees a home door unlock and then recognizes the face of the person entering, should it be able to look up that person’s data about what that person likes and turn on a certain light for them? Or you have to decide if, every time you show up at your home, if you want your smart home system to turn the lights for you versus you doing it yourself. Or, do you develop a smart home system that interacts with you on a decision-by-decision basis? In most of what I’m talking about, there are no switches to turn on the light or system interfaces to tap. It’s artificial intelligence and all of these decisions are being made using personal data. That is the new kind of design problem.”

— Mark Rolston, Founder and Chief Creative, argodesign


Cross disciplinary teams will thrive.

“We have a lot of doctors and nurses on staff here at NBBJ and it dramatically impacts our work. I love the idea of walking into a room where I have a badass technical architect, a nurse, and me and my background in fine art, and we’re going to go tackle an urban design problem for a civic project. You get really interesting outcomes that will be really different than if you had three people who studied similar architecture and graduated from similar schools. You have little or no chance of getting something really wild out of that group. It will get done, probably faster, probably easier, but it’s rare that you get something that is phenomenally different.”

— Sam Stubblefield, Principal, NBBJ


Designers who are entrepreneurial will become more important.

“As executives from companies start to become educated about the value that designers bring to the table, I imagine that more and more, designers will be invited to early meetings when products and services are first conceived of. They will also be able to command higher salaries and consulting fees. The three pillars for success are a great idea, great execution, and great design. When you can make a case for why your contribution to a company is directly tied to profits, that is when upper management will perk up.”

— Shana Dressler, Executive Director of 30 Weeks


Digital art will rival the real thing.

“Will a 3D-printed sculpture have the same value as a sculpture made by someone 50 years ago with their hands? People sometimes see digital art as a lesser form of art.Oh, that is done by computer, not hand! Then people think it should be cheaper. I worry that consumers will see 3D art as something cheap — not the real thing. But once you can print a masterpiece from an artist and have it as your own, people will think differently. I am pretty sure that if Michelangelo had a computer, he would have used it.”

— Daniel Aristizábal, Columbian Illustrator


Experience design will become increasingly important.

“Retail shopping is not solely about the transactional experience any more. It’s about going into a store, feeling the vibe of that brand and getting that bigger lifestyle out of it. Right now that’s very much an urban, high-end experience, so how do we do that in a more populous way? We are looking a lot at the mall K11 in Hong Kong, and how they have incorporated so many different things in their experience, from having art everywhere to farms that are growing mushrooms that you can pick and have incorporated into your meal to programs for kids. And it’s all very-well curated, so there are always new exhibitions and programs.”

— Georgianna Stout, Founding Partner and Creative Director, 2×4


Storytelling will have no clear narrative arc.

“The amount of investment/heat around virtual and augmented reality will be the next big challenge for creative professionals, and understanding the self-navigating narrative like that is not a part of most creative disciplines. Traditionally, we’ve always told linear stories. I think the biggest nut to crack will be how creatives design story games that the users can tell themselves.”

— Paul Matthaeus, Founder and Chairman, Digital Kitchen


As the creative world fragments, pricing your work will only get tougher.

“It’s easy to price when you’re looking in the rearview mirror, but when you’re looking at something that hasn’t been defined yet, it’s really hard for businesses to value that in a particular sort of way. I think it ends up having to be done in small incremental steps, like serial content.”

— Paul Matthaeus, Founder and Chairman, Digital Kitchen


You’ll have to broaden your skill set.

“You can have a great design, but if you can’t communicate the story behind it, it will be the downfall of the greatest designers. It’s important to learn the ‘soft skills’ which are learning how to speak publicly to grab attention, keep attention, and clearly articulate your ideas. You should learn to negotiate your prices, as well as know how to read a room and when you should disappear. The other side is the psychology of the business upfront, the questions of: Why am I building this? Why is it important? Or what impact am I going to have on the world? It’s important to answer before you design. Having the business and designer mindset is important.”

— Mona Patel, CEO and Founder, Motivate Design


Visual VR is just the start.

“There really is a lot of opportunities and means for expression inside VR. For example, Axon VR is developing full body virtual reality, both the software and hardware. The apparatus is somewhat imposing, and the leap to a first-person experience is astounding when you add visual, sound, and the sense of touch. The visual power of the experiences has sky-rocketed as a result. When you put that in the hands of creative people, there’s a real opportunity for the experiences that come out of it to be completely, utterly fantastic.”

— Paul Matthaeus, Founder and Chairman, Digital Kitchen


Specialization + communication = a career win. 

“Instead of trying to become a jack-of-all-trades, young designers should be trained in one specific design discipline, communication design, product design, interior design, fashion design, or digital media design. The design student should develop an understanding of how the respective design discipline interfaces with technology and business. Students should work in projects together with students from other design disciplines and preferably also with students from engineering and business. This is training for young designers and a time to nurture communication skills.”

— Cees de Bont, Dean of School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University


3D printing will continue to grow in importance.

“As creatives, it’s our duty to incorporate 3D printing into our work. When you have the possibility to make your work tangible, that gives it more richness. I hope 3D printing allows people to fully customize their lives. One day if we need shoes or more silverware, we can just print them in our home. I think this will be true for all of our household basics. We’re going to have more creatives in the world because things that have traditionally been done on an industrial scale will be able to be done by anyone with 3D printing.”

— Daniel Aristizábal, Columbian Illustrator


You will be required to think more deeply about your design as a brand.

“If you’re doing UX design and you want to build as many products as you can, stay freelance, you’ll make much more money that way and have the thing you want. But if you start thinking you want to build teams or a culture, that’s the right time to start thinking about building a company. One thing you’ll have to do is step away from doing the design work and step into the business development (operations, HR) and begin to create the structure for someone to be able to buy the visual design work from your brand. The mindset shift is from: ‘I am the designer and there are people here that work for me’ to ‘I am the engine that creates a brand that people will work at and people will hire the brand to deliver higher level of quality that they can’t get anywhere else.’ Your job is to create that environment and that system.”

— Mona Patel, CEO and Founder, Motivate Design


The public sector will need more problem solvers and thus, ahem, designers.

“In the coming 5 to 10 years, designers will become more dominate in public service design. This is a relatively new design field and designers can work in many different fields with clear growth in the public sector that has growing problems, because of aging, pollution, congestion, etc. These problem areas require a lot of creativity and design expertise.”

— Cees de Bont, Dean of School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University