Brave new world of Design

Matthew Holt Dr Matthew Holt
Program Manager, Design

Design has certainly come of age. Once restricted to their defined role in the product development and marketing process, designers now contribute holistically and strategically to meet the needs of customers in this decade’s service and knowledge - driven economy.

In 1973, the New York City born sociologist, Daniel Bell, published what was to become a famous example of ‘social forecasting’, The Coming of Post-industrial Society. One of its central tenets was that our manufacturing-based economies were giving way to an economy driven by information and knowledge- a shift he described as a transition from goods to services. In many respects this forecast has only now come to fruition; post-industrial society has finally arrived. Ours is an economy of information flows and digital communication, complex financial products and structures, of high-level services, utilities and ‘experiences’, rather than one composed of durable, ‘hard’ goods.

The landscape of design too has changed irrevocably. It has simultaneously broadened and deepened according to this profound shift to a service economy.

It has broadened beyond the industrial product and the visual marketing of that product. Products are now distributed and consumed in a range of communicative fields - graphic, spatial, and digital – and it is the task of the designer to work and create at the point at which those fields intersect. Products are also now thoroughly and routinely embedded in services, and therefore often ‘intangible’. Designers now shape, create and perhaps above all, improve, those services, whether they are physical or digital or both. They explore the needs of the user and the interfaces of those needs with services and institutions - those zones of contact between consumer or stakeholder and the service called ‘touchpoints’.

It has deepened insofar as design is being increasingly instituted at the organisational level of businesses, government departments or NGOs. No longer confined to one stage in the creation of idea, or introduced to help promote an idea or message after the fact, design is being recognised as a form of thinking itself- as a kind of expertise in idea generation, in modelling, and in problem recognition and reframing. Design and management are combining effectively to bring to all manner of institutions and organisations - and the networks connecting them - an increased emphasis on creativity and innovation and therefore the new forms of leadership skills required to assess and act in dynamic situations. Design is also at the forefront of social innovation. It is responsible for embedding effective practical strategies for sustainability into services and organisations

Design today is also international. Companies are increasingly global in both outlook and composition. Because of digital resources - the communicative power of the web combined with computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacture - a designer can design anywhere in the world, collaborating with project teams across different time zones.

Design education too is changing. Universities are realising it is a way of incorporating creativity and innovation into a range of studies. Perhaps more importantly design is at the forefront of contemporary pedagogical theory and practice which emphasises learning through doing: process - and studio-based learning; learning founded on and developed through activity and experience, through scenarios and through inquiry and experimentation.

All this does not mean the traditional forms of design are being left behind. On the contrary, the Australian government’s ‘job outlook’ initiative, which provides careers and labour market research information, predicts for 2016-17 that the architectural, fashion, industrial and interior design fields will all grow strongly, and graphic and web design ‘very strongly’. The future for the discipline of design, though, is in the way in which these different fields are coordinated and how they relate to each other. It is in the way they are integrated into all forms of business, in governance and in new forms of social innovation, and perhaps above all, in the form of digital productivity and services. Indeed, the CSIRO has designated digital productivity and services as a national research flagship project, predicting the sector will become intrinsic to productivity for this country.

Design has matured into an exciting field at the forefront of social and economic development. It requires a broad understanding of the interconnected world we live in and how the dimensions of this world interact. It is a new dawn for designers and design students need a global mindset and broad skill set to be equipped to meet the challenges of a changing discipline. A discipline that has undoubtedly come of age in the 21st century.

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