The state of design in 2022

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What happened to the design? Not so long ago, design was ubiquitous in the discourse of Silicon Valley. Tech giants were acquiring design agencies, design thinking was touted as essential to strategic planning, some companies were installing a design director, even venture companies were hiring design partners. These days… the fanfare seems to have faded. And I found myself asking what I had been asked when I became an industry representative for the practice: Was design just a fad?

In 2017, I released a book called The way to design, because I believed then, as I believe now, that there is more to design than aesthetics. To design is to understand Why you build something, how it will be used, what needs it serves its purpose – and it is of crucial importance in solving our most pressing problems. At the time,The way to design was part of the vanguard of a movement championing the centrality of design in technology and beyond. For the book, I spoke with 50 design leaders, builders and thinkers. The result was a guide on how to transition from designer to entrepreneur and how companies can embed design into their business DNA.

Five years later, I wanted to check if my fellow evangelists and I had made a dent, or if design was just a passing fad. I went back to the people I had interviewed, as well as some new friends, and asked them two questions: Do you think design has made significant progress over the past five years (in what areas or aspects)? What has been disappointing in design progress since 2017? The answers — from founders like Joe Gebbia (Airbnb) and Evan Sharp (Pinterest); professors like David Kelley (Stanford University) and Barry Katz (California College of the Arts); and builders, like Gabrielle Gutherie (freelance UX designer) and Fred Bould (Bould Design) – ran the gamut. They were surprising, challenging, inspiring, sometimes uplifting, sometimes shameful, and always firmly grounded. What happened to the design? Here’s what the design community thinks….

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As to whether the design has progressed since 2017, the unanimous answer was a resounding yes. In the positive column, a few themes emerged.

First, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that design is now an integral part of business. Entrepreneur and award-winning designer Daniel Scrivner said, “I think the biggest change I’ve seen is the recognition of the importance of design and the universal belief now that if you want to build a great business, you have to be excellent in design. in your category. In particular, according to Evan Sharp, co-founder of Pinterest, “new startups in established industries (e.g., insurance, banking, automotive, and healthcare) have been effective vectors for design to come into play. and ‘raises the bar for quality'”.

How design has raised the bar for quality by becoming the foundation of how a business builds. “Good design, especially in the design of consumer hardware and software products, is now ‘table stakes,'” designer and entrepreneur Dave Baggeroer told me. “We take that for granted, but in 2017 and before that was definitely not the case.” As I argued in a section of The way to design“[w]What really matters for a modern business is building design processes – lightweight methods and processes for problem solving, creativity, and iteration. I’m glad that argument seems to have won the day. “[T]here, more emphasis has been placed on user-centric design and good UI/UX for all products and services,” said Santhi Analytis, former Vice President of Engineering at Gradient, “ even seemingly mundane enterprise software should have a well-designed, visually appealing, seamless user experience.”

A second, more particular theme of progress that many respondents to my survey celebrated is the proliferation of better design tools: tools for individuals such as AI and text to image; collaborative tools like Figma and Mural; and platform tools, such as Web3, blockchain and NFT. Collaborative design software Figma (just acquired by Adobe for $20 billion) was the most notable and frequently cited example. Author, journalist, and UX designer Cliff Kuang thinks we’re only beginning to understand its meaning. He has an interesting theory about the tool which I will quote at length:

[Figma] has democratized design in a way that I think will take a few more years to be truly appreciated. Today, design has become a collaborative and inclusive process, and it’s changed in a way that’s no different from how Google docs changed the way people worked together. This means that more people are collaborating on the “design” even if they are not designers. And that means the skill of being a “designer” has changed yet again. Just as Photoshop democratized tools and pushed designers to hone their discipline to find new ways to differentiate and define their skills, I think Figma is changing what it takes to be a designer. It’s not enough to create wireframes, because everyone can and does now.

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So the overall state of the design is solid. The domain has infiltrated the workings of businesses. And a new generation of tools has empowered practitioners and the untrained alike. But it’s not all marigolds and chocolate-covered pretzels. On the side of ledger disappointments, four major areas of concern were cited.

First of all, as you would expect from early acolytes and true believers of any movement, many believe that design has become a victim of its own success. Several respondents told me that as design thinking has become mainstream, it has become diluted. Bob Baxley, Senior Vice President of Design and Experience at ThoughtSpot, said, “As design has gained more visibility and attention, it has paradoxically become less creative or original, essentially sacrificing his unique perspective in the pursuit of greater acceptance.” Or as Barry Katz, author of Make It New: A History of Silicon Valley Designput it, “‘Design Thinking’…has become ritualized, formalized, and frankly a little cult…feed a problem into the Design Thinking machine, turn the crank five times, and an iPhone comes out…”

The second major criticism of what design has done, or rather failed to do, over the past five years is that it hasn’t really been applied to solving our most serious societal problems. Many called the environment, in particular, a crisis where the designers have been MIA. Diego Rodriguez, former partner at IDEO and former Chief Product & Design Officer at Intuit, put it most bluntly: “Designers must speak truth to power and engage their creative abilities to materially change how and what is produced Stop being the undisputed executors of a marketing plan based on the logic and values ​​of the 20th century.

Third, some respondents questioned designers at social media companies for actively contributing to the damage caused by their products. Joe Gebbia of AirBnB said: “The design hasn’t improved our relationship with social media. On the contrary, it made the situation worse by serving the metrics of engagement and time spent on an app. Aza Raskin, who co-founded the Center for Humane Technology, put it this way: “Design is now complicit in technology’s disruptive externalities that don’t fit the ergonomics of our mental health, our relationships, our our societies and our planet.”

These first three criticisms join what I regret that the field has not progressed much. In The way to design, I advocated for an upgrade of design thinking, to keep it relevant, incorporating systems thinking. Systems thinking is a mindset and mode of analysis that understands the interconnectedness of things and emphasizes solving problems holistically. It is a powerful interpretive tool for analyzing issues in our increasingly complex world, from pandemics to climate change to the effect of social media on democracy. Unfortunately, perhaps because putting the theory into practice requires mastering an esoteric body of modeling and analysis, it has not been as widely adopted as I had hoped.

The final scolding of design over the past decade – and, for a creative field, perhaps the one that will sting the most – is that some of my illustrious galleries have been very disappointed by the lack of imagination. “No new north star has emerged,” said Evan Sharp flatly, “We have Apple. [But] What other company, or even figure, can we point to and say “This is what design can be?” Meanwhile, Cliff Kuang called for a more active response to societal issues: “The real design process has yet to broaden to include better ways of planning for the future and incorporating more sustainable models of participation. and inclusive… We’ve heard enough. critical. Now, where are the counter-proposals? »

Evan and Cliff’s punches really stuck with me. In the last lines of The way to design, I called on my peers to ‘design better’. To use their design powers to “[b]build a more beautiful, kinder, wiser, fairer, more beautiful, more joyful world. Looking at the foundations of what the field has achieved since 2017, I’m proud of what we, as a collective, have done to elevate the role of design and improve the way we practice it. It wasn’t just a fad. The movement is always towards more and better design – never far away. The design continues to capture ground it never loses. “[T]here has never been a more important time for design,” says David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO and Stanford’s d.school. “Design makes ideas tangible and paints a picture of possible futures.”

Yet the work continues. Count me among those who believe we still have a long way to go to truly realize the promise of design. Maybe in the next five years we will get even closer. Hey, Siri, remind me to check in 2027!


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