Where Design is Going, and How to be There

Cheryl Heller

Cheryl HellerInsightful article by design pundit Cheryl Heller about past trends in design and other creative practices/industries, and future trends based on that experience. Her main point is that designers, increasingly, will need to be generalists: able to communicate to clients and customers using many aspects of themselves.

Design, like almost every industry, has been changed forever by technology, global access and social innovation. It’s time to interpret the evidence around us—there are lessons to be learned, and new types of talent required to thrive.

In the mid ’90s, I was executive creative director at Siegel & Gale when Kodak’s professional products division asked us to help sort out some misguided branding on one of its global film products. They were confident that fixing their marquee brand was the key to fixing their business, but in reality, they were caught in a technological upheaval far more disruptive than any product turnaround could fix. Technology, some of it of their own making, was undermining their entire market, closing the gap between professionals and amateurs and engendering a movement of hobbyists who took over the business of making images.

Average, “amateur” folks replaced professionals because advanced products automatically gave them new abilities. The security and confidence expected by and for professionals was eroding, impacting the entire ecosystem of the imaging world. Today, everyone with a phone is a photographer. The sea change is well underway, and Kodak’s dominance is hardly a memory.

Similar shifts are everywhere. Academic institutions offer curriculum online, experimenting with new platforms for learning, potentially competing with their own traditional offerings. Businesses are transformed by social media and the transparency it brings, shifting power from their own empires to their customers’. Citizen journalists create content more popular than traditional news sources, amateur filmmakers become stars, maker fairs attract multitudes who do their own manufacturing, publishing no longer needs publishers, augmented reality will soon make it possible for everybody to design their own worlds and people who just like to cook are setting up stalls and selling food—professionally.

Other consequences result from this: With greater freedom to express themselves, citizens declare their values. A multitude of platforms make it seamless to speak, and to act on, beliefs. One outcome is the outpouring of extremists, and the tools and information that become instruments of violence. The greater outcome, though, is the hopeful one. Whether it’s called giving back, social impact, social entrepreneurship, social enterprise or the generically plaintive “change the world,” social innovation has become an unstoppable dynamic, which the visionary writer Paul Hawkins called the “greatest movement on earth.”

And design? It’s smack in the middle, as a practice transformed by technology in much the same way Kodak was, and disrupted by the transformation of every industry it touches. Yet design has deep potential to contribute to society as a way of voicing long-held values that honor nature, equity and justice.

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Article by Cheryl Heller on www.aiga.org. AIGA is the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of HOW magazine, a bi-monthly publication dedicated to serving the graphic and web design community. Cheryl Heller is the National Director of the AIGA Social Innovation, Leadership and Entrepreneurship for Designers Program, a learning initiative that augments professional designers’ skills through exposure and insider insights into the best practices in social innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership and change management.